By Matt Owen
Thank you to those that have served and continue to serve our country.
The 1940s were very different times to the world we live in today. It is fair to say things were much simpler but also much harder. Bribie Island was also a very different place. No bridge, no street lights, a basic road network, simple housing and very few residents. It was literally a seaside village.
There was also a world war underway with Japan, as well as Germany, being the enemy. A nearby enemy that could very well attack Australia from the eastern coastline. It was then that the Australian Defence Force commenced work on ‘Fort Bribie’. Remember, at this time there was no bridge and transport was painstakingly slow.
Fort Bribie was located on the Woorim beach and featured 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. Very sadly, due to a combination of erosion, time and lack of government action and possibly even community support, there is not much left of it now.
This is not a simple story to tell because there are so many layers to it. If this is an area of interest to you I suggest you purchase the book, North Bribie Island During World War II, by historian John Groves. As part of John’s research there were discussions with solders who were stationed at Fort Bribie.
In my own discussions with John, my takeaways were the ‘fake’ forts made of cardboard to put off the enemy, the ‘bold and buggered’ army, the real purpose of the secretive ‘hospital’ and the role of women at Fort Bribie. I’m sure there were plenty of other ‘untold’ stories that now only our imaginations can consider. For some reason, my mind imagines the solders going on leave and ‘wading’ across the passage to Caloundra in search of what young solders look for on their leave.
And you can’t have this discussion without mentioning the cruel and unforgivable sinking, just offshore, of the hospital ship Centaur by a Japanese submarine.
I often think about these soldiers, the mosquito infestation, the challenging living conditions and how it must have been during these times.
When you visit the historic site of Fort Bribie you certainly get ‘that feeling’ down the back of your spine. Nobody really knows what causes that feeling and to be honest I haven’t felt in too many times in my lifetime. Perhaps it is like a sixth sense where you feel that something significant has happened at a specific location. Walking around this site behind the dunes and inspecting the structures is a unique experience that helps tell the story of what actually happened during these times.
It is bitterly disappointing that the condition of Fort Bribie has been allowed to gradually deteriorate to the condition that it is in today. Unique local tourism experiences could have been driven by Fort Bribie (in one form or another) but our local and state governments have preferred other projects and therefore this rich local history is now basically some concrete (and 3D mapping of some sort).
I have a sense of pride in the role that Bribie Island and the brave soldiers played in protecting our country and the way it was done is perhaps one of Australia’s greatest stories.