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’.

Under the Boardwalk

‘Snow’ Portone told me this story…

Manly Jetty on Regatta Day 1914 (Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland)

When the Port family moved to the Bayside suburb of Manly, they leased, and lived in, the Kiosk on the end of the Manly jetty.  As well as fishing, the family was also heavily involved in sailing 18 footer skiffs, and it was not unusual on a Sunday night for skipper Bert Port to generously invite home his entire crew for dinner. This would naturally throw his wife into a panic trying to roust up an impromptu meal for an extra dozen or so mouths.  However, she knew she could always depend on her youngest son, ‘Snow’, to come up with a haul of fish at short notice.

You see, ‘Snow’ had this secret fishing spot where he knew he could land a good haul of Bream whenever he wanted.  However, he kept its location a secret from the rest of the family, and, being a fishing family, they respected his right to secrecy for his ‘good spot’. 

For years ‘Snow’ kept the location of his fishing spot a secret from his mother, but perhaps his reasons were more than for mere professional secrecy.

It was before the days of sewerage, and the plumbing for the men’s public toilet at the end of the jetty was just a short pipe above the water, and, yes, you guessed it, all ‘Snow’ had to do was lower his line through the urinal pipe and down into the water below. The pipe was just wide enough to pull up a decent sized Bream through it, and there always seemed to be a school of fish there!  The burly must have been good!

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

Playing the Banjo – Part 3

Frank Willoughby continues:

Other Ventures, Other Families

 “In the sugar season which started in the first week in August, they used to run sugar from Steiglitz.  The cane was equally divided between Jimmy Gibson who owned the fruit boats and the Kleinschmidt’s.  Jimmy had the run up the Albert and Logan Rivers to get the rum in the “Ivanhoe” and the “Roo”.  The old “Ivanhoe” had been requisitioned by the military during WWII and was subsequently blown up.  After the war, Jimmy bought the “Brither” which became the new “Ivanhoe”.  He was later killed in the vessel in an accident while loading cargo.

Mineral Deposits Limited sand mining plant on Brighton Parade circa 1952 (photo Jim Yuke)

“A depot was built by Scott Moffatt just before WWII alongside the Kleinschmidt’s at Southport to handle the mineral sand mined on the beaches from Broadbeach to Fingal.  The depot was called MDS (Mineral Deposits Southport).  They used to separate all their sand there.  They had massive vibrating tables to separate out the sand and you couldn’t sit at the table in our house next door while they were working.  Just after the war, Kleinschmidt’s started transporting mineral sand in bags from Dunwich to Southport using the “S’port”.  After separation, the sand was sent back to Brisbane and over to Yankiland.  The crew on the “S’port” was dad, Dot and Nancy Mackie.  When this folded the MDS barge (owned by Riverside Coal) took over and this was towed by the “Ena” but it took too long and used to run aground.  The channels used to change.

Huth’s jetty at Jacobs Well (photo Graham Day)

“After WWII the “Florant” came back from war service at Thursday Island.  The two Huth boys and Rudi were still working her for a couple of years from 1947 until 1949.  Then the Huth’s sold out and the firm became the “Kleinschmidt Brothers”.  Then in 1950 we came into the picture and Kleinschmidt put it to dad we go 60/40, so the firm became Willoughby and Company, the Willoughby’s being George Senior, Tom, George Junior, and with myself on the payroll as a deckhand.  They’d taken the “S’port” off the Southport run in about 1948/49 and had her towing the “Stockton”, an ex-refrigeration barge from the war.  The “Florant” was left on the Southport run.  This finished in 1952 when we gave it away and Kleinschmidt sold out to Bay Transport which was owned by Aubrey Matthews.  After 1952 I spent 39 years in gravel on the Brisbane River, mainly on the “Maid of Sker” from 1952 to 1975.”

(Extract from ‘Moreton Bay People, The Complete Collection’)

Disaster ‘Down the Bay’ (contributed by Nick Moffatt)

(Editor: Moreton Bay has always been a popular boaties’ escape from the confines of life in up-river Brisbane. It was a chance to ‘get lost’ for a holiday without the cares of its business world.  To be uncontactable. It was also not without its risks, as the moods of Moreton Bay were unpredictable. Such was the experience of William Gillespie Moffat who with his brother, James Campbell Moffat, owned a Drug Store (Moffat Brothers) on Edward Street, Brisbane at the time.)

Mouth of Brisbane River 1920s (photo contributed by Tony Love)

THE LATE BOAT ACCIDENT (12 May 1882)

A MAGISTERIAL inquiry relating to the late boat accident at the mouth of the Brisbane River was commenced before Colonel Ross on Monday, and resumed yesterday. In all, four witnesses have been examined, and their testimony is to the following effect:-A party, consisting of William Gillespie Moffat and son, James Phelan, Wilfred Bartley, Robert Waine, E. S. Diggles, and Alfred Edwards, started in the Native, a boat belonging to Mr. James Edwards, of Kangaroo Point, from Mr. Edwards’s shed at 4 o clock on Saturday afternoon on a fishing excursion to Mud Island.

They reached their destination at half-past 9 o’clock on the same evening, and anchored for the night. The weather was rough, with a heavy sea during the night, and in the morning a stiff breeze was blowing from the south-east. The party fished the next morning until about half past 9 o’clock, when a start was made for home. 

When they got to the mouth of the river, near Luggage Point, Phelan, who was in charge of the boat, reefed the sails, putting two reefs in the mainsail and one in the jib, and made one tack to Fisherman’s Island, and then stood in towards Luggage Point. When within about twenty yards to the leeward of the black buoy a heavy puff struck the beat, and laid her down to the combings. Both sheets were at once slacked, and the boat partly righted, when another stronger squall struck her more abeam, and a heavy sea struck her on the weather bow at the same time. 

Although the crew were all sitting up to windward, the ballast shifted to leeward; and the craft commenced to sink immediately. Moffat’s little boy was under the deck, and Bartley pulled him out and gave him to his father, who took him. Phelan got into the dingy at once, and tried to cut the painter which secured it, to the boat, but was unable to do so, as the boat sank stern first. He went down with the dingy while endeavouring to free her, and when he came to the surface, he was exhausted and could see nobody. He struck out for the shore, but after going some little distance came up to young Edwards, who sang out for help. 

Phelan, seeing the dingy’s paddles floating some distance off, swam to them and brought them to him. He kept in company with Edwards for some time, encouraging him to keep on. After a while he lost sight of Edwards and could not turn to help him as he was quite exhausted himself, the sea being very rough. Phelan reckoned he swam about a quarter of a mile before getting ashore; he passed Bartley and Waine as he swam ashore. When near the shore he sank from exhaustion, but recovered himself sufficiently to gain the bank. Diggles reached the shore first, Phelan next, then Bartley, who was followed by Waine. 

They remained on the beach where they first landed about half-an-hour, and then walked along the beach looking out for Moffat and the others, but could see nothing of them. They picked up one of the paddles Phelan had given young Edwards to assist him in swimming, and also the rudder of the boat, and continued to walk along the beach until they came to a fire, where they remained another half-hour. After warming themselves they felt stronger, and walked to the house of a German settler, who gave them some tea. Diggles was in advance of the party. They met a fisherman, who took them to his house and gave them some refreshments. Phelan related the occurrence to the fisherman, and he went with another man to look for the bodies. 

Phelan stated he had been down the Bay in the Native several times, and considered her perfectly safe. He attributed the accident entirely to the weather. The sheets were not fast at the time of the accident. He also stated he had sailed in the Bay for several years, and was competent to sail a boat. The party were driven to town in two spring carts- Diggles arriving first and reported the occurrence to the police. The last that was seen of Moffat alive was just after the boat went down. He then struck out for the shore, with his son in his arms. George Payne, a Customs boatman, went over to Luggage Point on Sunday afternoon, and found the dead body of W. G. Moffat on the beach, in charge of a fisherman. He had the body brought to Brisbane.

(Extract from The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday 24 May 1882.)

The Road to Cudgera

Hastings Point lies at the mouth of Cudgera Creek, just a few km south of Kingscliff on the far north NSW coast. It’s still a quiet respite from the housing developments that are constantly moving towards it. However, it was once a focus for (mainly Queensland) fishermen in the post WW2 years, with its foreshore camping area invariably crowded with their tents every Christmas and Easter holidays. Our family was just one of the many to spend its holidays there. It was known to us then as Cudgera. Just getting there then by the sand track from Kingscliff or by the narrow winding dirt Round Mountain road was a feat in itself, but made the reward of arrival all the more worthwhile. 

The old bridge at Hastings Point (Cudgera)

Invariably, dad chose the sandtrack and our overloaded Zephyr Six was always in imminent danger of getting bogged. So it always a relief when we finally trundled over the rickety bridge and set up camp (usually in the middle of the night).

I am told the bridge had been constructed by a Mineral Sand Mining Company, the beaches having had their wealth extracted and sent to US markets. In building the bridge, the abutments filled up half the creek and in doing so created a deep hole which abounded in fish. The Black Bream were so thick in number that they could be easily jagged by pulling a three barbed hook through their shoal (illegal of course).

Dad fishing at Hastings Point (Cudgera) from the old bridge

The alternative to fishing the creek was the beach, and my father would spend hours casting all along the beach. He was nothing if not persistent. No wonder his favourite book was Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. Yes he really was a Santiago at heart.

Strangely, when the coast road and the bridge at Hastings Point were upgraded, the campers went elsewhere. Today, though, visiting this unspoiled area still holds many happy memories for me.

Cudgera Creek in 2020

A Fisherman’s Daughter (Lyne Marshall) – Part 1

My Father’s Family (Crouch)

My parents were Fred and Eileen Crouch. There were also other branches of the Crouch family on Bribie – George Shillington Crouch, and Edgar Crouch. Dad’s father was Charles Frederick who they called Charles (‘Tiff’ or ‘Tiffie’). Dad was also Charles Frederick but they called him Fred. Charles’ brothers were Edgar and George.

My Grandfathers head stone (Photo courtesy Lyne Marshall)

Dad’s father died of peritonitis while fishing. This was in 1915. They got him into shore but there was not a lot they could have done at that time because this was before the time of penicillin here. Dad was born in 1904 and he left home when he was about 14. He was always involved with the sea. He joined the Navy and became a marine engineer on the HMAS Penguin and as such travelled the world.  When he left the Navy, he went to Bribie, where he married my mother. He was 29 then, and she was 17. This would have been in 1933. When World War II broke out in 1939, dad joined up again. This time it was in the Army. When the war finished, he came back to Bribie and recommenced fishing. The sea was always in dad’s blood, and he was only happy when he was there. He always said that people underestimate the sea, so they do silly things and they die. You can’t underestimate the sea.

Dad worked with the Leo Brothers, from Scarborough. They went to sea in their little inboard motorboats. On their homeward journey they dropped dad off at Bribie before continuing on to Scarborough. Dad then rowed home across the Pumicestone Passage.  One of my memories was watching this little dot in the distance getting bigger and bigger as he drew closer. He stood up to row – he was only very short, about 5’7” but very nuggety. He had what we called punts – grey boats, very solid, with nets in the back. I don’t think he ever used outboard motors – he always rowed.

When the men were fishing, they followed the mullet so we went to Scarborough for three months of the year, which was pretty traumatic because mum put us in a school there. This is when I was in primary school. I was born in 1948 so this would have been in the 1950s. This was a Catholic school and the nuns caned me because I couldn’t hear the bell, which was a tiny hand bell that had to be heard by the whole school. It was all so foreign, the whole thing. 

So for these three months of the year, they fished for mullet off Scarborough, but for the rest of the time they fished from Red Beach on Bribie.

At weekends we used to walk around from our house at Bongaree to Red Beach. It was quite a long hike. It was winter then, and by the time we got there – it was probably just gone daybreak – dad would had already been in the water twice up to his waist to pull in the nets because the fish would run early. He’d have all his wet flannels hanging up to dry.

My mother also went fishing on her own and she’d bring home buckets of whiting, but then dad would come in with his fish, and when they were fishing around Red Beach, they piled them all up on our front yard. They had these old army Blitzes – snub-nosed trucks left over from the war. They brought all their fish in, dumped it on our front yard, and then cased it in wooden cases. They were primarily mullet, which they sent off whole – no gutting. The fish were grouped according to size, and then sent to the Brisbane Fish Markets by boat.  They left some for us and we ate a lot of fish and their roe (eggs) – white and yellow roe. When the trawlers were in, dad also swapped some of his fish for prawns and crabs so we got a bit of everything. It was a good diet for growing kids.

Hauling in the Mullet (colourised) (Photo courtesy Lyne Marshall)

Dad would be away for weeks at a time and the bread he took with him would go mouldy, but when he came home, it was a big event, and if I was at school at the time, I was allowed home for lunch with him and mum. He’d pick us up at school and we’d have our roast dinner, then he’d take us back to school. We fishing family kids were the only ones that did it. The others had to sit and eat their sandwiches at school. I always thought it was lovely to be included in our family’s homecoming meals, because it could be that he would be off again straight away, and if I were at school, I would miss out on seeing him.

(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)