The People of the Passage – Part 2

Bribie in its Golden Era of the 1930s (continued)

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.

The Koopa (photo courtesy Yvonne D’Arcy)

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…..

Bribie – Giant Grouper caught at Bribie Jetty, 1920s (photo courtesy June Berry)

Fred Bell Senior is at the far left while Fred Bell Junior is fifth from the left (in white hat).

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

The People of the Passage – Part 1

Bribie in its Golden Era of the 1930s

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.

Bribie Island’s Koopa jetty, 12 apostles cabins, and tents (photo courtesy Marian Young)

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 man 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”!

Bribie Island’s ‘new’ Bongaree jetty in 2006

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

The Island of the Living Dead

Part of Father Gabriel Nolan’s duties as Parish Priest at Manly was to service the Moreton Bay islands of Peel and North Stradbroke. Here Father Nolan reflects: 

‘On my first visit to the Lazaret at Peel Island, I was very apprehensive. The Bible, of course, is full of references to leprosy and to the exclusion of lepers from the rest of society. It was difficult not to view the patients at Peel Island in such a manner, so I sought the advice of those who worked amongst the patients: the Matron and the nursing sisters. After their reassurances that it was quite all right to have contact with the patients without the need for any special precautions, I followed their example and moved freely amongst these unfortunate souls. The only warning I was given was to keep my feet covered because at that time it was thought that the Leprosy bacteria might survive in the ground.

‘I visited Peel once a month, arriving on the Wednesday morning, and leaving the next afternoon. My first duty was to chat with the staff over a cup of tea and then visit the patients individually. After a short rest in the heat of the afternoon, I would visit the patients again that night, hearing Confession where appropriate. I visited anyone who wanted to see me, however I was warned that a Japanese patient was particularly violent, so I only went as far as his door to talk to him. He was very resentful, understandably, about being kept there against his will. 

‘Next morning, after sleeping in the Superintendent’s quarters, I would conduct Mass in the Roman Catholic church. Anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, was able to attend. To minimise the risk of cross infection, patients did not receive wine from the Chalice during Mass. They were offered the bread only. As well as the Catholic Church, the Anglicans had a large Church. Ministers of other religions, notably Cannon Miles, visited on alternate dates to myself.

(EDITOR: The Catholic church was situated at the back of the men’s compound and had once been a hut for several female aboriginal patients. After the aborigines were shifted off Peel up to Fantome Island off Townsville, the hut was shifted using a sled affair to its new position. For a time, it was used as a common room for the men, before being converted to the Catholic Church. Today, its wooden altar remains as well as the nails in the wall on which hung the Stations of the Cross. The fate of the Stations is unknown, but Father Nolan remembers taking the stone relic from the altar back to his Manly Parish when the institution at Peel was closed down.)

Peel Island Lazaret’s Catholic Church following Restoration 11.8.2011. (photo Scott Fowle)

Each patient had their own wooden hut and the whole place was rather beautiful. The only problem was that no one was allowed to leave until they were cured. I visited Peel Island throughout the 1950s, perhaps the best decade of all for this troubled place, because just prior to this, the cure for this ancient disease had been discovered. Most patients responded immediately to the drugs, and only the most advanced cases showed no improvement. To be pronounced ‘cured’ the patients had to produce negative blood smears for each of thirteen months. Thus, the minimum stay for a patient would have to be 13 months. In the past before the cure had been found, this procedure could be heart breaking when after, say, 12 negative smears, a positive one would show up and the patient would have to start the whole process from scratch again.

As well as Mass, I presided over many funerals. These were full ceremonies conducted in the church and at the graveside in the island’s cemetery. All patients used to attend where possible. The Doctor at that time, Morgan Gabriel, was a mighty man. When he first arrived, there was a serious alcohol problem with many of the non-medical staff. Doctor Gabriel had replaced Doctor Lennan, who was himself an alcoholic and unable to control the drinking problems in his staff. As well as being appointed Medical Superintendent of the island, Doctor Gabriel was also given control over non-medical staff. Risking great personal unpopularity, he firmly set new rules for behaviour. Anyone not shaping up would have to ship out. Within a short time, the troublemakers were removed, and morale improved.

I had a problem with some of the relatives of the patients, who tried to get me to use my influence with the Doctor to obtain favours for the patients. I always refused because I thought Doctor Gabriel already had the situation well in hand. Eventually as the curative effects of the drugs became apparent, patient numbers declined to such an extent that there were more staff than patients. Eventually in 1959, the remaining nine patients were transferred to a special annex at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. I never attended them there, though.

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

Two rivermen are remembered by Mabel Persson -2- Ted Humphreys


            As a youngster I lived at Wynnum, and used to love going over to Myora at The One Mile with my Uncle Ted Humphreys and his wife in their boat, “Mersey”.  This was in the 1920s and it was mostly sailing boats then, and on the Christmas and Easter holidays about a hundred of them would sail to the One Mile and anchor there.  At night it became a tradition for them to have hurricane lamps alight all the way up their stays and on their masts.  We used to call this the Lantern Festival and the scene was like a small town with all the boats anchored together.  It was never rough there and the boats were tied onto each other so that we could walk from one to another.  The boats were mostly small, and Ted’s “Mersey” was the biggest at 36 foot.  There were plenty of fish in the Rainbow Channel then and Ted had another little boat which he used to sail up and down the Channel with three people fishing from her.  They caught enough whiting and squire to supply all the boats with fresh fish.

            Uncle Ted was a shopfitter and did a lot of the Queen Street Department Stores.  It was fashionable then for the wealthy store families to own boats, and it was probably this that influenced Uncle Ted to buy the “Mersey”.  Ted Humphreys was a man who owned a boat because he could AFFORD a boat, not because he was a boating man.  In this respect he was the opposite of Charlie Persson.  Ted was a big man who used to panic when he couldn’t get the engine started.  He also had trouble managing the sails.  Fortunately, his wife, Kate, a tiny little thing, was wonderful with the boat and used to bail him out of trouble.

            For example, one night we were anchored at the Horseshoe on Peel Island when a South Easter sprang up at midnight.  The boat began dragging her anchor and we were heading towards the rocks.  Ted could never get the engine going, and half the time it was because he’d forgotten to turn the petrol on.  True to his form, Ted could not get the engine started on this occasion either, but when I suggested that he check that the petrol was turned on, I got into trouble for my impudence – even when it turned out my diagnosis was correct!

Coming ashore at Horseshoe Bay

            On another occasion I was sent below and told not to move, but I opened the porthole and looked out.  However just at that moment the “Mersey” rolled and I took all the skin off my nose.  Then to add insult to injury, Uncle Ted reprimanded me for not doing as I was told.

            However, the most memorable occasion occurred just off St Helena when the island was still being used as a prison.  Once again, Ted was having trouble starting the motor, and the boat was drifting in towards the island.  Now it was a rule that the Warders on the island would fire warning shots over approaching boat’s bows to shoo them away from their prohibited waters.  Sure enough, bullets soon began to whistle across our bow, and Ted got very excited.  Still he couldn’t get the motor started and the boat kept drifting in.  As usual, though, his wife calmly got the sails up so we could get away!

            “Mersey” was a beautiful, two masted boat and Ted had his own slip at Wynnum.  Once, he was offered £1000 ($2000) for her but refused.  Next morning “Mersey” went missing.  She was seen up at Bribie, but when the thieves saw the Water Police coming, they set fire to the boat and she was burnt to the waterline. 

 Mabel Persson, July 1997

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.