Bribie Island history

Bribie Island

There are not many place names which perpetuate the names of convicts, but Bribie Island is one of them, according to Thomas Welby. Bribie may have been the man's nickname, although some give his name as Brieby. Some have suggested that he got his name from the way he bought privileges from the authorities. It seems he supplied them with fish. This story of how Bribie Island got its name has not been proven.

He was a basket maker and fish-trapper, and these skills seem to have made him a valued member of both white and Aboriginal societies. He took up with an Aboriginal woman, and when his term of sentence was about to expire ran away to live permanently with her and her tribe on the island. Other convicts found sanctuary there as well. When a convict went missing, it was common to hear it said around Brisbane Town that he was, 'Down with Bribie.' This became' 'Down at Bribie,' and so the island got its name. 

"Bribie" was not the first white person to live with the natives on this island. John Oxley found Thomas Pamphlett and John Finnegan there in 1823 when he came looking for a site for a new convict settlement. They were two of a four-man crew who had sailed out of Sydney Heads to get cedar logs from the Illawarra district, but were blown way off course by a storm. One died at sea, but the three that were left eventually came ashore on Moreton Island. The Aboriginal people befriended them. In the following year, Oxley found the other member of their crew, Richard Parsons, also on Bribie Island.

Pumicestone Passage

Matthew Flinders did not realise that what we now call Bribie Island was an island. On 16 July, 1799, he proceeded up the opening which he called a river, leading towards the Glass House Peaks and found a quantity of pumicestone lying along the high water mark on the eastern shore of the 'river', but was not able to proceed further upstream because of the rush of water with the ebb tide. He called the passage Pumice Stone River because of this find.

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. John Oxley in the following year also visited the area and spoke of Pumice Stone River.

Pumicestone Passage is a remarkable waterway teeming with dugongs, turtles, and dolphins and supporting more than 350 species of migratory and resident birds. The dugong is a protected gentle mammal which feeds on the rich seagrass on the bottom of the channel.


Much has been said about European expansion in Australia being at the cost of Aboriginals as it undoubtedly was, but what is not always recognised is that white exploration would not have progressed as rapidly and successfully as it did without the assistance of Aboriginal people. Many of the explorers took with them a native Australian to assist in establishing contact with tribes they might meet along the way.

Way back near the beginning of European settlement, Matthew Flinders took with him on his travels an Aboriginal man by the name of Bongaree (or Bong-ree as some called him) from the Broken Bay area near Sydney. So this man was with Flinders and his boatload of sailors when the naval captain landed on the northern shores of what he, following James Cook, called Glass House Bay. Flinders did not realise that he was stepping ashore on an island - Bribie Island. He though it was part of the mainland.

Things seemed to be going well in their encounter with the local Aboriginal people, until 16 July 1799, when Flinders thought his newfound acquaintances were taking too many liberties and he fired buckshot at one of them. Three other shots were fired. The point where this happened he marked on his chart as Point Skirmish. The name is still used of a point on Bribie Island, but now it refers to a different part of the island. What he called Point Skirmish is now South Point.

Bongaree, the man, was later given a military uniform by the governor of NSW and a seemingly endless supply of cocked hats. He cut a strange figure ceremoniously welcoming new arrivals in Sydney Town with a flourish of his hat and a deep, respectful bow. He wore a crescent-shaped brass plate suspended around his neck proclaiming him to be "Bungaree, King of the blacks". He died November 1830.

After the jetty was built in 1912 for the Koopa and Doomba bringing visitors over from Brisbane and Redcliffe, a township was surveyed, and this township was given the name of Bongaree, now a popular seaside resort on the western side of Bribie Island.


Woorim, an Aboriginal word for kangaroo, was chosen as the name for the settlement on the surfside of Bribie Island. The open beach here is patrolled during the peak seasons making it a great swimming destination for families. 4WD is a favourite pastime on this beach and ideal for recreational fishermen to cast a line.