Bongaree's Heritage Trail Signs
12 signs along the Pumicestone Passage that tell Bribie's unique history .
In June 2022 the Moreton Bay Regional Council in collaboration with the Bribie Island Historical Society installed twelve x two metre signs for a Bongaree Trail showcasing Bribie's history and natural environment.
The signs commence near the IGA store at Kangaroo Avenue and are installed along the Pumicestone Passage , ending at the end of South Esplanade.
1. Bribie in a can - the history of fish canning on Bribie Island.
Bribie was home to several fish canneries in the early 1900s – when fish were plentiful and people were few. ‘Anchor’ and ‘Lighthouse’ brands were produced at the northern (lighthouse) end of the island, opposite Golden Beach, and ‘Diver’ at this site here at Bongaree.
The Diver brand and cannery were built by savvy Brisbane businesswoman Sarah Balls, known as ‘Mum’ for her hands-on approach to business. At its peak, the Diver cannery employed 20 people and was capable of processing two tons of fish and around 10,000 cans per day.
The factory comprised a state-of-the-art refrigeration room and four pressure cookers. The fresh water needed for the canning process was drawn from springs once used by the local Indigenous people. Fishermen delivered catches of mullet, whiting, snapper, bream, flathead, tailor, kingfish and jewfish to an adjoining jetty here.
The long-term viability of the Bribie canneries was compromised by the fact that our warm water fish are not ideally suited to canning – and dwindling fish stocks.
The environmental impact of large commercial operations like the canneries led to the establishment of the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of Queensland and the regulation of fishing practices. The original clubhouse still stands on the waterfront at the end of South Esplanade – about 1.5 kilometres south of here.
Although nothing remains of Bribie’s fish canneries today, there are plenty of places along the foreshore here where you can enjoy the local catch of the day.
“The popularity of the Diver brand is increasing every day. The public welcome the advent of mullet, bream and schnapper caught and canned in Moreton Bay.” Brisbane Truth 1908.
2. Every street tells a story - Bestman and Cotterill Avenue are named for two friends who were behind Bongaree's first general store and Dairy.
The nearby Hall, Bestman and Cotterill Avenues take their names from the friends and families behind Bribie’s first general store and dairy farm.
Arthur Bestmann was born at Toorbul Point in 1887 and lived on Bribie from the early 1900s. Alfred Hall was a Toowong merchant and regular visitor to Bribie.
Artie and Alf became mates and business partners, establishing Hall and Bestmann Bribie Store in 1914. An early advertisement declared “We stock the best brands of goods procurable … at Brisbane prices.”
The store was located near the corner of today’s Toorbul Street and First Avenue.
(Bestmann subsequently came to favour the spelling ‘Bestman’ – which is why the street and store are spelt differently.)
In the 1920s, Artie and Alf developed a dairy farm on several hundred acres here. Alf’s niece Emma and her husband Wilf Cotterill migrated from England to work on the farm. The Cotterills ultimately took over the operation, which came to be known as Cotterill Farm.
As Bribie at the time was home to just a handful of residents, the many campers and day trippers were valued customers of Cotterill Farm. And of course Hall and Bestmann Store was their main outlet. In the early 1940s, Cotterill Farm also supplied fresh milk to the military forces located on Bribie and at Toorbul Point (now Sandstone Point).
Cotterill Dairy continued to operate until 1960, as the farmlands were gradually subdivided for housing. The original Cotterill farmhouse remained on Hall Avenue until 2008.
3. A creek called Shirley - named for Bill Shirley an early enterprising resident of Bribie.
Shirley Creek is named for Bill Shirley – an early trailblazer and enterprising resident of Bribie.
After serving with the Australian Army Engineers in the First World War, Bill established a contracting business in Brisbane. In 1923, he was contracted by the Brisbane Tug and Steamship Company to clear a path across the island.
This would pave the way for the construction of a road from the Steamship Company Jetty to Ocean Beach – today’s ‘Woorim’. Bill was subsequently appointed construction supervisor and then tollkeeper of the new road. This ‘Ocean Beach Road’ is today known as ‘First Avenue’.
In 1927, the Shirley family relocated to Bribie. The enterprising Bill established a bus service, became a land agent, and developed and operated the Ocean Beach Guesthouse – near where the surf club now stands at Woorim. The two-storey guesthouse comprised comfortably appointed guestrooms, sundeck, dining room, dance hall, post office and shop.
By 1933, Bill – the unofficial ‘Bribie Mayor’ – was appointed the first Honorary Councillor representing Bribie Island. To attend monthly meetings at Caboolture Shire Council, he would travel by steamship to Brisbane, stay overnight, then continue by train to Caboolture. He eventually swapped the three days of return travel for a motorboat, running across Deception Bay and up the Caboolture River.
Bill’s first major achievement as Bribie Councillor was to replace a plank walkway across the creek here – pictured above – with a substantial bridge in 1935. This opened up vehicular access for the burgeoning settlement of Bongaree.
4. The legend behind Welsby Parade - is Thomas Welsby - historian, businessman, sportsman, politician and novelist.
Welsby Parade, which runs along the foreshore here, is named for one of the great characters shaping Moreton Bay and Bribie – the landscape and legend.
Thomas Welsby (1858 – 1941) was a popular and respected businessman, sportsman, politician, historian and novelist. Above all, he was a seafarer, spending a lifetime exploring Moreton Bay. He was the author of numerous books of local history, as well as personal accounts of the region’s waters and islands, their sailing, fishing and shipwrecks.
Welsby was a founding member and early president of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. He bequeathed his 2000 volume library to the society, whose collection today is known as the Welsby Library.
Welsby was a founding member of the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, publishing a history of the club in 1918. He was an early president of the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of Queensland, whose clubhouse is on Bribie.
Spending his later years here, Welsby’s final book was ‘Bribie the Basket Maker’. It tells the story of a basket-weaving, fish-hawking convict named James Bribie. This likeable larrikin allegedly gave Bribie Island its name.
Despite a fondness for the story among locals, there are no records of a convict named ‘Bribie’ or similar. It’s probably a romantic retelling of another yarn – perhaps to further the Bribie Island legend!
5. Paving the way to Brisbane's closest surf beach - tells the story of how the road to Woorim was paved in 1924 and the commencement of the Surf Club.
At this site in 1924, with the opening of the Ocean Beach Road, Brisbane’s closest surf beach became that much closer and more accessible.
The Brisbane Tug and Steamship Company, which provided passenger services to Bribie, consulted the Royal Lifesaving Society about forming a club to patrol Ocean Beach (today’s ‘Woorim Beach’) over the summer holidays.
It was soon discovered that two Steamship Company contractors – Bert and Harold Blake – held lifesaving certificates. A lifesaving reel was procured, and Bert and Harold conducted the first patrols of Bribie’s Ocean Beach.
The Steamship Company eagerly promoted surfing at Bribie and offered free passage for members of Brisbane’s Metropolitan Life Saving Club in return for patrolling the surf beach.
In 1927, the Steamship Company donated a prefabricated house to serve as a clubhouse. Donations were collected on the trip to Bribie to fund fitout and equipment.
In 1933, the Bribie Island Surf Lifesaving Club was officially founded. The clubhouse was destroyed by fire in 1964, but with fundraising a new clubhouse was ready for the summer holiday season.
‘First Avenue’ as it’s known today (opposite here) remains the main route connecting Bongaree with the oceanside and Woorim – and connecting Brisbane with its closest surf beach.
6. A legendary retriever named Ranger - Bribie's own "red" dog who was the surf lifesavers pal in the 1930s.
Arguably Bribie’s most famous dog, Ranger had no one owner, but he had many friends and carers. A black retriever, Ranger was an honorary member of the Surf Life Saving Club and an important part of their team.
Legend has it, when the steamships from Brisbane would dock here at Bongaree, Ranger would be there to greet the new arrivals. He would then race off down Ocean Beach Road, covering the five kilometres to the surf club in ample time to be ready and waiting when the bus arrived.
When the lifesavers were on patrol, so was Ranger. He was first in and last out. He would swim out beyond the farthest swimmer, staying in the water for hours. The legend of Ranger even made the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald.
When Ranger the legendary retriever died in 1936, the flag at the surf club was flown at half-mast. The lifesavers buried Ranger beside the clubhouse, overlooking the sea. For decades, a small wooden memorial stood among the sand dunes. The epitaph is reproduced above.
Bribie is the perfect place to walk, run and swim your own legendary companion. But we no longer let our dogs free-range like Ranger. Much of Bribie is a wildlife sanctuary and national park.
So while many areas are dog friendly – and some off-leash – others are strictly off limits
7. Bribie's indigenous people - describes their rich culture and traditions.
Like all of Australia, Bribie had a rich Indigenous culture prior to European occupation. Information gleaned from early colonial accounts and today’s archaeological research portray a thriving society with complex social structures.
The bountiful landscape supported a largely sedentary society. The Indigenous people of Bribie lived in small communities, in semi-permanent dwellings. They lived in balance with the natural environment, with the seasons, custom and lore governing their way of life.
Being saltwater people, their diet was largely marine based, including fish, shellfish, crustaceans, dugong and turtle. ‘Tow row’ fishing nets were woven from plant fibres. Fish traps were assembled with stones – remnants of these can still be seen today.
Plants and fruits were also an important part of the diet. The rhizome of the Bungwall fern, for instance, was pounded with stones, then roasted to make a ‘damper’. As there is no naturally-occurring stone on the sandy Bribie, all stone was introduced.
Early descriptions of the local Indigenous people note their tall stature, robust health, friendliness and generosity. This warm welcome turned to hostility as Bribie’s first people were driven from their country and their livelihoods were taken away.
Archaeological research reveals the once-thriving first people of Bribie. By studying the bora rings, scarred trees, stone tools and shell middens they left behind – some dated at around 3500 years – we can see how the local Indigenous people once lived. And how their descendants – today’s traditional custodians – maintain their connection with this wonderful place.
8. Bribie's first European guests - three men, in 1823, lived for over three months with Bribie's indigenous people.
The first Europeans to live on Bribie were three convicts who were marooned in Moreton Bay in 1823.
Ticket-of-leave convicts Thomas Pamphlett and Richard Parsons, along with convict John Finnegan, had been assigned to work on a timber-getting expedition. They had set out from Sydney in March in a 10-metre open boat heading south for the Illawarra. Caught in a violent storm, they were blown far off-course to the north.
After 25 days lost at sea and disoriented, they became wrecked on Moreton Island in April. A fourth member of their party, John Thompson, died at sea.
Aided by the local Indigenous people, the trio travelled to the mainland and up the elusive and yet to be surveyed and named ‘Brisbane River’. Returning to the river mouth, they headed north, thinking they were south of Sydney. They reached Bribie in September.
Welcomed by the local Indigenous people, the trio remained in the area for several weeks. It was only when they were stumbled upon by Surveyor General John Oxley in November that the castaways came to realise how far off-course they truly were.
The castaways returned the favour by leading the surveyor to the large river that had thus far eluded him and those who came before him.
9. Bribie's oldest house and Australia's first opera - Emily and Norman Coungeau bought land on Bribie in 1912 .
For more than 30 years in the late 19th and early 20th century, Emily and Naoum (Norman) Coungeau ran a hugely popular café and wine bar in Brisbane’s Queen Street. The ‘Olympian Café’, as it came to be known, grew to occupy two city buildings. The Coungeaus lived in an apartment above the café. That is, until they retired to their favourite holiday spot – Bribie.
The Coungeaus purchased land in Bongaree and commissioned Brisbane architects Hall and Dods to design their home in the Queensland style. Their Bribie retirement retreat was built in 1915–16.
Norman was a keen surfer, and regularly hiked the five kilometres across the island to the surf beach. Emily was a widely published and highly regarded poet. With much of her work penned while living on Bribie, she is an early exponent of a uniquely Queensland verse. Her work ‘Princess Mona’ – a fantastic interpretation of the ANZAC legend – provided the libretto for Australia’s first professionally staged opera ‘Auster’.
The Coungeaus’ commercial success saw them become generous philanthropists and patrons of the arts. Emily was a passionate supporter of women’s causes. The Coungeaus bequeathed their beloved Bribie home to the Anglican Church.
‘Coungeau House’, as it’s known today, is now owned and operated by the Toc H organisation, providing holiday accommodation for people in need. Located about 500 metres from here at 36 Banya Street, Coungeau House is the oldest home built on Bribie that is still standing today.
10. Campbell's Boat Shed and Cash Store - the story of a family who played a key role in Bribie's early history.
This creek was originally known as Campbell Creek. It was named for a family that played a key role in servicing Bribie’s early visitors and the growing settlement of Bongaree.
In 1905, Joe and Clara Campbell managed an extensive oyster farming operation on the Pumicestone Passage. After World War I, Joe and son Reg opened a boat shed on the creek near here, hiring out boats to campers. The creek was much larger at the time, providing a natural harbour.
In 1933, Reg married Vera Huet and they established Campbell’s Cash Store. Reg and Vera’s local knowledge of the best fishing spots, bait and tackle was much in demand and freely shared with their customers. Campbell’s Cash Store remained the heart and hub of South Esplanade and the Bongaree community until the mid 1960s.
The Campbells also operated a popular oyster kiosk near the Steamship Company Jetty – so visitors could fill up or stock up for the trip back to Brisbane. Today, there are lots of places along the esplanade here where you can enjoy the local catch of the day.
Coincidentally, it was another Campbell – George P Campbell – who played a major part in developing the early steamship services and accommodation that would see Bribie become one of the most popular destinations in Australia, receiving up to 5000 visitors each week. Campbell Street here in Bongaree is named for George.
11. A birdwatcher's paradise - Bribie Island is world-renowned for its wonderful natural environment.
Bribie is world-renowned for its wonderful natural environment. In 1921, the island was declared a wildlife sanctuary. Today, much of the coastal fringe and all of the surrounding waters are protected under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
From September each year, thousands of migratory shorebirds arrive in the region from as far afield as Siberia and Alaska. Species such as Bar-tailed Godwits, Eastern Curlews and Red-necked Stints come to escape the northern winter, setting off again for the northern summer breeding season from March.
Resident waders – such as Australian Pied Oystercatchers and Red-capped Plovers – can be seen on local beaches throughout the year. Native ducks – including Chestnut Teals and the occasional Shoveler – can be seen at wetlands. If you have a keen eye, you may even spy a Black-necked Stork or Glossy Ibis.
One of the best places to experience Bribie birdlife is Buckley’s Hole Conservation Park – about 650 metres further along from here. This 88-hectare site comprises a freshwater lagoon, bird hide, forest and beach. Some 290 bird species have been recorded here, rivalling Kakadu.
According to local legend, a fisherman named Sam Buckley favoured a pocket of deep water offshore from here. This area, along with the lagoon, came to be collectively known as ‘Buckley’s Hole’.
12. Amateur Fishermen's Association of Queensland - is one of the longest running organisations of its kind in Australia.
The Amateur Fishermen’s Association of Queensland is one of the longest running organisations of its kind in Australia. It was established in 1904, when around 100 concerned local anglers lobbied the Queensland Government to regulate fishing practices due to widely reported declines in fish numbers.
This led to the establishment of rules and regulations around fish species size, catch limits, seasons and equipment used for both recreational and commercial fishing – to protect fish stocks, prevent overfishing and safeguard the fishing tradition. AFAQ members reported the catching of undersized fish and inappropriate netting practices to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock.
The members collected, identified and preserved specimens of fish from Moreton Bay to document and monitor fish stocks. The collection today comprises more than 300 specimens, a selection of which is often on display at the Bribie Island Seaside Museum.
If you walk a further 100 metres from here past the end of the esplanade, you can see the original clubhouse and museum – J Douglas Ogilby Cottage, built in 1925, which remains the AFAQ headquarters. A prime, absolute waterfront location and a top fishing spot!
The clubhouse was named in memory of ichthyologist James Douglas Ogilby who worked at the Queensland Museum and curated the AFAQ’s early collections of specimens, books and memorabilia.