Monday, March 2, 2009

Customs House


Monday 5th May, 1947 in Brisbane was the Labour Day holiday. The Brisbane Customs House staff social club had planned a picnic so that members and their families could enjoy a relaxing day in the country. The picnic was to be held at Samford, outside Brisbane, and the Customs House staff had arranged a special train to take them from Brisbane's Roma Street and Central Stations to Samford Station, a journey of about 20 km that would take a couple of hours. The train, carrying over 200 passengers, left Central Station at 9:00 am, but the picnic never eventuated - the train was derailed near Camp Mountain on the way to Samford. In Queensland's worst rail accident, 38 people were injured and sixteen were killed. Among those who died were my maternal grandparents and their nine year old son, leaving my mother, then only a teenager, and her other two brothers as orphans. The Ferny Grove to Samford section of the line was closed some years afterwards, but this is the memorial cairn that marks the site of the accident.
(Photo: © 2009 (Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

The Customs House has long been a readily recognised Brisbane building. The large copper dome and the huge columns made it a landmark right from its construction in the 1880s. This photo is from 1889.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #100069)

One of my mother's brothers went on to work for the Customs Department in this building, so I was familiar with it from an early age. It made sense for Customs to be housed here when access to Brisbane was via ships that travelled up the Brisbane River to unload passengers and goods. However, as air travel became more prevalent, and with port facilities moving down the river, this wonderful site became redundant, and the building was sold. It is now owned by the University of Queensland, and is dwarfed by its office block neighbours.
(Photo: © 2009 (Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

The building is now used for cultural events such as art shows and book launches, and it also houses a restaurant. It is still as beautiful as ever, and still a poignant reminder of relatives that I never got the chance to know.

Click here for a Google Map.


Next: Road to Rio

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