Next year Australia will be celebrating the so-called “Discovery” of Australia by James Cook, 250 years ago in 1770. I will be writing much more, and giving some public presentations, about that early next year.
The arrival of Matthew Flinders on the sloop “Norfolk” in 1799 was perhaps the most significant date for Bribie Island when he was the first white man to land here. Perhaps the most significant social and economic event since then was the building of the Bribie Island Bridge.
When the bridge opened on October 19th, 1963 life on Bribie Island, and in Queensland, Australia, and the rest of the world, was very different from today. Depending on how old you are reading this article, you may need to be reminded of some other things that happened back in 1963. In 1963 Australia was largely an agricultural economy and primary produce accounted for 77% of Australia’s commodity exports.
Also, in 1963 the Commonwealth Marriage Act came into force legitimising children born out of wedlock by the subsequent marriage of their parents. In 2019 we have different issues occupying our minds, including thoughts about an additional bridge, or a replacement bridge, and when and where it might happen. Quiet holiday destination In 1963 the resident population of Bribie Island was less than 600 people, with thousands more coming for weekends and holidays.
But Bribie Island was still a quiet and peaceful holiday destination. There had been much speculation about building a bridge to Bribie Island for over 30 years. In those days, even with a small population, two Councillors were representing Bribie on Caboolture Shire Council and the community worked hard creating what they needed with their own volunteer efforts.
In 1963 when the Bridge was built:
- U.S. President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas
- Queen Elizabeth & Prince Philip visited Australia
- Government announces Decimal currency to come in 1966
- Charles Perkins “Freedom Ride” to end aboriginal segregation
- The first National Television Network was formed.
Steamship excursions from Brisbane to Bribie had carried thousands of people for weekends and holidays since 1912, but this had stopped in 1953. A car ferry service had become popular since 1947 after the military built a road from Caboolture in WW2, and motor car ownership increased.
Politicians talked about a bridge to Bribie during election campaigns in the late 1950s and had considered having it paid for by Developers, in exchange for land on the island. This did not eventuate, but in 1961 a Contract was awarded for a bridge to be constructed at a cost of 358,000 pounds. The Bridge was opened by Premier Frank Nicklin on 19th October 1963 and was the longest precast prestressed concrete bridge in Australia.
The complex construction had involved driving 206 piles, weighing 12 ton each, laying 38 spans of concrete beams to span the 832-metre length. Just weeks before the opening an expensive Toll was announced, to be paid by all vehicles coming to the island. The 10-shilling Toll was a significant cost and came as a complete surprise.
Residents and Visitors were very disappointed, and it impacted growth and development for some time. Better roads and increased car ownership had led to population growth on both the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, but this did not immediately eventuate on Bribie Island. In 1963 the 10 Shilling Bridge Toll would have paid the cost of Petrol to drive a car from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and back, and you could buy a pound of Beef for 2 shillings.
The Bribie Bridge toll was 10 times that on the Hornibrook Highway and was the most expensive road toll in Australia Land prices and rates on Bribie had risen significantly in anticipation of change, but the expensive Bridge Toll lasted 12 years and was finally removed in 1975 when the bridge had been paid for by the money collected. The much lower Hornibrook Highway toll was also lifted in 1975 having been in place for 40 years.
Bridge Opening celebrations.
Bribie residents were outraged at the expensive toll and threatened to boycott or disrupt the opening ceremony. The opening day was, however, a big success, with large crowds and processions of floats, horse-drawn carts, vintage cars, marching bands and hundreds of vehicles driving to the island for the first time. It was so busy that the bridge was declared “One- Way” on to Bribie in the morning, and then “One- Way” off in the afternoon.
This photo, taken on an opening day, shows the two lanes of vehicles coming onto the island. If you look carefully at the photo you will see many things that are different today.……. footpath handrail, overhead lights, sealed road …… how many more differences can you see? An Aerial photo of the mainland end of the Bridge, taken on an opening day, shows the huge number of buses, cars, and people that gathered for the event, with the Toll Gates in the divided road surrounded by people waiting to walk across for the first time.
The “Bribie Star” local newspaper of the day produced a special complimentary souvenir edition documenting some fascinating history of the island by many of the pioneer residents. There had been an expectation that Bribie residents would not have to pay the toll, and eventually, they did get a small concession. Books of tickets for multiple crossings could be purchased at a small discount and there was an exemption for Ambulance, Fire Brigade, Royal Mail and Government vehicles.
14,000 cars crossed the bridge in the first week it was open, paying 7000 pounds to the two toll collectors, who were each on an annual salary of 5000 pounds. Many of the new visitors were very disappointed with inadequate parking facilities and amenities on the island, and may never have returned. In the first two years of the new bridge, over 300,000 cars crossed over, but population growth was much lower than anticipated reaching just 2000 by 1975 when the toll was lifted.
50 years of Bridge Anniversaries
For the 10th Anniversary in 1973, the toll was still in force, but by the 20th Anniversary in 1983 the toll had been lifted and a major celebration was held in conjunction with the “Bribie Island Festival” organised by the Lions Club, who sold “Passports” to the island as a fundraiser. In 1988 a “Silver Jubilee Carnival” was held for 25 years, together with a special edition of the local newspaper, and a souvenir T-shirt was produced.
The 30-year anniversary in 1993 was held in conjunction with a “Bribie Aquatic Festival”. I had only just come to live on Bribie Island in 2004 and knew nothing at all about Bribie History, or the significance of the Bridge, but I organised a fundraising walk for Rotary in which several teams of 10 people each walk over the bridge and back 4 times. So, each sponsored team walked 40 kilometres and raised $4000 for Rotary causes.
As a result of organising this event, I met Stella Ray, a very long-term resident of the island, who sparked my interest in the unique history of this island community. In 2008 I founded the Bribie Island Historical Society, and in 2013 the Society placed a 50-year commemorative bronze plaque on a stone beside the bridge and invited people involved in the bridge construction to participate.
The Past …and Future
There has been much talk in recent years about the age and limitations of our 56-year-old bridge, and the need for a second or replacement bridge. There are some who say “Bring back a Bridge Toll” and others who say “Blow the bridge up” and return to the peaceful days of water access only.
In four years’ time in 2023, the Bridge will be 60 years old, and will still be very much in use, whatever decisions are made about the location and timing of a second bridge. As there is currently no shared community “Vision” for what Bribie should be like in the future, it will just go on drifting and developing to become like every other coastal town. It is a pity that the people of Bribie don’t demand more of their representatives, to make sure that it remains the unique place that has made it so different for so long.
MORE BRIBIE HISTORY
The Historical Society has monthly public meetings at the RSL Club on the second Wednesday of each month commencing at 6;30pm. with interesting guest speakers on a wide range of topics. At the next meeting on Wednesday 13th November, I will be giving a presentation titled “Who really discovered the Brisbane River”. Come along. You can see many more photos and articles on our Blog Site at http://bribieislandhistory.blogspot.com or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org