Backward Glance – Bli Bli, a settlement on the Maroochy River, Part 2
  • Wednesday 31 October 2018

Today we continue the story about the families and milestones of Bli Bli.  

With the coming of more farming families, children in the district needed to be educated. 

The Bli Bli Provisional School was supposed to open on April 1, 1901, families waited for the opening, but the teacher did not arrive.

The next day was more positive as teacher Mr Alec Purdon arrived on horseback and the provisional school no.952 was officially opened on April 2, 1901.

This was the original school for Bli Bli. 

Later, a new school building, situated on School Road, was built to accommodate 80 students in two classrooms.

It was officially opened on Arbour Day, June 18, 1937 with head teacher Patrick Bennett and an assistant teacher.

Basilus and Anna Suosaari immigrated to Queensland from Finland in 1912.

After brief stays in Brisbane and a short period dairying in the Gympie district, the family settled in Bli Bli area in 1916.

In the following year, Basilus Suosaari selected property on the northern side of Petrie Creek.

Tom Prentis fought in France with the 9th Infantry Battalion during 1918.

The battle weary veteran arrived home more than 11 months after the Armistice.

He was by far the most significant veteran in the district to change his dungarees for a bathing suit.

His recruitment efforts in the early 1920s laid the basis for a champion surf life saving club, we know today as Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club.

In the summer of 1920-21, in a gesture reminiscent of the Great War Recruitment Marches, Tom walked for many weeks through the farming communities of Bli Bli, Maroochy River and Rosemount, looking for members to revive the fortunes of his beloved surf life saving club.

The five Suosaari sons – Axel, Sandy, Joe, Jack and Vic – all became members of the Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club.

Axel joined during the 1919-20 season and became the 100 yards Australian freestyle champion in both 1929 and 1930, and reputedly the best surf swimmer in the world at that time. 

He held the title of Queensland Country and Australian 100 yards freestyle champion and was the champion surf beltman of Queensland in both 1930 and 1931.

The great swimmer Boy Charlton came to the district to watch these amazing brothers.

They did not experience the luxury of training in a swimming pool and instead would train in Petrie Creek as they ferried sugar cane up and down the waterway with one driving the punt as the other swam alongside.

Young Joe held the 400 yard breaststroke Australian record for many years.

Finland wanted the brothers to represent their country of birth in the 1928 Olympic Games but they both refused, hoping to wear the green and gold of their adopted country. 

Both of these men have been inducted into the Sunshine Coast Sports Hall of Fame.

WWI veteran Tom's 1920-21 recruitment drive was a very important event in the history of the club.

The young men who unselfishly stepped forward for patrol duties included the family names – Suosaari, Petersen, French, Prentis, Ambrose, Carter and others.

In 1928-30, these men guided Maroochydore Life Saving Club from the royal life savers of the still water movement to the surf life saving movement. 

From 1910 until the David Low Bridge opened in August 1959, punting along the river was the only means the farmers had to deliver their crop to the Moreton Central Sugar Mill.

The punts, loaded with cane trucks, were manoeuvered by motorised boats along the river to the south bank where the trucks were hauled off onto the tramline using horses or manpower.

With the opening of the David Low Bridge, the river ceased to be a barrier to cane transportation and brought an end to the costly and inconvenient punt system.

Kenneth John Garrett and Elsie May Garrett bought a farm in Bennett Road, Bli Bli when they moved there in 1945.

They initially had 50 acres assigned for cane by the Moreton Central Sugar Mill, which at the time was the minimum amount of acreage required for a family to be self-sufficient.

In 1951, Ken and his son Neil bought an additional 40-acre farm close by.

Cane cutting was hard, hot and dirty work.

Sometimes the crop was burnt to reduce vermin and disease and to make the cane easier and quicker to cut.

The process continued to be done by hand in a number of localities until the mid-1970s when mechanical harvesters were in general use and cane was harvested complete with leaves and trash.

Kenneth (Ken) Rhodes, popularly known as “Dusty”, was one of the well-known residents in the district.

Dusty took up farming at Rosemount Road in 1947.

He served for a number of years as a councillor for the Maroochy Shire and as president of the RSL in Nambour.

The Dusty Rhodes Bridge and a lookout at Bli Bli (Rhodes Lookout) were both named in his honour.

In the 1950s, the former Maroochy Shire chairman and later Queensland State parliamentarian, David Low, advocated for the development of the North Shore region which required better roads and bridges.

The David Low Way road access and bridge opened in 1959 across the Maroochy River and became the coastal entry point from Bli Bli to the North Shore region. 

At the time, the bridge was the longest pre-stressed concrete structure of its kind in Queensland.

In addition to the roadway for vehicular traffic, the bridge included a cane tramway which relieved the Moreton Central Sugar Mill from the costly and inconvenient punt transport which had operated for nearly fifty years.

Once the bridge was open, cane trams and carriages rattled along the tram lines, which served the sugar mill in Nambour until it closed in December 2003.

With the main highway north passing through Bli Bli and an increase in traffic along with a developing tourist industry, The Fairytale Castle was opened in 1973.

Overlooking the Maroochy River, it has been a well-known landmark for the last 45 years.

Today Bli Bli is a growing residential area with a developing shopping precinct and a rich history of early settlement and changing times.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.


Image details 

Hero Image: M868678 Cane cutters stripping cane on the Garrett family farm, Bennett Road, Bli Bli, September 1957

Image 1: Colin Stewart's boat 'The Duck' transporting a punt loaded with cane trucks on the Maroochy River, Bli Bli, ca 1956.

Image 2: Locomotive 'Eudlo' with loaded sugarcane trucks at the Bli Bli water tank, 1940

Image 3: Steam locomotive 'Coolum' hauling loaded cane trucks across the David Low Bridge at Bli Bli, 1960

Image 4: Locomotive ‘Maroochy’ derailed on N. English's cane farm, Bli Bli, September 1959

Image 5: Aerial view over the Bli Bli Valley towards the coast, 1960s

Image 6: Official naming of the 'Dusty Rhodes Bridge' over Paynters Creek, Bli Bli, on 29 May 1964

Image 7: Tractors, machinery and shed on the Garrett family cane farm, Bli Bli, June 1965

Image 8: Cane cutters loading cane onto rail trucks on the Garrett family farm, Bli Bli, 1957 

Image 9: Bli Bli Castle near the Maroochy River on the David Low Way, Bli Bli, 1973

Image 10: Lift span rail bridge over Petrie Creek at Bli Bli, 1996