Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Corner of Creek & Adelaide Sts

We've mentioned elsewhere in these pages the significance of the role that Brisbane played during WWII. A total of over one million US service personnel were based here at various times between 1941 and 1945, and when you consider that the normal population of Brisbane was only 330,000 then, it is not hard to see that there would have been some issues. Tomorrow is the anniversary of one of the most reported incidents - the infamous Battle of Brisbane that occurred throughout Thursday 26 November, 1942 - Thanksgiving Day for the Americans. I won't describe the whole circumstances here, because there are plenty of reports available. One of the better ones is recounted in the book Radical Brisbane, which you will find at your local library. There is an electronic excerpt here. The main commotion occurred on the corner of Creek St and Adelaide St in the city, outside the US canteen. That canteen was based in the Primaries Building, shown below in a photograph taken around 1940 - click the photo to see a larger image. It is the large dark brick building on the left side of Adelaide St, towards the centre of the picture.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #109967)

The building remains, and here is the same view down Adelaide St today.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

The American PX (Postal Exchange) was situated on the ground floor of the building, and it was both a symbol and a symptom of the simmering unrest between Australian service personnel and their US counterparts. As described by Evans and Donegan in Radical Brisbane, the PX was "groaning under a profusion of American luxuries - cigarettes, alcohol, hams and turkeys, ice-cream, chocolates and nylon stockings - items that to Australian servicemen and civilians were either out of bounds, heavily rationed, or far more highly priced elsewhere." A skirmish in Albert St earlier in the day escalated into violence later in the afternoon and evening. Reports say that over 2000 Australians tried to storm the PX in pursuit of some American servicemen, and as a result, the PX was severely damaged. The following image, originally from the Sunday Truth newspaper, shows workmen repairing broken windows in the aftermath of the disturbance. (Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #106429)

In fact it was more than a mere disturbance. Shots were fired in attempts to quell what had become a full-blown riot. One Australian was killed and seven others received injuries from shotgun blasts. Eight or nine of the Americans needed medical attention, and many others from both sides received "black eyes, split lips, swollen cheeks, broken noses and various abrasions." Even after this particular episode was broken up, tensions continued. Rumours of multiple deaths swept the Australian camps, and many of the servicemen from them came into town on following evenings bent on retaliation. There were further fights and bashings, and American MPs and any US servicemen seen with Australian women were particularly targeted.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

Today's photograph of the building (above) gives no indication of the chaos and violence that took place here all those years ago. And, despite this sour note, many American soldiers look back favourably on their time here. It would be uncharitable to say that was because the alternative venues involved being shot at by the enemy. Australia in general, and Brisbane in particular, were known as being friendly and hospitable towards the US service personnel. Many of them took home Australian brides, and the two countries remain staunch allies.

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1 comment:

  1. I had no idea of the location of the "battle" nor what buildings might have been involved. In fact because of the war time censorship, it is still difficult to find contemporary reports. So Radical Brisbane will be very useful. Many thanks for the link


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