Friday, December 11, 2009

The Queen Mother

I share my birthday with the Queen Mother. Well, sort of: she was turning 49 on the day I was born. And come to think of it, allowing for the time difference, I guess I was actually born the day before she would have celebrated her 49th birthday; but whatever - my passport shows the same date as hers did. There, that's full disclosure for you! Anyway, I always make it a habit to toast the Queen Mother on my birthday, and it has actually become a ritual recognised by all my friends. The old dear didn't mind a drink either, apparently. I recently read her biography, written by William Shawcross, and a glass of Champagne or a gin and Dubonnet were her favourite tipples. The biography is a veritable tome at around 1,000 pages, so skip to this rather acerbic review (on the other hand - I quite enjoyed the look at how the Royal Family operates) in the New York Times and save yourself the aching arms - that book weighs a ton! I'm not a fervent royalist in terms of their relevance to Australia, but I do have great respect for the work they do. The Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II must surely have worn out several secretaries each - the QM lived to be 101, and QEII has been queen for almost sixty years. And, in the case of the Queen Mother, she was never meant to be a queen at all. When her brother-in-law, King Edward VIII, fell in love with and wanted to marry a divorcee, he was forced to abdicate; and he did so on 11 December 1936 (seventy-three years ago today). Her husband thus became King George VI, she became the Queen, and the two of them were press-ganged into Buckingham Palace. Their coronation took place in 1937, just in time to marshal Britain through World War II. Ten years earlier than the coronation, they had been here in Brisbane as the Duke and Duchess of York - the roles they had every reason to expect would be theirs for life. They were recently married and proud parents of their first child (Elizabeth, the current queen) who was then not twelve months old - too young to go on the arduous six-month tour with her parents. Here is a picture of the Duchess being introduced to someone in Brisbane during that 1927 tour. The man in the impressive robes with his back to camera may well be William Jolly, Brisbane's first lord mayor (1925 - 1931), although he is not identified in the information with the image.

(Photograph: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #62412)

A Vice-Regal Ball was arranged in Brisbane to honour the couple. In order to accommodate the huge number of guests, it was decided to fit out a New Farm wool store for the occasion, and here is a picture of the transformation that was taking place at the new Australian Estates and Mortgage Company Limited building in April 1927.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; # 44018)

There was some 16,000 square feet of space available for this important occasion - the photo below shows the expansive dimensions of this building at Macquarie St New Farm.

(Photograph: Courtesy Nicholas T Curry - Happy Birthday, Nick!)

The Queen Mother passed away on 30th March, 2002, after a lifetime of service to the Crown, Britain and the Commonwealth. Shawcross, in his biography, gives countless examples of her dignity and her ability to bridge the gap between royalty and commoner. She is particularly remembered for the role she played during the difficult years of World War II, when, at the height of the blitz, she refused to leave Buckingham Palace - insisting instead on remaining with the King in order to support her fellow Londoners. Here is a reminder of her in her later years.

(Photo: Courtesy

Click here for a Google Map.


Well, that's it for this year! I've had a lot of fun, and I hope you have enjoyed my meanderings through Brisbane. The blog will be on hiatus (as they say in show-biz) until mid-January 2010, so that I can gather some more material and also recharge the batteries. I wish you all a very happy and safe Christmas holiday season, and good health and good fortune in the New Year. tff

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Proclamation Day

It is a special day today, 10th December, because 150 years ago on this date Queensland's first governor arrived in Brisbane to proclaim the Colony of Queensland, separated from New South Wales by the Letters Patent signed in London on 6th June 1859 by Queen Victoria. The new governor was Sir George Ferguson Bowen, and his wife, Lady Diamantina Roma Bowen, accompanied him on the journey to Queensland. Portraits of the two of them can be seen below. Below those images is the first page of the Government Gazette containing the proclamation.

(Photos: Left, State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; Image No 4593-1v000r001. Right, Courtesy Lady Bowen Trust -

(Photo: Queensland State Archives, Courtesy

There is little doubt that the Bowens left their mark on Queensland and Queenslanders. Seemingly steeped in the democracy of parliament, the new governor established an Executive Council immediately on his arrival, and also sought to have elections called for a Legislative Assembly, Queensland's first. At the time, the State's upper house had members appointed rather than elected, and Governor Bowen was an advocate of changing that system to an electoral one. In many ways he seemed to favour the current one-house parliament, for he said "no man of ability, character and self-respect could be found to undertake the duties of Responsible Ministers, if they were liable to see their measures defeated or thwarted by a hostile majority in the Legislative Council created without their advice or consent."

Lady Bowen also sought to improve the lot of Queenslanders, in particular those who were less fortunate than others. A list of hospitals, orphanages and hospices that she championed can be seen here.

Such was the affection generated by Lady Bowen that, on the day in 1868 that the Bowens left Brisbane for Sir George's new post as governor of New Zealand, the Brisbane Courier reported: "Ever since she has been in the Colony, she has identified herself in the most hearty and zealous manner with every good and charitable work which has been set on foot and not a few have been originated and warmly promoted by her efforts." On her part, it was reported that she was prostrate with grief at the thought of leaving Queensland, and had to be carried onto the ship that was to transport them to New Zealand.

There is a re-enactment today of Governor and Lady Bowen sailing up the river to a welcome (including an artillery salute) at the Botanical Gardens, and then a procession to The Deanery at St John's Cathedral for the Proclamation to be read. I just happened to be able to catch sight of the vice-regal party on their way up the river. These photos are hot off the press.

(Photos: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

Normal transmission resumes tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

SPECIAL: Yungaba revisited

(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

Back in March I posted a piece about Yungaba, the historic immigration depot at Kangaroo Point, in which I lamented the fact that the site had been sold to developers for the construction of upmarket apartments. Despite the objections of many, the State government seemed determined not to preserve the rich history of the building and the stories of the thousands who had passed through its welcoming portals.

It seems that the protest is not yet dead. Noted Brisbane-born author David Malouf wrote an article in The Australian at the weekend which again urged the government to initiate some form of historical museum for the site. Here is a link to that article - look for the associated stories as well.

Keep the dream alive! Protest to your local member! Write to Anna Bligh!


King George Square

The original square on this site was called Albert Square, but after the death of King George V, the square was widened and renamed in his honour. Subsequently, a statue of the king was erected in the square facing City Hall - see the picture below from 1960.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #6668-0001-0006)

Albert St used to pass between City Hall and the statue until 1969, when the Square was redeveloped and Albert St was closed off at Adelaide St. The statue of the King was shifted closer to City Hall, and it was turned around as a result of the Queen, when she saw the statue on a visit here, asking "Why is Grandpapa retreating?" The following photograph, from 1972, shows the repositioned statue, with King George V now majestically leading his subjects into battle.

(Photo: Courtesy Brisbane City Council; #BCC-B54-38749)

Later, some additional statues were added. Bronze statues that had been part of Expo were added in and around the rectangular fountain that was a feature of the Square (see below) and Speakers' Corner was established with bronze portrayals of Steele Rudd, Emma Miller and Sir Charles Lilley (bottom photograph).(Photo: Courtesy Brisbane City Council; # BCC-T120-1054)

(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

As a result of the construction of the Northern Busway, King George Square has had to be redeveloped again. Gone is the grass and gone are the water features. Instead we have lots of bland granite paving and a few token trees.(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

Summer days will be as hot as Hades here - a temperature of 50 degrees Celcius was recently recorded by a television reporter trying to determine how citizen-friendly the Square will be. Perhaps that is a deliberate design flaw to discourage people from gathering here for demonstrations, as happened frequently in the sixties and seventies - or am I just a conspiracist? ;-) Check this article in Brisbane Times for a recent photo and more news on the heat. Edit 19/01/2010: Brisbane has just experienced a scorcher, and the temp in King George Square was measured at 56.3 Celcius!

Click here for a Google Map.


Next: The Queen Mum

Monday, December 7, 2009

King Edward Park

Sixty-eight years ago today, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This horrific act forced the United States to enter WWII, but it had other effects as well. It demonstrated the capability of aircraft carriers to transport bombers close enough to be able to launch raids on sites that were previously thought to be unreachable by air. Here in Brisbane, it caused our civic leaders to realise that it would be possible for the Japanese to attack Brisbane in the same manner, and these thoughts were reinforced when Darwin was attacked by air in early 1942. Brisbane City Council assumed responsibility for the construction of air raid shelters to provide protection for its citizens in the event that Brisbane was attacked. Some 235 shelters were constructed in the city and we have previously looked at those that stood in Ann St. There are some that still survive, thanks to the Council's wisdom in designing them to be used for other purposes at the end of the war. The photograph below, taken in 1963, shows those that were built in Turbot St at King Edward Park.
(Photo: Courtesy Brisbane City Council; Image #BCC-B54-20589)

Brisbane City Council's architect in 1941 was Mr FG Costello, and he created several different types of air raid shelter, most of them designed to revert to another purpose, after minor modification, when the war ended. The one in King Edward Park was made from stone rather than the concrete used for others, and it became a bus shelter after the removal of some extra blast walls. Here it is today.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

As far as I am aware, there are no buses that actually stop here these days, and of course the trams that used to rumble past on the way up to Spring Hill have disappeared too. The shelter is now useful for those who need a rest before tackling the climb up Jacob's Ladder to Wickham Terrace.
(Photo: Courtesy Brisbane City Council; Image #BCC-C35-1359318)

King Edward Park itself was neglected for many years, but recently the Council has seen fit to beautify both the park and Jacob's Ladder, and it is now a very attractive part of the city.

Click here for a Google Map.

Next: From retreat to attack

Friday, December 4, 2009

Empire Hotel

One of the things that intrigues me about early Brisbane is the number of hotels that were built. There certainly seemed to be a very high ratio of hotels to inhabitants, much higher than today. Of course, that was prior to the motor-car when suburbs had to be self-contained, and no-one expected drinkers to have to walk too far to get to their local. Now we want to keep drunks off the roads, and we don't want people to drive to hotels, but they are too far away to walk to ;-) Here's a local that was built in the heavily-populated Fortitude Valley area - the Empire Hotel on the corner of Ann St and Brunswick St, photographed around the year 1934.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #1865)

This opulent-looking establishment was designed by eminent architect Richard Gailey for Brisbane hotelier National Corrigan, replacing Corrigan's earlier hotel of the same name. The original hotel on the site was erected in 1865, and Corrigan had this one built in 1888. The State Government's cultural heritage pages state: The Empire was constructed by Smith and Ball Contractors and the first publican was Walter McFarlane. The hotel extended 130 ft (39 m) along Ann Street and 120 ft (36 m) along Brunswick Street, and contained over sixty rooms." Renovations to the hotel were undertaken by Richard Gailey Jnr in 1925, and then by Hall & Phillips in 1937. The second renovation saw part of the Ann St frontage removed for the construction of apartments. The apartments were torn down in the 1960s. Here is a photograph from 1994 showing the smaller Ann St dimensions.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #94768)

The Valley went through the doldrums after large suburban shopping malls appeared in Brisbane, but now it has rediscovered itself as the live music and entertainment precinct of Brisbane. The Empire Hotel is at the vanguard of all of that, and my recent photograph of the hotel is below.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

Click here to visit the Empire's funky web site. (Hint: turn your speakers down!) :-)

Click here for a Google Map.


Next: From bomb shelter to bus stop

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Naval Offices

At the very end of Edward St, right before the Botanical Gardens, stands a building that time forgot - and so has most of Brisbane, it would seem. This is it: the Naval Offices building, 3 Edward St.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)

When Queensland was a separate colony, it was responsible for the protection of its own shores, and so the Queensland Marine Defence Force was formed. This was their office, dating from 1900, and photographed below in 1901. I am unable to provide the name of the architect, but the building has been described on the blog I Love Brisbane as follows: The architectural style of the building is mainly Baroque, with an ornate entrance pediment which incorporates the Naval Defence Coat of Arms. This is a largely intact example of a Federation period building. The original wrought iron entry gates still hang in the arched entrance way. The building is predominantly constructed from red brick which is essentially plain on the lower level and stuccoed on the upper level."

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #6420)

The building currently seems to be vacant, although in previous times it has had such tenants as a restaurant and a flower shop. There isn't much information available about it now, as a couple of heritage sites have removed their listings about the building. When the Royal Australian Navy was formed around 1911, the Queensland Marine Forces were folded in to it, and so the building then became the property of the Commonwealth. It was used as Navy and then Commonwealth offices through until 1980 or thereabouts, and from then it was leased out commercially. I assume that the building is still owned by the Federal Government, but I am unable to confirm. The Naval Defence Coat of Arms remains intact.
(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

Click here for a Google Map.


Next: Gailey's Empire
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