Tags: History. Bribie Island. Queensland. Bribie Island Historical Society. Historical Buildings
By Barry Clark Bribie Island Historical Society
The recent digitisation of Australian newspapers and magazines from the 1860’s through to the 1920’s have revealed some fascinating new facts about Fish Canneries on and around Bribie. This aspect of our local History has now been researched in detail by Lynne Hooper, President of the Bribie Island Historical Society, and it reveals some interesting people and events associated with this early industry. Some memories had previously been documented in interviews with “pioneers” in a souvenir edition of the “Bribie Star” newspaper, published in October 1963 to mark the opening of the Bribie Island Bridge. These memories were by then quite old and included stories related history of the Island and its early residents, and when shops, churches, police stations, water and electricity commenced on the Island.
Featured Image(above): CAN LABEL OF LIGHTHOUSE BRAND FISH – Courtesy Audrey Abrahams
As a result of recent digitisation of the early newspaper we have been able to fill more gaps in the remarkable History of Bribie Island, and specifically about a lady who had a Fish Cannery where the Bongaree IGA store stands today. We are now researching the many Guest and Boarding Houses that operated on Bribie in the early days and hope to bring that story to you soon. If you have any information or photos of early Bribie we would love to hear from you. You can contact us on [email protected] or come to our monthly public meeting at the RSL Club on the second Wednesday of the month at 6:30 pm.
EARLY FISH CANNERIES ON BRIBIE ISLAND
LYNNE HOOPER – PRESIDENT BRIBIE ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The first cannery was in 1897, owned by James Clark and Reginald Hocking, trading as the Toorbul Fish Company. They sold canned fish from their factory at what is now known as Sandstone Point. The business was sold to Charlie Godwin for 160 cases of canned mullet around 1900. Godwin, an early settler, had bought 250 acres of land in the 1890s, in the area now known as Godwin Beach.
In 1901 the supplies of locally caught fish were so erratic that Godwin moved the cannery to the northern end of Bribie Island opposite Golden Beach. Godwin’s fish was marketed under the name of “Anchor Brand Sea Mullet”. By 1906 the Maloney Brothers had also commenced a fish cannery beside Charlie Godwin’s Cannery on north Bribie Island and marketed their product as the Lighthouse Brand.
The Lighthouse Brand won a “highly commended” award at the Brisbane Exhibition but by 1910 the cannery closed and the family moved into the oyster and shell-grit industries. Charlie Godwin sold his cannery for £240 in August 1907 to Lionel Landsborough, son of the pioneer William Landsborough, but by 1909 Landsborough had left Australia to settle in California. In 1907/8 the Federal Government introduced the Bounties Act and Sarah Balls, a well-known entrepreneur from Brisbane, decided to take advantage of the half-penny per pound being offered for preserving and canning fish.
Without widely used refrigeration it was reported that Australians were only consuming 9½ pounds of fish per person per year, whereas in Great Britain the quantity was 47½ pounds per head, and Australia was spending over £300,000 annually on importing canned fish. Sarah leased 8 acres on Bribie Island just north of where the IGA stands today.
Freshwater required for the canning process was readily available from springs that were once used by the Joondoburri people. Sarah called her business “Caloundra Fresh Fish Preserving & Canning Company” canning sea-mullet, whiting, snapper, bream, flathead, tailor, kingfish and jewfish, packing them in one and two-pound tins under “The Diver” brand. “The Diver” cans of fish retailed at 5½ penny, and snapper and whiting were a more expensive option.
The newspapers extolled the product advising “the fish is deliciously appetising and will undoubtedly supplant imported canned fish as the public were getting tired of the everlasting salmon, herring or sardine”. Sarah Balls erected a large factory in 1908 (30mx6mx4.5m) and 20 people were employed at the cannery producing 200 cases per day with each case containing 4 dozen tins.
“SARAH BALLS – ENTREPRENEUR OF BRIBIE FISH CANNERY”
Sarah originally employed a manager from Scotland who was experienced in preserving fish. She had to take control in July 1908 when during a “glut” fishermen dumped tons of fish on the cannery wharf during hot weather. Lacking refrigeration some of the fish took too long to be processed and many tins “blew” so the product got a bad name. Later Sarah hired local men to manage the Cannery, but kept a firm hand on her investment, earning her the name of “Mum- Balls”.
She purchased a new Linde refrigeration system in late 1908 and by 1909 “The Diver” brand entered a boom period. In 1910 Sarah expanded the factory by purchasing the cannery equipment previously owned by Lionel Landsborough on north Bribie. Her Cannery then measured 45mx15m enclosing a refrigeration and freezing room, an engine and boiler room, four retorts for cooking, and an area to stack the product, and an adjoining jetty into the Passage. The main suppliers were fishermen Ted, Julius & Leo Freeman who were paid five shillings per hundred-weight for mullet and one and halfpenny per pound for mixed fish. The Freeman’s delivered about six tons of fish at a time onto the jetty where it was scaled, cleaned and filleted before moving into the processing plant.
The tins contained two belly pieces and one tailpiece (packed perpendicularly) of mullet all other fish were packed side-wise with a pinch of salt added to each tin. Sarah diversified in 1913 by leasing a further four acres so she could raise pigs and grow and can asparagus and pineapples. However, by 1914 the five-year period of the Bounty had ended and the shortage of tin and men caused by WW1 were impacting on the her business. The greatest obstacle though was that Queensland fish are mostly “hot water” fish and altogether unsuitable for canning as they contain a large amount of phosphorus and the tendency to decompose rapidly.
HUET FAMILY WALK NEAR CANNERY JETTY AT BONGAREE IN 1920’s –where IGA stands today” (Courtesy Ted Clayton)
In August 1914 a newspaper advertisement advised that the Cannery could be leased as a ‘going concern, and although Sarah had left the business, the cannery was still operating on a seasonal basis until 30 April 1923 when the lease and equipment was transferred to J.E. Burnard & Co, who were Jam Manufacturers and Fruit Preservers in Brisbane. By the 1920s the old Cannery Jetty, in front of where IGA Store now stands, was all that was left of a once thriving business and a prime spot to get a feed of fish.