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In 1930, due to my father’s ill health my family moved to Bribie Island, and took a lease on the kiosk on the ocean beach side.  I stayed in Brisbane to attend school, and for the first year saw my family only on school holidays, then for the next two years, I went to Bribie each weekend.  We travelled on the Koopa (and a couple of times on the Doomba).  After leaving Brisbane the vessel would call in at Redcliffe to pick up more passengers, then sail on to Bribie.  Music was provided for the passengers in the form of gramophone records, played on an old wind-up gramophone – mostly waltzes as I recall.  There were many other children in my situation – one of them being Dorothy Shirley, whose reflections are mentioned in Moreton Bay People – and the trip was never boring.

On arrival at Bribie I caught the bus (driven by Dorothy’s father, Bill Shirley) to the ocean side – the island is three miles wide at this point. (My younger brother, who was seven at the time, would ride his bike across to school at Bongaree each day).  Apart from the kiosk, which apparently had been shifted further from the beach due to erosion, and the lifesavers’ shed, the only other buildings were a few ‘weekenders’ built on a narrow dirt road leading from the kiosk north for a few hundred metres.  The kiosk itself was comprised of a shop, large dining room and kitchen, and living quarters, with a couple of bedrooms for boarders or over-nighters. After we left the island – around 1933 – the kiosk was later renovated as a guesthouse, and the lease taken over by Bill Shirley.     

In the shop we sold basic groceries, sweets and drinks, and in season Boronia wildflowers and Christmas Bells, which my elder brother would collect from inland.  We would serve hot fish dinners for visitors.  I recall the kitchen with its very large wood stove and enormous frying pans where my mother would cook the freshly caught fish.  Mr. Shirley would phone from the bay side to tell us how many people from the Koopa were coming across, though this wasn’t always an indication of how many of them would want dinner, some bringing their own picnic lunch.

We had a couple of cows, and there was always plenty of milk. Our dog – a Blue Heeler – was trained to round up the cows and bring them home when they strayed.  There was no refrigeration so the problem of keeping eggs fresh was overcome by placing them in a large tin filled with a viscous substance called, I believe, “waterglass’, which would keep the eggs from contact with the air. There was no wireless, but I remember my dad and brother making what they called a crystal set. We had a piano, and on the weekends the lifesavers would often come over and one or two would bring instruments and we would have a very enjoyable evening.

The ocean beach at Bribie Island

The beach was, of course, beautiful – broad and white and clean.  We sometimes went by truck on the beach as far north as the point where Bribie almost touches Caloundra.  Eugary (known as ‘pippies’ to southerners) were plentiful and could be collected just by feeling in the sand with your toes at the water’s edge.  As for fishing – when I look at the size of the whiting served and sold today, I can’t help thinking of the whiting of over 12 inch (30 cm.) length the men caught by throwing a line in the surf in front of the kiosk.  Worms were the most used bait, which my brother was very adept at catching.  Apparently, this is not an easy task but I enjoyed watching him.  He would carry what was called a “stink bag”, filled with old fish heads and such. This he would drag along the sand until a worm popped its head up.  Then instead of just pulling it out quickly, in which case it would break off, he ‘stroked’ it until it relaxed, when it could be pulled out easily.  This was quite an art!

After about three years my family moved back to Brisbane, and it was many years before I visited the island again.  However, while speaking of Bribie, I was interested in a mention in Moreton Bay People of Fairweather’s The Drunken Buddha, the fascinating book he translated from the Chinese, and illustrated with his paintings.  My daughter, Cyrelle, who was Production Manager at the UQ Press, designed the cover and layout of the book, and with publisher Frank Thompson visited Fairweather on Bribie.  Frank was amazed to see many of the paintings in the open, at the mercy of bird droppings etc.

‘The Drunken Buddha’ book cover

Nell Birt (nee Covill)

February 2009