Once a year, on a holiday where three generations of my family crammed into a small beach house, my Great Aunty Marg would share what became one of my favourite stories.
It went like this: When she and Uncle Leon were first married in the early 1920s they would board the lavish steamship SS Koopa* to travel north to a pristine island where they vacationed and fished the tranquil waters. One day Uncle Leon waded out to cast into deep water when the largest shark my aunt had ever seen curved in behind him, cutting off his line of escape back to the beach. Aunty Marg remained calm, watching in disbelief as the shark turned to replicate the manoeuvre repeatedly. My Uncle Leon was being stalked!
Like all good romance tales, this story had a happy ending when a fisherman slightly down the beach began to slap his cane rod onto the water to distract the shark, allowing my uncle to retreat to dry land.
This took place on Bribie Island, the smallest of three sand islands in Moreton Bay north of Brisbane. It remains a beautiful sand-rimmed, uncrowded Utopia. For the past 55 years a bridge has spanned the Pumicestone Passage, where Uncle Leon fished that day, connecting Bribie to the mainland.
It’s while crossing this bridge that you get your first glimpse of an aqua-painted mural monolith rising above the tree-line. This water tower is one of two on the island and both have been transformed thanks for mega murals.
The one that we saw while still on the bridge is at Bongaree, a quiet town that has maintained the charm of yesteryear with a wide grassed park that runs the length of the esplanade. To find the water tower you first need to find the Bongaree Caravan Park (it’s straight across the road from the beach). Tucked in a back corner of the park is the mammoth Bongaree water tower, operated by Unity Water.
Only finished in June 2018, the mural is titled “Another World’s Paradise” and shows the migration of sea turtles that return seasonally to feed on the plentiful sea grass. The plaque states the design “aims to bring awareness to the region’s delicate ecosystem and the important balance of people living in harmony with nature”.
This giant mural is a fitting welcome to an island that has attracted many renowned artists. According to travel art photographer Hayley Roberts, “Bribie’s claim to fame arrived in 1953 in the form of famous artist Ian Fairweather. At 62 he came to live on Bribie in an isolated grass hut where he created his most renowned paintings until his death in 1974.”
You can’t camp freely or squat in grass huts anymore, but the natural beauty remains and there’s yet another mega mural to encourage you to take a 10-minute drive across the island to the surfside town of Woorim.
Simply titled “Woorim Beach”, this painting features a surf life saver on Woorim Beach keeping a safe eye on children playing, a honeyeater on a grevillea, and a sea eagle soaring high on the western tower flank.
Both water tower murals were designed and painted by artists Scott Nagy and Mike Shankster in collaboration with the Bribie community. In fact, one of the really outstanding aspects of these murals is that the designs were community-driven – with Unity Water seeking votes from the locals to determine which professional designs won their hearts.
Like so many silo artworks and other mega murals, the sheer sheer size and magnificence of these two murals cannot be overstated. They leave you feeling awestruck. But do they realistically capture Bribie life – at the beach and in the sea? The locals say yes, but Great Uncle Leon may have begged to differ.
* I understand that Koopa is the word for flying fish in one of the local Indigenous languages, by the way.