Friday, May 3, 2013

York's Hollow (Victoria Park), Spring Hill

Situated pretty much in the centre of Brisbane's large metropolitan area is a green space that we know as Victoria Park. It has been the the landscape behind many of Brisbane's famous and infamous incidents.

For centuries before the white man came to Australia the Turrbal people roamed the area around the Brisbane River, and the area we call Victoria Park was one of their important meeting grounds. The Turrbal called it "Barrambbin", meaning "windy place". Various mobs would gather there to share corrobborees or settle disputes. Some of those gatherings that were observed by white men consisted of as many as 700 or 800 participants. Here is a current picture of the Gregory Terrace side of Victoria Park showing the Brisbane City Council's sign that (barely) acknowledges the Indigenous history. The Royal Brisbane Hopsital at Herston can be seen in the distance.
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(Photo: © 2013 the foto fanatic)

When Europeans came to Moreton Bay to set up a penal colony, they felled the trees in Barrambbin for timber and used the water to make bricks to construct their dwellings. The area borders Spring Hill, one of the city's earliest suburbs, and the Indigenous inhabitants were forced out - sometimes in the most brutal way - as white settlers moved in. Nonetheless, the area became known as York's Hollow, named after an Aboriginal elder known by whites as the Duke of York. This man was an acknowledged leader of the local Turrbul mob and some of the European settlers of the time thought that the title was a sarcastic barb at his regal bearing. However Aboriginal spokeswoman Maroochy Barambah has a slightly different story. She claims to be a direct descendant of the Duke of York and says that this name was an anglicised version of his Indigenous name Daki Yakka. One of the Duke of York's daughters and her unborn child were killed in York's Hollow, the result of a police chase of another person that went wrong. Boundary Street in Spring Hill was the "boundary" separating blacks from whites after curfew - to keep them out of Brisbane, the Aborigines were not allowed to venture past this street at night.

From the 1840s onwards York's Hollow gradually became the home of white itinerants who lived in tents in the area. The influx of Dr JD Lang's Scottish migrants, who found out when they arrived that the free land they had been promised did not exist, saw more inhabitants added to the mix. They brought a new name to an adjoining suburb, Fortitude Valley, so named after one of the ships that transported them here. Once again there was trouble with the Aborigines as these new settlers defended their belongings zealously, often with the use of firearms.

The following photograph of York's Hollow is from around 1864 and shows some of the rudimentary accommodation.  
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #108131)

After separation from New South Wales York's Hollow had contrasting fortune. Officially named Victoria Park in 1875, a Board of Trustees was establish to ensure its future as the "lungs of the city". Progress, however, made demands on the park. The railway to Sandgate was built through the middle of it to save money. A fair chunk of it was carved off for the Brisbane Exhibition, a rifle range was constructed in one corner, and the hospital, a golf course and some nearby schools also won some of the land for their own purposes. It could have been worse - there was a proposal to build a Government House here but an alternative was found. Similarly, the park was proposed as the site for a new university but thankfully benefactors the Mayne family donated more suitable land at St Lucia for this purpose. Here is a picture of Victoria Park from 1936, looking from the hospital toward Brisbane city. The railway line can be seen bisecting the park, and the building at bottom centre is likely the golf clubhouse that was constructed in 1931.
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #68798)

During the depression, public works were undertaken here to provide employment. Gilchrist Avenue was constructed in this manner. Tents dotted the park again during WWII as it was used to accommodate US service personnel.

In the post-war period the park was once again robbed of land. The Centenary Pool complex was constructed in time to celebrate Queensland's centenary. The rest of the park was used in various ways - I played rugby there in the sixties, cricket pitches had good use and the golf course continued to flourish. Cars are parked there during the annual Exhibition. Unfortunately it was seen fit to run the Inner City Bypass through the park at the beginning of the new millennium - it runs parallel to the railway line and now we have traffic snarling its way through the trees too.

Despite the encroachment of modern life, the park is still a restful part of the city. In 1988 the lake area of the park was named York's Hollow.

Click here for a Google Map.



  1. Thank you I always enjoy your posts - would love to see you do one on Cribb Island. While the suburb has now gone, there is supposedly a beachside shelter left in memory, may be a challenge :-)

  2. For many moons in the 40s and 50s, Vic Park was the home of hockey. Both junior and senior teams played from across Brisbane

  3. I was about to draw attention to the hockey fields - an omission - in Vic Park but notice I've been beaten to the punch.

  4. The Acclimatisation Society named their 30 acres after one of their founders, Governor Bowen, and it was Bowen Park, not Victoria Park, that was gradually grabbed by the Agricultural Society, later the RNA.

  5. I have not read an Indigenous history of Victoria Park so untrue as this article. The author needs to do some serious research and stop misrepresenting the Turrbal Peoples' history.



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