Tuesday 19 April 2022

Summer trip 1939

The following article from the 19 January 1939 issue of The Birmingham Post gives a glimpse of Bribie Island as seen through the eyes of visitors from Europe.

Australian Island. Summer trip out from Brisbane (1939)

by E.H.

A three hours' sail from Brisbane, eleven miles down the river, then round the corner and up North across the calm waters of Moreton Bay for sixteen miles, will bring you to Bribie Island. Here the 115 inhabitants fish a little, garden a bit, gossip a great deal, chop wood for their fires, eat simple food and sleep the sleep of the carefree. The great event of the week is the arrival of a ship from Brisbane on Thursdays and Saturdays, bringing supplies of meat, vegetables, fruit and newspapers.

Australian Island. Summer trip out from Brisbane. By E.H.
The Birmingham Post, 19.1.1939, p. 15.

There they all are collected on the short broad jetty to watch our arrival - skinny brown fisherman in grey flannel shirts and short trousers; elderly matrons in cotton frocks and aprons; a dozen or so oldest inhabitants with sticks or crutches; one or two jolly-looking, middle-aged, shapeless half-caste women in gay old-fashioned European dress; fourteen thin bright-faced boys and girls, hatless and wearing as little as possible; and all the Bribie dogs getting in everybody's way. A dilapidated cart with an ancient horse attached to the shafts with a stout rope takes our luggage; and we go on a tour of inspection.

There is not an elegant building on the island; just half a dozen little stores and a handful of wooden cottages built anywhere, without path, road or fence to mark them off. Along the shore just above the sandy beach we discover a white cottage which is just what we want; four white steps leading up to the front veranda, a hall with a little bedroom on each side, and at the back of the house a long room with one side all windows.

Every morning we awake to the sound of waves, the sighing of the breese in the tall pines and the soft rustling of the grass and the wattles that rise from the bracken and turf along the shore. Then from the bush behind the cottage comes the call of the magpie, tender, long and low, and the wild joyful song of the butcher-bird.

All round the house a little army of scavengers awaits the end of our meal. As we throw out scraps of bread, eggshells, apple-peelings there is a cloud of white and black wings as the white ducks, the big drake with his little black cap, the black hens, an array of chickens and one solitary duckling try to get there first.

Three Miles Across

Along the shore are a dozen or so cottages. From their chimneys smoke is rising, and the air is filled with the sweet scent of burning cypress pine. Along the sandy beach white, fawn and black and white cows are slowly wandering, stopping here and there to eat the salt green weed. When the tide is high and the creek joins the sea, they wade across up to their necks with placid nonchalance.

From the shore white herons search for their morning meal, seagulls call, and in the water porpoises play. Boats are out in the bay, and from them quiet fisherman cast their nets or fling their lines for bream, whiting, flathead, mullet and tailor. In this crisp air with a keen west wind, the walk right across the island seems nothing at all. Twenty miles by three, it is carpeted with bracken, now half green, half gold. Slender shea-oaks have their autumn coat, and sway copper-tinted against the blue sky. There is the dark green of the great Moreton Bay figs, the grey green of the wattle with its golden tassels, the tender green of the feathery black wattle with its bright golden balls of fluff, the gums with tips of gold, scarlet and crimson, the flowering shrubs, white jasmine, yellow broom, lavender sarsparilla and everywhere the slender cypress-pine, whose scent reaches you as soon as you land on Bribie.

Enclosed in a circle of bush we came across wide plains covered with purple and white heath, pink boronia and golden broom. Here the pewit calls, the tit chirrups, and undisturbed the eagles rear their eaglets in nests of stick and bramble. Along the ocean beach on the other side of the island lie wild lonely lagoons on whose calm surface blue and orange water lilies float. Here flourish wild duck, white and grey heron, black swan and greedy cormorant.

As we return through the bush we come across one of those lonely encampments of which there are thousands in Southern Queensland. A shack built of old pieces of wood and tin with a roof of bark stands in a little clearing, dwarfed by great Moreton Bay figs, pines and gums. From the rickety chimney the smoke of the cypress-pine fire is rising. In a hutch is one white Angora rabbit; in another one black hen. A tiny black and white puppy is straining at his rope, and a tortoiseshell cat dozes near him. A very old horse grazes close at hand, and a short distance away a red cow and her tiny calf crop the short grass. An old, old man with one leg emerges from the hut and smiles at us, bidding us a cheerful "Good-day". 


Australian Island. Summer trip out from Brisbane. by E.H.
The Birmingham Post, 19.1.1939 p. 15
[copy purchased from British Library On Demand service]