Thursday, November 28, 2013

What is happening to our heritage listed buildings?

I was struck by this piece in the local Fairfax press ( which warns that our local heritage is going up in smoke. In the last couple of weeks arsonists have destroyed the historic Belvedere at South Brisbane and the Albion Flour Mill at Albion. Both buildings were listed on the Brisbane City Council Heritage List, but not on the State list.
 (Belvedere on fire - Photo

(Belvedere, formerly named Bandarra. Photo: nla.pic-vn3311316-v)

(Albion Flour Mill - Photo SLQ 10189-0002-0139)

A search in the local press will show you the devastation caused by these fires. Both buildings have subsequently been demolished for safety reasons.

It seems to me that not enough is done to protect these buildings. I don't know the actual legislation, but I am told that the local council's legislation does not have the teeth that the state's version has.

It is quite clear that some owners do not take care of heritage properties. Some of the places lie derelict for years, finally succumbing to vandals, squatters and/or arsonists. When the building then becomes unsafe then it can be knocked down to allow the site to be redeveloped.

It is just not good enough.

I have been alerted by reader Wes that another of Brisbane's old buildings is likely to suffer a similar fate. Abbotsleigh at Bowen Hills has been cruelly treated of late. A fire and squatter damage has already marred this grand old residence, and the absence of proper incentive for the owner to remedy the situation could create similar issues to what we have seen in the last couple of weeks.
(Photo: woc)

Like the other two buildings, Abbotsleigh appears on the BCC Heritage Register but not on that of the Queensland Government. It would be a desperate shame if this residence was also lost due to inaction.

Click here for a Google Map.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Where were you?

I was fourteen years old and in my first year at high school. I was also working part-time after school and on the weekends at our local store that was just a couple of blocks from my home.

On this Saturday morning in November 1963 I was at work at the shop performing one of my favourite jobs - weighing and packing the staples like sugar, flour and salt that came into the shop in wholesale quantities and were repacked into smaller retail packages. On a large set of Wedderburn scales I would place a free weight (say 1lb) plus a paper bag of the size to be used on the left side of the scales, then on the right side of the scales I would carefully fill a paper bag that I had already labelled "Sugar (or whatever) 1lb net" until the large needle on the face of the scale registered zero. My boss, the shop owner, was an exacting man who taught me that anything other than absolute precision weighing these items was unacceptable. He often selected a couple of random packages off the shelf after I had finished and reweighed them to make sure that they were exactly as labelled.

The wireless was allowed to be on at the back of the shop where I worked. It would have been tuned to one of the commercial radio stations - perhaps 4BC - where there would be a mix of news, music and sport. The popular songs of the time included Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou", the Delltones' "Hangin' Five" and Cliff Richard's "It's All in the Game".

It was the custom to have a cuppa mid-morning, and another of my jobs was to boil the kettle and make a pot of tea. For some reason I always got compliments about the tea, but I think that it was probably more an appreciation of sitting down for a few minutes during the morning. It was quite a busy store, the only one within a radius of a few kilometres in a housing commission suburb that was a long way from anywhere and had little public transport to take you places more upmarket. In addition to the shop owner and me there were three or four female staff who served the customers.

I can't be sure now of the exact time of the special announcement on the wireless that silenced the shop, staff and customers alike, in an instant. The sombre tones foretold something awful and it took a few minutes for everyone to absorb the terrible news.

President John F Kennedy shot during a motorcade in Dallas Texas. Believed dead.

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Then there was an uproar as everyone spoke at the same time. "It's the Russians!" "Who would shoot President Kennedy?" "Poor, poor Jackie!" "Let's hope we don't have a war!"

I think the radio station changed gear. There followed continuing updates on Kennedy's condition, the search for the shooter(s), the well-being of the rest of the motorcade and especially news about Jackie Kennedy and the soon-to-be new president Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Although Kennedy had never been to Australia, his celebrity had certainly reached our shores, and he and wife Jackie, together with their two children Caroline and John Jr were as intensely scrutinised as modern movie stars. Here is a 1961 photgraph of JFK and Australian prime minister Robert Menzies.

That was, of course, only the start of this astounding period.  I was intensely curious about the assassination and all things related to it. There are little vignettes of memory as I look back now:

 - The arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and, a couple of days later, his shooting at the hands of Jack Ruby. I still remember a schoolmate telling me that "the assassin has been assassinated". There is a famous photo of the shooting.

 - The swearing in of Lyndon Johnson on board Air Force One.
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 - The funeral, including the riderless horse with boots mounted backwards in the stirrups, and that salute from John Jr.
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Fifty years have passed since that event deeply traumatised not just the USA, but the whole world. I cannot help but wonder what may have happened in subsequent years if the US government had been prepared then to enact gun control laws.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day as it used to be known. It commemorates the anniversary of the armistice that terminated WWI, the Great War. There was never meant to be another one like it, but unfortunately the brutality of war did not end with that cease-fire in 1918.

A couple of newspaper items caught my attention this week. The first was a column in the British newspaper The Guardian. In it, the 90 year-old writer announces that this will be the last time he will wear the poppy because he feels the act of remembrance has changed over time. He says:
"I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one's right to privacy." 

To a certain extent I see his point, and that point may be even more relevant in Australia. Britain faced the prospect of invasion in both world wars, and he asserts that remembrance should be about those who paid the ultimate price in actual defence of their country. 

What about Australia? It could be argued that Australia might have been invaded by the Japanese in WWII but for heroic action in Papua-New Guinea and the Coral Sea. Certainly no conflict since then has actually threatened our shores. The major places of engagement were as far afield as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

My viewpoint is different though. The decisions to become involved in these conflicts were made by politicians, not by soldiers. The service personnel were doing what their jobs required them to do, and we should recognise and remember the sacrifices they and their families made at the request of their country, even if not actually in defence of their country.

Which brings me to the second article. I read that there had been a movement to alter the inscription at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Canberra. That memorial dates from 1993, when the remains of an unknown WWI soldier that had been recovered from the Western Front were interred at the Australian War Memorial. A few years later the inscription "known unto God" was added to the tomb. That inscription is one adopted by the Imperial War Graves Commission on the advice of Rudyard Kipling.

During a speech to the National Press Club Brendan Nelson, the director of the Australian War Memorial announced that the Kipling-inspired words were to be removed and replaced by the words "we do not know this Australian's name, we never will", part of the famous eulogy to the Unknown Soldier given by Paul Keating at the interment twenty years ago.

Controversy followed and now Brendan Nelson has reversed his decision and the original words will remain. I think that is the right decision.

Here are some photographs of Remembrance (or Armistice) Day being observed in Brisbane.

Firstly a family group celebrating in 1918. Note that the flags that they are adorned with are the Union Jack, not the Australian flag. 
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #250868)

Next, the 1918 Armistice parade outside the GPO.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #201302)

An acknowledgement of Armistice Day at Brisbane's City Hall in 1940, during another horrific conflict.
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(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #7708-0001-0107)

And a more recent memorial service at Brisbane's Shrine of Remembrance in Anzac Square.


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