Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bellevue Hotel

It has been mentioned in these pages before that I am a cricket lover, having been raised on the sport. This post is about infamy in cricket and in government. In the days when he led the Queensland government, Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a self-proclaimed "pro-development" Premier. He knew the state was doing well, he used to say, when he looked out of his Parliament House window and saw the CBD skyline filled with builders' cranes. Development in those days was rather crude. Little or no relevance was accorded to historical or architecturally-significant buildings; if a developer put a half-reasonable proposition forward, the existing building could be demolished in an instant to allow the new one to emerge indecently from the rubble. Those days are now thankfully behind us, because Queenslanders finally realised that they had had enough of their heritage being smashed right before their eyes. The two most potent symbols of this demolition derby of destruction were Cloudland and the Bellevue Hotel. The Bellevue was on the corner of George and Alice Streets, across the road from Parliament House, and this is the way it looked in 1903. Part of the fence surrounding Parliament House can be seen in the left foreground.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #7717)

The hotel was built in 1885-6, and a feature of it was the beautiful filigree cast-iron work on the verandahs, which can be seen more clearly below, in an image from 1940. A glimpse of Parliament House can be seen in the background (click photo to see in a larger form).
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #126833)

The Bellevue in its prime was the place to stay for wealthy visitors to Brisbane. Favoured by politicians, graziers, actors and sportsmen, it oozed opulence. A newspaper report from 1886 waxes lyrical about the hot water tap in every room, as well as the electric bell for summoning staff, not to mention the two lifts - one to send luggage to the upper floors and one for food. Below is an advertisement for the hotel that proudly proclaims that "the English team are staying at the Bellevue Hotel". This is reportedly from 1933 (I expected grammar to have been better back then!), and although it doesn't indicate the sport, I believe that the team in question was the England cricket team led by Douglas Jardine in the infamous Bodyline series. The fourth test in that series was played in Brisbane, commencing on this day seventy-seven years ago - on 10 February 1933, and won rather easily by England.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #74141)

The English players may not have welcomed the publication of their venue, because by the time the team reached here they were being pilloried by the Australian public and press as a result of the "leg-theory" tactics adopted by Jardine and executed with such perfection by his express-paced opening bowler, Harold Larwood. But Jardine's cold-hearted and bully-boy actions on the cricket field paled into insignificance when compared to those later committed by the Bjelke-Petersen government, which had acquired the Bellevue Hotel site in 1967 because it wanted to erect government offices there. This was not endorsed by public opinion, but against that feeling the government proceeded with its plans. Just recently, cabinet documents from 1979 were released to public view, and they indicated that the Bellevue was worth preserving. However, the government bean-counters worked out that it would be far cheaper to trash it. Demolition bovver-boys the Deen Bros were engaged to knock down the Bellevue, and this was done in the middle of the night on 20 April 1979. Here's a photo of it in its death throes - I can't help but think of it being on a par with harpooning a whale, such is the emotion even today.
(Photo: Brisbane - Our Town; Helen Dash. UQ Press)

It's well worth reading an ABC report of the political furore that raged over the incident here. The only positive that emerged from this thuggery was that the public's outrage over the destruction was so immediate and so powerful that the government was forced into doing something about framing legislation to preserve heritage buildings. So what do we have on this site now? An important government building? Not likely - we are left with a statue of the Queen; she is curiously portrayed in a long dress, clutching an evening purse, and frowning as if to wonder what all the fuss is about. The rest of the site is a nondescript mish-mash of pathetic gardens and wind-swept pathways. Such a shame.
(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

Oh, almost forgot - there is also a plaque set into a wall in this now-abandoned space; almost as if to taunt us as to what might have been (click for larger).(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

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Next: A retainer


  1. I think people really admired the three storey construction and the verandas with the beautiful cast iron ballustrading. Three storeys must have been exotic for pubs and hotels, back then.

    So hopefully Joh Bjelke-Petersen is spending eternity in Architectural Destruction Hell, contemplating the tragedies that he orchestrated.

    Was the inside of the Bellevue splendid too?

  2. Yes, it was. Old-world elegance comes to mind. Lots of chandeliers and wood. Not too many images of the interior around, unfortunately.

  3. i remember waynie-poo AKA wayne roberts of 4BC was one of the demonsrators at the time - but it seems as if he's changed his spots a bit since then

  4. Such destruction is a crying shame! I remember the demonstrations, the outrage, the feeling of helplessness living under the callous regime of JB-P and his equally shameful cronies.

  5. Fat lot of good the heritage building laws have done for the beautiful heritage building Broadway Hotel, which has been allowed to rot then be destroyed twice by fire & nobody did anything to safe her!

  6. The Heritage Minister at the time of destruction was The Hon Bob Katter. LOL.


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