The history of Cribb Island is still very much alive at Brisbane Airport. The lost former suburb of Brisbane is now the original site for the first expansion of Brisbane Airport.
The Cribbie Girl
“They still call me The Cribbie Girl,” says Brisbane Airport volunteer ambassador 82-year-old Betty Conway.
It’s been 38 years since Cribb Island became the site for Brisbane Airport’s expansion for a growing number of international flights but the suburb’s community still retains a strong identity with regular reunions. One of those events was held recently at ibis Brisbane Airport hotel’s Cribb Island Beach Club café where they recreate Cribbie’s famous spiders (an ice cream soft drink combo) along with wood-fired pizzas.
“A lot of the people have kept together,” says Betty who was an island resident from birth with her parents who lived there for 47 years.
“It was a wonderful place to live and I miss the lifestyle. I loved school and the companionship. Every afternoon we would play on the beach. We were never bored,” says Betty. “Our backyard was Bramble Bay.
“Dad was a bootmaker and very house proud. His garden was amazing. When he came home from work each day he would shovel sand against the breakwall so the land wouldn’t wash away.”
It was always a close community where everyone knew everyone. Betty’s parents owned a horse and sulky which they would take to shows around the region. When they won a prize, their neighbours would greet them with applause as they arrived back home.
A musical connection
Even the island’s most famous residents, the brothers Gibb of Bee Gees fame, had fond memories of growing up there long before they became world famous. At their press conference before appearing at Melbourne’s Festival Hall in 1974, they asked: “Is Jackson Estate [farm land that was part of Cribb Island] still there?”
“The Bee Gees were a bit younger than me, but I’ve been a fan over the years,” says Betty. “They would play songs at the local store. The first one was for ice cream and the second one for a Coca-Cola.”
Betty now lives at Banyo but keeps her connection to Cribb Island strong through her volunteer work at Brisbane Airport’s International Terminal where her smiling face has been greeting travellers for 12 years.
“It was a shame to lose the island but look what they have done with it at the airport,” she says.
Cribb Island was last seen in a Brisbane street directory in 1981. Located 16km north-east of Brisbane, it was ideally situated for the expansion required to accommodate larger jets at Brisbane Airport and resumption of the land started in 1970. Residents gradually moved away in the following 10 years. Construction for the new airport began in 1980 and the runway and tower were commissioned for operation in May 1987.
A nod to history
When the new ibis Brisbane Airport Hotel opened chief operating officer Alex Penklis was keen to honour the history of the lost suburb, naming the hotel’s restaurant the Cribb Island Beach Club and creating a gallery of historical photos and its story inside. The gallery has drawn such attention from visitors that it is being expanded to include more stories of the local area.
Brisbane born-and-bred Penklis says he remembers his dad going mud crabbing at the ‘island’ so before the hotel opened he started to research the area’s past. The suburb was not really an island but was bordered by two creeks, the bay and mud flats, making it a popular spot for fishermen as well as a playground for the local kids.
“We’ve got this incredible piece of history and we wanted to keep that connection,” says Penklis who commissioned photographer Ross Eason to source historic images to illustrate Cribb Island’s history for the mini-gallery.
The island is gone, but not forgotten, as seen in the strong turnout at the Cribbies’ reunion. It’s “stayin’ alive”, Cribb Island style.