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’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s