Fort Bribie. 75 years later. What can we do next?

This article was written on the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2. Thank you to all that serve and have served our country.

Fort Bribie is Bribie Island’s WW2 history and something we should be proud of. Unfortunately the condition of the site does not demonstrate a sense of pride. The Visit Bribie Island website describes the site as ‘dilapidated’ which is a true reflection of it’s current condition.

3 key points about Fort Bribie:

  1. Fort Bribie is located on the northern end of Bribie Island on Woorim Beach and was (is) a variety of structures including gun placements, searchlight posts, mine control huts, a plotting room, signals operation room, mess hall, toilets, post office, first-aid room and other associated areas for around 150 soldiers at the time.

  2. Constructed in 1939: with the bridge still 23 years away, this was a major achievement.

  3. The purpose of Fort Bribie was to protect Australia from Japanese invasion.

I recently inspected Bribie Island’s part of WW2 history, Fort Bribie. I was fortunate enough to get the tour from G’day Adventure Tours owner, Jason Brown, who explained the role of Bribie Island and the fortification structures in the War. Thank you Jason - you are a fine ambassador for Bribie Island and our history.

This 15 minute walk through video of Fort Bribie with Jason can be found at www.islandandsurrounds.com/fortbribie - a must watch. I have also recorded a podcast about this topic that can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or at www.islandandsurrounds.com/podcast-listen.

Historian, John Groves, and Co-Author of ‘The Northern End of Bribie Island during WW2 and the Underground Hospital’, (available at the Bribie Island Seaside Museum) tells the story of Fort Bribie with his account based on actual information from soldiers who served at the site. Thank you to John for your time and your thousands of hours of research into this topic. You a wealth of knowledge and your book is a must read for those interested in this topic.

Key points from my discussion with John included the ‘fake’ forts made of cardboard to put off the enemy, the ‘bold and buggered’ army, the real purpose of the ‘hospital’ and the role of women at Fort Bribie. And you can’t have this discussion without mentioning the sinking of the Centaur. These are some amazing stories and a big part of the reason we need to do something.

As I write this article why do I have an empty feeling in my stomach? Because what is happening just isn’t right. These structures and the site in general are a vital part of Australia’s modern history and should form an important part of our local tourism, it is part of our local identity.

The forts have been left to decay and erode… and who in the world would vandalise a location with this historical significance?

What can we do to keep our history alive and give Fort Bribie the recognition it deserves?

Basically the position of the State Government Minister is that the structures were built for a temporary purpose (WW2), were made of concrete with steel reinforcing and as it is a coastal location it is prone to erosion and so forth. You know where this is going, don’t you? Straight into the ‘too hard’ basket. Over the years there have been repairs, maintenance, structural reports and thankfully even digital capture the site for future reference (this is important).

State Member for Pumicestone, Simone Wilson, has been told by the Minister responsible that in no uncertain terms that the site won’t be preserved. Simone also mentions that there would be many examples in other countries where similar wartime constructions have been preserved. Simone’s role also included ensuring the site was captured photographically for future reference. So what can we do?

Here are the options that I see.

  1. Do nothing and let our history wash away. Maybe a new State Government would see things differently?

  2. Rebuild/renovate the current site: obviously there are issues here like future erosion, development approvals, cost, access and so on. Expensive and not an easy solution. But just imagine, even if one of the major structures returned near to the original condition!

  3. Rebuild part or all of the site somewhere else on Bribie to minimise the effects of erosion. This could possibly be setup as a war museum? Again not a cheap option.

  4. During my research for this article I visited our beautiful library (with further extensions underway) and the museum as mentioned previously. These are fantastic amenities, but it made me think. Why in the world is our Tourist Information Centre so bad and when I say that I mean the structure? It is like a granny flat hidden in a car park next to a toilet. A new information centre must be on the agenda, and quickly. It appears as though we don’t take tourism seriously with this structure, and that is if people can find it. This is not good enough for one of Queensland’s premiere tourist destinations. So how about a new Tourist Information Centre that is designed like one of the Forts? This would work, right? And don’t tell me that information centres are not important anymore and that online is all that matters. I have a lot of thoughts on local tourism but that is another article for another day.

Did you see the Moreton Bay Regional Council’s recent announcement of $11M of new projects? Including a $4.7m BMX precinct at Brendale, maybe they could have cut the BMX precinct back to $3.5M and put $1.2M toward restoring such a vital part of our history? Or how about the $30M on traffic lights and a stretch of overtaking lanes and the list goes on and on. I can’t believe I will have to drive through 10 sets of lights to get to the Caboolture Showgrounds!

I wonder if $1.2M would cover a replica WW2 fort and associated works or a new information centre, or both? Isn’t this an investment that would be returned with an increase in tourism? Doesn’t this give our local tourism a point of difference?

Would anybody disagree with this? If our local community can’t get the support from our elected Governments to fund such an important project maybe we need to look at other options to generate revenue for such a project to promote local tourism and preserve our history. There are many options on how to do this by developing our industry.

Every time that you read about Government or Council project funding, ask yourself if that project deserves to be funded more than the WW2 site and/or a new information centre on Bribie Island. Also does it have the upside of increasing local tourism and providing a return on investment: and of course, boosting local employment and very importantly supporting our tourism operators. But it is more than that – it is simply the right thing to do.

Bribie is no longer a sleepy village so we should stop acting like one. Once we give Fort Bribie the recognition it deserves it might be time to look at our long-term approach to tourism, our history and the development of Bribie Island.

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