Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cliffside Apartments, Kangaroo Point

Now that Brisbane styles itself as "the river city", riverside land and buildings have assumed great status. Apartment buildings now line every reach of the river, upstream and down.

An early trendsetter in recognising the potential of the river for upmarket accommodation was the remarkable Mrs Doris R Booth, who, in 1935, commenced construction of Cliffside Flats at Kangaroo Point. Before we look at the building, I think we should consider the woman. Her biography makes fascinating reading, but it's too long to reproduce here - this is the summary of her career(s) from that source:
  • autobiographer/memoirist
  • general merchant
  • goldmine owner
  • goldminer
  • Member of Upper House
  • nurse (general)
  • women's activist
That list does not mention the hospital she set up in New Guinea to treat dysentery cases (as a result of which she was known as "The Angel of Bulolo" and received an OBE), or the landmark court case she fought and won in order to protect her property from her estranged husband. What an extraordinary woman! She published her memoirs, Mountain Gold and Cannibals, in 1928.

Doris Booth (nee Wilde) was born at Kangaroo Point in 1895 in a house named Cliffside. Following their marriage in 1919, she and her husband moved to New Guinea, where they managed a plantation and then mined for gold. Over time, the marriage deteriorated and Doris gradually assumed control of the family businesses. She left her husband in 1932, but was forced into court in New Guinea in 1933 when her husband sued for restitution of property. Following the conclusion of the matter in her favour, she purchased land adjacent to the family home at Kangaroo Point, and in 1935 requested architect/engineer R Martin Wilson to prepare plans for a multiple dwelling complex on that site. Tenders for the construction of the building were called in 1936, with a warning that contractors must visit the site to ascertain the degree of difficulty, including the use of an air-compressor for drilling the rock, as no explosives would be permitted. The successful tenderer in July 1936 was George Mitchell, and the building was completed in June 1937. At the opening of the building the Telegraph newspaper described it as being an example of the most advanced flat design in Australia. Here is the architect's drawing of the proposed dwelling.
(Drawing of proposed flats, Kangaroo Point, 1936. Architect: RM Wilson. Wilson Collection, UQFL 112, 588. Fryer Library, University of Queensland Library. Used by permission.)

And here is my recent photograph of the building today.
(Photo: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

Despite the present proliferation of apartment blocks in this area, not to mention the nearby presence of the Captain Cook Bridge and the freeway, this attractive building still holds its own. Doris Booth sold the apartments in the mid-sixties, a few years prior to her death. Anyone who lives there now would be extremely fortunate, I think. Here is a photograph that I found on Google Maps that was taken from the building and shows its fantastic views.
(Photo: Google Maps and summer.a; "View from Cliffside Apts")

Click here for a Google Map.



  1. I would run away from home and leave my elderly parents, loyal husband and beloved children, for a view like that. In fact Brisbane is looking better and better each time you post :)

    But Cliffside was a great name. Assuming that contractors paid attention to the warning and did visit the site, what did they make of the degree of construction difficulty? Just dragging raw materials up the side of the hill each day must have been difficult enough.

    Did Mrs Booth have any other block of flats in mind in 1936, to provide her with an architectural model?

  2. The difficulty must have been immense, Hels. The excavated rubble was retained for terracing; but as you say, getting the new stuff into the project can't have been easy.

    The EPA site says: 'Cliffside was equipped with all modern conveniences including built-in furniture, dining nooks and serverys, electric refrigerators, electric hot water, water softening and incinerator and laundry chutes. The design of the building maximised privacy, views, light and the flow of air. Each of the eight flats had their own private entrance and floors were sound-proofed. The slope of the site was used to advantage so that no more than one and a half flights of stairs had to be scaled to gain access to any one of them. Plumbing connections were housed in a special duct with access from outside the building so that maintenance and repairs could take place without bothering the tenants. A caretaker's quarters was part of the original design, as was the provision of lock-up garages. The building was designed in the popular interwar style of English Revival or Tudor Revival with elements such as eaves and bay windows having a half-timbered appearance. As the promotional literature stated, Cliffside was "the newest, the best and the most attractive offering in Brisbane".'

    I am unaware of any other building projects of Mrs Booth.

  3. So interesting. Obviously a woman ahead of her times! And btw, if you ever decide to do a bus tour of all of these wonderful places, book me in! Lol!!

  4. Funny! A friend and I often joke about running tours!

  5. WOW! I must say that I often drive over the Captain Cook Bridge and gaze at this building up on the cliffs. I'd wondered what the story was, when it was built etc.
    Thank you once again for educating me!! :D

  6. A friend of mine lived in one of the "Cliffside" for a while in the late 1990s and the views were indeed spectacular. Of course, they were built in the style of the times, so were very different from today - rooms tended to be a bit darker, with smaller windows, and there was really no thought given to verandahs, which is very different from the emphasis placed in outdoor living and "letting the outdoors in" that is so common in architecture today. Still, they look really lovely and are in a fantastic location with wonderful views.


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