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Nature, culture and history

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More park information is available in our trial Bribie Island National Park and Recreation Area page.

Nature, culture and history

Bribie Island's rich natural diversity has drawn people to its shores for thousands of years. Local aboriginal peoples have used the plentiful seafood and coastal resources for many generations. Evidence of their traditional life is present in many places on Bribie Island.

Todays national park camping areas are located on sites traditionally used by aboriginal peoples for similar reasons—easy access, plentiful fishing, protected campsites and an uninterrupted view of the surrounding landscape.

Natural environment

Bribie Island has formed from the movement of sand along the east coast over tens of thousands of years. This movement of sand along with accretion and erosion continues to shape the island.

Bribie Island, along with the larger sand islands of Moreton and North Stradbroke forms the protected waters of Moreton Bay. This low-lying island has a maximum elevation of less than 10 metres, and supports an extensive system of wetlands.

The western side comprises low sand plains, muddy tidal delta deposits and freshwater swamps. The eastern coastline is undergoing long-term foredune erosion, exposing old sand and tidal delta deposits. Exposures of coffee rock and marine mud deposits are visible along this side after erosion events.

On the foredunes you'll find communities of coastal she-oaks (Casuarina equisetifolia var. incana), acacias, banksias (Banksia integrifolia) and beach spinifex (Spinifex sericeus). These communities stabilise the dune system by trapping sand and reducing erosion.

Picturesque lagoons just behind the ocean beach provide an ideal setting to relax in a coastal environment. With summer rainfall, the lagoons can break out onto the beach and into the ocean.

Extensive tidal wetlands and waters around Bribie Island are protected as part of Moreton Bay Marine Park. Fish, crabs and prawns breed in Pumicestone Passage and dugong feed on its seagrass communities.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 migratory shorebirds visit this area in the summer months. Bribie Island's wetland resources are essential for their survival. The birds rest and refuel, feeding on yabbies, worms, pipis and other small animals. Around April they leave again, flying thousands of kilometres to breeding areas in Alaska, China and Siberia.

Look for the 'flap-flap-flap-glide' motion of the osprey as it soars effortlessly in the sky. Other birds of prey including sea eagles, brahminy kites and whistling kites are often seen along the coastline.

Culture and history

First Nation peoples have used the plentiful seafood and coastal resources for many generations. Evidence of their presence can be seen in many places on Bribie Island. Large shell middens present demonstrate continual use of this coastal area over thousands of years.

Families journeyed throughout the island, staying for varying periods on the northern sections of the island and on what is now the western coastline. They favoured the northern areas close to the river with access to a wide diversity of resources—marine, estuarine, wetland and freshwater. Cypress pine forests growing there provided good protection.

As the seasons changed, family groups moved to where resources were available. When cyclones occurred, people moved away from the coast along the rivers and streams. Families took different routes along the way to gather food, fibres, medicines and raw materials for tools and utensils.

Each person had their own distinctive call by which they were recognised. People called to one another through the bush. Carved message sticks carried by a messenger and smoke signals were used to send messages to distant families.

A meeting place

Pumicestone Passage's rich seafood resources were shared with other groups of aboriginal peoples as they travelled to attend the Bonyee Bunya festival in the mountain ranges. Visiting groups camped along the old coastal dunes from Sandstone Point south to Caboolture River. A rich archaeological record of stone tools from distant regions has been found in the shell middens in these dunes.

On the menu

As with high quality restaurants today, the menu of the day consisted of foods that were seasonally available.

From extensive intertidal mudflats, people harvested oysters, cockles, mud whelks, ribbed ceriths, hairy mussels and eugaries (pipis).

On the water, fish, turtles and dugong were caught using nets and spears. Women frequently prepared string for weaving fishing nets. Men prepared spears and boomerangs from various types of hard timbers, then 'fired' them to add strength. Canoes for water travel were made from stringybark, tallowwood and other tree bark. The bark was slowly prised from the tree when the sap was running to avoid cracking and splitting from lack of moisture. It was then smoked and treated, the sides curled up and the ends sealed with clay to make it watertight. Vines were used to strengthen the canoe, and cross-pieces inserted to prevent shrinkage. Melaleuca saplings and vines were used to make rafts for travelling short distances.

Various birds and their eggs were eaten. Small groups worked together to flush quail into the open where they knocked them down with small waddies (clubs). They hunted brush turkeys and raided their nests for eggs. Small hawk-like boomerangs were thrown to frighten ducks into nets placed across lagoons. A similar method was used to capture parrots and cockatoos.

Kangaroos, wallabies and other small marsupials were hunted into mesh nets, which were about 1.2m high with 50mm to 60mm mesh. Controlled fire was a tool used to maintain open spaces with grass regrowth, to attract marsupials for easier capture.

Flying foxes were knocked down while roosting during the day. Snakes and goannas were eaten and goanna fat was saved for skin decoration.

Bungwall fern (Blechnum indicum) from melaleuca wetlands was the staple plant food. Women and children dug up large quantities of fern rhizomes (roots) and prepared them by lightly roasting and pounding. Roasted fern was eaten with meat or fish or on its own, somewhat like bread.

Many other plants were eaten, including roots from freshwater bulrush (Typha spp.), which were chewed raw until only the fibre remained. Yams (Dioscoria transversa) were dug from up to one metre underground and roasted. The hearts of cabbage palms were eaten raw and honey was collected from the native beehives.

When First Nation Peoples hunted here just over 200 years ago, the winter runs of sea mullet and bream were thick enough to colour the water. The catch was so plentiful that excess fish were preserved for future eating. Fish were wrapped in plant twine to keep the flies off and hung in dilly bags in the trees.

The local Aboriginal peoples understood the importance of ecological sustainability and had laws prohibiting the taking of undersized fish or animals that were breeding, rearing young or carrying eggs.

A changing island

In the early 1860s the traditional First Nation Peoples way of life changed forever with the arrival of pastoralists and timber-getters.

Queensland's first Aboriginal Reserve was located on Bribie Island, near White Patch in 1877. Elderly people and those who did jobs for the settlers were given sugar and one pint (about 2 cups) of flour each day. When fish were in short supply, they were given more flour.

Later, many people were moved from their traditional land to reserves including Durundur, Monkey Bong Creek and Barambah (Cherbourg). Those that stayed on Bribie Island, found occasional work and adapted with great resilience to this radical change.

Today, many of the Aboriginal peoples living on and around Bribie Island maintain strong spiritual and cultural links with their traditional land.

European history

Matthew Flinders visited Bribie Island in 1799 during this exploration of Moreton Bay. His group came ashore at the southern end of Bribie Island, where they encountered local Aboriginal people. A misunderstanding took place, which ended in a brief confrontation involving a spear thrown, and a musket fired injuring an Aboriginal man. Flinders later named this site Point Skirmish.

In 1823 John Oxley chartered the Moreton Bay area and discovered the Brisbane River with the help of two shipwrecked ex-convicts, Thomas Pamphlett and John Finnegan who he found living with Aboriginal people on Bribie Island. Oxley later selected the Brisbane area as the site of a new penal settlement.

Since that time, Bribie Island has accommodated varied uses including grazing, a lighthouse, native timber harvesting, exotic plantations, resource extraction, beekeeping, quarantining, sand mining, a fish cannery and recreational pursuits.

Bribie Island’s grazing history centred around Poverty Creek where an old cattle dip, fencing, shack and dams still remain. The two lighthouses on Bribie Island have significant navigational history guiding ships to the entrance to the major channel into Moreton Bay.

Fort Bribie became part of a national defence system in World War II and was the first line of defence in Moreton Bay to protect Brisbane. The island was considered an ideal location for artillery batteries due to the close vicinity of the shipping channels. At the end of the war, coastal defences were scaled down and suitable building materials from Fort Bribie were disassembled and transported off the island for other uses. Some of the barrack buildings were cut off their stumps and sold as houses, leaving only the concrete slabs and stumps.

Weathered gun emplacements and searchlight buildings, characteristic of the six-inch gun batteries used to defend Queensland's coastline during the war, are located along the ocean beach foredunes. Bribie Island Second World War Fortifications are listed on the Queensland Heritage Register, as an example of Australia’s cultural heritage.

In 1953 the island was finally connected to the mainland’s electricity. Ten years later, in 1963 a vehicle bridge was completed connecting to the island to the mainland. These advances changed the island and opened it up to holidaymakers and day trippers.

Last updated
18 April 2019