Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brisbane - the River City

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #1330)

John Oxley (above) is commonly regarded as the discoverer of the Brisbane River and the man behind the establishment of the Moreton Bay penal settlement. Modern Brisbane embraces the river as part of the identity of the city, and Oxley is writ large in that identity.

In 1823, John Oxley was sent from Sydney by Governor Brisbane to find a location to start a new convict settlement. It was intended to send re-offending prisoners away from Sydney in order that the remaining convict population would not be influenced by recidivists.

Oxley sailed northwards to check out three sites: places we know now as Bowen, Gladstone and Brisbane. He sailed past Moreton Bay initially, but after deciding that neither of the more northern spots was satisfactory, he returned to Moreton Bay to investigate it.

Although James Cook and Matthew Flinders assumed that there would have been a significant river that emptied into Moreton Bay, it remained elusive. Oxley was convinced such a river existed, and he intended to find it. On 29 November 1823, Oxley rounded Bribie Island and anchored in the bay. Imagine his surprise to hear his ship hailed from the beach... in English! A group of aborigines was visible, including one who was larger and lighter in skin colour that the rest. He was Thomas Pamphlett - a shipwrecked former convict.

Pamphlett was a member of a party of four who left Sydney on 21 March 1823 and sailed south to collect some cedar to take back to Sydney. These four men were
Pamphlett, John Finnegan, John Thompson and Richard Parsons; all former convicts now working for a William Cox who had sent them off to fetch some timber for construction work on his property. They encountered a strong storm that blew them off course, and they spent three weeks at sea trying to make their way back to Sydney. Thinking that they were south of Sydney, possibly somewhere off Van Diemen's Land, Pamphlett's crew sailed north-west, eventually finding land on what is now Moreton Island. The strong winds and currents had probably blown them almost to New Zealand, and the direction they took to return to Sydney brought them to the east coast of Australia at Moreton Island. During these travails, their ship ran out of water and one member of the group, John Thompson, died and was buried at sea.It was not until that chance meeting with Oxley eight months later that the men became aware that they were actually some 1000 km north of Sydney. Upon reaching land after the storm, they had still been convinced that they must travel northwards to reach Sydney. The three remaining voyagers managed to sustain themselves by foraging for food and with the help of local aboriginal people who treated them hospitably. In fact it would be inconceivable to imagine that the three white men could have survived without the aid of these indigenous people who unhesitatingly provided not only food and shelter, but also medical care and travelling advice. All three men spoke fondly of the aboriginal people they had met and their generosity of spirit towards the white men. As for the aborigines, they were genuinely distressed when they realised that their companions of many months were leaving them, possibly to never return.

During their attempts to follow the coast northwards in hope of reaching Sydney, Pamphlett's group had followed a large river for some distance, unable to cross it until they found an aboriginal canoe at the mouth of a creek that fed into the river. A bronze sculpture of an aboriginal canoe has been erected in a park near the site where the men discovered the craft. Here is a photograph of it - it contains a spear, a dilly-bag, a fish and a crab, much the type of cargo that would be aboard such a canoe.

(Photos: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

This creek is now called Oxley Creek and the place where the canoe was found is in the picture at right above. On the left is the bridge that crosses Oxley Creek at that spot, now called Pamphlett Bridge. The creek flows into a large river that is, of course, the Brisbane River.
These journeys allowed Pamphlett to show Oxley and his crew how to enter the Brisbane River, which is obscured at its mouth by islands and sand bars. This provided Oxley the opportunity to explore the river right up to Termination Hill, the site of present day Goodna, about 80 km from the mouth of the river, and led to his recommendation that Moreton Bay should become the place for the new settlement. Oxley felt that the most suitable initial site would be Redcliffe Point because of the ease of landing ships there, as opposed to navigating the difficult entry to the Brisbane River. We now know that the first settlement only lasted at Redcliffe Point for about a year before being moved upriver to the current site of Brisbane.

Today, reminders of John Oxley abound in Brisbane. There are streets, rivers, suburbs and even libraries and
hospitals named after him, as well as monuments and plaques dotted all over the place. Nothing wrong with any of that, but spare a thought for poor old Thomas Pamphlett, John Finnegan and Richard Parsons who came across the Brisbane River first and then showed Oxley how to find it. Spare another thought for the peaceful and generous Indigenous inhabitants who had spent thousands of years hunting and fishing in this area. They thought there was plenty for everyone, even white ghosts who emerged from huge sea-going canoes. Unfortunately the subsequent arrival of white settlers had a disastrous effect on the lives of these people within a very brief time.

The hardships and adventures that Pamphlett and his colleagues experienced in their lifetimes would take much more space
to recount than I have available here. Their story must endure as one of the great tales of the establishment of white settlement in Australia. Thomas Welsby, who we met in an earlier post, wrote a history of these adventures, relying heavily on the notes taken by John Uniacke, Oxley's assistant on the voyage, who interviewed the men at length after their rescue. Welsby's story can be read here, at the chapelhill history blog site.

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Friday, June 24, 2011


Well, if you visited a town called Wonglepong, you'd want a photo to prove it, wouldn't you? It is a small town only about 70 km south-west of Brisbane, but to visit it is almost to step back in time. The name of the town seems so unusual, yet I have been unable to trace its origins. It is probably aboriginal, but maybe not. Someone has posited that it means "forgotten sound" in an indigenous dialect. How could you forget the sound "Wonglepong?" What I did find out is that the population of Wonglepong is just under 400 and that 93% of them speak English as their first language. If my maths is correct (no certainty, that!), then 28 people from somewhere else in the world have ended up in Wonglepong! I wonder why?

And I did find a building to photograph - here it is. It's not exactly in the centre of Wonglepong - it was erected in a paddock just outside the town. In fact, it is hidden from view just off the main road, but although the weather was atrocious and the gate was locked, I proceeded with my artistic endeavour to bring you this picture.

(Photo: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

Well, I hear you ask, what is it? It is the Wonglepong QCWA Hall, purpose built in 1935 to hold meetings of the district's Queensland Country Women's Association. You can see the Association's logo over the front door. The QCWA is the Queensland branch of a significant organisation of rural women - just ask the contestants from last year's Masterchef!

But the story of the construction of the hall indicates how rural people are so community-minded. After holding meetings for some years in the home of member Ann Franklin, the Wonglepong Association decided to raise money to build their own hall. It has been erected on land provided by the Franklin family on a 99-year lease, and the timber for its construction may have come from the Franklin's property. The wood was milled at Franklin's sawmill in Canungra, and the hall was built by volunteer labour supervised by Ann Franklin's son. Members donated the furnishings for the hall, and although I could not see the interior, there is a photograph that shows some delightful timber work.
(Photo: DERM)

According to the people at the Queensland Heritage Register, the building is virtually unchanged since its completion, apart from re-painting, re-roofing and re-stumping. (That reminds me of the yarn about the old bushie who had kept the same axe for twenty years. He only had to fit twenty new heads and ten new handles :-) Boom Boom!) The minutes of every meeting have been recorded and are still in existence, and although membership in nearby QCWA branches has declined, this one apparently still meets regularly.(Photo: Courtesy bonzle.com)

Wonglepong cemetery contains the grave of local artist Edwin Bode (above), who travelled through Queensland painting homesteads in return for food and lodging. He lived locally for the last decade of his life, and after he died in 1926 the people of this area donated this sandstone tombstone in the shape of an artist's easel, brushes and palette.(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #60672)

As a born and bred city boy, I marvel at the rural community. We city folk complain about the lack of rain because our front lawn turns brown, but for these people it affects their livelihood. We complain about potholes in the road while they don't even have paved roads in many places. We have hospitals, doctors and dentists within easy reach, but many country towns do not have any of these essential services. Many of us, I am sure, still identify Australia with the romance of the bush, but we have absolutely no concept of what that actually entails. I dips me lid, Wonglepong.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hinze Dam, Advancetown

Water is such a fickle commodity. We had a prolonged drought during which water had to be rationed, then we had a glut of rain that swamped Queensland, causing massive flooding all over the state. Some homes were flooded, flooded again, then flooded a third time for good measure. It seems that anything to do with water has been jinxed.

During the drought the state government was accused of not doing enough, then when they tried to build a dam at Traveston, north of Brisbane, the proposal was vilified by the locals and then v
etoed by the Feds. A dam that has just been completed has not been connected to the water grid because it would be too expensive to do so! We built an expensive water desalinator that is presently in mothballs because we have since been inundated. There was talk of recycling sewerage - not a popular move in some quarters, but necessity can make the most unpalatable truth palatable.

The Hinze Dam was built in 1976 to supply water to the burgeoning Gold Coast region. It was named after the family of one of Queensland's most colourful politicians, Russell Hinze, the Minister for Everything in the Bjelke-Petersen government. Like Big Russ's belt, the dam has increased in size over the years - it was enlarged in 1989 and is being super-sized currently. The dam wall is being raised 15 metres, and that will double the capacity of the dam. Here are a couple of photos.
(Photos: SEQWater)

If the world ever forgets about squabbling over oil, we could have wars about water instead. I can remember several militant letters to the newspaper that questioned why we were sending "our" water from Brisbane down to the Hinze Dam when its level fell below 30%. Similarly, citizens of Gold Coast were up in arms when it was proposed to let water run uphill to Brisbane's dams when they were in poor shape. If global warming results in the widespread loss of water resources, then I predict all sorts of apocalyptic outcomes.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Brighton Terrace, West End

(Photo: © 1982 National Trust of Queensland)

(Photo: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

These four identical semi-detached houses were built in the late 1880s as an investment for Emile Gaujard, a wholesale and retail tobacconist. The houses are on two separate allotments, so that altough they appeared to be a set of four terraces, they could be sold separately in pairs.

The houses were later split into twelve flats, but in 1990 they were restored to their original configuration of four residences, each with six rooms and three bathrooms.

This is the last in our series of West End houses.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Astrea, West End

(Photo: © 1982 National Trust of Queensland)

Here is another set of semi-detached houses built in the 1880s boom in Brisbane - this time a two-storey construction in West End. It is pictured below in 2008.
(Photo: DSEWPaC; rt5119)

Like many of the other houses built at this time, it has had a varied history. After existing as separate residences for twenty years or so, in 1909 it was converted into a single residence and christened Astrea by its owners. It was subsequently neglected for many years until being converted back to two separate houses in 1981.
(Photo: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

My photo above shows the dwellings now. They feature gables and intricate fretwork, as well as leadlight and cedar panelled entries.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Wanda Walha, West End

(Photo: © 1982 National Trust of Queensland)

Just up the road from Arthur Morry's house (see the last post) is a house that he may have designed for his then neighbour, grocer and timber merchant William Wilson. The house is called Wanda Walha, and it was built in 1886, and pictured above in 1914. Here is a 1996 picture of it.
(Photo: DSEWPaC & J Houldsworth; rt51103)

It's a shame that the large trees at the front of the house are getting larger, because they block most of the house from view. The verandah on the upper level has some lovely cast iron features, and the timber gable over the entrance downstairs is also attractive.
(Photo: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

Nonetheless, it is pleasing to have the building still here, however little one can see of it!

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nassagaweya, West End

West End is an inner-city suburb on the southern side of the river, and it is one of the oldest in Brisbane. In the next few posts, we are going to look at a collection of its fine old homes, starting with this architect's own residence.

(Photos: © 1979 National Trust of Queensland)

Arthur Morry was an architect in Brisbane in the later years of the nineteenth century. He subsequently became the mayor of South Brisbane and then a member of the state parliament. It is reported that Morry designed the Brisbane Synagogue, although that is not known for certain. Morry was certainly the supervising architect for the construction of the temple.

Morry designed his own West End residence around 1885 and lived there until 1895. It still stands, and here is a photograph of it from 1996.

(Photo: DSEWPaC, J Houldsworth; rt50885)

I'd be flat out describing this house, other than saying that it is unique. It is a mixture of gables and verandahs, still in remarkable condition, at least externally. These are my recent pictures of the house.

(Photos: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

The house is positioned on a corner block in West End, and it hasn't changed in the 30-odd years since the top photo. The name of the house, Nassagaweya, is proudly painted on the front gate. Nassagaweya is a town in Ontario, Canada, and this name was given to the residence by a subsequent owner, John Gillies, who named it after his birthplace. Gillies passed away in 1946, and I understand that his descendents remain in the house. Lucky them - it looks like fun!

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Friday, June 3, 2011

HMQS Gayundah

The colony of Queensland established its own navy in the late nineteenth century because it felt threatened by a heavy Russian naval presence in the Pacific. The first couple of vessels were ordered from Newcastle-on-Tyne, and were designed especially to operate in the shallow waters of Moreton Bay. One of these ships was the Gayundah, an aboriginal word meaning "lightning" - no doubt because of her incredible 10.5 knot top speed. The Gayundah arrived here on 28 March 1885, and her presence can be felt yet. Here is a photograph of the ship in the Brisbane River in 1890.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #181456)

Here is another representation of her, this time moored near the Naval Stores at Kangaroo Point; St Mary's Anglican Church is at the top of the cliffs in the background.
(Photo: Courtesy Redcliffe Historical Society Inc)

The Gayundah was heavily kitted out with guns, all the better to repel the enemy, but she was never required to perform those duties. In fact her first bit of action was a mutiny! Because of a pay dispute the man who commanded the vessel on the voyage to Australia, one Capt Henry Townley-Wright RN, was ordered to relinquish her to the ship's first lieutenant, but he refused. He moored Gayundah in the middle of the Brisbane River and threatened to sail her to Sydney. The stalemate was broken by Brisbane's police commissioner boarding the vessel and arresting Townley-Wright at gunpoint.

In 1903, the first ship-to-shore radio transmission occurred in Australia. It was between the Gayundah and a radio station set up on the lawn of the church in the image above, St Mary's at Kangaroo Point. By this time the ship was part of the Australian Navy, having been seconded from Queensland after federation. Gayundah continued to serve as a naval vessel, mainly for training purposes, in Queensland as well as other parts of Australia until 1918 when she was decommissioned. During WW1 Gayundah acted as a minesweeper and sea-going tender.

In 1921 she was bought by Brisbane Gravel Pty Ltd and started her second career, this time as a sand and gravel barge. She sank at her moorings at Milton in 1930 but was refloated, and she lasted until 1958 when she was sold to the Redcliffe City Council. Then she was completely stripped and sailed to Woody Point where she was deliberately grounded to serve as a breakwater on 2nd June of that year. Here is a photo of her remains.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #80003)

The Gayundah is resting right across the road from another Brisbane landmark, the Palace Hotel, famous for hosting the Bee Gees' first regular gig.
(Photo montage: Greg Isaac; courtesy photo.net)

The hulk of the Gayundah remains at Woody Point, slowly submitting to rust. The name "Gayundah" lives on, too - one of Brisbane's cross-river ferries has been endowed with the name of this venerable vessel.

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