Friday 2 October 2020

1954 Bribie Island cyclone

 1954 Bribie Island Cyclone

by Paul Clark and Christine Lloyd (nee Clark)

written in 2006

Our 1954 holiday was most unforgettable. We went to Bribie Island camping. After about a week, a cyclone was coming down the coast. We tried to get off the island, but the wind and the seas were already rising, and the barge to the mainland had stopped its run before we got to its terminus. Waves on the Pumicestone Passage were already high, and we saw a yacht dragging its anchor as it was being blown down the channel. We went back to the ocean side of the island, and camped behind a bougainvillea bush for the first night. When it got too windy, we moved into one of the concrete gun emplacements left from the war.

At the height of the cyclone, we could not go outside, and we could hear and feel the waves pounding on the other side of the fort. Cyclones were not rated in those days, but I have read since that it would have been a category three today. After it was over, we went out to look at the devastation. When the wind died down, we went for a walk along what was left of the dunes. In the area where people walked to the beach, there were lost coins each sitting on top of a cone of sand. They had compacted the sand enough to stop the wind blowing it away.

We could not leave because the road on the mainland was covered with trees which had blown down. An electricity line crew was on the island, and they used their gear to clear the road and restore power. The beach was cut back about 100 metres, and the lifesavers' surf boat, which had been hauled to the top of the dunes, was gone. Some houses on high stumps were leaning at crazy angles.

Chris' memories from this time: I remember huge trees crashing around our tent on the first night. I was grateful that Dad was an Army man and knew how to pitch a tent wisely. Some tents were ripped to shreds. I was also aware that we were running out of food and money. We could not leave the island as the car ferry was not operating. Dad checked this on an old "wireless" with very poor reception.

We collected many eugarie bivalve shells (called pipi in NSW) that came in with the tide and were trying to bury themselves quickly in the sand. We had to dig them out with our feet and Mum cooked them to make soup. I was not fond of the taste but beggars can't be choosers. I also remember the vile smell of the underground fort which had been used as a toilet. In those days public toilets were very scarce. 

I have checked the internet and found out that this cyclone was called the GOLD COAST CYCLONE by the Queensland Bureau of Meteorology and occurred from 17 February to 19 February 1954. Clement Wragge named cyclones in the late nineteenth century but this lapsed with his retirement in 1902. Names were reintroduced by BOM in 1963.

We went for walks along the beach and found an old car upside down on the beach. It had apparently floated on its tyres from the mainland. The sand from the dunes had formed a sand bar out to sea and some fishermen were out on this fishing towards the Pacific Ocean. Fishermen on the beach were catching fish in the trough, so the ones on the bar simply turned around and fished back towards the shore. As the bar was under water, it looked strange. We saw swans out at sea, and sharks cruising off the beach.

When we went over to the channel side of the island, there was a mess. Trees had fallen across boats, and the sea had risen into the houses in a storm surge. 

Cyclone damage to roof of building on Bongaree Jetty,
February 1954

Photo: Barbara Henderson - BH99_034

While we were driving back along Toorbul Point on the mainland, we stopped to look at some flowers in the bush. We could hear a low droning noise when we got to the flowers, and suddenly we were attacked by a huge cloud of mosquitoes. We had to race back to the car and drive with the windows open to blow them out of the car. We later heard that this cyclone had wrecked the Redcliffe Jetty and houses along the coast as the storm surge lifted surf into the houses.


This article is reproduced with permission. Thank you to Christine Lloyd (nee Clark) and the Ipswich Genealogical Society Inc.

Bribie Island Cyclone by Paul Clark and Christine Lloyd (nee Clark). Bremer Echoes: the journal of the Ipswich Genealogical Society Inc., v.24(1) March 2006, p. 14-15.

Photo - Cyclone damage to Bongaree Jetty, February 1954 - Thank you to Barbara Henderson. BH99_034