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.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Macquarie St, Teneriffe - then and now

(Photo: BCC-T120M-1264.2) 1989

(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

(Photo: BCC-B54-21454) 1967

(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

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Monday, July 6, 2015


Recently I was researching my grandfather's role in WWI, and I came to wonder how he actually arrived at the Western Front in 1916. I discovered that he sailed out of Brisbane on the ship Commonwealth, departing from Pinkenba on 28 March 1916. I couldn't find any images of his particular departure, but the following two photographs show WWI troop carriers crammed with servicemen departing the wharves at Pinkenba.

(Photo: SQL 73331)

Pinkenba - from the Indigenous Turrbal dialect, meaning "place of the tortoise".

The name is unusual, and so is the suburb now. The wharves are idle - most passenger liners pull in at Hamilton and cargo vessels at Port of Brisbane on Fishermans Island.

The railway station is idle too, shut down by Queensland Rail in 1993 after 111 years. During the Boer War, WWI and also WWII departing troops were transported on trains to this station then marched to the wharves. My grandfather was probably brought down to Commonwealth this way, and my father may well have travelled this way to serve in Borneo and PNG in WWII. The railway station structure remains, but is now surrounded by shrubs, grass, weeds and rubbish.
(Photo: Seo75 via

Pinkenba State School has closed and was offered for sale in 2013. I can't tell you whether or not it was sold at that time, but the buildings were still there the last time I looked. There is a set of memorial gates at the school's entrance that commemorate those from the suburb who served in WWII.

There is another memorial in a nearby park that remembers those who volunteered for service in WWI. This memorial was unveiled in 1925 and is held on the state heritage list.  Here is a current photograph.
(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

Here is the memorial at the unveiling in 1925.
(Photo: SQL 16691) 

And they are not the only monuments down this way. On 6th March 1963 the Queen opened a plaque commemorating the completion of the Moonie pipeline that brings oil to Brisbane's refineries.

This monument is stuck in the middle of nowhere, its only surroundings a desolate reserve of sorts and a heavily industrialised background. I wonder what the Queen thought when her vehicle pulled up here? There's the monument - set on a brick plinth between the trees at the end of the pathway that cuts in from the right of the picture.

Recent estimates indicate that the population of Pinkenba is around 350. Although only a few kilometers from the centre of Brisbane, it is a suburb constrained by industry and the Brisbane River on one side and Brisbane Airport on the other side.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Warriston, Red Hill


Most people who have lived in Brisbane for a reasonable time would have passed by this building - it is quite a landmark near a major intersection at Red Hill. 

A man named David Pringle Milne bought the land that contains the structure in 1866 and 1874, according to the state's heritage listings. I'm not sure when Milne arrived in Brisbane, but going by the name of his boot-making business it would appear that he came from Scotland. Here is an excerpt from the classified advertisements in the Brisbane Courier dated 12 March 1867.  
(Image via

In 1870 David Milne ran for local government and became the alderman for the West ward of Brisbane. From the Brisbane Courier dated 8 February 1871:
 (Image via

And here is a photograph of the man.
(Photo: BCC-B120-33468)

Adding further to Milne's presumed Scottish beginnings is the name of the structure he built on that land circa 1886 - a wooden building comprised of two semi-detached two-storey residences that he named Warriston, after a suburb of Glasgow. The Milne family lived in one and the other was made available for tenants, who were mainly middle class males.
(Brisbane Courier 25 June 1902 via

After David Milne's death in 1897 the dwellings went through a series of changes - at various times it has been a private school; a boarding house; converted to 12 flats; and split into a number of offices. In 2010 there was a serious fire at the premises which were described in the press at the time as "a cheap rental property". The owners were subsequently fined for a number of safety issues.

Despite these travails the place still stands near the Normanby fiveways, and I hope it remains there for a good while yet.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Newstead Police Station (former)

Brisbane Courier, 29 February 1924:
New Police Station At Breakfast Creek
Breakfast Creek is to have a new police station on a more central site than the present one. The Home Secretary (Mr. Stopford), in making this announcement to-day, said that the Brisbane City Council was resuming the present station site which adjoined Newstead Park. The idea was that it should he included in the park area. The Home office consequently had to look for another site, and on the previous day, accompanied by the Police Commissioner (Mr. Short) and the Under Secretary (Mr. Gall), he had inspected some land not far from the present station. The department had an option over this land.

Brisbane Courier, 8 March 1926:
On and after Wednesday next, March 10, the Breakfast Creek police will be stationed in a house alongside the Booroodabin Bowling Green. The reason for the change is that the Brisbane City Council has resumed the land on which the present station is built alongside the Newstead Park, so that the land could be used in extending the area of the park. The Government bought a house and land formerly belonging to Mr. Thomas Barry, alongside the Booroodabin Bowling Green. The house, which contains nine rooms, stands on stumps 12ft. high. The space beneath the house will be converted into offices, and the rooms and the house will be used for the men stationed there. The site is a particularly good one, for it is handy to the new bridge which is being built at the Five Ways, Albion, over which there will be a great amount of traffic. The site is also a much more central one. Another feature of the change is that instead of paying rent, as it has been doing for several years, the new station will be Government property.

Breakfast Creek Police Station opened on July 5, 1889; closed on September 20, 1904 (when the Hamilton Police Station was opened) and then reopened on September 6, 1905. The initial house rented as the Breakfast Creek Police Station in Newstead Avenue, near Newstead Park. In 1926 when the City Council expanded the park the police had to move to a timber dwelling purchased by the Queensland Police on a block which sat between Roche Avenue and Breakfast Creek Road at 96 Breakfast Creek Road near the Bowling Green.
The station was renamed Newstead Police Station in 1963 and operated as the local police station from 1926 until it closed in 1995. The property was owned by the Queensland Police until 2006.
The original house, built about 1919 for Brisbane tailor, Thomas T. Barry, was one of a number of houses in the area at that time following suburban expansion after World War 1. It is the last remaining dwelling on Breakfast Creek Road, now the main commercial artery between the Valley and Breakfast Creek Bridge. The building, initially used as married quarters for the police, is a typical example of the ‘Queenslander’ timber-framed and elevated dwellings of the period. It was first enclosed underneath with an office in 1939.
The small, timber building at the rear of the property, built pre-1914, was relocated from the old Breakfast Creek Station near Newstead Avenue. It included single-men’s quarters and a police cell.
Although the police have left and the government has sold the building, it still stands on Breakfast Creek Rd, passed by thousands of vehicles daily. Do you recognise it?
(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Nundah Fire Station

Here is another of the old suburban fire stations that have been decommissioned and phased out of their original purpose. This one is at Nundah, and it has been absorbed into a new apartment complex - this is an artist's impression of the finished product.

And a recent photograph of the frontage.
(Photo credit: Shiftchange via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the way it was looking prior to renovation.
(Photo: © Queensland Government)

Fires in the Nundah area are now responded to from the fire station at Hendra, pictured below. It is able to house the much larger and more modern appliances used by the fireys today, but it lacks the street appeal of the original Nundah station that was decommissioned in 1999.

The  Nundah Fire Brigade was formed in 1916, originally storing its equipment at the Royal Hotel until a shed and bell tower were erected in Union St in 1917. Then the fire station was built in 1936 to a design by Atkinson & Conrad using a template shared with other stations including those still standing at Wynnum and Coorparoo (both also decommissioned). The two-storey building provided room for equipment on the ground floor and accommodation for the superintendent on the upper floor.

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Royal Hotel, Nundah

A couple of weeks ago we had a family meal at one of Brisbane's oldest hotels. I'm not a restaurant reviewer, but I have to say that I was very impressed with the venue and the food. I am talking about the recently refurbished Royal Hotel at Nundah, which happens to be on the BCC heritage list.

The suburb now known as Nundah started out as German Station, a place established by  Lutheran missionaries who were among Brisbane's first free settlers. They arrived in 1838 and the mission lasted until 1843. A railway station was opened in 1882 and with that came a new name for the suburb - Nundah, an adaptation of the name that the Indigenous Turrbal people had for a chain of waterholes in the area.

The Royal Hotel was designed by architect GWC Wilson and built on Sandgate Road around 1888. It has remained a Nundah fixture since that time. Here is the earliest photograph of it that I could find - it was taken around 1929.
(Photo: SLQ 1868)

Prior to a makeover last year, the hotel had marketed itself as the Royal English Hotel and it looked like this. Fortunately all of that faux-Tudor cladding is now gone.
Photo: 2013

And here is its most recent appearance. Now known simply as The Royal, it has embraced the gastro-pub concept with an Italian flair. Judging by the full-to-capacity crowd, the changes have met with instant approval and The Royal has regained its mojo.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

State butcher shops

"Mum - what does 'expectorating' mean?".

This was a question I asked when, as a child, I accompanied my mother to the local butcher shop. On the wall there was a big sign that said "No Expectorating" - I hadn't a clue. When I found out that it meant "No Spitting" I wondered who would spit on the floor of the butcher shop anyway.

From what I remember of a 1950s butcher shop, it looked a lot like this one, although the photograph was taken at Wondai in 1935.
 (Photo: SLQ 149488)

Large wooden cutting blocks standing on sawdust covered floors. Meat hanging by butcher's hooks from a rail that ran along the back wall. Much of the butchery was done in plain sight of the customers - carcasses sawn or chopped on those blocks, which were then rubbed down with salt to clean them. The sawdust floor caught any escaping blood or scraps and was swept up at the end of each day; fresh sawdust was spread over the floor on the following morning. I would imagine that things were even more primitive around the time of WWI - certainly commercial refrigeration would have only been in its infancy.

Many readers will be surprised to learn that, in the years during and after WWI, Queensland had butcher shops that were owned and operated by the state. The war time Labor government under premier TJ Ryan and treasurer EG Theodore wanted to ensure that Queenslanders were not disadvantaged by capitalist exploitation, so between 1915 and 1929 there were a total of 90 butcher shops that were government controlled. This enabled the government to fix the price of meat. Here is a photograph of one such store, this one at Albion around 1925.
(Photo: SLQ 57672)

And this is a butcher shop that was built in James Street New Farm in 1901 for Baynes Brothers. It was purchased by the state government in 1918 to be run as the New Farm state butchery.

The government's foray into staple products was never really successful. The butcher shops lost money and the government began to close them in 1926. The New Farm state butchery was closed in 1929 and the premises were sold to investors who leased the shop to butcher George Lemke. Ten years later the shop was onsold to Burrows Brothers who renovated the shop and installed a large refrigerated cold room.

Burrows Brothers survived WWII rationing and subsequent price fixing, then sold the business to the Petersen family in 1971. This is the shop, still bearing the Petersen name, pictured in 2009.  Although the Petersens sold to the George family in 2012 the shop remains, possibly the oldest traditional butcher shop in Brisbane.

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Friday, May 29, 2015

John Oxley Library Award

This blog has just been honoured as a joint winner of the John Oxley Library Award for 2015. The other joint winner is the fabulous North Queensland History blog, and I am humbled to be mentioned in such august company.

Here is some information about the award:
As Australia’s leading library of Queensland's documentary heritage, the John Oxley Library plays a vital role in the development and communication of Queensland memory.

The John Oxley Library Award recognises an individual who had made an outstanding contribution to the appreciation of Queensland history. The Award is granted annually to promote the value of historical knowledge and its role in shaping Queenslanders' understanding of themselves and each other.

The recipient will receive a $5,000 prize.

The achievement being recognised may relate to any aspect of Queensland's social, political, economic and cultural life; and may take any form, occurring in any context, and extending over any period of time.
2015 John Oxley Library Award recipients
Trevor Newman (joint winner)
Trevor Newman coordinates popular blog Your Brisbane: Past and Present ( Trevor's blog compiles valuable information about Brisbane's buildings, those we consider landmarks, as well as many others. It's a well written blog by a person who grew up in Brisbane. Trevor has been consistently nominated by Queensland Memory staff as a nominee for this award for the past few years.
Trisha Fielding (joint winner)
Trisha Fielding coordinates the equally popular blog North Queensland History ( Trisha also writes a weekly history column for the Townsville Bulletin and is a regular contributor to local ABC Radio. In 2010, Trisha published her first book, Flinders Street Townsville: A pictorial history, which was awarded a high commendation by the National Trust of Queensland and she received an award for writing at the Townsville Arts Awards. Trisha is an active member of local studies groups and works as a Librarian for Townsville City Libraries.
In my acceptance speech at the awards ceremony last night I thanked the staff and volunteers at John Oxley Library and State Library of Queensland for making such valuable archive material accessible. Without their painstaking work digitising photographs, documents and ephemera this blog would not exist.

And my thanks also go to all readers of the blog.


Monday, May 25, 2015

New Farm Fire Brigade

The origin of organised fire-fighting in Brisbane was, naturally enough, as the result of a fire. It occurred in a cabinet maker's workshop near the corner of George and Elizabeth Sts in 1860. This blaze was contained only by the efforts of police and citizens who helped voluntarily. A fledgling fire brigade was formed afterwards, but had difficulty maintaining resources and was soon disbanded. Fortunately, future attempts gained better traction.

The near-city suburb of New Farm created its own voluntary fire brigade in 1889. There was a sawmill down by the river at Moray St that was obviously considered to be a fire risk and that business, James Campbell & Sons, provided some nearby land for the erection of a fire station - it was completed by December of that year at a cost of £50. The original equipment consisted only of two hand-drawn hose reels. The following undated photograph shows the men of the brigade with their rudimentary equipment. 
 (Photo: SQL 97498)

The fire station was situated on the corner of Moray and Langshaw Sts, advantageously close to the industrial section of New Farm. The disadvantage though, was that these businesses were close to the river in a low-lying area. The solution to this issue was the building of a tower with a lookout and bell to provide greater coverage of the suburb.
(Photo: SQL 141596)

And here is a photograph of the former site of the tower as it is today.

The fire station moved to a much higher and more central spot in Heal St around 1903 and in 1912 the brigade updated its equipment - a quadricycle built by Howards Ltd that was rigged up as a pedal-powered fire engine. It had a box that contained fire fighting equipment, could tow a wheeled hose reel and could transport four firefighters.
(Photograph: "Brisbane on Fire"; K Calthorpe & K Capell)

The quadricycle still exists - it is held at the Queensland Museum.
 (Photo: Courtesy Queensland Museum)

The New Farm Fire Brigade was a voluntary organisation through to 1922 when members started  to receive payment for their service. Ironically the New Farm brigade disbanded in the following year.

The fire brigade is now centralised, so the old methodology of separate brigades in different suburbs is long gone. However the volunteering tradition lives on. Queensland has some 35,000 rural volunteers and a further 6,000 State Emergency Service volunteers.

All our firefighters deserve our respect and our thanks.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Toowong library building

In a previous post about iconic Brisbane architect Richard Gailey, I thought out loud that if you wanted an occupation by which you could leave your mark on the world then architecture would be it. When I first started to prepare this post I had exactly the same thought.

Richard Gailey and the equally famous Robin Dods were prominent in their time and more prominent thereafter. Today we are looking at the work of James Birrell, also prolific and who in his major projects was just as prominent. We have previously examined a couple of Birrell creations - the Centenary Pool and the Wickham Terrace car park. Like those two public amenities, today's subject is another building Birrell created for his employer. It is the BCC library building at Toowong.

My early impression of this twelve-sided building was formed by glimpses as I passed by in a train or a car. A teenager at the time, I likened it to an alien space ship of the type frequently seen in the sci-fi serials of Saturday matinees at my local cinema. It was also reminiscent of the Hoover vaccuum cleaner in the movie "Our Man in Havana" that was around at the time. I mean no disrespect to Birrell (who probably couldn't care less about the ravings of an impressionable youth anyway) - I genuinely admired the building because of these unusual comparisons. Here is a sketch of the building followed by a photograph of it under construction. The third image is from about the time the library was opened in April 1961.

(Photo: BCC-B54-15117) 1960
(Photo: BCC-B54-16201) 1961

There was controversy about Birrell's design from the outset. In fact he had to defend his work against the City Librarian who claimed that a normal rectangular shape would provide more shelf space than Birrell's circular interior. Birrell agreed that this was correct, but pointedly reminded people that shelf space was not the only criterion for designing a library - natural lighting and ventilation were also critical. In any case the building went ahead in accordance with his design.

James Birrell graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1951 and was was the chief architect for Brisbane City Council from 1955 to 1961 and during that time was responsible for more than 150 projects - unfortunately many of those have now been lost or redeveloped. After leaving BCC Birrell went on to work at the University of Queensland then James Cook University and in 1964 he completed a biography of the famous architect Walter Burley Griffin. He also worked in Papua New Guinea for a time before moving to private practice. In 2005 Birrell was awarded the prestigious RAIA Gold Medal, Australia's greatest architecture prize.

Subsequently the Toowong library building has been altered in usage and in form. The following is an extract from the state's heritage register:
During the 1960s, following Birrell's' departure from the Council, alterations were made to the library including the replacement of the light troughs and suspended lighting features. The library was threatened for closure in 1982 following the opening of a new municipal library at Indooroopilly in 1981. The Toowong Library did in fact close but local residents' action saw it re-opened in 1983. Alterations were made to the building in 1983 when one of the rooms on the lower floor was acquired for use by the local councillor as a ward office. This room which was originally planned as an auditorium was used by the library as a workroom and to accommodate the councillor was partitioned to form a reception, office and storage space. 
Here is a recent image of the building.
 (Photo: Mary-Rose MacColl)

Click here for a Google Map.

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