Monday, July 25, 2016

The irregular posting to the blog is the result of a recent bereavement. Things are still a bit tough but I hope normal transmission will be achieved shortly.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Moana, New Farm

Theodore Oscar Unmack was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1835 and came to Australia in 1853. After several years in Victoria he moved to Queensland in 1860 where he achieved success in business and politics.

For a time Unmack was engaged in the wholesale produce business with another German immigrant, Johann Heussler, and they operated out of Tara House (later to become the home of the Irish Club) in Elizabeth St. It appears that Unmack gave a regular market report that was published in the press for the benefiit of his fellow citizens. From The Queenslander:
WHOLESALE. (The Queenslander, 21 August 1875)
There is little change in the market since
last week; business has, if anything, improved.
The holidays have, however, tended to keep it
quiet. Flour steady; maize brisker; demand
good ; bran in average request; potatoes very
dull of sale, market being crowded with sellers,
and consumption moderate; hay still over
stocked and quiet; butter well supplied, and
in moderate demand. Bacon, 9d per lb ; bran,
£9 per ton j butter, 9d per lb; flour, best
Adelaide, £24 to £26 per ton; flour, Tas
mania, £22 to £24 per ton; hay, lucerne, £9
to £10 per ton ; hay, oaten, £8 to £9 per ton;
maize, 5s 8d to 5s 6d per bushel; oats, 4s 6d
to 5s per bushel; potatoes, nominal; onions,
none ; pollard, £9 10* per ton; soap, £30 per
top ; mould candles, 51/2d to 6d per lb

Unmack, a prominent Freemason, was the German Consul for two years as well as president of the Chamber of Commerce. In 1888 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly as the member for Toowong and subsequently acted as the Postmaster-General and Secretary for Railways. Here is a photograph from 1889.
 (Photo: SLQ 69368)

In 1885 Unmack purchased land at Moray St, New Farm where he built the subject of today's post - the imposing house overlooking the Brisbane River that he named Moana, a Hawaiian word meaning water or sea, but probably "borrowed" from the name of a hotel. Here are photographs of it, front and back, from 1932. The view from the rear also includes the maids' quarters, testament to the status of the owner of the house.
(Photo: SLQ 19407)

(Photo: SLQ 19406)

Architects Banks and Carandini designed Moana and it is believed to be the last surviving example of their domestic architecture. The Unmack family lived there until the early 1920s when it was converted to flats. Theodore Unmack died in 1919.

Moana appears on the Brisbane City Council heritage register. Although it has been modified in the conversion to flats and then the conversion back to a single dwelling in 1986, much of the original character of the house remains. The latest sale of the property I could find was in October 2010 for a tad over $3 million. This is what it looked like at the time.

And here is today's quick look over the fence at Moana.
  (Photo: © 2016 the foto fanatic)  

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, May 2, 2016

JAM O'Keeffe, builder

We have seen evidence of the work of well-known architect Andrea Stombuco in these pages before.

Today we will examine a builder who converted many of Stombuco's dreams into reality. He was an Irish immigrant named John Arthur Manus O'Keeffe.

O'Keeffe came to Australia in 1857 and initially settled in Toowoomba where he worked as a builder, possibly on the railways. Next we find him, a decade later, mining the gold fields of Gympie. This activity allowed O'Keeffe to amass a sizeable land holding, mainly heavily wooded, from where he would be able to source timber for the construction work he was about to undertake.

By the end of the 1870s O'Keeffe had moved with his wife and family to Spring Hill in Brisbane in order to embark on the career for which he is best remembered. In the Brisbane boom-times of the 1880s his company would construct many of Brisbane's most notable buildings.

The firm of Messrs O'Keeffe & Co operated mainly in the private sector, eschewing the government construction work that was also plentiful at this time. Among his non-Stombuco accomplishments were the fabulous Dura at Hendra, designed by HGO Thomas, built by O'Keeffe in 1888-89 and known now as Glengariff; as well as Collins Place built in 1889-90 at South Brisbane for hotelier Michael Foley (pictured below, Glengariff top & Collins Place bottom).
(Photo: SLQ 145445)


Around this time he created Stombuco's impressive Her Majesty's Opera House in Queen St, shown in the drawing below. Regrettably this ornate building was demolished during the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era of destruction.
(Photo: SLQ 16875)

Also of note were the terrace houses situated on Petrie Terrace that came to be home for the O'Keeffe family and now are a Brisbane landmark close to the Normanby Fiveways. They are pictured here in 1977, prior to a restoration.

Stombuco was also an accomplished ecclesiastical architect who had already designed several churches in Victoria, and in Brisbane he designed these churches that were built by O'Keeffe - firstly St Patrick's Catholic Church at Fortitude Valley.
(Photo: SLQ 7908)
And also St Andrew's Anglican Church at South Brisbane.
(Photo: SLQ 189987)

Then there was the building meant to be Stombuco's own residence (Sans Souci, now Palma Rosa) where O'Keeffe was the principal contractor, the others being Andrew Petrie (stonework) and John Watson (plumbing). Unfortunately for Stombuco he wasn't able to reside there - at least not for long, as the building boom in Brisbane was soon to end. 
 (Photo: SLQ 128011)

The boom era of the 1880s preceded the bust of the 1890s. A financial melt-down together with the natural disasters of the huge floods of 1890 and 1893 caused many businesses to fail. Stambuco left Brisbane for Perth in 1891, never to return.

O'Keeffe's business was forced into liquidation but he managed to repay most of his debts before his death in 1913 at the age of 76.

Note: Historian Rod Fisher completed what he has called his "farewell to Brisbane arms" in 2011 prior to moving to Brazil - a thoroughly researched opus called "The Best of Colonial Brisbane", and the information presented here is drawn mainly from that source.


Monday, April 25, 2016


Monday, April 18, 2016

Frogs Hollow, Brisbane CBD

If you walk down Edward St towards the Brisbane River you will come to a building that we have looked at previously - the Port Office Hotel, named after the old Port Office building (now the Stamford Plaza Hotel) situated on the other side of the street near the northern entrance to the Botanical Gardens.

On the Edward St wall of the Port Office Hotel is the sculpture named "Frogs Hollow" shown in the photograph below.
(Photo: © 2016 the foto fanatic)

The piece was created by Christopher Trotter as part of his "Nature" series, several of which are dotted around the CBD, and it is a physical representation of the name that was given to this area in days gone by. If you look at the work you can pick out the frogs, toadstools and reeds that used to be present in this low-lying part of Brisbane.

Frogs Hollow was a marshy and unpleasant area bounded by Edward, Alice, Albert and Charlotte Streets that became waterlogged when it rained. In really heavy rain, the area used to become flood-bound, as can be seen in the following image taken during the 1864 floods, looking down Charlotte St from George St towards Edward St.  
(Photo: SLQ 22130)

Frogs Hollow became notorious for other reasons too. The noxious nature of the terrain seemed to attract the seamier side of Brisbane's inhabitants and businesses. The susceptibility to flooding meant that rents for buildings constructed there were relatively cheap, thereby attracting the poor and the disadvantaged and making Frogs Hollow a part of the town where criminal activity flourished. Brisbane historian Rod Fisher described it as being home to many of the city’s public houses, hostels, gambling joints, brothels and opium dens. He described it as a:
"rare clustering of drunkards, prostitutes, larrikins, thieves and assailants who, in one way or other, lived off the visitors, mariners, and new arrivals at the many boarding-houses, lodgings and hotels" 
One estimate in the late 1880's indicated that as many as 50 percent of cases that came before the Police Court originated in Frogs Hollow.
The cheaper dwellings and the moist conditions also attracted another group - the Chinese. Some were market gardeners but many more were involved in illegal gambling and drugs. Sometimes attempts were made to close down the illegal establishments and on occasions this resulted in full-scale riots.    

Gradually though, Brisbane expanded and Frogs Hollow was drained and cleaned up as businesses moved there. The construction of buildings such as Watson Bros and HB Sales brought people to the area, gradually forcing out the opium dens and brothels.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Delivering the mail

Australia Post is not my favourite at the moment. The other day I waited at home for a parcel that the Australia Post internet tracker told me would be delivered on that day. It never came. Then in the late afternoon I received a text message saying that I could pick it up at the local post office. No postie had knocked at my door and no "not at home" card was in my letter box. So the postie must have decided that he couldn't be bothered delivering to my place on that day - he just made a unilateral decision that he would leave it at the post office. I wonder how many others had the same experience that day.

It raises a host of issues. I had paid for express delivery to my residence and was clearly short-changed.  I had to catch a bus to the post office to collect the parcel, and catch another bus back home carrying the parcel. Damned inconvenient at the time for me, but what if I was someone with a disability or no means to get to the post office? What if it was urgently needed medication? What use is an internet tracking service that advises you to stay at home to collect a delivery when that delivery never occurs? How many lost hours and how much lost productivity results?

I might point out that this has occurred before - several times over the last few years, in fact - so it is definitely not a one-off. The postie has actually delivered successfully at other times, so there is no physical problem that prevents delivery. Phone calls to Australia Post raise barely a flicker of interest at the other end. They tell me that the postie should make an attempt to deliver at the address, they promise to check, but still it occurs.

It is well documented that Australia Post's letter delivery service is losing money hand over fist. The increasing use of text messages, email services and social media where messages, photos, music etc can be sent electronically and received almost immediately anywhere in the world is obviously decimating "snail mail" as it has become known.

Australia Post has indicated that it wants to focus on its parcel delivery service to replace the revenue being lost in the letter division. Well, good luck with that, because if service standards are not better than what I have experienced the competition (and there is plenty of that) will chew up Australia Post and spit out the bits. 

Posting a letter to an address in Australia now costs the sender $1.00! One dollar for a standard letter. I'm flabbergasted, particularly seeing that the mail transit times are increasing rather than decreasing. Increasing the unit cost is hardly likely to bring in extra customers - $1.00 for a letter vs a few cents for an SMS or email is a no-brainer, after all.

Of course we all send emails today. From little tackers to great-grannies, people are emailing and texting in ever-increasing numbers. Even Clive Palmer's five year-old can send a text, apparently!

It did make me think about the changes to the mail service over the years.

The Australia Post web site tells me that way back in 1809 a man named Isaac Nichols was appointed to attend to all mail received in the colony of New South Wales, thus creating the first formal postal service in Australia. He was a man before his time as he operated from his home. He listed the names of those who received mail in the colony's newspaper and they came and collected their mail.

Over time, mail collection became mail delivery.
(Photo: SLQ 42743)

The photo above shows mail delivery on horseback in Brisbane in 1913. The postie depicted delivered mail in the Newmarket, Wilston, Grange, Enoggera and Ashgrove areas.

And I bet that it was a tad more reliable than today's service.


Monday, March 21, 2016

John McConnel and Morven, Shorncliffe

To follow the last post about Mary McConnel, here is a snippet about another member of the McConnel family.

John McConnel was the younger brother of David McConnel (Mary's husband) and followed David to Moreton Bay in 1842. With a third brother, Frederick, the McConnels were partners in Cressbrook station as mentioned in the previous post. When the partnership was wound up in 1861 John McConnel became a member of the Legislative Council, the upper house of the Queensland parliament (since abolished). It would be interesting to know whether John's new occupation was the cause or effect of the Cressbrook partnership being wound up.

In 1864 John McConnel commissioned architect Benjamin Backhouse to build him a fine residence at Shorncliffe, overlooking Moreton Bay. This is what it looked like circa 1904.
(Photo: SLQ 177631)

The house was sold to solicitor David Brown in the mid-1880s, and he named it Morven after his Scottish home town. Apparently at around this time the house was leased extensively as a summer residence by the then governor of Queensland, Sir Henry Wylie Norman.

There were several changes of ownership including a period where it operated as a guest house, until around 1951 when Morven was purchased by the parish priest of Sandgate, Fr O'Rourke, whose intention was for it to become a boys' school, and that is the function of the building today. It is part of St Patrick's, a Christian Brothers college, and it opened in 1952 with an enrolment of 172 students and now has over 1200 young men who would have celebrated St Patrick's Day last week. 

Here is a current photograph of Morven as seen on the school's web pages.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Mary McConnel and Royal Children's Hospital

It has always been a source of wonder to me that Australia's early free settlers left Europe on a dangerous voyage to an even more dangerous land; not knowing what they would find when they got there, unprepared for the new world's flora, fauna and Indigenous inhabitants and totally unsuited for the seasons being in reverse and much hotter than whence they came. Many of them overcame all of these trials and collectively made the country that we are so proud of today.

One local story concerns the McConnel family on whom we have touched before in this earlier post about Bulimba House, the residence they built in Brisbane around 1850.  

David McConnel was born in Manchester in 1818 and emigrated to the Moreton Bay colony in 1840. In 1844 he established his station Cressbrook in the Upper Brisbane River near the present town of Esk. Intended to be a sheep run but found to be unsuitable for that purpose, Cressbrook became a shorthorn beef stud. Cressbrook today is still in the hands of the McConnel family. According to its web pages it is Queensland’s oldest residence, Queensland’s oldest identified family business and one of Australia’s third oldest identified family businesses.

In this post I want to look at the life of David's wife Mary McConnel in the early days of Cressbrook. David made a return visit to the Old Country in 1847, and in 1848 married Mary, a Scot, in Edinburgh and they arrived back in Moreton Bay in 1849. The house at Bulimba was their Brisbane base and some reports state that initially Mary stayed in Brisbane for health reasons, although she did live at Cressbrook later on. Here is an undated photograph of the couple.
 (Photo: SLQ 110184)

Can you imagine what life would have been like in the 1850s on a cattle property four day's ride from Brisbane? Let's start with the obvious things we take for granted today - no telephone, no electricity, no sewerage, probably no running water, transport by horse and/or buggy, no access to medical help and supplies to be imported from Brisbane or Ipswich. No church for the deeply religious McConnels and no school for any offspring. And for a woman living far from home in a totally unfamiliar environment, I imagine, a sense of loneliness.

One report about her says:
'Mary used what she had to make her drab environment look cheerful. A roll of unbleached calico was good for curtains, cushions and covers. She took twelve of her husband’s red silk handkerchiefs, cut them into strips, used them as binding for the covers, “and then I had a pretty room to sit in”.'
David McConnel helped other immigrants who arrived in Moreton Bay by providing work and often selling allotments of land to them on favourable terms. The Cressbrook Station web site relates that David McConnel and his brothers John and Frederick ran the property together until 1861 when the partnership dissolved, leaving David and Mary to run Cressbrook. The web page then says:
'...with the number of construction and station workers on Cressbrook now significant enough to establish a small township which included a butcher shop, post office, carpenters shop, blacksmiths and schoolhouse, with weekly church services held in the hallway at the main residence.' 
The Cressbrook homestead had been a school room during the week and a church on Sundays. Mary herself taught lessons and Scripture, then hired a full-time teacher; she started a library and held a weekly mothers' meeting - all the while being the mistress of the house and attending to its associated duties and entertaining visitors.

Tragedy in the form of the death of two infant sons led Mary to contemplate child health and welfare issues. She campaigned for a children's hospital and started fundraising. On a trip to the UK she visited children's hospitals to observe their methods of operation, and with the help of her brother, a doctor, enlisted staff.

When she returned to Brisbane she was able to oversee the opening of a children's hospital in a modified house in Spring Hill in March 1878. This facility was later transferred to Bowen Hills and became the Royal Children's Hospital. Here is a photograph of the hospital's nursing staff from around 1895.
(Photo: SLQ 88256)

Much of Australia's pioneer history has been written about men. Women like Mary McConnel deserve to have their story told too. In a harsh environment and with few tools compared with today's households they were the backbone of the country.

David McConnel died in June 1885 and Mary McConnel passed away in January 1910.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Richard Randall's Art Studio, Toowong

(Photo: "Lady with umbrella", Richard Randall

Richard Randall, painter, had a short but productive life. Although aged only 36 at the time of his death in 1906 which followed a fall from a horse, the Brisbane-born Randall had produced a large volume of his own work, and as a teacher was instrumental in establishing an art scene in his home town.

Richard Randall was born in South Brisbane in 1869, the son of George Randall who was a well-known and successful businessman. It appears that George was supportive of his son's artistic efforts and was prepared to underwrite Richard's travel and study overseas. George Randall also became an emigration agent for Queensland, and his extensive contact list was also beneficial to Robert who was able to paint portraits of many distinguished people.

Richard Randall returned to Brisbane from working in England in 1899, apparently at the request of his father who thought that Richard should promote art in the colony. Richard set about establishing a studio in South Brisbane in which he could work and teach. The resultant building was modelled on studios he had seen in England, and it featured large windows and a skylight that were fitted with blinds to control the light.

After Richard's untimely death his father George gathered up as many of his works as he could and donated them in trust to the South Brisbane Council. They were held for a time in the South Brisbane Library and then moved to Brisbane City Hall. They remain at City Hall as part of the Museum of Brisbane.

The studio has had a checkered life. Brisbane's much-awaited Expo required extensive resumption of property in South Brisbane. For a while the studio was threatened too, but it was bought by the Brisbane City Council and thus saved. The upper part of the studio was kept and relocated to Musgrave Park in South Brisbane, but here it was subject to vandalism; so it was moved again, this time to the botanical gardens at Mt Coot-tha where it can be seen today. It is listed on the state heritage register.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Cameron Rocks War Memorial

In an earlier post I mentioned the proposed upgrade to one of Brisbane's busiest roads, Kingsford Smith Drive, hoping that the roadworks would not be too detrimental to the area and to traffic flow.

Here is another reason for the utmost care to be taken - one of Brisbane's war memorials, this one in a stunning riverside setting at Cameron Rocks. Here is a current image.
(Photo: Kgbo via Wikimedia)

The memorial was unveiled on 16 August 1931 by the governor, Sir John Goodwin. It is situated on the riverbank at Albion, sandwiched between the Brisbane River and Kingsford Smith Drive, just downstream from Breakfast Creek. The memorial to WWI vets from the area is used each year for Anzac Day ceremonies.

The web site Monument Australia discloses the  following information about it:
The Hamilton Town Council proposed erecting a memorial at Cameron Rocks as a memorial to the soldiers who left the town to fight in the Great War. The project was started during the war but the Council was prevented by Commonwealth edict from raising money. It remained in abeyance until 1922, when the Mayor Alderman CM Jenkinson received further donations. In 1924, there was enough money to start but not complete the memorial. It was planned to erect a pagoda in the form of a Victoria Cross surmounted by a tower with a four face clock with a water fountain installed in the centre of the pagoda. The memorial was unveiled in its present form by the Governor of Queensland Lieutenant-General Sir John Goodwin on the 16th August 1931.
The Brisbane Courier , 9th January & 10th March 1924, 17th August 1931
Kingsford Smith Drive is to be widened to six traffic lanes plus the addition of walking and bicycle lanes. The extra real estate required will come from using clever engineering over the river together with some resumption of properties. The web pages outlining the work to be done talk about the "rejuvenation" of the Cameron Rocks reserve, including a refurbished memorial. Not a lot of detail.

Let's hope that this piece of history that was such a struggle at inception is not adversely effected by any change.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, February 15, 2016

James Trackson and Brisbane's first motor car

Does your daily commute look like this? If it does, I'll bet that you wish you could go back to a time when Brisbane's traffic was a lot lighter.

Would you go this far back? Here is Brisbane's first motor car, photographed in Elizabeth St in 1902.
(Photo: SLQ 257640)

While the city would be empty of cars, the early motorist would have had to contend with unpredictable horses, poor roads and a lack of auto mechanics. From a driver's perspective this early vehicle had wheels that would not be out of place on a bicycle and a tiller for steering. I doubt that it was safe or comfortable.

The car in this photograph was known as a Locomobile and was actually steam-powered. It is being driven by Mr James Trackson and his wife is the passenger. To say that Trackson was an enthusiast would be no exaggeration - he was also the first in Brisbane to own an internal combustion car; and in 1905 he was one of the founders of the RACQ, Queensland's motoring body.

Trackson built his own motor car which was dubbed "The Trackson". It was based on a two-cylinder De Dion-Bouton car imported from France in 1900, powered by a 5 hp petrol engine and had a reported top speed of 25 km/h.

James Trackson came to Australia from Norwich in England and he was a qualified electrical engineer. He was associated with erecting the first phone exchange in Melbourne and at Ballarat, and also helped lay the Melbourne cable tramways. He came to Queensland in 1895, and after erecting the first telephone exchange in Queensland he established an engineering firm, Trackson Bros.

James Trackson lived at Newmarket at a property called Sedgley Grange, photographed below. 
(Photo: SLQ 121716)

The house was demolished in 1991 and the property is now called Sedgley Park, administered by Brisbane City Council. It is the site of the well-known Newmarket Olympic Pool.

Click here for a Google Map. 


Monday, February 8, 2016

Goldsworthy & Perkins Boot Factory, Newstead

It seems that we have just about killed off manufacturing industries in Australia. The remaining local auto manufacturers - Holden, Ford and Toyota - will all be gone by the end of 2017. Jobs in the manufacturing sector will be as scarce as hens' teeth then, given that only 10% of current Aussie jobs are employed in manufacturing, down from 25% in the 1960s.

The reasons are varied, and the significance of each individual factor will depend on your political viewpoint as much as anything else. Space here is too limited to discuss this subject at any length, but I did want to mention it with respect to today's topic which is shoes.

Pictured here is a purpose-built shoe and boot manufacturing factory in the suburb of Newstead. It started life in 1889 as the Goldsworthy & Perkins Boot Factory and was subsequently known as the Federal Boot Factory and the Australian Boot Factory. The building maintained its connection to the leather manufacturing industry until it was sold in 1981. It still stands and it is included in the Brisbane City Council heritage list, although apparently vacant at the moment.

(Photo: © 2016 the foto fanatic)

And this photo shows the working conditions in a similar Brisbane factory, Astill & Freeman at South Brisbane, in the year 1900.
(Photo: SLQ 108318)

In 1900 there were about 1400 people employed by boot and shoe manufacturers in Brisbane. As well as Goldsworthy & Perkins, other notable firms were Hunter's, Dixon's and Lawrence's - they all had large premises and employed hundreds of staff.

Goldsworthy & Perkins were well-regarded by the local population. Here is an extract from The Queenslander, 28 July 1900: 
"... Messrs. Goldsworthy and Perkins, the well-known manufacturers at Newstead, Fortitude Valley, enjoy a high reputation, and deservedly so, their special lines of goods being fit for any showcase in the Australian colonies. The machinery used by this firm comprise all the latest novelties of American Ingenuity, which turn out boots either machine-sewn or "fair stitched," the latter  process showing a prettily-finished "stitch welt," equal in appearance to the best hand-made article, the difference in which no person short of an expert would be in a position to detect."
The introduction of mechanisation was a boon for the factory owners but problematic for staff. In those days it was common for female workers to do the finishing jobs that were largely done by hand while the machinery was usually operated by men. The boot making industry employed large numbers of female workers and they were significantly disadvantaged by increasing mechanisation. Added to this mix, the government introduced a tariff on imported footware, thereby creating a larger market for locally made shoes and boots. The increased demand had to be met somehow, and factory owners started to move towards payment by piece - they thought that full-time employment and payment of an hourly or weekly wage did not provide sufficient incentive for workers to increase production. On the other hand, employees wanted security of employment in a factory rather than irregular off-site piece labour, and the impasse was the cause of strikes within the industry in 1899-1900.

Click here for a Google Map.


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