My Mother’ Family (Ormiston)
My grandmother, Elsie Rose O’Sullivan, was just 14 when she married my grandfather, Jim Ormiston, who was then 25. Jim Ormiston had one of the first shops on Bribie. My mother, Eileen, was one of their five children. Her sister, Mavis, married Fred King, the baker. Jimmy, Eric, and Gordon Ormiston were her brothers. All the kids did it pretty rough because the father left and the mother raised them. They were often hungry and the kids would raid his farm for food.
I grew up in Hall Avenue, but at some stage someone swapped the street signs over and I spent the rest of my time in Cottrell Avenue. No one ever changed them back. This is something that seems to follow me because since we came to live up here at Tallegalla, our address has changed six times and we have never moved!
My Early Life
I went to the Bribie Island State School. Mum put me in there when I was only four years old so I had finished primary school when I was barely twelve. I used to top the class. There was no High School at Bribie then, so the kids used to go by bus to Caboolture. Although it was illegal to finish school before the age of 14, I was never sent on to High School. However, it didn’t hold me back in the long run, because now I have two university degrees and three nursing qualifications. In that educational side of my life, I have always come in the back door, so to speak.
So, after I left the Bribie School, I had several jobs on Bribie, and at 17, I moved to Brisbane and worked for Coles/Pennies. After I left the island – it was after the bridge was opened – I was very homesick for Bribie, and I would go home every weekend until I got married. My wage wasn’t wonderful but I’d have enough to get my bus ticket and go down to Bribie every weekend that I didn’t have to work on the Saturday morning. I never caught the Koopa to Bribie, but as a kid, I remember we used to meet it when it berthed at the jetty.
When I married someone from the air force, I lived interstate a bit. The marriage lasted nine years and I never got to live on Bribie during that time. Later I lived with the kids in Brisbane until I met and married Peter, my present husband. He always wanted to live in the country so we came up here to Tallegalla (not far from Rosewood). In a way, life at Tallegalla now is similar to the way Bribie was in the old days – no power (we now have solar power) and no water (we have to rely on tank water).
My brother died in a car accident on Bribie in 1975 and I did get home to visit my mother there until my father’s death in 1977. After dad’s death, my mother left Bribie and often followed my sister Pam around to country towns where she and husband John Smith bought and managed pubs. Mum died at Beachmere just as Pam retired and would have now been living with them on Bribie Island in Cummings Street had she still been alive.
Life at Bribie
A student of one of my classes also remembers her visits to Bribie as very beautiful and free times. And that’s just how I feel about Bribie. I don’t think we Bribie kids were doing anything different from kids everywhere in those times. Kids from that era were freer. Looking at some of the things the kids have been doing in the floods today may seem crazy, but then we remember we used to do the same things in our younger days. Perhaps we are too over regimented today, but we do have a responsibility as parents now. So, we were just like kids everywhere at that time, except that when other kids from the mainland came to Bribie, they’d think we were so lucky because they had their bitumen covered playgrounds at school whereas we could walk around barefoot because our play area was just a big paddock.
A lot of holidaymakers used to stay in tents then along the waterfront on the Passage, and we kids used to like walking along at night and say hello to them and look at the canvas lit up with their lights. Of course, other visitors stayed in holiday houses or in huts left over from the war such as the Visitors’ Centre. We kids actually resented their intrusion into OUR island during holiday times, but we had the island to ourselves for the rest of the year. Of course, many of the locals depended on the visitors for their livelihood. For a number of years, the local ambulance used to put up a stage at Christmas near where the library is now at Bongaree and held a Christmas pageant there.
Another thing we kids used to do was to play sport against other schools, such as Humpybong, Caboolture, and Dayboro. It was always a big event when we met all these schools together at Caboolture. We had about a hundred kids at our school then and the whole school would climb aboard buses and go across on the barge to Caboolture for this big event. It would have required a lot of organizing for all the different grades involved. It was an athletics day and each school had its own colours. Bribie’s was a red top with a white skirt and it was tied up with a gold sash.
The locals were very ‘anti’ the bridge being built, and when they got it they were then ‘anti’ the toll. They said that it should only be visitors and not locals who should pay. However, the bridge gave us young people a lot more freedom. We could go off the island into Caboolture, which although it was a very small town then, was our ‘big city’. For our big night out we used to go to the Milky Way – a milk bar attached to a service station! Bribie did have a hall, which is still there today. It’s only small, but to me as a child it seemed huge. It served as a dance hall on Friday nights, where we’d do all the old fashioned dances such as the Pride of Erin. On Saturday nights it was the movie show, and on Sundays it was church. The hall was everything. The movies were shown by Ivan Tesch who lived in a circular house, which is still there today. It was at Bongaree and was very innovative for Bribie when it was built.
There were other churches on Bribie – a Church of England further along the same street, I think. There was also a Catholic church, the Church of the Little Flower, down near the school. We kids were allowed to go to the movies on Saturdays and we’d walk up there as a group. In those days there were a lot more trees and the roads were a lot less defined but I was surprised to see the hall still there on a recent visit to Bribie.
Ian Fairweather was living on Bribie when I was a kid but I don’t think he had much influence on my later work as an artist. I knew he was a painter who lived in a bush hut, and we’d see him walking around town. He used to come down to get his groceries and used to come into the shop where my mother worked. So she knew him. The owners of the shop had some of his paintings. I don’t think the locals really understood how important he was. There were people from city galleries visiting him, but the locals saw him as a bit of a hobo. He always looked a bit derelict, and of course he was probably not all that young when I was there. But I think in later years when I was working with figures he may have had some influence on my painting. But I didn’t go to any of his exhibitions when I was young. He didn’t have any as such on Bribie but he did donate the occasional painting to local organisations. He didn’t shun the local community.
For us, to go to Brisbane then was a major adventure. We would have to go down to the waterfront at 6 in the morning and wait for the barge. It would take us an hour to get across the Passage because the barge would have to come across and then take us back. So we never really felt as though we were off the island until the bus pulled off on the mainland. Even then it was quite a long way to Brisbane via Caboolture, so we didn’t go to town all that often. So, if Fairweather did have an exhibition in Brisbane, we kids wouldn’t have known anything about it. Then after he died, his living area wasn’t preserved, because the Council didn’t really understand, and weren’t interested.
(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)