Last weekend we visited the Heide Museum of Modern Art on the outskirts of Melbourne. As always our family starts such cultural excursions on a full stomach, so our first stop was to its excellent Café Vue, where we breakfasted among a mainly younger and artier clientele.
When Sunday and John Reed purchased Heide in 1934 it was a neglected former dairy farm. After fifty years of vision, dedication and sheer hard work, the Reeds moulded Heide into a personal Eden, connecting art with nature and creating a nourishing environment for the artists they championed – Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Charles Blackman and Mirka Mora among them.
I like to visualise Sidney Nolan painting his Ned Kelly series in the dining room of the original house (now called Heide I) just off the main road – then storing them in the dilapidated former cow shed next door!
Because of its proximity to the increasingly busy main road, and the opening of a fish and chips shop across the road from them, the Reeds decided to build a new residence further down the hill of their property. This has now become Heide II. But it was Heide III that most excited me, for it contained a new exhibition ‘Sitelines’ by Melbourne artist Natasha Johns-Messenger in which, as her notes describe, she attempts to explore knowledge and perception.
The surprise of seeing myself framed by a view of the gardens at the end of the hall will remain with me for a long time. By her skilful placement of mirrors the artist really manages to confuse and confound our senses. But it’s much more that a hall of mirrors at a sideshow. But is it art? If one of the aims of art is to change our perceptions of our surroundings, then Natalie’s exhibition certainly does that – to everyone who enters her exhibition’s amazement and delight.
I left the exhibition wondering just what art, and in particular modern art, is. Perhaps grand daughter Clementine could be holding it in her hand outside, when her paintings of ‘Pokemon Go’ are discovered in years to come?
In the semigloom of first light, a silhouette moves about hut number 4. The wheezing breath identifies Dave King. He was gassed in WWI and has spent much of his later life in Rosemount Hospital. When they let him out, he comes to Bribie and rents one of these cottages – the locals call them the ‘Twelve Apostles’ – from the Moreton Bay Tug Company for 2/6 a week. It’s a “Koopa” day, and Dave instinctively looks out beyond the beach and the jetty and the dark waters of the Passage across the bay to Redcliffe where the “Koopa” will call first.
Dave, a seaman of old, still splices the wire ropes for the “Koopa”. Beer money. There’ll be a few pots today.
Bribie is a bastion of isolation; the Passage its protective moat. There are no bridges to connect with cities and bustle and people and the conformity of urban life. The only timetable here belongs to the “Koopa” and her sister ships: arrive 12.30pm, depart 4.30 pm every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
It’s Saturday and Dave’s son, Eric, is here for the school holidays. So are hundreds of campers in white tents that fill the foreshore beneath its thick mantle of trees. With the approach of dawn, tent life stirs. Hurricane lamps flicker silhouettes of dressing figures on the canvas. Fires are being lit, twigs crack, people yawn, wind passes, billies boil.
Further up the Passage, beyond Dux Creek, the air reeks. It’s the Campbell’s, Wally and Reg, preserving their nets. They boil them in tar in a 44 gallon drum on an open fire. They’re aborigines descended from the Campbells of Dunwich.
Another aborigine from Stradbroke Island is Lottie Tripcony. She’s Tom Welsby’s housekeeper and came with him when erosion forced him from his property at Amity. It is said that Lottie was once married to a German named Eisler. During WWI she suspected him of spying so she had him interned. End of marriage.
With the daylight Lottie is up and cooking breakfast for herself and Welsby, while he sits on the verandah overlooking the Passage and ponders the next chapter of his memoirs. Welsby’s a quiet, shy bachelor who keeps to himself. He saves his words for his books. Later in the day Lottie plans to row up the Passage to collect Boronia flowers. She does this for her own pleasure and not to sell them to passengers on the “Koopa” as do the other locals.
As morning progresses, the autumn chill melts. On the beach Bribie pulses with passion: Freddie Crouch has just returned with a big haul of mullet. He is packing them in ice for the “Koopa” to take to the Brisbane markets. Fred, like everyone else on Bribie, depends on the “Koopa” for his livelihood. Ned Bishop has come over from Toorbul. He’s there every “Koopa” day with his oysters and meat, his boat tied up at the jetty waiting for his customers to arrive at noon. He is a short plump oysterman who has a little shed just to the north of the jetty Ned never wears shoes and has cracks on the bottom of his feet large enough ‘to put your fingers in’. He’s been known to carry a 44 gallon drum of fuel from his half cabin cruiser up the soft sandy beach to his hut. Not a task for the weak!
Someone has spotted the first smudge of smoke from the “Koopa”‘s funnels. She’s left Redcliffe. The day trippers will soon be here! To the north of the jetty, Mrs Moyle prepares the china at her restaurant; to the south Bob Davies and his sisters lay places at their Gardens. It’s fresh fish on every menu.
Across the island at the Ocean Beach, Bill Shirley and his drivers assemble their convoy of Tin Lizzies and set off for the “Koopa” jetty. They’ll nab their share of customers for a hot fish dinner too.
Pumicestone Passage basks in the noon sun. To the north, its waters are masked by fingers of mangroves prodding out into its banks of mud and sand. Donneybrook is somewhere up there, too. Billy Dux, the crab man, has made it his home. He doesn’t like the fisherman coming up because they kill the muddies that get caught in their fish nets. To a crab man, that’s just a waste.
But here comes the “Koopa”! That speck of soot has now formed into a hull and superstructure. People can be seen crowding the rails. Looks like a full shipload – a thousand at least. The jetty surges with locals. This is their social highlight. When the ship finally docks, passengers surge down the gangplank. Bob Davies is there spruiking on the jetty at the top of his voice “Fresh fish dinners this way!” and Mrs Moyle rings a bell from her restaurant’s verandah. Bill Shirley’s Tin Lizzies have now arrived and their motors idle in anticipation. Aboard the “Koopa”, engines throb, steam hisses, passengers jostle, bells ring, whistles blow. The trippers have found their release from the workaday world.
Soon everyone has disembarked and the crowd disperses to eat, swim, fish, or just laze on the beach and soak up the atmosphere. Bribie obliges in all departments.
For some, the afternoon lapses into anticlimax. They fill the emptiness with sleep.
Wally Campbell leases Clark’s oyster banks. It’s low tide now, and his sisters, Millie and Rosie, are at the banks, chipping off oysters from the rocks with little hammers. They load them into chaff bags and leave them on the banks for the tide to come in. When it does they’ll bring the dinghy and load it up with the oyster bags.
It’s 2 o’clock and the water tanks are now open. Mr Freeman, the Postmaster, is in charge of this precious commodity. Unlike the city, there’s no reticulated water on Bribie, and drinking water is brought down on the “Koopa” then pumped into tanks at the end of the jetty. When the taps are unlocked each day campers and locals line up with their empty kerosene tins which they fill for 2d each.
By 2.30 the sun hovers over the Passage waters which the afternoon breeze fans into a shimmering sheet. A woman fishing on the beach throws her line into its midst while seagulls perch on the seawall and wait for results. She watches the slow passage of time trek across the sky to leave a dazzling path across the water to Toorbul Point. Still later, the sun touches the mountains in the distance. Clouds have appeared, and into their pink billows the Glasshouse Mountains thrust their weird shapes.
The “Koopa” is getting up steam. It’s whistle blows. That’s the first sign to the passengers to get ready to embark. It’s also a signal that the “Koopa”‘s bar is about to open. (Its had to remain closed while in port). There is no hotel on Bribie and the “Koopa”‘s bar run by Elsie Davis is eagerly sought by those locals who fancy a drink. A second whistle blows and the drinkers gulp more quickly. The passengers hurry aboard and the gangplanks are withdrawn. Bill Shirley’s Tin Lizzies pull up at the jetty and the last of the passengers hurry aboard. With the third whistle, the ropes are cast off and the “Koopa” is homeward bound. The drinkers clamber off onto the jetty across the widening gap of water but one lingers in the bar too long. He’ll come home on the next trip.
Soon the “Koopa” is once more a shrinking speck, a piece of soot on the horizon that is eventually whisked away on the cool evening breeze. Mozzies descend with the evening and citronella mingles with the aroma of cooking fish and smoky fires.
Dave King sends his son, Eric, to the shop for sugar. There the lad sees Wally Campbell about to leave for a few days fishing. Wally consents to Eric’s pleas and to let him come along. As the boat passes Dave King’s hut Eric sees his father looking out and does what any kid would do, waves. The sugar will have to wait another four days until he returns. So will his father’s anger.
Beneath the jetty, in the deep dark waters now left vacant by the “Koopa”‘s departure, giant Grouper lurk in mysterious caves. Their mouths are so large they could swallow a child whole. On the jetty, a young boy ponders the monsters lurking beneath the boards on which he stands. He’s seen photos of Peter Rich, the “Grouper King”, and his monster catches. The stuff of future dreams…..
Springtime up on the Downs is always an exhilarating experience. Our visit on Fathers’ Day is just too early to catch the Spring blooms, but in some pockets the first blossoms have appeared on the apple and pear trees. The wattles are the only trees wearing their full yellow coats.
The environs around Stanthorpe beckon the hiker, but at our age, we are content with a short walk, a sample or two of local wines, and a feast of food. We always visit Anna’s Italian Restaurant whose Saturday night smorgasbord is enough to make the trip from Brisbane a worthwhile and memorable experience. But on Sunday night, when Anna’s is closed, eating out is a different experience for us.
‘You can walk down the street and not be afraid of being attacked or mugged,’ says our host, and we can understand why when we look for an eatery in the main street on Sunday night: it is deserted and in darkness. No discos, nightclubs, or wild pub brawls. (So what do Stanthorpe’s young folk do for entertainment?) However we peer in the window of O’Mara’s Hotel – one of those good old fashioned country pubs that are rapidly disappearing – and are delighted to see the dining room packed with people – family groups mainly, probably celebrating Father’s Day. We go inside and eat a hearty pub meal in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Amongst the typically Australian names littering the map of Stanthorpe – Goldfields Road, Hooters Hut, Possums Road, and Rabbit Fence Road, are a scattering of French names: Amiens, Pozieres, Bapaume, Passchendaele, Messines – all battlefields of WWI in which Australian soldiers fought. Those who survived the carnage were rewarded by the Australian Government with a block of land, which as ‘soldier settlers’ they could farm. Many took up the challenge and tried their hand, but not being ‘of the land’ they failed. However the names of these, their second battlefields remain as their legacy.
This pile of huge granite boulders, dubbed Donnelly’s Castle after the original settler in the area, is also reputed to be the hideout of former bushrangers and of the legendary Yowie both of whom have sunk into the folklore of the district.
I can’t recall many towns in Australia that have adopted well known Irish city names such as Dublin, Limerick, Belfast, or Cork, but for some reason, Killarney was chosen for a remote spot outside Warwick. I have often thought I should visit the place to make a comparison. On our way home we divert to satisfy our long held curiosity. But, apart from its mountain backdrop it is difficult to imagine a place less like its Irish namesake or what inspired the name. On the way out there, though, there is a patchwork of fields under cultivation, which could easily have inspired the song ‘Forty Shades of Green’.
At its opening by John Deuchar in 1868, and dubbed ‘the finest house in the colony’ it was renown as the social hub of the Downs. Sadly Deuchar went broke before the building could be completed. From the front, its entrance faces out over manicured lawns and gardens with views all the way to Cunningham’s Gap. From the side, though, it appears almost as though it is a film set. Situated at Allora on the Warwick – Toowoomba road just off the Toowoomba turn off before you reach Warwick, the house and its heritage centre are well worth a visit by anyone interested in the history of the region.
On Saturday 3rd October, 2009, my wife Phyllis and I had attended the sixth annual Deuchar Dinner – a ‘black tie’ event to raise funds for the restoration of Glengallan House. To see the place full of people all dressed in their finery was a rare chance to catch a glimpse of the homestead in its glory days.
‘The Aborigines on Bribie would have been startled by the visit of Matthew Flinders in 1799. Gradually, after the settlement of the Moreton Bay district from 1824, Europeans began visiting the island, initially as escaped convicts, then as free settlers.
‘Fishing and oystering were the great attractions. In the 1890s fish canneries and oyster leases were set up. Recreational fishing had also become popular, and in 1911, the Koopa began bringing holidaymakers and day-trippers to the island. Camping was popular along the Passage foreshore and a plethora of boarding houses also sprang up.
‘When the bridge to Bribie was finally completed in 1963, Bribie came within easy reach of Brisbane’s motoring public, and an ever-increasing dormitory for the workers of Brisbane.
‘Today, Bribie is a popular destination for day-trippers, but also supports a growing population of both workers and retirees who find its easy going lifestyle a welcome alternative to the stress of modern city living.’
‘My memories of Bribie Island were when the Brisbane Tug Company who owned the Koopa and the Beaver had a lease of the island. There was a caretaker there, and little huts on the Passage side. I remember staying there with my grandmother. The huts were simple, one room, with beds, a wood stove and a sink. There was no running water. You had to use the pump at the caretaker’s house and carry the water in a kerosene tin back to your hut. I think the rent was two shillings and sixpence (25 cents) a week. That’s all there was at Bribie.’
‘At weekends we used to walk around from our house at Bongaree to Red Beach. It was quite a long hike. It was winter then, and by the time we got there – it was probably just gone daybreak – dad would had already been in the water twice up to his waist to pull in the nets because the fish would run early. He’d have all his wet flannels hanging up to dry.
‘My mother also went fishing on her own and she’d bring home buckets of whiting, but then dad would come in with his fish, and when they were fishing around Red Beach, they piled them all up on our front yard. They had these old army Blitzes – snub-nosed trucks left over from the war. They brought all their fish in, dumped it on our front yard, and then cased it in wooden cases. They were primarily mullet, which they sent off whole – no gutting. The fish were grouped according to size, and then sent to the Brisbane Fish Markets by boat. They left some for us and we ate a lot of fish and their roe (eggs) – white and yellow roe. When the trawlers were in dad also swapped some of his fish for prawns and crabs so we got a bit of everything. It was a good diet for growing kids.
‘Dad was be away for weeks at a time and the bread he took with him would go mouldy, but when he came home, it was a big event, and if I was at school at the time, I was allowed home for lunch with him and mum. He’d pick us up at school and we’d have our roast dinner, then he’d take us back to school. We fishing family kids were the only ones that did it. The others had to sit and eat their sandwiches at school. I always thought it was lovely to be included in our family’s homecoming meals, because it could be that he would be off again straight away, and if I were at school, I would miss out on seeing him.’
All References: Peter Ludlow ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’