Friday, August 24, 2012

Burnett Lane, Brisbane

My birthday rolled around recently, and as usual the celebration for surviving another year was for mrs tff and me to shout ourselves a restaurant meal. We went to a newish restaurant in the CBD that prompted this post.

The restaurant is situated in Burnett Lane, one of the oldest parts of Brisbane. Burnett Lane is placed between Queen St and Adelaide St and runs from Albert St through to George St. Many people would have walked across it when the Myer retail store was based in this precinct and had entrances in both Queen St and Adelaide St. The two parts of the store were connected by a walkway that crossed Burnett Lane. It contains some of the oldest architecture in the city, but for many years it has been the home of the rubbish bins that belong to the adjacent businesses that front both Queen St and Adelaide St. Recently the Brisbane City Council decided that we could take a leaf out of Melbourne's book and give our city lanes a modern makeover. Burnett Lane has been the first laneway to be so overhauled.
(Photo: © 2012 the foto fanatic)

Burnett Lane is named after James Charles Burnett, who surveyed much of South-East Queensland. He was appointed as head of Brisbane's new Survey Office in 1844. Among his early work in this position was the charting of the Mary River that flows into Wide Bay, and a larger river a little further north that was named the Burnett River in his honour. Burnett traced the Great Dividing Range from the Sydney hinterland to the Moreton Bay settlement, and he also cut the first dray track from Brisbane across the McPherson Range. James Burnett only lived to age 39, and many felt that the rigours of his profession contributed to his early death. 
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #104137)

Above is a photograph of Burnett Lane in 1942, when WWII rationing was causing people to queue for some necessary items, in this case beer.

One hundred years earlier, this site was the rear of Brisbane's Queen St convict barracks where convicts were housed, and also the yard where punishment was meted out. That punishment was often floggings, but even hangings have occurred here. Here is a hand-drawn map from 1844 - it shows the convict barracks as the large building in the middle of the map on the right side of Queen St.  Behind it runs Wheat Creek that used to run down to the present day site of Creek St and into the river.
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #111196)

After the convicts were moved to a new jail, Brisbane's first town hall was constructed on Queen St in 1864, and was in use until the current City Hall was opened in 1930. The first town hall building would have had Burnett Lane at the rear. Here is a photograph of the town hall from 1885.   
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #43639)
The laneway now boasts a couple of trendy cafes and eating places. The restaurant we visited is The Survey Co, named after James Burnett's survey office that was an earlier inhabitant of the site. It is slightly below ground level and reminds me somewhat of Melbourne's Coda Restaurant in Flinders Lane, and the ambiance and food is every bit as good.

Click here for a Google Map.



  1. I always learn from your posts... I knew it was Burnett Lane, but didn't realise that the first Town Hall abutted it... always interesting, thank you.
    It's great to see the lane makeovers... they have long fascinated me.

  2. Burnett died as a result of spending 23 days in an open boat, probably doing a survey, but I haven`t been able to find out where he was working. Might have sourced this from Aust Dictionary of Biography. A.R.Cameron

  3. No, the Dictionary says:
    He died aged 39 on 18 July 1854 in his home at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. According to the Moreton Bay Courier, 22 July, Burnett's constitution decayed prematurely because of his enthusiastic and almost reckless devotion to the trying duties of his profession.


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