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Bribie Island History and Walk

Home > Brisbane > Art | Beaches | Nature | Outdoor | Walks
by Roz Glazebrook (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane. I love bushwalking, kayaking, wildlife, history and travel.
Published September 9th 2018
An interesting walk on Bribie Island
I recently did a walk on Bribie Island. It was the same walk I did twelve months ago, but it felt very different this time. I wrote about the previous walk ]here.

Driftwood hut
Driftwood hut


I think this walk felt so different because it rained and also because we spent some time at the end of the walk in the Bribie Island Seaside museum where we learnt a lot more about the Island's history, and characters that lived there.

Walking along Red Beach
Walking along Red Beach


There were only seven of us this trip. We drove to Bribie in a couple of cars and parked as before at Bongaree. We walked along Red Beach as we did previously to Woorim. We didn't see any dolphins frolicking in the surf this time, but we did see some beautiful driftwood art huts. The huts had been popping up on Bribie Island beaches mysteriously fairly recently. I read the artist came forward after photographer Kathrin Dierich published a story in July seeking information on the hut builder.

Beach hut
Bribie Beach hut


The hut artist Trevor O'Dwyer got in touch with Kathrin. He told her he had been making huts since he was a child in Africa. He migrated to Queensland from Zimbabwe as a teenager. He lives in Toowoomba but his family have a unit at Woorim. Trevor said he works as a plumber, but has always been interested in wood and tree houses. He studied art at school.

Storm coming on Bribie beach
Storm coming on Bribie beach


We explored two of Trevor's huts on Red Beach. The huts took the thirty five year old weeks to build.

We did our walk on a rainy weekday. The beach was fairly deserted apart from a few fishermen and some people walking their dogs. There were raptor birds soaring above us and pelicans fishing on the beach during our eight-kilometre walk to Woorim. We had fish and chips and coffee for lunch sheltering from the rain on one of the picnic tables.

Soaring bird
Soaring bird


After lunch, we walked five kilometres back to Bongaree along First Avenue and spent some time in the Museum at 1 South Esplanade, Bongaree on the Pumicestone Passage side of Bribie Island. The Moreton Bay Regional Council runs the museum, which opened on 14 May 2010.

The museum has lots of interesting information about Matthew Flinders encounters with Aborigines on the Island, and about American troop occupations in World War Two. There are lots of displays and audiovisual presentations about island flora and fauna and history.

Bribie Island Seaside Museum
Bribie Island Seaside Museum


I was fascinated with stories about Ian Fairweather, the famous reclusive Island artist. I had heard about him, but I learnt a lot more about him at the museum and after doing some further research on Trove after I got home. Trove is a wonderful resource. The National Library of Australia has digitised lots of old newspaper stories. Ian was born in Scotland in 1891, but his parents left him with aunts for ten years when they went to India. He joined the army and spent a lot of time in a European concentration camp in World War 1. After that he studied art and wandered around the world. In 1952, he set out from Darwin in a makeshift raft made out of drums. He nearly died after being caught in storms and drifting at sea for fifteen days. Eventually he landed at Roti Island, off Timor in a state of exhaustion. He couldn't produce a passport or visa so the Indonesian authorities at Koepang requested he be removed from the country. Flight Lieutenant J Badgary, who was in Koepang sent a message to Australia. It was forwarded to Australia's Department of External Affairs. He eventually got back to Australia and ended up living in a shack on Bribie Island for the last twenty years of his life. He died at the Royal Brisbane hospital after being admitted with a heart attack when he was 82. He has been described as Australia's leading abstract artist.

Ian Fairweather - Artist
Ian Fairweather - Artist


I don't know if it was reading about Bribie Island artist Ian Fairweather setting out from Darwin in a raft made of drums, or seeing Trevor O'Dwyer's beautiful driftwood sculptures but something affected me after my walk on Bribie Island. A few nights after I got home from the walk, I dreamt I was on a driftwood raft at sea. My dream was very pleasant, but I woke up before I got anywhere.

Most people who visited the Island saw its beauty and it became a popular holiday place for Brisbane people. In 1924 Phoebe Kirwan wrote in the Brisbane Daily Mail newspaper about her trip to the island. She said, "for years I intended going to Bribie and always put off the visit, but recently seeing the charming island, I confess that for years I have deprived myself of a very pleasurable visit. I have sworn allegiance to Redcliffe, queen of our Bay resorts, and her twin sisters, Woody Point and Scarborough, and now knowing Bribie, the delightful quaintness, the wild beauty of her bush, and the charm of her long white-sanded beach, I have taken her unto my affection for all time, it was like coming to a scene from an old world novel to see Bribie white and glistening under the warm sunshine of a cloudness sky."

One exception was explorer A Merston. He visited the Island much earlier in 1891 and was not impressed. He wrote an article in the Melbourne Leader saying, "Historically, Bribie Island is the most interesting on the Queensland coast. Apart from history it is one of the meanest pieces of country in Australia…. There is not an ounce of useful soil on the whole island. It consists chiefly of tea tree swamps, salt flats, low sea sand ridges, and slightly raised patches encumbered by bloodwood, grey gums and turpentine. On the sand ridges are cypress pines and honeysuckles. It is inhabited principally by snakes and kangaroos". He went on to write, "To anyone desirous of emulating my example, I have simply to say. You better stay at home".

Whale vertebrae
Whale vertebrae


Merston also wrote about the earliest history of the island in the same article and about Matthew Flinders visit to the island. "and yet this howling desert of tea tree swamps, lank aquatic vegetation and unimaginable cussedness, is associated with several remarkable events in Queensland history. In July, 1790 Flinders landed on the south end of Bribie intending to explore round the Glass House Mountains. The blacks were friendly, but some misunderstanding arose. Flinders and his men got into the boats to pull away. The blacks walked into the surf to try and persuade them to stay, and Flinders in a sudden terror, of probably imaginary danger, fired and shot one or two, the first white man to shed the life blood of a Queensland native"
(Merston A. Leader, Melbourne, Sat 3 Oct 1891).

Pelicans on Red Beach
Pelicans on Red Beach


Matthew Flinders named the area of the island where this occurred Skirmish Point. Merston also wrote Matthew Flinders said in his diary that he shot a dugong, but it got away. His crew were the first white men to see a dugong. They called them sea lions.

Deserted Beach
Deserted Beach


Later there were lots of dugongs killed on the island for their oil. There are grisly photos in the museum of dead dugongs lined up on the beach.

I hope to get back to Bribie Island again soon. It is a beautiful and fascinating place.

Driftwood
Driftwood

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