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’,

SETTLING THE STILL WATER SIDE – Part 4

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’.

SETTLING THE STILL WATER SIDE – Part 3

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’.

SETTLING THE STILL WATER SIDE – Part 2

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’.

SETTLING THE STILL WATER SIDE – Part 1

Recalled by Ian Hall

 When Alfred Hall first began visiting Bribie Island about 1912, there were some twenty inhabitants permanently living there.  Most of these were employees of the Mullet Cannery which was then situated on the southern end of the island on the Pumicestone Passage, or “Still Water” side of the island. The cannery was then owned by Mrs. Sarah Balls, after having been moved, under a succession of owners from Toorbul Point to a northern section of Bribie Island, and then south again in 1910. 

The cannery marketed under the “Anchor Brand” label and several of its employees are worthy of note.    Bill Wright was the foreman, while Peter Rich gutted the fish.  Many of Bribie’s early residents were labelled with nicknames befitting their occupation or physical characteristic.  Thus Peter Rich became popularly known as “Peter the Gutter”. Similarly, another employee was nicknamed “Hoppy” Dixon because he had one leg shorter than the other.  Another employee, by the name of Gotch, boiled down the fish heads and bones to extract the oil which was valuable.  The remainder of the residue was used to make fertilizer, which was sent to Brisbane. After canning, air was expelled by steam through a hole in the lid, then the hole was sealed with a daub of solder. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the supply of tin required for the cans became scarce and the cannery was forced to close down.

 Some employees stayed on at Bribie as pensioners, while others started the island’s net fishing industry.  Old Hoppy Dixon operated the wind‑up gramophone for the Saturday night dances, while Peter Rich turned his attention to Grouper catching, and became known as the Grouper King.  These he caught from the jetty in the Pumicestone Passage with a large hook, chain trace, rope and a mudcrab for bait.  He’d dangle the rope from the end of the jetty and when a Grouper became hooked he would land the fish on the beach.  He’d cut it up and sell it for 3d a lb.  Photos of Peter and his catches, some weighing as much as 500 lb, still hang in the amateur fisherman’s club at Bongaree. 

Hall and Bestmann’s store at Bongaree

 Alfred Hall owned a successful grocery business in the Brisbane suburb of Toowong.  He went to Bribie at weekends and for holidays to fish and relax after long hours spent working at the shop.  At Bribie he soon formed a friendship with Arthur Bestmann, son of the pioneering family of the Godwin Beach area.  Arthur, or Artie as he was more popularly known, had left home to raise bees at Bribie.  To supplement his income, he used to bring passengers ashore from visiting vessels such as the “Sunrise”.  There was no jetty, and passengers had to be taken ashore by pontoon, an awkward manoeuvre, but safely conducted by Artie Bestmann. 

 At first the Hall‑Bestmann friendship was restricted to fishing expeditions, but about 1913 when Bribie was first surveyed, they bought a few acres of land just back from the beach at Bongaree.  There, Alfred Hall built a small shack which he used as a holiday home.  There were no shops on the island, and when the cannery workers learned that he owned a grocery business in Brisbane, they persuaded him to bring some supplies down on his weekend excursions. This he did, and commenced selling tinned goods and biscuits on the verandah of his shack via the bedroom window. As business improved, he converted the entire front bedroom into a shop.  In 1918 he went into partnership with Artie Bestmann and in 1921 they built a larger shop on the corner allotment next door. 

Another view of Hall and Bestmann’s store

Extract from Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection’.

Early Days at Bribie Island

Editor’s note: This article was given to me many years ago.  It appeared in a 1963 souvenir issue of the now defunct “Bribie Star” newspaper.  I am reprinting portion of it here because of its historical significance. 

Reg Campbellwrites…

In the year 1905 our family set sail in the cutter “Salina” from Hayes Inlet, just up from Clontarf, for our new home at the mouth of Ninghi Creek, Pumicestone Channel.

My father, the late Joe Campbell, came to take charge of Mr J. Clark’s extensive oyster farming operations. The oyster leases and dredge sections extended as far up the channel as Donnybrook, and some of them went up as far up as Mission Point, which is about 10 miles north of Toorbul Point.

Our near neighbours were Mr C. Dean and Mr Fred Turner. Other families in the area were the Days, Bestmanns, Bastins, and still further up Ninghi Creek were the families Freeman, Davis, Dux, and Bishop. Mr Harry Wright lived on Bribie Island and Mr W. Mohr and J. Gallagher lived at Whitepatch. Mr H. Bowles lived at Mission Point, and a little further up the Passage was Mr T. Tripcony. Mr August Wilson and Mr C. Bardon were at Donnybrook.

OYSTERING

Oystering was the foremost industry carried on in those days, and the main oyster lesees were James Clark, Moreton Bay Oyster Company, J. Markwell, and T. Tripcony.  Apart from oystering, there was also dairy farming, and a good deal of log timber was handled in and around Toorbul and Bribie Island. 

All goods from Bribie Island were carried by J. Clark’s SS “Sunset” and later the SS “Sunrise”, the Moreton Bay Oyster Company’s schooner, “Sir Arthur”, and later still by the auxiliary cutters “Result” and “Caloola”.

The log timbers for James Campbell’s mills at Brisbane was shipped by the paddle-wheelers “Lintrose” and “Bell” from the rafting grounds at Ninghi Creek, Donnybrook and Coochin Creek.

Mr T. Tripcony ran a service with his motor auxiliary to and from Caloundra and Brisbane, carrying Government stores to Bribie and “lead lights” to the northern end of the Island and Caloundra. On the return trips he carried shell-grit, oysters, citrus fruits and also pineapples from Westaway’s orchard near Caloundra.

ONLY SCHOOL

The only school was on Toorbul Road, not far from Elimbah Creek, and as this was too far for us to attend we did not receive any schooling until 1908 when Mr James Clark built a small provisional school at Toorbul Point.  This building still stands there but during the last war some additions were made to it. Miss Eustace was the first school teacher and there were only 14 pupils.

            In 1910 Mrs Sarah Ball established a fish cannery on Bribie Island, and the building stood opposite to where “Shady Glen” now stands.  The cannery operated until 1914 when it was forced to close down because of a shortage of tin plate which occurred just after the war began.  The building was sold to a Brisbane jam factory and it was removed to the city on the SS “Porpoise” owned by Burke and Sons.

            In 1911 the E. and A. liner SS “Eastern” ran aground on Salamander Reef off the southern end of Bribie Island. After unsuccessfully trying for some days to refloat the vessel it was decided to jettison some of the cargo, after which the liner was freed from the reef.

            The jettisoned cargo, which included bags of rice, canned foods, cases of petrol in 4-gallon drums, shark oil and bags of peanuts, was washed up on Ocean Beach. The bags of peanuts burst and loose nuts were blown from one end of the Island to the other. Eventually there were peanuts growing on many parts of the Island.

DESTROY CARGO

            It was not long before customs officers were sent from Brisbane to inspect and destroy the cargo washed ashore on Ocean Beach. The officers rode along the beach on bicycles and cut holes with hatchets on all the tinned goods that could be found.

            Some of the cases of petrol (it was called benzine in those days) were salvaged at the Caloundra end of Bribie, and Mr Charles Godwin was engaged to ship it to Brisbane in his auxiliary launch “Victory”. Returning from the second trip, Mr Godwin was accidentally drowned after being hit by the sail of the “Victory” and thrown overboard into the Passage. The body was found several days later floating near the fish cannery jetty.

            From 1906 to 1911 the Royal Australian Naval Reserve carried out annual gunnery practice in H.M.A.S. “Gayundah” off Bribie Island.  The targets were erected in Horseshoe Bay, just opposite where Mr Gazzard’s home now stands in Webster Street, and the “Gayundah” anchored near the Deception Bay beacon.

            During these same years, 1906 to 1911, the Brisbane Tug Company sent their tugs, “Greyhound” and “Beaver”, which had been fitted up to carry passengers, to Bribie Island on holidays such as Easter, King’s Birthday etc.  A square-end punt with seats all around was used to take passengers ashore. A rope was tied to a tree and to the boat, and the punt was hauled to and from the bank just opposite the Bongaree water tower near the Bribie Island Bowling Club.

            Other visitors to the island in their sailing yachts in those days were Messrs. T.Welsby, I.Bond, J.Plumridge, B.Fox, the Ruddles and many others.

BUILDING ERECTED

            About this time a building was brought over from South Passage, Moreton Island, erected just about where the Bongaree water tower now stands, and used as a dance hall. It was in this hall that the first Bribie Island school was conducted under the guidance of Mr L.Diplock, Bribie’s first school teacher. There were about 16 to 20 pupils attending when the school first started. Later the building was sold to the Bongaree Bowling Club and it now forms the main portion of the present club house.

Bribie Island – Bathers at Bongaree, showing also the dance hall and Twelve Apostles, 1920s (Photo courtesy Jan Burge)

            Sometime in 1914 A.Tripcony and Son began a motor-launch service which connected with the “Koopa” and ran from Bribie to Caloundra.

            In 1915 the “Avon”, now referred to as “the wreck” on Blackbuoy Bank, near the mouth of Dux Creek, was placed in its present position to form a breakwater to protect the oysters on the bank from heavy southerly weather. The “Avon” was a condemned coal hulk which, in earlier days, had been a schooner engaged in bringing South Sea Islanders to Queensland to work the canefields.

© Ludlow, Peter, Moreton Bay Letters, 2003

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 Crebers of Early Bribie

Doris McPhee (nee Tubman) of Scarborough writes…

My uncle was John Creber.  As a child, I went with my family to visit him.  Bribie was very undeveloped then.  Most of the people there were workers at the cannery, numbering no more than 50 in all.  They were all middle aged to elderly and didn’t mind a drink after work!  When the mullet were cleaned and gutted, their innards were disposed of in the Pumicestone Passage and this ‘burly’ attracted many sharks, with the result that we kids were not allowed to go swimming. 

On one of our visits, a carpet snake was found in bed with my brother, and was removed with much commotion.  Fishing, of course, was great at Bribie then and it was easy to live on fish and oysters from the Bay or by slaughtering kangaroos on the island.

John Creber’s daughter, Joyce, was the first non-indigenous person born on Bribie Island (Joyce arrived before John’s wife, Eva, could be taken to the mainland for her delivery!) When John Creber died, his family was destitute because there were no social services then, however other Bribie locals got together and built her and her family a new house.

A frequent visitor to Bribie in those early days was Canon Miles, an Anglican Minister whose Parish was at St. George’s in the Brisbane suburb of Windsor.  However, he often visited Bribie and held church services there.  Peter Ludlow has also mentioned that he went to Peel Island and held services for the Leprosy patients there.  He was held in great regard by all who knew him and some of his other activities included the Mission to Seamen and camping holidays that he organised at Coolangatta for all the newspaper boys of Brisbane.

The huts known as the Twelve Apostles on the beach at Bongaree were built for pensioners (many of whom were Remittance Men) and as they died the huts were pulled down.  Bribie is a different world today. 

Bribie Island – Bathers at Bongaree, showing also the dance hall and Twelve Apostles, 1920s (Photo courtesy Jan Burge)

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

A Little Night Navigation with my Father and Uncle Jack – by Marilyn Carr

(This is the third article sent in by Marilyn. You can read the previous two at 03.12.2016 – Bullets and Beans and at 10.12.2016 – Koopa Memories)

My father had bought, from Army Disposals, a compass – its half-orb wobbled inside a squat, navy wooden box. I think it was a deep blue box but this is only a memory – and from over seventy years ago. Dad and Uncle Jack’s small adventure with night navigation happened on Moreton Bay on a trip down the Brisbane River and across to Bribie Island, in January, 1947. Well, I have calculated it was then.  If so, I would have recently turned eleven and I became a somewhat seasick witness to their escapade.

Dad had been attending a night class in navigation and, as he was quick with numbers, he would have been keen to practice his newly-gained skill.  And he had the boat! She was the “Lady Ellen” which he owned with two other members of the family. Now, do not think motor launch circa 2020 with sleek lines, running on marine diesel. 

The “Ellen” was about seven metres in length, wooden, squat; it had two bunks, the engine cover acted as a table, there was a rudimentary galley, a heads – and here I have a memory of confusion with rope and anchor storage.  However, the singularly most unsatisfactory circumstance about the “Ellen” was the engine.  (I have had ‘phone discussions with a cousin not seen for years about this.) After the war, engines were scarce, very scarce to obtain.  Evidently, the engine found for Dad’s boat was scavenged from a 1920’s car called an Essex Four. The boat was seriously underpowered, though possibly not for the time it had been built.

The Simes’ boat moored in the Bribie Passage

After the day spent organizing for the trip, Dad and I were ready to have our evening meal aboard the “Ellen”, as she was at her mooring in Breakfast Creek which runs into the Brisbane River. How many meals does one remember from one’s childhood?  Well, I recall that offering from Dad.  He opened a tin of Libby’s luncheon beef from a tin with a key and there were grapes. That was dinner.  It grew dark and I was put to bed on one of the bunks (next to the engine). Dad was waiting for Uncle Jack to join him. I thought we were to set off down the river at first light.  

Asleep on the bunk, I was unaware when Uncle Jack had joined Dad. They had decided to catch the ebbing tide, not wait for the dawn, and start down the Brisbane River. (If this was, indeed, 1947, petrol rationing was still in effect and conserving it was paramount.) Passing Bishop’s Island at the mouth of the river, with the lights across to Redcliffe enticing them on, their charts at the ready and all fair before them, rather than wait for the dawn, they sailed on to navigate to Bribie at night.   

Sometime later I woke up. There were Dad and Uncle Jack in the dimly-lit cabin. We seemed to be at the heaving centre of war-time-remembered shiny, black-out darkness.  The old engine grumbled at an idle. The “Ellen” rose, was slapped and dropped, ruled by the waves’ chop.  We were well out into the bay; it was past midnight. But the boat was not powering forward. She was moving only at the sea’s whim.  And it was getting windy.

Awake, although feeling decidedly queasy, I managed to get up and to hoist myself onto a cabin bench; I did my retching over the side! From then on, I watched what happened half asleep and wrapped in a blanket. 

 The “Ellen” had stopped travelling forward! The connection from the steering wheel, the helm, through to the rudder had snapped.  The screws of the propellor were turning but the boat’s direction could no longer be controlled.  And we were really not that very far from the main shipping channel into Brisbane.  

Checking today a map of Moreton Bay and the sea route to Bribie Island by crossing Deception Bay, the land area of around Deception Bay shows much development – it might even be referred to as an outer suburb of Brisbane, maybe.  Dad’s navigation trial, though, was over seventy years ago, when there was no electricity available on from the seaside town of Scarborough until Caloundra. We were at sea, unable to control where we were going and, around us, all was new-moon darkness.     

 Somehow, Dad had to get the “Ellen” back on course, and sailing forward towards Bribie.  I have never known if the solution Uncle Jack and Dad came to was their ingenuity, or if the solution was a standard ploy in such situations. I do know it worked. Uncle Jack crawled into the stern of the “Ellen”, after the hatch had been removed.  His feet could reach the rudder control rods and he was able to command the direction the rudder – with his feet. On we went: Dad at the helm, Uncle Jack standing in the stern’s hold. 

Although, we were on our way again, and hopefully not much off course, around us was the darkness.

Years after this adventure of Dad’s and Uncle Jack’s, my Father would tell how, trying to discern something ahead, he had found, far-off, one pin-prick of light. He reasoned it could be a fisherman on Bribie and steered towards this lone night beacon. He was right:  it was a solitary fisherman with his lantern on the Bribie Island jetty.  

They edged past the jetty and cruised close into the shore until they discerned the huge gum tree in front of “Torphins”, our seaside house on the island.  The anchor was dropped.  We scrambled into the dinghy we must have towed all the way, rowed ashore and amazed the family when we appeared out of the darkness.  

That was Dad and Uncle Jack’s adventure in night navigation on Moreton Bay. There are many stories about the yesterdays around Moreton Bay – here has been the telling of one more. 

‘Torphins’ in 1948
Peter, Allan, and Marilyn Simes with their father, Peter in 1948

 The navigators: Peter Simes (1906 – 1974); Jack Kieseker (1914 – 1983)

Writer: Marilyn Carr (nee Simes)