Early European Visitors to Quandamooka

With Peter Ludlow

My first interest in Moreton Bay’s history was aroused in the late 1940s when I came across a map published by the Shell Company of Australia. My father, a great fishing enthusiast, must have bought it with fishing in mind, but my youthful interest was triggered by just two words printed on its outline of North Stradbroke Island, just above Swan Bay: Spanish galleon.

I guess I was at the ‘playing pirates’ stage of my youth and the idea of having our own Spanish galleon here on our doorstep was very exciting.  But had there really been a Spanish galleon in Moreton Bay? The riddle just added to its mystique.

So it was with a great interest that fifty years later, I discovered that Eric Reye, who had contributed so much to my writings about Peel Island, had also been fascinated by the same map references to the galleon.  But he had gone one step further and about 1940 had paddled off in his canoe to seek it out! 

            In actual fact, the galleon was probably Portuguese and not Spanish and is thought to have been wrecked here in the early 1600s. However, although many sightings of the wreck have been recorded and there are tales of artefacts being removed, no concrete evidence has yet been found to prove its existence. 

            Of course, these European navigators were not the first humans to visit Moreton Bay, for the Aborigines have lived here for thousands of years. One can only imagine their surprise at seeing the masses of white canvas sails on these huge, square rigged ships. And when Cook sailed past in 1770 they little knew that he was giving a name to their still unwritten land: Morton Bay(after James Douglas, 14th Earl of Mortonand misspelled by later cartographers as Moreton Bay).

            Matthew Flinders in 1799 made the first recorded contact with the Bay’s indigenous people when he landed at Bribie Island and was met by a group of Aborigines.  A short attempt at trading only heightened the tension and mistrust between the two groups and ended with a spear being thrown and a musket fired in return. The spot of this encounter was named Skirmish Point by Flinders, and symbolises much of the early encounters between the indigenous people and the European newcomers.

            For come they did when John Oxley arrived in 1824 with a group of convicts to set up a settlement at Redcliffe Point.  The following year it was moved to a site on the Brisbane River and continued as a convict settlement until 1839. From 1842, when Moreton Bay was thrown open to free settlement, immigrants arrived in their droves.  Life for the indigenous people would never be the same.

Quandamooka (Moreton Bay)
Quandamooka (Moreton Bay)

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay Letters’ Peter Ludlow 2003)


Norm Davidson offers some first hand experience of his dealings with Snowy Drennan, one of the many characters mentioned in Peter Ludlow’s “Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection”. In the book, Don Shields had recalled:

“In 1946, straight after the war, at the first disposal sale of wartime equipment, we financed Gordon (Shields) to purchase the first Bribie barge.  Later in about 1950, when he had enough, Ben Tesch (Ivan’s father) took the barges over.  Then he sold out to Bill Woods, who was financed by “Snowy” Drennan. However, Woodsie defaulted on his payments and Snowy Drennan ended up with the barges.  Of course, the opening of the bridge knocked the barges on the head and I believe Drennan sold them off down around here (Cleveland).

“Drennan was quite a character – a whiz kid, a school teacher who owned houses from Charleville to Brisbane.  He was a bookmaker and he used to lend money at exorbitant rates.  He lived at Lutwyche in Brisbane.  However, he did do some good things, for example if he got a brilliant kid in his class he’d send him right through (the grades).  But that was about it.”

Norm Davidson, himself a personality in Peter Ludlow’s “Moreton Bay Reflections”, has this to say about Snowy Drennan:

“I was working as a telegram boy in Charleville at the time when Snowy Drennan was a schoolteacher there. He was well known for his ability to teach lessons to underprivileged kids. On the side, he also conducted an illegal SP bookmaking business.

“One day, the police raided all the barber shops in town and Snowy ended up in the watch house. This didn’t stop Snowy gathering last minute information from the racetrack and Norm was kept busy racing back and forth from the Post Office to the watch house next door with the latest betting prices. In all he had to deliver about 70 telegrams!

“Then the tax office conducted a tax audit on Snowy’s SP revenue. Their ruling was that Snowy was ‘guilty through ignorance’.”

The Bribie Island Barge 1958 (photo John Williamson)


With Adrian Dalgarno

     Hayles did very well on the Bribie run until the barges began running from Toorbul Point. The first had commenced just after the war.  It was an old army landing barge skippered by Bill Woods, a huge fellow whose standard working attire was a blue or once‑white Jackie Howe singlet, a filthy pair of shorts, and bare feet.  His barge didn’t run to a particular timetable (on the hour every two hours) because not much traffic used it then.  One day, Adrian arrived at Toorbul Point to find the barge beached on Bribie.  Bill had had too many drinks at the bowls club and the tide had gone out! 

     The service gradually extended to three barges as the amount of road traffic increased.   With the increased traffic the Council upgraded the road to Toorbul Point from Caboolture, firstly from sand and metal to all metal and then bitumen.  Alec Thornley started the Bribie Bus service not long after the war.  He ran the Brisbane to Bribie service for years, relying on the barges to take him over.  Snowy Drennan, a school teacher, a pawn broker et al. Bought the barge service from Bill Woods and did extremely well until the opening of the Bribie bridge in 1963. 

            “Jim Murray was an old dero who used to dress in an army greatcoat, had long white hair and beard and wore a balaclava rolled up on top of his head.  He was always barefoot and his feet were always dirty.  Every now and then he would shuffle off down to the shop to get his supplies. He rarely went out otherwise but contented himself with sitting outside his house smoking a pipe.  The story went that in his younger days he had been a very well respected barrister, a Pom, but had gone off the rails and had settled at Bribie.  He lived cheaply, and did not look after himself, and kids would scamper to other side of the track when they saw him coming.  He was known as the birdman because he had set bird baths all around his house. 

     “Another personality was Tex Parcell. Tex was the only butcher on Bribie immediately after WWII.  He was as thick as your little finger, about 5’10” tall, and was never out of a filthy pair of old denims, filthy riding boots and spurs, and a huge ten gallon hat.  He kept a magnificent pair of horses just behind his shop, and he had a slaughterhouse up about where Solander Lakes now are, and about 1 km in from the Passage.  Here he used to shoot all his own beef.  He had an old meat sulky pulled by an old mare which he used to transport his slaughtered meat to his shop.  Unfortunately, all the gauze was missing from the sides of the sulky, so that by the time the meat reached the shop, it was covered in a million flies. 

    “There was no refrigeration then and the shop’s cooler room was kept cool by circulating water evaporating from hessian bags hanging from ceiling.  Like all butcher shops at that time, the floor was covered with sawdust. The local kids, myself included, used to go up with Tex to his slaughterhouse to see him kill the cow! 

     “Then there was Hughie Doss, an American who came out on a merchant ship during the war, married an Australian girl, and settled at Bribie.  Hughie had a casual approach to work but always liked to faze people with his stories of big bulldozing projects out west for the government ‑ he was obsessed with tractors.  He bought an old Bedford truck to pull Cyprus pines from people’s properties.  Perhaps it was due to his tree‑felling exploits that he discovered that miles of copper cables had been laid under Bribie’s streets during the war for the communications network.   With copper securing good prices, Dossie got plans for the cable junction points dug down at night to find them then traced the wires out from them.  Then he would shackle the Marmon to them and go like mad down the road pulling miles of cable up.  Next morning the residents would have to fill in the miles of indentations left in the sandy tracks after the copper had been pulled

     “He also bought an old Hudson Terraplane to take people from Ocean Beach across to the pictures in the church hall at Bongaree.  These were run on Saturday nights by Ivan Tesch and his two pretty daughters who acted as usherettes.   The catch was that he would go home to bed during the show, and his passengers would have to walk back when the show was over. 

     “Brennan’s was a well respected store at Bongaree at that time, but Winston’s was the big store and it sold everything.  It also marked the terminus for the bus from Brisbane.  Outside was a huge old fig tree under which all the old people used to sit for a talk.  When the bus came in they would point out any unfamiliar faces disembarking. 

     “Bribie was originally all old pensioners.  Because of its isolation, it was a good place to drop out of society. It was also a bit of a refuge for eccentrics. 

     “On one occasion I spent a camp at Bribie with the Sandgate Senior Scouts and Rovers, during which time we constructed, as an exercise, several grass huts in the bush at Bongaree.  We left them there at the end of our camp and they were later taken over by the artist Ian Fairweather and used as his first home on Bribie.  He was later to become famous throughout Australia’s art world, but at that stage he was just another dero as far as I was concerned.” 

     With the opening of the bridge to the mainland, Bribie gradually ceased to become a refuge for the misfits of city life.  Slowly more and more people settled there, content to spend their retirement enjoying the peace that Bribie could still offer. 

     As suburbia encroached on the bush, the nature of the place subtly changed, but as Adrian still notes: “It’s still possible to walk along the Ocean Beach at dusk on a perfect summer day and see … only two people!” 

The beach at Woorim (Ocean Beach) Bribie Island

            And on the sea breeze, still moaning through the banksias, it’s still just possible to catch that faint childhood memory … that Bribie feeling. 

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


With Adrian Dalgarno

     After World War II the postal address of the Still Water side residents became known as Bongaree, aboriginal for calm waters, and the Ocean Beach became Woorim. 

     The hotel at Ocean Beach was started just before the war.  Original owners were the Goodwins, two Irish brothers, Pat and John, and their sister.  It was a fibro construction with a bar, a road separating their enterprise from the guest house of Bill Shirley.

     Adrian recalls these post war years: “Boronia grew in the middle of the island in a swampy area called the Plains, and in spring my aunt, uncle and myself used to walk miles there collecting these beautiful purple and blue wildflowers as well as wattle, white cauliflower plants etc.   We’d take huge bunches of them tied up in cellophane on the bus to the jetty and sell them to passengers returning on the “Koopa”. We could never get enough.  These days, picking wildflowers is prohibited, which is probably not a bad idea, but in those days, it was considered acceptable. 

     “The Plains were also plentiful with staghorns and elkhorns and my uncle and I would carry an extension ladder in and collect them to hang around the house.  My Uncle was a pretty keen gardener and we’d go down to the creek and collect peat, bring it home, break it up and mix with cow manure from Bestmann’s farm in a 44 gallon drum.  After fermenting for a week it would grow huge lettuce. 

     “Bribie sits on a water table, twelve to fifteen feet down (four to five metres), and they’d just use a spear hand pump to collect water in a 44 gallon drum.  As kids we used to pump like mad and if you didn’t, you’d get your backside kicked, or for a good job you’d get a penny (one cent). Eventually my uncle got a motor to pump his water.” 

     There was a fish and chips Café right on the beach next to the “Koopa”‘s jetty.  At high tide the water would come up right under the decking.  When the “Koopa” docked, old Mrs. Richardson would come out on the verandah with a large bell, ring it feverishly, and call out to the disembarking passengers about her fish and chips.  They would flock in for a fresh fish meal. They would savour big slabs of mullet or cod in thick yellow batter with a big plate of chips, while all around the walls were pictures of huge grouper which had been caught up the Passage. 

     Another enterprise profiting from the visits of the “Koopa” belonged to Ted Shields.  He had a 35 foot boat, the “Marlin”, in which he used to take fishing parties up the Passage schnappering.  He had a landing on the side of the “Koopa”‘s jetty, and many people went over on the “Koopa” specifically to go on his schnappering trips.  Taking a large catch back to Brisbane presented some difficulties as there was no refrigeration on the “Koopa”.  The catch had to be preserved by gutting the fish, rubbing salt into the backbone, then hanging them in the shade in the breeze under the afterdeck awning on hooks provided by the “Koopa” for the three and a half hour journey back to Brisbane. 

    “The “Koopa” could hold up to 1100 people on board, but the average number was about 700.  She had a large dining room which would cater for functions such as wedding breakfasts.  Captain Jones dressed formally, and we kids used to try to catch his eye on the jetty.  If we were lucky, we got a trip up to the wheel house, but if we were told to beat it, we did so quickly.” 

     After the war the “Koopa” service to Bribie was re‑commenced, but the Brisbane Tug and Steamship Co didn’t want to make a go of it so they sold it to another company. However, after four or five years the venture failed.  The “Koopa” eventually became part of the wall in Boggy creek. 

     Later, Hayles “Mirana” took over the run to Bribie as well as to Dunwich.  In the interim, however, Frank Duffield started running three boats from Scarborough, one of which was the “Tivoli”.  They were all 35 to 40 footers and ran on Friday nights.  There was also a run on Saturday and on Sunday, where it picked up what the “Koopa” and later the Hayles boats had left behind.  These Scarborough boats used the military, or army, jetty on the south end of Bribie. The Hornibrook Bus service ran a coordinated bus service to link up with them from the Sandgate station.  They were rough old boats, with just a wheel house and enough wooden seats to hold about forty people. 

     “As well as myself, one regular Friday night passenger was Father William Frawley from the De La Selle College at Redcliffe.   He had done a lot of work in the islands, and dressed in khaki padre gear.   He conducted religious services in a hut on Ocean Beach ‑ not only for Catholics but for anyone who wished to attend.  A big Alsatian dog always travelled with him which people referred to as God. 

     “As we got older (I was about 18) my mother had returned to Bribie to live. I, my best friend and my fiancee, went down to Bribie every weekend.  They were student teachers, & I was a clerk.  None of us had much money & we used to jump on the “Mirimar” at North Quay, buy a bag of fresh cooked prawns or if the money didn’t run to prawns, some cut ham and rolls, at 6 pm on a Friday after work and at 9.30 on the dot, she’d get to Bribie.  Sometimes it would call to the Redcliffe Jetty. 

     “At Bribie, the buses would be waiting ‑ one did a run around the streets on the Passage side and the other on the Ocean Beach side.  The Friday night regulars on the “Mirimar” religiously kept to their own groups: there was our group, the bowlers’ group, the life‑savers group, the fishing club’s group, then there was the odds and sods’ group and each group all had their particular place on the boat ‑ except at holiday times.” 

Bribie Jetty & Moyles 1920 (photo courtesy J.Foote)


With Adrian Dalgarno

            During the 1930s, Bribie was becoming a holiday area for people from the country.  A lot went to Redcliffe for their holidays and thence to Bribie via the “Koopa” which berthed at Redcliffe jetty en route from Brisbane.   The “Koopa” was the only way to reach Bribie in those days.  Quite a tourist industry became associated with the visits of the “Koopa” just prior to WWII.When booking a ticket on the “Koopa” at Brisbane’s Petrie Bight, there were two choices: to Bribie, meaning the Still Water side, or to the Ocean Beach, which entitled the visitor to a trip across the island in an old grandma vehicle, a converted International truck with solid rubber tyres.  The road across the island varied between sand and very coarse metal and the resulting ride to the Ocean Beach was a very bumpy affair. 

Send off for Lindsay North from Tennis Club at Bribie Jetty, Bongaree, 1929. Hall & Bestmann’s store can be seen in background above the jetty roof.  Photo courtesy Jan Burge

     Cyprus (or Bribie island) pine trees were grown by Bribie locals and many used hedges of them instead of wooden fences.  They were also of use commercially, and a  lot of Cyprus was milled in these early days, especially by Norm Thurechts’ mills at Redcliffe & Caboolture.  He had the license to cut it from Bribie, and had it rafted across to the mainland.  After a tree had been cut, a crown stamp was put on the remaining butt so that every so often, inspectors could come to count the crowns, measure the butts, and thus calculate the royalty due. 

     There were a couple of big dairy farms on Bribie in these days and they supplied milk to the mainland.  As well as the Bestmann’s, another belonged to the Freemans, being known to the local children as Bessie’s dairy or Free’s dairy.  The dividing line between the two dairies was the road from the Still Water side to the Ocean Beach. 

     Near Poverty Creek, just across from Donneybrook, was an area known as The Stockyards, appropriately, because a lot of fat cattle were run there in the early days.  It is here, too, that the cattle were swum across to the mainland markets at low tide.  Up until about 1980, a lot of the old stockyard fences and slides were still in existence, but erosion has since disposed of the remains. 

     With the commencement of World War II in 1939, Fort Bribie was established on the Ocean Beach side and two 6 inch naval guns were installed to protect the entrance to Moreton Bay.  The area also served as an important Australian communications base.  Gates were erected about a third of the way across the island, and admission was impossible without an official pass.  Naturally, such a set up necessitated all civilians leaving the Ocean Beach.   

     It is not generally realized that during the war Bribie was also a large base for both American and Australian small ships, such as antisubmarine vessels and gunboats.  The channel at Toorbul Point had been dredged to accommodate such vessels.  Although there was an American base and an Australian base at Toorbul point, the majority of ships were American. 

     During these war years, Adrian Dalgarno spent his childhood, moving between Sandgate and, whenever the opportunity arose, visits to his grandparents on the Still Water side of Bribie.  Adrian can remember seeing three big American destroyers in the Pumicestone Passage.  He also remembers seeing an American escort vessel beached on Skirmish Point for several weeks. 

     Adrian recalls: “We used to go over to Bribie at every opportunity, and being a kid I used to like getting a ride on a Jeep.  There was a big American presence on Bribie: a lot of blasting in the Passage to provide accommodation for thirty or forty boats. 

     “The “Koopa”  had been slipped at Toorbul Point for conversion to war service, and Terry Green, a spirited local of Irish extract, used to walk along the beach each day and abuse the Americans for converting the “Koopa”: “Leave the old girl alone!” he would threaten, and of course the yanks would bait him. 

     “With so many personnel involved, there were always incidents occurring.  Once, an American barge took an Australian tank and crew of five across from Toorbul to Bribie.  Unfortunately the tank was let off too early, and sank in thirty feet of water.  Tragically, the five crew members drowned. Only the tank’s pennant could be seen above water.  A plaque was erected to commemorate the loss, just where the fish market is now located. 

     “The “Otter” and “Doomba” used to run from Brisbane to Bribie and then Cowan with the mail.  Sometimes, I would take the trip to Cowan and back with my grandfather, Jim Holyoake. He was a huge man and had been a member of the Black Watch in India all his life. His attitude to underlings especially coloured races left a lot to be desired.  It was the same towards the Americans.  One day on our return from Cowan, the “Otter” was rammed by an American landing barge and grandfather was sprayed by a lot of softdrinks which were broken near where we were sitting.  Being a gin drinker he was further shocked at the waste, and on reaching Brisbane he went straight to the top brass and complained.  The affair continued for some time.  Such incidents were common around our crowded bay at this time.” 

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


 with Kathleen McArthur

Pumicestone Passage separates Bribie Island from the Mainland

Moreton Bay’s most northerly point is the beach on the Pumicestone Passage at Caloundra.  However, for the purpose of this narrative, it begins a few hundred metres further north.  Here, amongst the high‑rise buildings of modern Caloundra, nestles a small clump of unspoiled native vegetation. 

     To the casual passerby, it’s just another block of land awaiting development ‑ the owner is probably holding out for a higher price ‑ but a closer inspection reveals a house to be already occupying the site.  What’s more, people are surprised to learn that someone actually lives there! 

     To those who know Kathleen McArthur and her passion for conservation issues, it’s no surprise to find that, when it comes to living by her beliefs, she practices what she preaches.  For indeed, this modest house with its encircling mass of native scrub, is “Midyim”, her beloved home since first coming to Caloundra with her young family in 1943.  

     Kathleen is a naturalist and has long been a vocal and erudite crusader against the damages which development so often inflicts on the environment.  For many years she has fought on a variety on such issues: to save the Bird of Paradise in New Guinea, The Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, as well as threatened areas as far away as Tasmania and Western Australia. 

     In the late 1970s, when the Heritage Commission was formed it advertised for submissions for the National Estate, an inventory of interesting parts of Australia.  Having supported other areas of Australia, Kathleen thought it appropriate to do something for her own area: the narrow, twisting waterway snaking southwards almost from her own front doorstep ‑ the Pumicestone Passage. 

     She first collected anything of an historical nature, an important precept to the National Estate.  There was so much and it was so interesting that she decided to go a bit further and write a book, which she put in as a final submission, on behalf of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland Inc. of which she was the Caloundra Branch’s Secretary at the time. 

     It took the Heritage Commission over ten years to decide upon the listing, but eventually the Pumicestone Passage was granted an interim listing, and then finally a permanent one. 

     Her book, Pumicestone Passage ‑ A Living Waterway, which grew out of the submission, remains as the authoritative textbook of the area. The real miracle of the Pumicestone Passage is the healthy neglect (as Kathleen so aptly puts it) which it has enjoyed up to the present day.  Its mangrove clad narrow waterways still remain as unspoiled as they did in the early days of the century. 

     One still expects, with each new turn, to chance upon Andrew Tripcony’s vessel “Grace” carrying its load of cargo from Brisbane to Caloundra through the perilously shallow waters of the Passage.  Or to hear a beckoning shout from the Tripcony home at Cowiebank.  But the engines are silent and the home in another’s hands.  Perhaps fortuitously, economics have forced man to find alternative corridors to eke out his existence. 

     Not so for the wading birds of the Northern Hemisphere for which the Pumicestone Passage is an important corridor in their annual migration northwards.  Acknowledging this, the Australian Government, with ratification from all State governments, has an agreement with Japan and China for the protection of Northern Hemisphere migratory birds and their habitats. 

     Two projects now threaten the Passage: the canal development behind Golden Beach, and the dredging for the deepening of navigation channels and boat anchorages. 

     In her book, Kathleen says: “Dredging for any purpose, not necessarily only for deepening navigational channels, is very detrimental to fisheries.  It releases sediments that create turbidity, prevent photosynthesis and smother marine grasses. Additionally, it will change the tidal flow, usually with unforeseen consequences, unless it has previously been studied on a hydrological model.” 

     But it’s in the southern section of the Passage, below The Skids where navigation becomes easier and the waterways wider that civilization and its resulting changes are most obvious. Water skis and windsurfers have replaced the rowing boats of sleepy Bribie fishermen; a modern concrete bridge has made redundant the “Koopa” and “Doomba” ‑ sedate pleasure cruisers from Brisbane; and the resulting flood of immigrants has brought suburban living to where the mangroves once ruled. 

     Kathleen concludes: “Whether or not changes are brought about will depend on the number of vocal people who believe they should.  It is an idea that needs careful consideration, to be discussed, debated, and worried into a decisive policy. What should not be forgotten is that all aspects of management of such a complicated biological entity are interdependent and the separated items cannot be looked at in isolation, for water‑quality, fishing, the supply of king‑ prawns, the honey‑flow, birds, boating, dredging, swimming, water ski‑ing, tourism; ‑ the past, the present, and the future are all inter‑related.” 

FURTHER READING:  Pumicestone Passage‑a Living Waterway 

  • by Kathleen McArthur 

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

Tea on the SS Ormiston

Might have been hoist by assorted petards?*

by Marilyn Carr

Instead of the expected mere motor launch to take us across Moreton Bay on that long-ago morning, getting readied for leaving the wharf on the Brisbane River was a real “ship”, the SS Ormiston of the A.U.S.N. Line. We stepped aboard. She had her ship-of-the-line markings on the funnel, maybe three deck levels and an air of consequence, of having sailed across diverse seas – not just up and down the old, slow Brisbane River!  That trip, calculated to have been on Thursday, 22nd April, 1943, when I was seven and accompanied by my grandmother and sister, was not a trip soon forgotten and neither was the opportunity it made of, seemingly, taking to the high seas aboard the SS Ormiston.

SS Ormiston (photo courtesy Jon Rainbird)

 The Ormiston had been purchased, in 1936, by an Australian shipping company to sail the pre-war coastal routes from Cairns to Melbourne as a freighter and a cruise ship. Built in 1922 in the United Kingdom, and first named the Famaka, the ship was previously owned by an Egyptian steamship company and had sailed from Alexandria and ports around the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Maybe some aura of exotic places, of imagined mysteries of the East and illicit trysts by the ghosts of double agents still clung around its gangways; though, in the ‘thirties, the Ormiston was transporting tripping Australian honeymooners and bags of raw sugar.

That was until the onset of the Second World War. Australian merchant vessels were requisitioned by the government to give priority to war purposes. Passenger cabin accommodation on this steamer was closed down; records show the Ormiston received the “stiffening” of paravanes and degaussing gear for anti-submarine and for mines protection. Japanese submarines were operating and lurked off the waters of the Queensland coast.

 For me, that Thursday, the week before Easter, I was excited to go aboard: to watch the sight of the sea between us and the wharf becoming wider and wider, to listen to the ship’s horn hoot, informing of leaving its moorings. Next to hear thick, thick mooring ropes drop, screws start turning faster as our vessel eased out from her berth to head down river.

 This, though, was a war-time voyage.  An indication that unseen submarines might try to infiltrate and cause havoc on the Brisbane River was the nets that I remember had to be first lowered so that our ship could sail through and out into Moreton Bay.

What, though, made this trip memorable for me?

  I have this near-faded recollection of being led along the Ormiston’s companionway. Grandma was taking us to morning tea.  I recall a sign painted in gold letters on the bulkhead.  Was it really in gold lettering? The word was certainly “saloon” – with its “oo”.   It was a word I had not read before.  I picture it in my mind’s eye still. We step over into the entrance and into the compartment labelled as the Ormiston’s “saloon”.  There are deep, blue-coloured curtains over the portholes with their polished brass rims; the tables have white tablecloths. It is so different from any space I have entered before. There is a stern-looking steward in a white jacket.  He need not be concerned. My behaviour will be exemplary.  I believe we may have been served scones.  

That was my memory of the SS Ormiston of the A.U.S.N. shipping line. It had stayed with me. Really, only this memory lingered.

About twenty years ago, I was at the La Trobe Library in Melbourne and I asked if they had any texts, documents on the SS Ormiston.  They held a copy of the history of the A.U.S.N., From Derby Round to Burketown by N.L. McKellar and various company documents were available. That shipping line had been the owner of the SS Ormiston.  Among the material on the company was a Voyage Book where there was listed the trips and cargo of the Ormiston.  I searched through and found what I felt was the date of our trip to Bribie Island. I checked the date against the cargo. That cargo was ordnance!  It made sense as on the ocean side of the island, two big fortification gun batteries had been built. They were part of the major defense against any Japanese invasion of Brisbane. Nana, Rossie and I had sat happily above a goodly quantity of high explosives – all unaware.

 The threat of submarine attack with ships, crews and passengers suffering direct assaults was very real. Our trip to Bribie Island was on the 22nd April, 1943, and on the 24th April (two days later) about 150 kilometers north and out from Fraser Island a ship, the Kowarra, was torpedoed and sank with the loss of 21 lives.  The Ormiston, too, was later torpedoed on the 12th May, out from Coffs Harbour, NSW. One torpedo pierced near the port bow; water gushing in to hold No. 1 while the bulkhead to hold No.2 buckled, but held.  A second torpedo collided with the ship master’s stout iron bathtub in his cabin.  An anti-submarine Naval Auxiliary Patrol boat with armaments came to assist the Ormiston which limped to Sydney for repairs. The crew had moved its cargo of sugar and tallow and that had been rammed against the buckling bulkhead. There it held.  Evidently it was a perfect strategy. The Ormiston was saved.   

However, the worst war-time tragedy occurred on the 24th May, some days later, out from Caloundra (80 kms from Brisbane) when the hospital ship, all brightly lit, painted white and with very visible red crosses, the AHS Centaur, was torpedoed with 332 passengers and crew killed and only 64 rescued.  The captain of the naval patrol boat mentioned above wrote in a naval history site that he believed those last two attacks were linked.  And there has always been absolutely unsubstantiated hearsay that the Centaur was carrying ordnance.   

The waters around Moreton Bay in those months of 1943 were dangerous. 

Why was the mundane running of a week-day ferry trip replaced by a freighter handed over to the navy for war purposes if not to send in armaments for the gun emplacements at Ocean Beach, Bribie Island? Anyway, morning tea in the Saloon of the SS Ormiston was a remembered occasion for a little girl who that day had a glimpse that the world held variety and could be an interesting place.

Marilyn Carr

 *be hoist by one’s own petard (also be hoist with one’s own petard) have one’s plans to cause trouble for others backfire on one. [from Shakespeare’s Hamlethoist is in the sense ‘lifted and removed’,


Recalled by Ian Hall

       During the 1920s, Bribie’s first lawn bowling green was constructed near the dance hall, which in about 1929 was to be taken off its stumps and moved down the hill to become the club’s first clubhouse.   Alfred Hall took a keen interest in the sport and in the bowling club’s formation. He was to become its second President. 

     Boarding Houses sprang up in the street along from the Hall and Bestmann store.  These included the Davis’, the Davies’, and the Stones’.  All were popular with the weekend bowlers because of their home cooked meals.  Most noteworthy was that run by Bob Davies and his two sisters, Lilly and Rosie.  As a further attraction and mealstop for the passengers of the “Koopa”, Bob had trimmed his Bribie Island Pines into the shape of Kangaroos, Emus etc.  He called his enterprise The Novelty Gardens. 

Rose and Lilly Davies with trees sculptured by their brother, Bob. Novelty Gardens, Bribie Island, 1920s. (Photo courtesy Jan Burge.)

   The Tug Company also had a boarding house and luncheon rooms just to the north of its jetty.  When these were leased to the Moyles, they became famous for their lovely fish meals. 

     The scheduled discharge of passengers from the “Koopa” and “Doomba” also provided a market for other enterprising locals.  Harry Freeman, a fisherman who lived at Ninghi Creek on the mainland would come over to the Bribie jetty and sell crabs and fish to passengers.   Ned Bishop in his launch “Wisper” did the same for fruit and vegetables, and sometimes a goat which he called lamb or mutton.  Joe Campbell and Pat Levinge also traded their produce with the tourists. 

     During the 1920s, other shops were established at Bribie’s Still Water side: Kerr’s bakery, Jim Ormiston’s boat hire.  The first school was commenced in 1924, and the first Church of England in 1928. 

     The Government even showed enterprise at Bribie when it started an experimental farm in 1922. Tom Mitchell was the manager and grew banana suckers and avocado pears.  However, because of poor soil and a lack of water, it was closed in 1929.

     A similar fate also befell a tobacco farm which was started in the depression years by Arthur and Eddy Winston. They built a curing shed on the Still Water side and had some good crops but abandoned the undertaking because of poor soil & lack of water. 

            During the early 1920s, all activity on the south end of Bribie had been concentrated on the Still Water,or Pumicestone Passage, side.  However, the Halls had cut a walking track across the island to the Ocean Beach side, and this had been later widened to allow a horse and cart to pass. On the Ocean Beach, waves were of sufficient size to allow body surfing, a pleasure not possible on the Still Water side of the island.  As a further incentive for tourists to visit the island, it was decided to construct a road to the Ocean Beach side in 1923. A contract was let and won by Bill Shirley, one of Bribie’s residents, and with the cooperation of the Brisbane Tug and Steamship Company, a gang completed the task in that year.  

     After the road was finished, Bill Shirley converted the construction trucks into buses in which he collected the passengers from the “Koopa” and took them across to the Ocean Beach. These trucks‑turned‑buses had solid rubber tyres, so the trip along the gravel road must have been quite a bumpy affair. Later, Bill Shirley was to become Bribie’s first councillor on the Caboolture Shire Council. 

     With the road now completed to the Ocean Beach side of Bribie, and with Bill Shirley running regular convoys of visitors there, Alfred Hall thought it time to open a shop there.  As he and Artie Bestmann were totally occupied with their store on the Still Water side, Alfred brought out his niece, Lily, from England with her husband, Wilfred Cotterill, and eight year old daughter, Muriel.  Within weeks of his arrival at Bribie in 1924, Wilf Cotterill constructed a combined residence and kiosk on the Ocean Beach side, the area’s first building.  It was made from corrugated iron and sported a rustic tea garden alongside.  Here, visitors could enjoy tea, soft drinks and sandwiches.  However, the trade proved to be very seasonal and confined mainly to weekends, and Wilf Cotterill was forced to close down his enterprise.  Wilf was then engaged to manage the Hall and Bestmann dairy farm on the Still Water side. 

     Alfred Hall retired about 1926/7 and the Hall‑Bestmann business was divided.  Artie Bestmann kept the shop and the surrounding land, while Alfred Hall kept the 321 acres dairy farm.  Later, because Alfred’s sons were not interested, the farm was given to Wilf Cotterill, who retired a wealthy man. The Winstons (of the failed tobacco company) later bought Artie Bestmann’s shop and carried on the business until after World War II.

            With the advent of the family car after World War II, the demand for excursion vessels such as the “Koopa” and “Doomba” fell off.  The completion of the bridge to Bribie in 1963 sealed their fate. 

     “I had been a passenger in the first car to make the trip from Brisbane to Bribie, ” remembers Ian Hall. “This was in 1919, and the car, a two-cylinder 1913 Talbot, was driven by Artie Bestmann.  The trip took two days, and the final crossing of the Pumicestone Passage to Bribie was accomplished on the family’s cattle pontoon. 

     “When the bridge to Bribie was finally completed in 1963, it was fitting that Artie Bestmann was the first to drive across.” 

Pumicestone Passage about 1920 showing Koopa Jetty & Moyle’s house viewed from Hall & Bestmann’s shop (Photo courtesy J.Foote)

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


Recalled by Ian Hall

The partnership of Hall and Bestmann then constructed a small butcher shop on the allotment behind their grocery store.  This they leased out, the first butcher being Bill Friese.  Naturally, he was obliged to purchase his meat from the Hall and Bestmann slaughterhouse which they had also constructed on their grazing land. The increasing demands of the store at Bribie coupled with several school age children and a grocery store in Brisbane often necessitated that Alfred Hall remain at Bribie while his wife, Emily, remained in Brisbane.  Eventually, in 1924 Alfred sold the grocery business in Brisbane to concentrate his business interests at Bribie. 

The kind of fish caught at Bribie in 1925. Tom Whinney (left) and Tom Stone (right). (Photo courtesy Jan Burge.)

The arrival of the “Koopa” was a big event at Bribie and all the locals turned out in force to greet her.  At this stage there were three walkways onto the jetty to handle the large number of passengers using the steamships.  Indeed, so large were the crowds at the jetty, that the Tug Company was forced to construct gates across the walkways to protect the public from injury during berthing operations.  Bill Freeman was the first caretaker for the Tug Co and part of his job involved tying up the “Koopa” when she berthed.  His house was situated beside the jetty, and, soon after its establishment in 1913, the first Post Office was moved there.  His wife operated the PO under their house. Later, in 1922, when telephones first came to island ‑ there were about six of them ‑ she was in charge of switchboard.   The phone came by overland wires to Toorbul Point on the mainland, and then by undersea cable to Bribie. Much of the construction work was performed by the Campbells, but the Brisbane Tug and Steamship Company assisted by transporting poles, men and materials to Bribie free of charge. 

  “One of the Bribie identities at that time,” Ian Hall recalls.” Was Jimmy Hagen.  Perhaps due to gangrene in the first World War, Jimmy had been unfortunate enough to have both legs amputated just below the knees.  With the locals’ penchant for imparting nicknames to well-known figures, Jimmy was not unkindly referred to as “Jimmy‑No‑Legs”.   The disability did not prevent his mobility, however, and he got around with thick pads on his knees.  He lived down beside the creek in a little shack and had a dinghy which he used to row up to meet the “Koopa” when she berthed.  There was no pub on the island then, and the bar of the “Koopa” was the only place available to have a few ales.  Jimmy would be very merry after drinking for the full three hours of the “Koopa”‘s berthing, and I often used to wonder how he managed to row home after his binges, but he always seemed to make it!” 

Another of the Tug Company’s community services was to transport drinking water to the island from Brisbane.  Swamp water on Bribie was brackish and unsuitable for drinking, and as there was no reticulated water then, residents were forced to rely on tanks. Houses had their own tanks which were refilled by rainwater.  However, the campers were so numerous that the “Koopa” and “Doomba” used to fill their 5 or 6 tanks each time they visited the island. 

About 1918, just after the war, the Tug Company constructed twelve huts on their foreshore leasehold just behind the Bribie jetty. The aim was to provide cheap holiday accommodation for visitors who did not wish to camp. In later years, these “Twelve Apostles” as they became popularly known were to provide more permanent accommodation to the island’s pensioners. 

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.


Recalled by Ian Hall

Although he lost his original customers with the closure of the cannery, Alfred Hall’s business was booming from a new source ‑ the holidaymaker.  Large numbers had begun arriving at the island with the instigation of regular passenger runs from Brisbane by the S.S.”Koopa”.  Built in 1911 by Ramage and Ferguson in Scotland and capable of carrying up to 1600 passengers, she was soon to become a favourite with holidaymakers on the Brisbane‑Redcliffe‑Bribie run. Her owners, the Brisbane Tug and Steamship Company, constructed the first jetty on the Still Water side of Bribie in 1912.  In addition, they leased a long strip of land on the foreshore behind the jetty, which except for a caretaker’s house and a guest house, has never been built on, even to this day. It was here, under the Bribie Island Pines that the holidaymakers camped.   At Christmas and Easter holiday periods up to a thousand tents bore witness to the lure of Bribie Island:  mullet splashing against the backdrop of the Glasshouse mountains thrusting their strange peaks into the sunset billows… brolgas summoning the salt and eucalypt breeze… pine scented smoke curling from a lazy campfire… 

‘Koopa’ at Bribie Jetty 1920 (photo courtesy Ian Hall)

Ian Hall, one of Alfred’s sons, was a young lad in the early 1920s and vividly recalls those early years of the Hall and Bestmann store: 

“The “Koopa” had become so popular that often its services had to be supplemented by another Tug and Steamship vessel, the “Beaver”.  Eventually, in 1919, the Company was obliged to purchase the “Doomba” to run as a sister ship to the “Koopa”.  Captain Johnson, skipper of the “Koopa” was transferred to the “Doomba”, his replacement being Captain Gibson, previously of the “Beaver”. 

“Holidaymakers’ tents were supported by a framework of poles cut from the surrounding bush.  Father and Artie Bestmann collected a large supply of Ti Tree poles which they hired out to the campers who brought only their tents with them.  Often, they would have their tents sent on beforehand so that we could have them erected ready for their arrival. 

 “All the store’s provisions had to be sent on the “Koopa” which came to Bribie four times a week: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  Of course, we had no refrigeration then, but ice was brought down packed in sawdust and hessian bags to delay melting.  Even so, half of it had gone by the time it arrived, but it was useful for keeping the butter and soft drinks cold for the campers. 

 “Meat was kept cool in a meat‑safe which had a trough on top filled with water.  Hessian bags dipped into the water and hung down the sides of the safe.  Breezes evaporated the moisture in the bags and kept the meat cool.  There was no electricity either, and light for the shop came from carbide lamps, one in the shop and one on the footpath.  These could be supplemented by kerosene lamps and candles.  The carbide lamps were good for keeping down the moths because they had their wings burnt in the intense heat.  Cow manure was burnt to keep mosquitoes away, though the pungent Citronella Oil was also available for rubbing on the skin for the same purpose. 

 “The store sold food and campers’ supplies, but no building materials.  These were brought from Brisbane on the “Koopa” by the builders themselves.  Artie’s father also made homemade wine which was sold in our store for 1/‑ (10 cents) a bottle.  It was very popular in the early days with the cannery workers as there was no hotel on Bribie then.

 “When I was about 12 years old, one of my jobs was to hand deliver milk to the surrounding houses from a couple of large cans I carried with me.  Our first cow was kept behind our house.  Later we kept a whole herd on 321 acres we bought across the creek in about 1920.  These cattle were ferried across from the mainland on a specially constructed pontoon.”

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.