Monday, March 31, 2014

Hamilton Syphon

You could be forgiven for thinking that Brisbane's current inclination to tunnel under the city to solve infrastructure problems is a new thing. The Clem Jones tunnel under the river has been completed; the Legacy Way tunnel that is to connect Toowong to Kelvin Grove is well under way; and there is now a proposed under-river bus and train tunnel (BaT tunnel for short, apparently - If only Heath Ledger were still around to open it!!) that will connect Dutton Park to Bowen Hills.

The Clem Jones tunnel was dug out with this rock-eating marvel, Matilda, from Germany, and the other projects will be similarly kitted out.
 (Photo: Erikt9 via

But the Brisbane City Council has tunnelled under the river before. Many decades earlier, in fact - and the reason was to help solve a sewerage problem.

As mentioned in the recent post about Clem Jones, Brisbane lagged far behind other cities in providing sewerage to outer suburbs. The following headline from the Courier-Mail on 13 January 1949 indicates that the problem was well-recognised then, and was likely to require many years of rehabilitation.

One of the efforts to improve services was to transfer sewage from the south side of the Brisbane River to the treatment plant on the northern side. The proposed way to do this was to construct a tunnel to pipe the waste under the river from Cowper St Bulimba to Kingsford Smith Drive Hamilton.

Known as the Hamilton Syphon (or Siphon, if you prefer), the project was put to tender by the Council and won by local firm MR Hornibrook Pty Ltd for an amount of £154,515. The work involved sinking two vertical shafts - one each side of the river - 140ft (43 metres) into the ground, and connecting them with a 2000ft (610 metres) tunnel under the river.

And you can forget about tunnel-boring machines from Europe, as have been used in the Clem7 and Legacy Way underground tunnels. This tunnel was constructed the old-fashioned way by men using cumbersome rock-drilling machinery. Progress was slow - the tunnel was lengthened by about 30ft (9 metres) each week. Here is a description of the working conditions on the job:
The four experienced miners at the tunnel face work in a roaring, wet, grey fog. They guide two long rock-drills fixed to a wheeled hydraulic mounting, the 'Jumbo.' River water seeps down the brightly-lit walls enclosing the 10ft. diameter tunnel. The men leave the tunnel when gelignite plugged into the drill-holes is exploded electrically from above.
 (CM 19/01/1951 via

Below is a photograph of the four men at work in the tunnel. Look closely to find the two men at the front of the drill.

Once the tunnel was finished it had to be lined with a special concrete sealer to prevent leaks into the tunnel from the river.

And below is a section of completed tunnel with sewerage pipes in place.

Work commenced on the tunnel in 1948 and it was completed in 1955. The tunnel is still used today, and has just undergone a major renovation to repair cracks and upgrade access areas.

Once again the work was difficult. Here is  a summary of the challenges that were faced by the firm that completed that project, Meyjor Industries Pty Ltd:
Tough engineering challenges were inherent in this project from the start, including the requirements of confined space entry, the likelihood of sulphuric gas being present in the horizontal tunnel and requiring ventilation, workers requiring breathing apparatus in case of emergency and the difficulties with being able to get a man box down the shaft to ensure workers could safely remove and install platforms. Intensive planning was undertaken by the project crew before works commenced to ensure safety of workers was paramount, and to ensure project completion would be on schedule. 

As somewhat of a claustrophobe, I dips me lid to the tunnel workers, past and present!


Monday, March 24, 2014

The Greek café/milk bar

I have made a brief reference to the ubiquitous Greek café previously. Today we are taking a closer look, largely thanks to work done by Leonard Janiszewski, a historian, and Effy Alexakis, a photographer, who have been researching the history of Greek cafés for over a quarter of a century and have an exhibition to their work at Macquarie University.

There is some discussion about the first "milk bar" to set up in Australia. Clearly an idea borrowed from the USA, the milk bar concept spread like wildfire once introduced to Oz. One of the most successful Greek-Australian entrepreneurs to be involved was Sydney's Mick Adams (born Joachim Tavlardis) who established the Black & White 4d Milk Bar in Martin Place in 1932. That concept was hugely successful and led to Black & White Milk bars springing up all over Australia. Brisbane got one in 1933. Here is Mick Adams pictured in 1934 outside his Martin Place milk bar with a group of school children who must have thought this school excursion was manna from heaven.
(Photo: L Keldoulis via

But there are claims that Brisbane jumped the gun as far as milk bars go. Another Greek immigrant, George Sklavos, opened his American Bar in Brisbane in 1912, and it is pictured below circa 1916. The American Bar was reportedly situated at 276-278 Brunswick St in Fortitude Valley, which would place it somewhere in what is now the Brunswick St Mall.

Pictured below are George Sklavos and his wife Maria.
(Photo: SLQ 1 102686)

I don't suppose that it matters now who was the first - Adams or Sklavos. It appears that the difference may come down to the layout of the respective establishments. Both men had travelled to the US to observe trends there. The Sklavos establishment was in the style of a refreshment room; broad in its stock, serving pies, sandwiches and cakes as well as milk shakes that were consumed at tables. Mick Adams apparently concentrated on quick turnover, and his milk bar was designed for stand-up counter service and  bar stool trade.

Greeks had already made their mark in the food business in Australia with oyster saloons and cafés. The cafés didn't serve Greek food - they catered for Australian customers with menu items such as steak and chips, mixed grill and sausages and eggs. Unfortunately, by the time the Australian palate was sophisticated enough to order tatziki, souvlaki or even baklava the era of the Greek café had passed.

The milk bar concept was an instant winner for Mick Adams. It is said that 5,000 customers found their way to the Black & White 4d Milk Bar on its first day of trading, and then 27,000 customers per week was his normal turnover. There is no doubt that the new concept was popular  but punters were also attracted by the standard fourpence for a milk shake - milk drinks were being sold for ninepence elsewhere. It didn't take long for the milk bar concept to catch on with others, because there were about 4,000 milk bars in Australia within five years.

Many of the well-established Greek cafés and oyster parlours followed suit in renaming themselves as milk bars. Away from the heavily populated areas I suppose that nothing really changed except the addition of milk shakes to menus, whereas in the cities the more exclusive fit-out could occur. 

About one-quarter of Greek immigrants to Australia in those days were from the island of Kythera. The Comino family from Kythera must have been prolific because there were Comino milk bars everywhere, outnumbered perhaps only by the Peters milk bars. Although there appears to be no Greek family actually named Peter or Peters, the name became synonymous for Greek cafés as reported on
“the partners of Peters Cafe (1925) at Bingara took the name Peters & Co because it had worked for other Kytherian business men…… as it had become an informal franchise among Kytherian shop keepers. If there was someone who might have once claimed the rights to the name Peters & Co., he was either dead or returned to Kythera and did not care that he had spawned a shoal of imitators.”

It didn't hurt that Peters Ice Cream, "The Health Food of a Nation", had a similar name, although there was no Greek connection there. Peters Ice Cream was made and distributed by American-born Frederick Peters who established Peters' Arctic Delicacy Co in 1927. Here is cycling star Hubert Opperman endorsing the product in 1936.
(Photo: Sam Hood)

When I started work in the Brisbane CBD in the 1960s there were still a number of milk bars around in the city - I fondly remember Christies in Queen St. Here is a photograph of the interior of the Corina Milk Bar in Adelaide St taken in the early 60s.
(Photo: BCC-B54-18429)

Even out in the 'burbs where I lived at that time there was a milk bar run by a trio of Greek brothers - Con, Nick and Tony. We used to hang back until we could be served by Tony because he made the best burgers! 

It's not so easy to find a milk bar these days - coffee shops appear to be the meeting place du jour. A couple of retro-styled milk bars have appeared though. The grandson of Mick Adams has opened a number of places called MOO Gourmet Burgers in Sydney with a nod to his grandfather in the naming of their signature burger, and they serve old-fashioned milk shakes too. There is also the Milk Bar Café in the Brisbane suburb of Ashgrove where you can whet your whistle with a hand-made milk shake. 

I'm sure that you could find more if you put your mind to it. All this palaver about food and drink has made me hungry, so I'm off to have lunch!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Abbotsleigh and Abbotsford, Bowen Hills

I owe Miss Florence Lord, the author of the three-year series "Brisbane's Historic Homes" that featured in The Queenslander way back in the 1930s, grateful recognition. Her work spanned 180 residences in 156 articles, and those articles have been invaluable in presenting the historical basis for many of the pieces in Your Brisbane: Past and Present.

In November 1932 one of her articles was about two dwellings on Abbotsford Rd at Bowen Hills - Abbotsford and Abbotsleigh - shown in the photograph above, unfortunately a low-res scan from the magazine.  Miss Lord's article provides the following information about the two houses.

Abbotsford was constructed around 1870 by Mr Francis Beattie, the owner of a Queen St hat shop and also a member of parliament and local alderman. The house was subsequently owned by the Corrigan family, Brisbane hoteliers, who subdivided the property and moved the house closer to Abbotsford Rd. After the Corrigans left the residence it became a boarding house, and following that it may have been the residence for the station master of the nearby Bowen Hills railway station.

Abbotsleigh was built by Mr George Keen around 1890, replacing an older building that dated from 1876. It is a high-set house with an attic, and has attractive ironwork around the upper-level verandah.
These houses still exist, listed on the Brisbane City Council heritage register, but not on that of the State.

A nearby resident and regular reader of this blog, Wes, has contacted me several times to voice concern over the future of these buildings. Builders' shingles have gone up around Abbotsleigh, so it will be interesting to observe what transpires on the site. When I took the following photographs there were men working on and in the building.

 (Photos: © 2014 the foto fanatic)

A look at the builder's Facebook page reveals the following:

So, on face value, it would appear that Abbotsleigh will undergo a refurbishment. Let's hope that it emerges better than before.

With regard to the other building, Abbotsford, Wes has cited a proposal for the site to be "redeveloped", with the heritage residence to be moved and apartments, townhouses and commercial structures to be erected on what is a significantly sized piece of land.

Here is a current photograph of Abbotsford. Unfortunately it has already been altered - the original attic and dormer windows have been modified - and it looks in need of some TLC.   
(Photo: © 2014 the foto fanatic)

I don't think that anyone could argue that Brisbane's history has been exemplary in the past when the word "redevelopment" is used. Just recently Brisbane City Council approved an application to demolish the historic (but not heritage listed) O'Reilly's Bonded Stores in Margaret St to enable the site to be redeveloped, a decision that was subsequently overturned by the State government. We have also seen a couple of heritage buildings that were subject to redevelopment plans demolished after being torched by arsonists. Of course I am not suggesting that arson is linked to redevelopment, but the fact remains that once these structures are demolished redevelopment of the sites is a lot more likely. The issue is the maintenance and security of these old buildings.

Once again, I am not suggesting that anything inappropriate is occurring with either of these properties. That should not stop us from being vigilant.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Four Bridges, Indooroopilly

(Photo: SLQ 172302)

The first bridge across the Brisbane River at Indooroopilly (above) was completed in 1876 to allow the rail connection between Brisbane and Ipswich, and later the Darling Downs. It was named the Albert Bridge in honour of the Prince of Wales, and was demolished in the 1893 floods. The following two images show the huge amount of debris that caused the bridge to collapse, then the aftermath with a large section of bridge washed away.
(Photo: BCC-B54-A524)
(Photo: BCC-B54-A523)

It fell to the Chief Engineer of the Railways, Mr HC Stanley, to design a new bridge, and he completed his work by mid-1893. Stanley sought to reduce the impact that swirling flood waters and debris might have on the bridge by having only one central pier instead of the several piers that supported the earlier structure.

Brisbane contractors John McCormick & Sons won the tender with a price of £66,000. The bridge was scheduled to be operational in December 1894, but extra time needed to the remove bedrock for the central pier, together with a coal strike in the UK which caused a delay in the manufacture of steel, postponed that opening until August 1895.

During the construction of the bridge the ferry service continued to carry passengers across the river as can be seen in the following photograph.
(Photo: BCC-B54-A1084)

The completed bridge was also called the Albert Bridge, and it allowed pedestrian traffic as well as the much needed trains. The ferry continued to operate alongside the bridge, carrying horses and associated vehicles, as shown in the next image from 1906.
(Photo: BCC-DVD5-27)

The second Albert Bridge is one of the largest truss bridges in Australia. The Walter Taylor Bridge (at the time known as the Indooroopilly Toll Bridge) for cars and pedestrians was built next to the Albert Bridge and opened in 1936. The following image shows them in tandem.
(Photo: BCC-B54-27031)

In 1957 a second railway bridge, as yet unnamed, was built between the Albert Bridge and the Walter Taylor Bridge to allow an increase in the number of rail lines between Brisbane and Ipswich. Here are a couple of photographs taken during its construction.
(Photo: BCC-S35-9311112)
(Photo: BCC-S35-9311113)

A fourth bridge was erected at this site in 1998. Named the Jack Pesch Bridge to honour the ex-cycling champion and bike shop proprietor, this bridge is for cyclists and pedestrians only.
(Photo: © 2014 the foto fanatic)

Click here for a Google Map showing the location of the four bridges.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Alderman Clem Jones

It seems that today's politicians frequently disappoint us. So often they over-promise and under-deliver, regardless of which party or faction we are talking about. Therefore it seems rather surprising and refreshing when we come across one who delivers in spades.

I think this one did deliver in spades, and those spades were wielded by the council workmen who paved the roads and brought the sewerage pipes to Brisbane suburbs. He was Lord Mayor of Brisbane from 1961 to 1975 (a record term), proud member of the Labor Party even though he was a multi-millionaire, and although he resigned from that same Labor Party over federal interference in state party business, he was later reinstated and awarded life membership. 

He was Clem Jones OAM.

Here he is in his mayoral robes in 1964.
(Photo: BCC-B120-33166)

Disclaimer: I describe my political leaning as conservative, although I abhor the right-wing views of many politicians on topics such as boat people; and I do not subscribe to the left-wing views of many others, such as continually bailing out the Australian subsidiaries of multi-nationals. I believe in small government (we could do without state governments in my opinion) but I believe that battlers should always be given a helping hand. No wonder I find politicians disappointing!

Clem Jones was exactly the sort of politician that I admire. If there was a job to be done he rolled up his sleeves and got cracking. He recognised that Brisbane was well behind other major cities in terms of amenities, hence his great work in upgrading the roads, improving public transport and rolling out the sewerage. The photograph below shows the rows of backyard dunnies that were the norm in suburban Brisbane prior to the Jones administration. 
(Photo: JOL 97264)

JC Slaughter, who was recognised by his peers as one of Queensland's most capable administrators, was an outstanding Town Clerk who provided Clem with able support drawn from more than 20 years of experience under previous Brisbane councils. Jones himself was a qualified surveyor and had a degree in town planning, so he brought this knowledge with him to Brisbane's local government, along with an abundance of energy. This double act changed the Brisbane landscape forever, and the Brisbane public loved it. In one local government election Clem Jones won 20 of the 21 available seats, prompting Gough Whitlam to dub him "Clem the magnificent."

Clem Jones did make one decision that I deplored and that is still spoken about today. He killed off Brisbane's tram system in favour of more buses and what are known as freeways (nothing about them is free - not the cost and certainly not the traffic flow!). Future local governments ever since have investigated methods to restore inner-city tram services but we are yet to see a coherent plan. Here is a picture of Clem when he was in better harmony with trams.  

Clem Jones was a great supporter of charities in both his public and private lives. He is pictured below with his wife Sylvia at one of the Lord Mayor's Charity Balls that he hosted.

Sylvia Jones passed away in 1999 after a long and painful illness - this caused Clem to leave a substantial legacy to euthanasia law reform after his own death. She and Clem had no children, and after Clem's death in December 2007 his personal wealth was estimated by some as being as high as $200 million. These funds became the Clem Jones Trust, which delivers bequests to sports, health and education causes, making Clem one of Australia's leading philanthropists. It is well-known that Clem Jones never took the mayoral salary at any time during his 15 years of service in that role. Isn't that refreshing in the light of current stories about tax-payer funded tours of wineries or trips to attend weddings and to purchase investment properties? Clem Jones was a public servant in the true sense of the phrase.
(Photo: BCC-C35-58.8)

Clem Jones had great community presence. The photo above shows him at the 1974 Anzac Day ceremony in memory of Hector Vasyli who was killed in a traffic accident near the Victoria Bridge on Anzac Day 1918. His Greek relatives commemorate his death each year, and there is a memorial plaque in his name on the bridge portal that remains on the southern side of the river.

There were other facets to the Clem Jones story too. A cricket tragic, he played in the lower grades of the University Club for many years, as well as providing administration assistance. He became a member of Australian Cricket's board of control in 1961 and was heavily involved in the Queensland Cricket Association - he was even the curator for a while, rolling the pitch prior to the 1974 Ashes match when Australia unleashed the Lillee-Thomson combination for the first time. His deep involvement with cricket led to Australian fast bowler Terry Alderman being given the nickname "Clem", one of my favourite cricket stories.

But not everything that Jones touched turned to gold. He was defeated in 1972 for the state seat of Yeronga after the state government modified the boundaries of that electorate to ensure a coalition win. In 1974 he ran for the federal seat of Griffith, and this time he lost because of his own popularity. Electors were bombarded with leaflets that said "You Can't Afford To Lose Him" and they decided that they wanted him to stay in local government rather than have him moving off to Canberra.

He also submitted a bid for Brisbane to host the 1978 Commonwealth Games that was won by Edmonton; but the resilient Jones tried again, this time successfully, for the 1982 Games which resulted in such a cultural fillip to the city.

Jones was heroic in the terrible 1974 Brisbane floods, and after leaving the city council, he was appointed chairman of the Darwin Reconstruction Authority to rehabilitate that city following its severe beating at the hands of Cyclone Tracy at the end of 1974. In true Jones form, he completed a five-year rebuilding program in three years.

Clem Jones died on 15 December 2007, causing an outpouring of grief at his loss but also thanks for his remarkable achievements. He was accorded a state funeral that was held at City Hall, where Labor and Liberal politicians alike praised both his public and private personas. Following that ceremony the hearse containing his casket toured many of the locations that were important to Clem - in particular his beloved Gabba cricket ground.

If this piece seems to laud Jones too much, Google his name and you will only find more of the same. It does seem to good to be true - self-made millionaire, tireless charity worker, shaper of a modern city - all without a hint of the improper behaviour or snout-to-trough mentality that seems so common today.

The city of Brisbane, and many individuals too, owe a debt of gratitude to this man. He has been remembered with a spate of buildings, ovals, prizes and awards having been named in his honour. Perhaps the one he might have been most interested in would be the Clem Jones tunnel under the Brisbane River (below), named after him by a Liberal council. It is just the sort of major infrastructure project that he was so good at.       
(Photo: Erict9 via

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