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Pumicestone Passage: From the 19th and into the 21st Centuries

The second chapter of our feature on our local history by Mij Na-Rod (#facxual_events), a time-travelling observer caught in a constant state of flux, warps and wormholes. He is also prone to drinking on the job, thus getting his facts confused.


Part Two


The channel was originally shown as Pumice-stone River on the maps of Matthew Flinders as he found an abundance of pumice stone (a volcanic rock) lining the shoreline. Flinders therefore was unaware that he had visited an island.

In 1822 both John Bingle in the Sally and William Edwardson in the Snapper sailed separately into the passage. Mangroves, sandbanks and mudflats prevented them from travelling right through it, but Bingle believed it was not a river, while Edwardson thought that it was.

The Caloundra Bar was also discovered by John Bingle in 1822 and proved the waterway was open to the ocean and was indeed a Passage, not a river as named by Matthew Flinders. The passage was then renamed Pumicestone.

In 1824, botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham described the land near Pumicestone Passage, declaring: “a somewhat shaded forest of stately timber trees, whose vast growth and present luxuriance indicated a depth of rich subsoil.”

According to historian Judith Powell, “the association between stands of large timber and the lure of rich agricultural soil was to have a powerful effect on the future settlement of south east Queensland. Large trees suggested fertile soils and pressure from pastoralists and farmers for access to this soil through land clearing is a constant theme during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.”

In 1893 Bribie island was basically totally underwater. This was a result of a once-in-a-century set of circumstances. Extraordinary flooding of Brisbane and surrounding river systems over months was topped off with a tropical cyclone called ‘Buninyong’, tidal and storm surges and a full moon.

In recent history during European occupation and local knowledge, the opening, or Bar from the Passage, has been situated at the north end with a wider opening from Deception Bay in the south creating dynamics that result in a slow northerly movement of water from south to north. The Bar position has been known to move south from its current position and then relocate back to the north. This, being a natural process, has created no problems with the dynamics of the Passage. Aerial photos would indicate that the last time the bar was considerably south of its current position was in the 1960s. The only significant change to a bar’s position was in 1941 when Bluey’s Hotel got its licence to serve alcohol. At the time you could see Gun Bunkers around the island – a result of WW2 and a Japanese invasion threat. Bribie’s first beer-garden had been established.

Approximately 80% of the passage is less than two metres deep. Due to environmental diversity, including seagrass meadows, sand islands, mud flats, mangroves and significant species such as turtles, dugongs and migratory shorebirds, the Pumicestone Passage is part of the Ramsar-listed Moreton Bay Marine Park in 1993 – one hundred years after the great flood.

Also significant is that over 130 years ago Pumicestone Channel was declared a reserve of native birds.

On October 19, 1963 the Bribie Island Bridge was opened. Spanning 831.4 metres across the passage, the bridge cost $716,321 and had a 10 cents toll at the time. It was built to be “adequate” until 2031 but many now doubt the modelling used back in 1963 – especially if you have been stuck in an accident or, as a local, been frustrated by weekend traffic. In 1969 Pumicestone Channel was first declared a Fish Habitat Area.

This history would not be complete without reference to the much-loved 1K9 Colonel Dingo, whose passing was noted in the previous issue of The LOCAL.

Dingo frequented Pumicestone Passage almost every day. Often locals would catch him staring out at the waterways. It was almost like he knew he was in Paradise. I often wondered if he could sense the history of the island or if indeed he could see me. Had he been in the same footprints of Matthew Flinders or Bungaree? Would he have gone a Bin Chicken for lunch if they weren’t protected or so hard to catch? Whatever happened to Trim the cat, he wondered? Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years. Dingo never quite figured things out but he certainly loved the journey and enjoyed each day of living with nature.

Colonel Dingo served his community proud for over 16 years before he finally succumbed to his old war injuries and passed on August 26, 2021. His plaque can be found on a memorial stone in the Vietnam Vet’s park opposite the RSL.

Another passage ending in the history of Bribie Island and Pumicestone Passage.


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