Traces: Fort Bribie, QLD
FORT BRIBIE was established at the northern tip of Bribie Island in Queensland to defend Moreton Bay from enemy action during World War II.
The facility occupied a strategically important position at the entrance to the North West Channel, which led into Moreton Bay and ultimately provided access to the Brisbane River.
The fort formed part of a chain of coastal defences that were urgently ramped up as the threat of attack and invasion escalated with Japan’s entry into the war in December 1941. Throughout the late 1930s, as the threat of war grew in Europe, Australia was upgrading its coastal defences, focusing on the risk of shell or torpedo attack from seagoing enemy vessels on major coastal cities. After 1941, however, it was the threat of invasion that informed the planning.
Brisbane’s existing defences, from the 1880s, centred on Fort Lytton at the Brisbane River’s mouth. But in 1939 the army was dispatched to Bribie Island, a popular holiday spot with a small, permanent population, some of which was later relocated away from the exposed eastern coastline. At the island’s northern tip the troops installed a temporary gun battery with two WWI surplus 6-inch guns mounted on cruciform steel supports, which eventually proved inadequate on the unstable dunes.
In 1940 the decision was taken to upgrade Bribie Island to be the major defensive facility of Moreton Bay with the construction of an examination battery where incoming vessels would identify themselves. Other buildings followed and by early 1942 the fort was fully operational.
The Commonwealth Department of the Interior completed the construction work at a cost of £55,000. It included two heavily reinforced gun emplacements and extensive support infrastructure such as observation towers, searchlights and accommodation.
Moreton Bay had several underwater harbour defences. At Fort Bribie the navy installed a controlled minefield that could detect vessels by underwater loops of cables monitored by a shore station. If enemy craft were detected they could be destroyed by mines inside the loops detonated from the shore station.
About 25km south was another type of underwater cable defence called indicator loops – passive defences that could detect submarines. These cables stretched from Woorim on southern Bribie Island to Comboyuro Point on Moreton Island.
Remnants of a gun battery and other infrastructure can still be seen near Woorim and are accessible to visitors. However, the most extensive remnants are at Fort Bribie. Reached via a sandy track suitable only for four-wheel-drive vehicles, its relative inaccessibility has helped preserve the site against pillaging and vandalism, although the dynamic nature of the beach environment has taken its toll. Among remnants still standing at the heritage-listed site are the two gun emplacements and searchlight and observation posts.
Shifting sands and extreme weather are gradually destroying the historic old structures, but Queensland Parks, which manages Fort Bribie, is hoping to preserve the site digitally through imaging, 3Dmodelling and GIS mapping. The fort can be explored in detail via the Queensland government website.