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Bribie Holidays


Holidays on Bribie Island over 100 years ago… different to today

In 1917 when the Great War was still raging in Europe, the resident population of Bribie Island was less than 40 people, but thousands came here for weekends and holidays, especially at Christmas. People came for cheap and healthy holidays away from the city to enjoy the seaside, ocean surf beach and abundant wildlife. These were perhaps the most remarkable times for those who first enjoyed the basic holiday pleasures of the Island, when Woorim was the closest surf beach to Brisbane, there no roads, no cars, life was simple and pleasures were very basic.

Bribie was accessible only by ship and the Steamship Koopa left from the wharf near Brisbane’s Custom House at 2pm on Saturdays because many people worked Saturday mornings. Day trippers could leave Brisbane’s “town wharf” on Thursday and Sunday mornings, returning by 6pm. It was a three hour trip down the river and across the Bay via Redcliffe, and a return ticket cost three shillings (30 cents) for adults and one shilling and sixpence (15 cents) for children.

It must have been exciting on board the large, beautifully appointed steamship which could cruise at 16 knots and carry over 1200 passengers. Flat bottomed, with a shallow draft, the Koopa skimmed over the many sandbanks in Moreton Bay, but it was often a rough ride in bad weather. There was always a party atmosphere on board as she had a large dining room, a confectionary and light refreshment stall, and a bar that sold alcoholic drinks. There was also a small orchestra on board for entertainment, many would have danced to the hit tunes of the day, and everyone joined in a sing along. Romance had a chance to bloom on the Promenade deck while mothers tried to keep youngsters from climbing up the deck rails or down in the engine room.

While travelling, women and girls wore best clothes, gloves and stockings, while the more fashionable wore impractical white muslin dresses with straw hats perched on their heads. Men mostly wore trousers, shirts, hats, jackets and sometimes a waistcoat as well. A more casual approach to clothing was permissible on arrival with men wearing cut down trousers and rolled up shirt sleeves while fishing, but unfortunately women could only change to a house-dress, or if daring, some wide-legged trousers.

On arrival at Bribie the campers disembarked and set about erecting their tent in the area of Brennan Park or on the hill where the Library stands today. Tent poles were rented out and were piled ready and waiting near the jetty. Campers carried all their kit to a selected campsite to hastily erect their tent and set up camp before sunset.

Steamship arrivals were always exciting, and were greeted by the few boarding-house proprietors waiting at the jetty, urging people to follow them to one of three places on the Island. They were all in Banya Street, so bags and luggage were carried on the long sand track to either the Davies’ at “Glan-Y-Mor”, Charlie Barden’s at “Rose Villa” or Mr. Davis’ at “Carlton House”. These first few guesthouses were all in Banya street, but other accommodation could be had by renting one of the small private homes, or even just a room,or one of the dozen small wooden huts along the foreshore known as the “Twelve Apostles”.

Steamship departures were equally exciting as everyone on the island walked down to the Jetty to wave goodbye when the whistle blew.

Life was very simple 100 years ago when bush walking, catching fish and crabs, and picking beautiful wildflowers was what a Bribie holiday was all about. There was no mains water or power on the Island and campers had to collect their drinking water from the tanks near the Jetty that were that were topped up by the Koopa. One enterprising resident set up a boiling copper of water ready for those wanting to fill their teapots for a quick cuppa. If firewood was needed, there was always someone who had a stack to sell. At night carbide and kerosene lamps provided lighting for the houses and campers, though many a campsite relied only on their camp fire.

The first store did not start up on the Island until 1918 so campers brought with them their basic needs and everyone caught plenty of fish and crabs. Huge groper fish were caught off the jetty and a big one could easily feed a hundred people for a couple of meals. There was one public place to eat on the Island at that time, the “Jetty Dining Room”, which served fish and oyster lunches and dinners, and they did a roaring trade with the day-trippers. Glan-Y-Mor Guest House was renowned for its accommodation, fish dinners, and celebrated pea and ham soup, all of which ensured a loyal and regular customer base.

A few canned goods and camping necessities could be bought at the small Jetty store and enterprising Bob Davies of Glan-Y-Mor did the rounds of the campers with his push cart filled with groceries, soaps, toothpaste and other basic items. He rang a bell as he wandered among the hundreds of tent campers, and his cry was “Good Morning Lady, have you used Pears soap this morning?”

Although the steamship trips brought expensive essentials, the few permanent Bribie residents needed to grow their own fruit, vegetables and raise chickens to keep housekeeping costs down. Many resourceful women washed and ironed guesthouse linen to contribute to their income. Ladies who were camping in tents, or even in the boarding houses, were kept busy boiling brackish ‘well’ water to wash clothes, dishes and kids, and preparing evening meals while fighting off the ever-present flies, sand-flies and mosquitos. The dung from roaming horses and cattle on the island was collected to burn on open fires as an insect deterrent.

Ned Bishop, an opportunistic mainlander from Toorbul motored to the Bongaree Jetty with his boat set up as a floating shop. Ned brought produce from his small farm which included milk, vegetables and some of his special Bribie mutton joints. This was in fact goat meat, which would have been bought by those unlucky enough not to have caught enough fish, oysters or crabs for the days meal.

It all sounds pretty basic by today’s standards, and it is hard to imagine that families could spend a delightful few weeks on holiday here every year.

Fishing was the standard pastime for both food and entertainment. Fish were so plentiful that you never knew what surprise would be on the end of the line. Near the Jetty a few row boats and motor boats could be hired by the day or week.

There was no refrigeration for food or drinks and evenings were spent chatting around camp fires or a singalong if someone could play any kind of musical instrument. Surfing at the Ocean Beach at Woorim was a special treat, plus swimming in Pumicestone Passage, shooting wildlife, and weekend dances in the Pavilion.

Bribie was not until the 1920’s connected by telephone to the mainland, have its first Bowls and Tennis club, a general store, bakery, butcher, dairy and school.

Written by Lynne Hooper from information from the BIHS database.

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