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Zena Turner: Writer & Environmentalist


Bribie welcomed its own newspaper, The Bribie Star, in June 1962 at a cost of three pence (3c) and in September of that year, Zena Turner, wrote the first of fifteen articles for the newspaper.

Zena and George Turner came to Bribie for George’s health in 1944 as George, a WW2 Rat of Tobruk, had returned from Egypt infected with tuberculosis. Building materials were not easy to find so the house took years to be finished.

Zena Elliott was born in 1911 in Casino NSW and met and married Englishman George in Melbourne in 1940, just prior to his enlistment in WW2. While George was fighting in Egypt, Zena moved to Brisbane to be close to her mother Caroline who had remarried after the death of her husband and settled in Brisbane.

Living next to the beach, on what is now Rickman Parade, Zena enjoyed fishing off Ocean Beach and her skill of finding bait worms became an article called the Elusive Sea Worm. Zena shared her love of bush walking around the Bribie Lagoons and into the interior of the island in the articles called Bribie Walkabout, Bribie’s Birds, Must Save the Esplanade Trees, Wild Life Sanctuaries and for the Souvenir Edition Newspaper, for the opening of the Bridge in 1963, she wrote about Bribie’s history. In all she wrote a total of fifteen, mostly full-page, articles with the last published in December 1965 about her journey to Lake Yamma Yamma out past Birdsville.

Artist, Dale Marsh, much-admired on Bribie for his iconic mural and art, shared his memories about his Aunt Zena with the Bribie Historical Society: Those early days on Bribie staying in my aunt's old half-built house, open to the elements are special memories. It was a lovely old place – there was no electricity, no water, we operated with candles and lamps and we pumped water up from underground and used the tanks; all our cooking was done on an antique cast iron wood burning stove.

Most nights to amuse ourselves we would play games. Cards, quoits or darts we loved. There were times when the neighbours would join us after dinner and we would sing songs all night by the light of the primus lamps which had to be pumped up at intervals. When bed time came around, a large dish of water would be heated on the stove and a bar of soap and a washcloth would be passed around the room for everyone to wash their feet so as not to dirty the bed sheets. We only showered in the daytime, after swimming, to wash the salt off under the garden hose from the tank stand. The dish of warm water for the foot wash would pass to the men first, my dad then uncle George then the women (my mum, Aunt ‘Neen’ and Nana Miller) then last of all, my turn. The water was only luke warm, very soapy, and very dirty by then. With a candle in hand we would all go upstairs to bed to sleep in army stretchers my uncle had found washed up on the beach, and with the soothing sound of the surf in our heads and the warm ocean scented breeze blowing over us through the open walls of the unfinished house, we slept the sleep of the good child.

In the 1950s and early 1960s Woorim was engulfed regularly with sand which created huge sand mountains very close to the edge of the road. One time, right along the seaward side of Rickman Parade, there were high mountains of sand which completely buried the telephone poles so that only the very tops were showing, as well the sand blew loose in the wind covering lawns, even getting into the houses.  It was apparent that it was only a matter of time before the inexorable march of these enormous dunes would bury the row of houses facing the beach.

That was when Dale’s Aunt Zena decided to do something, and with the help of neighbours like Bub Winnett, the Bribie lsland Sand Encroachment Society was formed. They created groynes and planted marramgrass and Vitex rotundifolia to hold the dunes, but mother nature wasn’t finished and soon a different problem presented itself. The sea was now excavating the beaches and threatened to wash away the road. All the sun shelters that had been built on the beach had been washed away and had floated out to Moreton lsland together with all the Casuarina trees. This called for a different solution, and the Bribie lsland Sand Encroachment Society promptly changed its name to the Bribie lsland Environment Protection Association (BIEPA).

It was in 1954 that Zena told her nephew Dale about Ian Fairweather and Dale’s friendship with him continued through the years. Prior to Ian’s death in 1974, Dale took Zena to visit him so she could see the little cottage that the Council required him to buy. Dale took the photo of them both in memory of that occasion.

George died in 1958 and in 1980 Zena sold her house and moved to Nundah.  Zena’s mother, Caroline ‘Nana’ Miller who had lived with Zena for many years had passed away in 1980.  Zena missed Bribie and soon returned to live on the Pumicestone Passage side of the island at The Gums Anchorageunits on Sylvan Beach Esplanade.

Zena passed away in 1998 at Bribie’s Churches of Christ’s Aged Care nursing home and her ashes were scattered, by Dale, on Woorim beach in front of her old home.

Written by Lynne Hooper from information provided by Dale Marsh and in the public domain.

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