By Barry Clark, Bribie Island Historical Society

bribie island moreton bay history brisbane queensland

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Tags: History. Historical. Bribie Island. Moreton Bay. Brisbane. Queensland

Last months “History Page” raised questions, and painted a possible picture, of what Bribie Island might be like 30 years from now in 2050. Many people may have read and dismissed it as simply being the inevitable future. Surely things aren’t going to change that quickly in future. I did, however, receive many interesting responses from readers who, like me, were concerned that there seems to be no recognition of the unique Heritage attraction and possible future for this island.

Featured Image(above): Archibald Meston

Without a strategy, and a plan to implement it, Bribie Island will become just another overdeveloped seaside destination and will have lost the opportunity and “Added Value” of its unique charm and attraction. It might help to put past and present in perspective, to appreciate how Bribie Island was seen when the first discoverers and explorers came here. Below is an extract from an article by Archibald Meston who first explored Bribie Island in 1891…… that’s just 128 years ago, and nearly 100 years after the very first White man Matthew Flinders set foot on Bribie Island in 1799.

It is remarkable to reflect on what has happened in that relatively short time. Archibald Meston was an interesting man, an Explorer, Anthropologist, Journalist, Naturalist and Politician who wrote the “Geographic History of Queensland”, studied Aboriginal customs, and in 1897 was appointed Protector of Aborigines for Southern Queensland. He wrote many articles over the years and, as with so many aspects of “History”, such writings must be seen in the context of their time.

Before you start reading it I must point out that it should not be seen as completely factual, accurate or even always historically correct. Over the last 100 years we have come to better understand the character and motivation of Archibald Meston, and interpretation of some of his observations It is, however, a very interesting way to appreciate and understand how Bribie Island and its fascinating past, and possible future, should be viewed in 2019……. 128 years after this was written in 1891. All the words below are those of Archibald Meston, extracted from his article written in 1891, and published in the Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander. Bribie Island…

bribie island moreton bay history brisbane queensland

Meston-Plaque B

Extracts of 1891 Article by Archibald Meston.

Published in the Brisbane Courier & The Queenslander, September 1891. 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 acre of useful soil on the whole island. It consists chiefly of tea-tree swamps, salt flats, low sea sand ridges, and slightly raised patches timbered by bloodwood, gray gums, and turpentine.

On the sand ridges are cypress pines and honeysuckles. It is inhabited principally by snakes and kangaroos. I spent five days on Bribie, crossed it in two places and traversed it for 14 miles. To anyone desirous of emulating my example, I have simply to say “You better stay at home!” And yet this howling desert of tea-tree swamps, rank aquatic vegetation, and unimaginable cussedness is associated with several remarkable events in Queensland history. In July 1799, Flinders landed on the south end of Bribie intending to explore around 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, the first white man to shed the lifeblood of a Queensland native. According to Flinders’ own diary, the record of his experience with the Moreton Bay blacks is not very creditable to himself. He called Bribie Passage the Pumice Stone River, from the pumice stone found on the shore.

The south end, where he fired on the blacks, was called Skirmish Point, the name it still retains. In Bribie Passage, he saw the first dugong seen by white men, and described them as a “species of sea lion.” He fired three musket balls into one, and Bungaree, a Sydney black, threw a spear into another, but both escaped. On the beach, he found a dugong net with strands 1inch in circumference.

After the collision with the blacks Flinders went up to the island of St. Helena, returned to Bribie Passage, beached his sloop at the White Patch, went over to the west shore, and thence walked to the Glass Houses, ascending the small one at the present railway station; and from there he went to the foot of Beerburrum, which he pronounced inaccessible. Flinders was, therefore, the first white man on the summit of any one of these remarkable mountains.

bribie island moreton bay history brisbane queensland

Aboriginal Fishing group

Exploring Moreton Bay

On the south end of Bribie Surveyor-General Oxley landed in November 1823, when returning from the north after discovering the Boyne River. Flinders, in 1799, had actually landed on St. Helena, and gave the name of the “Fisherman’s Islands” to the two small islands at the mouth of the Brisbane, without the remotest idea that behind those islands was the mouth of a noble river.

Oxley anchored the cutter Mermaid at the entrance to Bribie Passage, and hardly had the anchor fallen when those on board saw a number of blacks approaching from the north along the beach. As they came near a white man was seen among the party, and Oxley, Uniacke, and Lieutenant Stirling pulled ashore in the whaleboat to meet them.

That white man was Thomas Pamphlet, one of a party of four who had started from Sydney for the Five Islands, been driven far northward, and finally, after extreme suffering and the death of one from thirst, were wrecked on the coast of Moreton Island, where they were kindly treated by the blacks, who finally passed them on to Bribie Island, where they had resided for five months when Oxley arrived.

Pamphlet told Oxley that he and his two mates, John Finnegan and Richard Parsons, had started to walk to Sydney; that he became footsore and returned; that the other two subsequently quarrelled, and Finnegan came back, being then somewhere on the mainland about the present Sandgate, or possibly Redcliffe.

It was during this overland journey that Pamphlet and Finnegan found the Brisbane River, which they had to cross. On Sunday Finnegan was seen on a sandspit, near Toorbul Point, and the whaleboat went across and brought him on board. Next day Oxley went away in the whaleboat with Finnegan, who took him straight into the mouth of the Brisbane River on the 2nd of December, 1823. And yet these two actual discoverers of the Brisbane River were never even mentioned by Oxley in his report to Governor Brisbane! Alas for the weakness of so many explorers in the realms of science and geography.

Only for the journal kept by Mr Uniacke, one of Oxley’s party, the names of those two shipwrecked men would have remained unknown to the present time. But for them, Oxley might never have seen the Brisbane River at all. While Oxley was away up the river, Uniacke remained with Pamphlet shooting bird specimens on Bribie Island. He gives a most interesting account of the blacks and includes a description of a single combat and a general battle witnessed by Pamphlet and Finnegan.

In the single combat, two men fought with spears in a 24ft. ring 3ft. deep, surrounded by a palisade of sticks. Five hundred blacks stood around the circle as spectators. The two fought until one missed his guard and his opponent’s spear was driven clean through his breast. Several men were killed in the other general engagement and roasted and eaten by their own tribe. And yet those cannibals treated the two white men so kindly that they left with sincere regret, though many blacks would then remember the cowardly shooting by Flinders only twenty-four years before.

Toorbul Point……now called Sandstone Point. Toorbul Point was then regarded as the probable future principal commercial seaport of a new northern colony. Such also was Dr Lang’s opinion in 1846. The worthy doctor, in predicting a great future for that locality, took the liberty of slightly changing a passage in Virgil:

There is a place, Australian squatters say, Within the long expanse of Moreton Bay, Where Bribie’s Island forms a sheltered port, To which a future navy will resort.

This beautiful dream has not been realised, and Bribie Passage so far shelters nothing but dugong and stingarees, while Toorbul Point is occupied exclusively by a marine summer residence of our aesthetic young friend, George Markwell. To the left, on the way to Bribie, lie Humpybong and Redcliffe Point. Humpy should be “compie,” a camp or house, and bong is “boong,” the word for sick in the Lytton dialect (Coobenpil). These words were used by the blacks for the “sick houses,” or “dead houses,” left at Redcliffe Point when the convicts left in 1825. Oxley started the first convict settlement at Redcliffe in 1824, but it was soon abandoned in favour of the site at Brisbane.

In the convict records, I find that the prevalence of fever and ague was given as the reason for leaving Redcliffe, and the first hospital at Brisbane was erected professedly for the “ague patients from Redcliffe Point.” But an old convict’s diary in my possession says that the real reason was the hostility of the blacks, who killed five convicts and two warders, and made everybody afraid to move outside the stockade. The German missionaries, who arrived in Brisbane in 1838, tried to start a branch mission at Redcliffe, but the blacks came in one day when only Mr Hausmann was in charge, besieged him in his hut, and speared him badly.

They had a big fire lighted to roast him, and he heard them say to each other that he was “tingal” – fat, and would “jaleeba maroomba” – eat good. He managed to escape somehow and reach German Station. From “tingal,” a word for fat, comes “Tingalpa,” actually Tingal-bah, or “fat there” – a place of fat.

bribie island moreton bay history brisbane queensland

KAL-MA-KUTA Memorial Cairn

bribie island moreton bay history brisbane queensland

KAL–MA-KUTA Memorial Plaque

Fifty years ago there were 600 to 1000 blacks on Bribie. Today there is not a soul left. And there are only three or four living representatives of the race, one of whom is in St. Helena for killing a gin, and another, a smart intelligent woman, lives near Toorbul Point, where she has resided for seventeen years, and borne seven children to a white father.

The Bribie blacks were a tribe called Jindoobarrie, People of Bribie In Mr Uniacke’s description of the Bribie blacks in 1823, he says the men all had the cartilage of the nose pierced, while the women had the first two joints of the little finger amputated like those of the old Sydney tribe. Both sexes were entirely naked. Pamphlet said he never saw a woman struck or ill-used in any way. All early writers – Flinders, Leichhardt, Bunce, and Lang – describe the Moreton Bay blacks as “tall, graceful, athletic, powerful men.” In one of his letters to Lieutenant Lynd, Leichhardt describes the Turrabool and Bribie tribes as “a fine race of men, tall and well made, and they and the groups they formed would have delighted the eye of an artist.”

Leichhardt and David Archer came down to the coast from Durundur station in September 1843, and stayed a couple of days with the Nynga-Nynga tribe, camped beside the swamp at the rear of Turrabool Point. They lived on crabs and oysters. In twenty more years there will likely not be a soul left of all the Moreton Bay tribes. I can only find three who speak Oondoo and two who speak Churrabool at the present time. Around us day by day a race is rapidly vanishing in annihilation.

bribie island moreton bay history brisbane queensland

Q150 Stan Tutt Plaque

As Dr Von Martius said of the American Indians, “it is a monstrous and tragical drama, such as no fiction of the poet ever yet presented for our contemplation. A whole people are perishing before our eyes, and no power of princes, philosophy, or Christianity can arrest their proudly gloomy progress towards certain and utter destruction.” Are we approaching the midnight which is to witness the second occultation of genius?


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A highly successful sales and leadership career working in a number of different and very competitive industries. Engaging with decision makers at all levels in business and government. Three decades employed by corporations, SME businesses in senior roles and almost twelve years operating as a freelance contractor has equipped me well for all aspects of business. Whether leading and mentoring sales teams, or in a direct sales role I enjoy the challenge to meet and exceed expectations. Making a real and tangible difference in either a team environment or as an individual is an important personal goal I have consistently achieved throughout my career. In all of my business and personal dealings over the years there is one issue that stands out above all others - communication. Excellent communication skills creates trust, helps with mutually beneficial outcomes and above all cements long lasting positive relationships. I strive everyday to communicate effectively with the people I encounter.