Monday, November 23, 2015

McDonnell & East, George St

Brisbane seemed to have an abundance of department stores when I was growing up. We have previously looked at TC Beirne's and McWhirters in the Valley, and today's story is similar in many respects. Francis (Frank) McDonnell arrived in Australia in 1886 after having served an apprenticeship as a draper in his native Ireland.

McDonnell worked in the drapery businesses of Finney Isles and also Edwards & Lamb before establishing McDonnell & East in 1901 at a George St premises with another Irish immigrant, Hubert East. Initially they were assisted financially by the Godfather of George St, fellow Irishman Peter Murphy, the owner of the nearby Transcontinental Hotel and a well-known politician and businessman.

By 1911 this firm of importers, cash drapers, tailors, outfitters, dressmakers and milliners was doing well enough to erect its own premises and land in George St was purchased for this purpose. A three-storey building was designed for the company by TR Hall. The new building was called the White Store to differentiate it from the original leased premises and here is a photograph of it from around 1950.    
(Photo: SLQ 111988)

The firm of McDonnell & East continued to prosper through the early twentieth century and George St became a popular shopping precinct, no doubt aided by the advent of the trams to the area as well as the nearby railway station. The firm became a public company in 1920. By this time the sons of the founders were working in the business and were able to continue to manage the firm after Frank McDonnell and Hubert East died within six months of each other in 1928.
(Photo: DBHKer)

When Brisbane lost its tram network in 1969, McDonnell & East suffered a loss of custom and to counter this the company erected a large car park to counter the parking on offer at the burgeoning drive-in shopping centres. It became the largest car park in the CBD.

In 1984 an investment company became the majority shareholder in McDonnell & East and set out on an expansion and acquisition strategy that was ultimately a failure. Large sums of money were spent trying to re-position the brand but this over-capitalisation and recessionary times led to insolvency. McDonnell & East closed the doors of its Brisbane building in 1994.  
(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

The building was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 1997 and won an Australian Property Institute excellence in property award for heritage property in 2007. It still stands in George St (above) with some retail tenants on the ground floor but there are "For Lease" signs showing above.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Inglis Tea Building, 510 Adelaide St

Over the weekend the beautiful mrs tff and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary and to mark that milestone we went to one of our favourite CBD restaurants, e'cco bistro. And co-incidentally that restaurant is housed in the building we are discussing today.

Firstly, a few words about the restaurant - not a review as such, but more of a recognition of its local importance. Chef Philip Johnson opened the restaurant in 1995, a time when Brisbane was hardly overrun with excellent eateries. In 1997 Johnson won the prestigious Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year and since then Philip Johnson and the restaurant have won a shedload of awards and Johnson has also knocked out six best-selling cookbooks. Philip Johnson is really a pioneer of the modern Brisbane food scene and has set a very high standard for local restaurateurs to emulate. Here's one person's view of Brisbane's current culinary capability.

The building that houses the restaurant dates back to 1919 and it was constructed as an office and warehouse for the tea merchants, James Inglis & Co. Situated right at the end of Adelaide St at the Boundary St corner, the site was close to the river and the Petrie Bight wharves, a definite advantage for the transferring of tea chests onto and off ships. This photo shows the Boundary St frontage of the building.

The name Inglis may not mean much to people these days, but most would have heard of their branded teas - Billy Tea and Goldenia Tea.

 (Photos: National Library of Australia)  

And this is the man behind the tea - James Inglis, a Scot who arrived in Australia around 1877 via New Zealand and India.
(Photo: nla.pic-an24219595-v)

Inglis's ties to India gave him the opportunity to promote Indian tea at the Sydney International Exhibition in 1880 and he went on to become the agent for the Indian Tea Association of Calcutta, before partnering with WP Brown to form Inglis, Brown & Co in 1883. That partnership was dissolved in 1887 and James Inglis & Co came into being. By 1893 the company was handling over 1,000,000 lbs (about 453,400 kg) of packaged tea per annum. Inglis was obviously a marketing devotee - he purchased the rights to "Waltzing Matilda" in order to wrap the words around each packet of Billy Tea. In fact the version of the song that is heard today stems from the rewrite commissioned by Billy Tea in 1903.

But it was not only tea for which Inglis is remembered. An accomplished and industrious man, he was a politician, a director of several companies, a writer and supporter of the arts. He died in 1908.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Gordon & Gotch Building, 262 Adelaide St

The digital revolution is well and truly upon us.

Television used to be the principal way entertainment was consumed in the home - these days you can stream anything from books to music to films and television shows at any time, right to your personal device for you to use at your leisure.

It's a long, long way from the way television appeared when it first arrived. It was only broadcast for a few hours daily, and it was very low resolution black and white images with viewing options being only a couple of stations.

Children in those days had to entertain themselves in different ways to the ways available today. These days if you ask kids if they'd like to play a game they head for their PlayStations whereas games in the past might have been draughts (checkers), Scrabble or Monopoly.

Another form of entertainment was comics. Here I'm not talking about cartoons on film or television, but magazines that usually set out a visual story-line using hand-drawn scenes.

Just as there currently seems to be a deal of criticism of computer games in terms of distracting or even corrupting today's children, there used to be similar criticism about comics. Many adults had the opinion that extensive reading of comics would result in their child becoming a delinquent. In my childhood neighbourhood many of us had comic collections and we would get together to swap titles in order to increase access. It was a hot trading environment too - popular titles could command a higher swap rate, as could the latest editions or special issues. Similarly, torn covers and missing pages would be marked down, so there was a lot for the young trader to be wary of. Here are some of the favoured titles of the day.

Many of the comic titles that were available in Australia in those days were imported from overseas, and the main importer was the Melbourne firm of Gordon & Gotch. John Gotch arrived in Australia in December 1853 chasing gold. That was unsuccessful and Gotch found himself selling newspapers for Alexander Gordon, an association which grew into a partnership. When Gordon retired in 1859 and returned to his native Scotland, Gotch bought his share and continued the business which by then was the main importer of newspapers and magazines from Britain.

Branches in Sydney and London followed, and in 1875 Gordon & Gotch opened a Brisbane branch. The business continued to flourish, being incorporated in 1895 and listed in 1897. The six-storey building below was erected in Adelaide St in 1926-7, and the size of the structure is an indication of how successful the company had become.
(Photo: BCC)

(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

The building is still standing in Adelaide St, populated with commercial tenants. Gordon & Gotch left the building in 1957 but they are a continuing player in the world of printed media, distributing more than 130 million items each year. They are now part of the PMP Group.

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Monday, November 2, 2015

JPC Building, 327 George St

While today's post will have the usual discussion points around people and buildings, an outdated item of ladies underwear will also feature prominently. What underwear exactly?

Of course - it's corsets. 

Put your hand up if you have never seen a corset. Leave it up if you don't know what a corset is. Just as I thought - not too many of us have a clue! I do remember advertisements for corsets in Women's Weekly and in newspapers; also my mother had undergarments that she referred to as "step-ins" that were corsets. In the 1950s she wouldn't go into town without wearing a hat, gloves and, under a smart dress, a corset that also held up her stockings!

This isn't the forum (and indeed I don't have the space) to discuss corsets at length. Suffice it to say that a corset is an undergarment for females designed to enhance a woman's figure. Some corsets were medical devices that provided support for the spine, but the majority were worn for aesthetic reasons. If you want more information than that, here is a link to a Wikipedia article and below is an advertisement that shows you what they looked like.
(Photo: nlapic-vn6255300)

And why is it that I am talking about corsets at all? Well, there are a couple of buildings that we are looking at today that are closely involved with the manufacture of corsets. And there is one rather extraordinary woman involved, too.

Firstly this building - a house on Ipswich Rd at Annerley. Unfortunately it no longer exists, but in its day it was quite spectacular. The photograph dates from 1910.
(Photo: JOL 601977)

The house was named Huntingtower, and between 1920 and 1958 it was the home of Mrs Sarah Ann Jenyns, who was a Brisbane corset manufacturer. The man at the front door is William Hood, a former owner who is not connected to today's story.

Sarah Jenyns (née Thompson) was born in New South Wales in 1865, married Ebenezer Randolphus Jenyns in 1887 and moved to Brisbane in 1896. They had eight children, and things were tough for this large family initially. Ebenezer made cutlery and surgical instruments, but preferred to expend most of his energy preaching the gospel as a part-time evangelist. At the start Sarah assisted in her husband's business but in 1911 she commenced her own business making surgical instruments, corsets and belts. In fact Sarah patented a series of corsets designed for various body shapes and she travelled overseas marketing them.

And this is the second building - it was designed by architects Chambers & Powell, built for Sarah Jenyns in 1916, and still exists on George St in the CBD, right next to the BAFS Building. If you look closely you might see the initials JPC in a logo on the pediment - they stand for Jenyns Patent Corsets, Mrs Sarah Jenyns's corset manufacturing business. This addition to her business was finalised after her recovery from a stroke. 

(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

Although her business was moving along smoothly, the same cannot be said about Sarah's family life. Ructions developed through the 1920s as Ebenezer handed his business to son John and Sarah was joined in her business by another son, Herbert. It appears that Ebenezer was more interested in preaching on street corners than running a large business, but Sarah was able to grow her own business into a leading company that survived for almost a hundred years. Some of the children were aligned with their father and others with their mother.

During WWII Jenyns had large contracts with the army and navy, and in 1946 Herbert became managing director. Unfortunately, not long after, Sarah's health was affected by dementia and she was placed under a protection order. The divided family was to cause further problems - disaffected family members prompted the Public Curator to initiate proceedings against Herbert, alleging undue influence over his mother during a business transaction. The case was won by Herbert on appeal, and it became a precedent in the areas of undue influence and unconscionable conduct. Herbert continued to run the business and branched into foundation garments and underclothing. The Jenyns factory at Ipswich employed over 1100 machinists at its peak. In the 1960s Herbert, by then a millionaire, sold the business to the well-known Triumph brand.
(Photo: Whiteheads via

Sarah died at Huntingtower in February 1952. But that's not the end of her story.

In July 2014 Sarah, pictured below, was elected to the Queensland Business Hall of Fame. This is what was said about her at her induction:

The early hardships she had experienced forged an independent spirit with a can-do attitude making her one of the few significant business women of the early 20th century. She created a business involving four generations that lasted nearly 100 years and a product that continues to be produced in Brisbane today in line with her original patent. Sarah Jenyns will always be remembered as a courageous, astute and creative business leader.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church, New Farm

As you drive down Brunswick St into New Farm you see this most striking building on the right, just near Balfour St. Eventually the sign out front gives it away - it is the local Anglican Church, St Michael and All Angels. Here is a current picture of it.

This brick structure was designed by Brisbane architects Conrad and Gargett, and it dates back to 1958-9. It was consecrated by the Anglican Archbishop Dr Felix Arnott in December 1974, although the foundation stone had been laid in 1957. Here is an older, but undated, image of the church. 
(SLQ 586913)

The history of the church and its congregation is far older than this, however.

Way back in 1890 a group of New Farm residents met to discuss the erection of a church on land owned by the church in Brunswick St. At the time New Farm Anglicans were members of the congregation at Holy Trinity Anglican in Fortitude Valley. That first church was completed in November 1890 but was almost immediately destroyed by fire. A successor church was rebuilt straight away and dedicated in March 1891. This is what it looked like on completion.


When the new brick church was proposed the old timber church was moved to another area of the grounds and placed on top of the newer brick Sunday School. It seems that this building has been separated from the church grounds and sold, now being privately owned. This is what it looks like today.
(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)
There are a couple of other points of interest about this church. Firstly, the bell used in the lookout tower of the New Farm Fire Brigade was donated to the church and it now sits in the church's tower, although I doubt that it is still used - the pealing bells that I have heard appear to be a recording.

Secondly, the church has a columbarium. Don't worry - I had to look it up too. It is a memorial repository for cremated remains. The church's web pages say that it sits behind the church building.

I also read on those web pages that the church roof was hail damaged in a recent storm and services are currently being held elsewhere. Let's hope the congregation can get back home as soon as possible.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Jacaranda in bloom

The jacarandas are in bloom - finally. Arborists are a bit concerned about them this year because they are late to bloom for the first time in twenty years. News like this always makes me wonder what dire thing mankind has perpetrated on the planet this time. I also think of students, who for generations have had the blooming of the jacarandas to prompt them that end of year examinations are imminent. Does a late blooming jacaranda season completely disrupt all of those planned late-night swats?

A jacaranda in bloom is a thing of beauty. Back in the fifties former Brit turned Brisbaneite William Bustard painted this example of a large jacaranda, and you can see it at the "Painting with Light" exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane. The exhibition runs through to the end of January 2016 - don't miss it!

The notes with the painting mention Farsley, Hamilton Hill. Hamilton Hill is one of Brisbane's most exclusive residential areas with outstanding views of the Brisbane River and the city skyline. Farsley is the name of a heritage listed property perched on the hill that when sold in 2007 was Brisbane's most expensive house.

I set out to see if I could recapture the Bustard vista with a camera. Finding the location wasn't too difficult, but the actual perspective of the scene could not be replicated. There has probably been some change since the fifties as far as the buildings are concerned, but also Bustard's painterly eye has recomposed the scene somewhat. Here is the best I could do. The front hedge and gatepost of Farsley is visible in the back of the picture as it is in Bustard's work, and the jacaranda in the foreground of the picture is nowhere near as lush as that in the painting.
(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

Here is another photo of Farsley, also previously known as Eldernell and Bishopsbourne, and you can see some elements of it in the painting.
(Photo: Drew Fitzgibbon; Courier Mail)

William Bustard was a Yorkshire-born painter, stained glass artist and book illustrator. After studying art at Battersea Polytechnic, Putney School of Art and Slade School of Art he learned stained glass techniques that enabled him to work in cathedrals in England, Ireland and USA.  Following meritorious service in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WW1 he studied at Oxford and went to Europe to repair stained glass windows in France and Belgium. He married in 1918 and in 1921 he and his wife emigrated to Queensland. As well as painting, he taught art and worked on stained glass windows in both the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals in Brisbane. He also illustrated works such as Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. A truly versatile artist, he was also proficient on violin, piano and accordion. He died on the Gold Coast in 1973.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Elder Smith Wool Store, Teneriffe

Here is a view from the river of the Teneriffe Wharves area taken in 1991. In the left background is the Elder Smith Wool Store. Brisbane's urban renewal is about to commence - the wharves will be demolished and the warehouses converted to other use.
(BCC-C35-15662.27) - 1991

And now a picture from 1997 showing the wool store in its then life as a large furniture complex. The three floors of the former wool store have been converted to retail space, and if that is not sufficient for shoppers, the next wool store down is also a furniture retail outlet. Further down the street the Mactaggarts Wool Store has already been converted to residential space, and the buildings in this photograph are about to follow suit.
(BCC-S35-97188) - 1997

And here is a more recent image. The Elders building has been converted into an apartment building known as Ansonia. In twenty-five years this once industrial area has been transformed into a medium density residential area, as well as commercial space featuring restaurants and cafes.  
(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic) - 2013
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Monday, October 5, 2015

James Campbell & Sons

In my youth I frequented an area known to all as Ballymore. It was the headquarters of the Queensland Rugby Union, situated at Kelvin Grove, and I went there often to play and watch football. I started going there almost as soon as the facility opened in 1966 and I have many memories of the place, from the heart-breaking penalty try that referee Kevin Crowe awarded in the dying moments of the 1968 test match that provided the All Blacks with a win over the Wallabies, to the crowd chants of "We want 50!" in the heady days when Mark Loane's Queensland Reds thrashed the NSW Blues 48-10.

All of that is a preamble into the Campbell family headed by Brisbane businessman James Campbell, who built a house in Kelvin Grove and called it Ballymore because it was adjacent to Bally and More streets. That name was subsequently given to a street and then to the football complex known today. Here is a drawing of the house, and also a photograph of the large Campbell clan gathered outside their residence. Unfortunately the house no longer exists.
(Photo: SLQ 190011)

(Photo: SQL 47510) 

James Campbell was a Scot who came to Brisbane in 1853, and finding no work in his trade as a plasterer, started his own business in George St as a merchant dealing in building materials. That early store shifted to larger premises in Creek St and from there became James Campbell & Sons, one of Brisbane's largest diversified companies that included thriving timber, cement and shipping businesses.
(Photo: SQL 171010)

James Campbell died in 1904, leaving the business in the hands of his eldest son John Dunmore Campbell who is pictured above with his wife Minnie, daughter Molly, and his mother Isabella, the wife of James. John Campbell was chairman and managing director of the family business as it became a limited company in 1896, and he was also a politician at local and state levels as well as having many other interests. He was vice-president of the Queensland Rugby Union from 1894 to 1905.  

In 1889 John Dunmore Campbell had a large building erected on land he owned on the corner of Brunswick St and Annie St at New Farm. The two-storey combined retail and residential structure, known as Brunswick Buildings, still stands there today. 
(Photo: BCC 2011)

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Taking a break

Dear readers

My wife and I are travelling overseas for a month.

Posts will resume in early September.

Thank you for your ongoing interest in the blog.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Nyrambla, Ascot

 From The Courier-Mail,  04 Aug 2014:   
Historic homes have many lives pass through them, and Nyrambla is no exception — it has witnessed death, divorce, fire, indiscretions, joy, tragedy, war. 
Matthew Condon.
This old home is one of Brisbane's most interesting buildings, as it is an unusual mixture of the known and the unknown. Over the years its occupants have ranged from the famous to the obscure, and as Matthew Condon noted it has witnessed a myriad of life's stories.   

Nyrambla sits in a leafy Ascot enclave surrounded by some of Brisbane's most expensive houses. These days it is barely visible from the street, shielded from curious eyes by surrounding residences and a camouflage of trees and greenery. Here is an aerial view of the property.

The house was designed by early Brisbane architect James Cowlishaw and built way back in 1885 for bank manager Henry P Abbott; standing then on 15 acres of prime real estate most of which was split off over ensuing years as suburbia encroached on the site. The original owner is remembered in the surrounding streets named Henry and Abbott.

The house itself is an imposing two-storey structure surrounded by expansive verandahs. Originally it had stables and servants' quarters and over the years a swimming pool and tennis court were added. The following is a photograph from 1922 taken from Henry Street, now the main entrance to the property.
(Photo: SLQ 67867)

And the next image, taken in 1932, shows the former front view of the house taken from Yabba Street.
(Photo: SLQ 67869)

When Mr Abbott retired he and his family moved to Sydney and Nyrambla was rented out to well-to-do tenants including the famous Queensland brewer Patrick Perkins, the original Mr Fourex. Around 1925 it was purchased by Mr GW Whatmore, who was the managing director of an automotive group that sold Austin cars. He was also an alderman on the Brisbane City Council, and was formerly a champion cyclist, rower and yachtsman. After he died in May 1929 at Nyrambla, the large house was converted to flats. The architectural work was done by the prominent firm of Hall & Prentice and the conversion by builders Cunningham & Jones.

During WWII when Brisbane was host to General Douglas MacArthur and tens of thousands of American troops, Nyrambla was requisitioned by the Allies and became one of the most important locations of the war in the Pacific. And a top-secret one. At a recent reunion some of the personnel involved remembered those war years as recounted in this excellent ABC piece run by Radio National on 10 July.

For about three years Nyrambla was the home of Central Bureau whose job it was to decode Japanese radio transmissions. Here is a photograph of a commemorative plaque that now adorns the front of the building.

In the garage of Nyrambla enemy messages were decoded and retransmitted to Allied bases around the world using the Typex machine, a rotor machine similar to the now-famous Enigma.This is what a Typex looked like.

And here is a picture of the humble garage/bunker where the "garage girls" operated the Typex machines. It has now reverted to its original purpose.

There are claims that Central Bureau intercepted and decoded a Japanese signal that led to the ambush and death of Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The importance of this Brisbane site was emphasised by visits from MacArthur and also the Australian General Thomas Blamey, who is pictured below at Nyrambla on 25 February 1944.

After the war, I assume Nyrambla returned to its peace-time role, operating as six flats. It was offered for sale at auction in February 1951.
(The Courier-Mail 27 January, 1951)   

Over the years since then the old house has seen a number of inhabitants, some of them quite well-known. I understand former ABC presenter Blair Edmonds lived there as did media personality and operator of farmers markets, Jan Power.

Prominent Queensland actor, director and writer Bille Brown was a long-time resident prior to his death in 2013.

Nyrambla is listed on the BCC heritage register, and it states there that the building has been converted back to a private residence. The Matthew Condon article in The Courier-Mail that was quoted at the top of this piece goes on to mention the owner (in August 2014) as being "Brisbane socialite" Andree Whatmore, the grand-daughter of previous owner, businessman George W Whatmore! Andree Whatmore and her husband Lawrence Daws, the famous artist, now reside at Nyrambla.   

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Electricity Substation 210, Coorparoo

Electricity is one of those ubiquitous utilities that we just expect to be available 24/7. Lucky us - there are many places in the world where this is not the case.

Apart from the very occasional blackout, usually the result of an electrical storm (of which there are many in a Brisbane summer), most of us just take the service for granted. Of course it wasn't always so - electricity came slowly and intermittently to Brisbane street lights and houses. The tram service also became a reason for electric power to be expanded from its central city beginnings.

Brisbane's first street lights were operational in 1882 as the result of steam power generated by a steam engine provided by JW Sutton & Co in Adelaide St. Then in 1888 another company, Barton & White, constructed a powerhouse in Edison Lane at the rear of the GPO.

Electric trams came into service in 1897, and powering these vehicles meant the construction of new and bigger powerhouses. From these infant steps evolved the efficient electricity service we take for granted today.

Over Coorparoo way is an electricity substation that is actually listed on Queensland's heritage register, and deservedly so too. It is this Spanish Mission designed structure built in 1930 to plans by Reyburn Jameson, BCC assistant architect of the time. 
(from Courier-Mail 12 May 1930 via Trove)

Here are a couple of photographs of it.
(Photo: Heritage Branch staff, Queensland Government)

(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

The substation is situated on Main Ave near the bowls club. It hasn't operated since 1977 or thereabouts as larger, more modern substations have taken over the ever increasing load. Fortunately for us it has been preserved as a remnant of a time when public utilities could be beautiful as well as practical.

As a point of comparison, here is today's Coorparoo substation. Nothing to see here - move along!

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Kelvin Grove

Here are a couple of buildings in Kelvin Grove that have been around for a while and about which I have only sketchy details. First up is this substantial structure on Kelvin Grove Rd that I first knew in the 1980s as a restaurant run by Bill Cunliffe who was previously the proprietor at popular Spanish restauraunt Tortilla in Elizabeth Arcade in the CBD. He called this place Kelvin House, as I recall, and here is a photograph of it from 1986.
(Photo: BCC-T54-229) 

I'm not sure what has transpired since then, but the building is once again a restaurant, this time featuring Thai cuisine. Their web site says they have been in operation since 2009. It also throws a little light on the origins of the building, stating that it was built in 1880 and known as Stone House. Although the web site notes it as a "heritage building" I have not been able to find it on any of the usual registers.

The second building is not that old - it was constructed in 1930 to be a teachers' training college, but as a result of the Depression it was initially used as a school. In 1942 it achieved its primary objective as the Queensland Teachers' Training College when the previous facility moved to this location from the city. Here is a photograph of it from 1936.
(Photo: BCC-B120-81044)

Since then there has been a plethora of name changes. Here is a list that comes from a Wikipedia page:
Senior Teachers' Training College (1944), and then to the Queensland Teachers' College (1950), Kelvin Grove Teachers' College (1961), Kelvin Grove College of Teacher Education (1974), Kelvin Grove College of Advanced Education (1976), Kelvin Grove Campus of the Brisbane College of Advanced Education (1982), and Kelvin Grove Campus of the Queensland University of Technology (1990). 
Fortunately the building remains the same and appears to be in good order - here are some more recent photographs.
 (Photo: BCC-T120-93313.42) 1993


The building is now part of the large QUT campus at Victoria Park Rd, Kelvin Grove.

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