We take things like bridges for granted, especially in the regions, but I find them interesting, especially the old ones. I took a photo of this railway bridge in Rockhampton, a month or so ago. Until I saw this blog post from Queensland Museum I didn’t know its name, and I’d never though of the engineering and effort that went into building it strong enough to withstand those terrifying Fitzroy River floods.
By Phil Manning, Senior Curator, Cultures & Histories
Needed to cross the river. Designed to survive the river. Built using the river. The rail bridge over the Fitzroy River reveals how the forces of nature were used to overcome the challenges of the environment itself.
The Alexandra Bridge was part of the Rockhampton Junction Railway. George Willcocks was the contractor for its construction.
Designed for floods
Since its official opening on 6 November 1899 the Alexandra Bridge has withstood the forces of seven major flood events. This is a tribute to the…
At the Cod Hole, where Eudlo Creek joins the Maroochy River, I watched the soldier crabs. Scuttling across the mudflats in their hundreds, dressed in smart blue-grey uniforms, the little round crabs would feel the vibrations of my footsteps and quickly screw themselves down into the mud and disappear. If I stood still for a few minutes they would start to twist themselves back into the daylight.
My dad had bought an old weatherboard beach house on the dead-end dirt road that has since become busy Bradman Avenue. We named the house Toad Hall.
It was just upstream from where the Sunshine Motorway now crosses Maroochy River. Bradman Avenue runs upstream from Picnic Point, along the south bank of the river and over the creek, past a dragon boat club and a tavern.
The old house held out against development for years, but it’s gone now, replaced by holiday apartments. There are still some mud flats along the creek, though. You can still scoop up a soldier crab to feel it tickling your palm, trying to dig its way out of sight.
Also on the mud flats and along the banks of the river were mangroves. I collected the mangrove seedling “pencils” and used them to draw in the wet sand at the river’s edge.
I made patterns with the flower husks, like little octopuses, from which the pencils grew. Little green mangrove “books”, actually seed pods, washed up on the river’s edge too, along with sea grass fronds and scraps of pumice from ancient local volcanoes.
Only a few mangroves survive along this stretch of the river, but further upstream they still thrive across the sand and mud flats. Mangroves grow from New South Wales, right up the Queensland coast, round the Gulf of Carpentaria, across the top of Australia and throughout the tropics and sub-tropics globally, thriving in warm tidal rivers, estuaries and bays.
In many parts of the state, like Raby Bay in Cleveland and Pelican Waters at Caloundra, mangrove forests have been destroyed to make way for canal developments; but if the people, cars, concrete and bitumen disappeared, they would soon come back and resume their ancient job of filtering the mud, protecting the shoreline and pouring oxygen into the atmosphere.
Except for climate change.
Mangrove dieback in the Gulf of Carpentaria by Lyndal Scobell, Cape York NRM
Over 7,000 hectares of coastal mangroves have died along 1000 km of coastline in the Gulf of Carpentaria. James Cook University’s Dr Norman Duke said the dieback was unprecedented, and followed a prolonged period of high temperatures and unseasonally dry conditions in the region.
I was shocked to read about this environmental disaster in the Gulf.
It will have a huge impact on fish breeding and the birds and animals of the area; the prawns, hermit crabs, and millions of humble, vital creatures of the tidal mud. The land itself will be left unprotected from erosion and inundation. It’s difficult to comprehend the scale of the dieback – 1000kms of coastline altered, perhaps permanently. In this harsh environment, mangroves have been the stalwart protectors of the coastline forever. Back in 1861, they defeated the utmost efforts of Burke and Wills, who’d travelled all the way from Melbourne to reach the Gulf, but never made it through the mangroves to the sea. Now 7,000 hectares of them have succumbed to the effects of heat and drought.
There are still mangrove forests around Moreton Bay – seven species of them, reportedly, along the coast and the islands, and up the rivers, in spite of development and climate change.
Our Lizzie has been a beach lover all her life. When she was little, we’d often visit the beaches of Maroochydore, or Townsville, or Etty Bay, making sandcastles and decorating them with shells and seaweed and pumice. We’d draw in the sand with mangrove pencils and make patterns with mangrove flowers. Lizzie is now an environmental engineer, and last month, during one of her regular scientific field trips to Stradbroke Island, she found a mangrove pencil on the sand.
She drew me a picture, and sent me the photo. That’s one to keep.
At lunch time, behind the school, Con and his mates used to dig up sweet potatoes.
“We gave the big ones to the nuns, but us kids would eat the small ones, raw. They were sweet and juicy.”
Con went to the Good Counsel Convent school in Innisfail, run by the Good Samaritan Sisters (the Good Sammies, as they were affectionately known.) The red volcanic soil of Innisfail is ideal for growing sweet potatoes, but they’ll grow happily anywhere in Queensland, if there’s warmth, soft soil and good rain. They’re a staple across the South Pacific. They flourished in Nambour, too: in my family’s backyard.
Our yard, on a then new sub-division on Mapleton Road, sloped down towards a farm with a bull paddock. The fence was flimsy. Once, when plumbers were working on our septic tank, they occupied their smoko time with teasing the bull. My mother watched out the bedroom window, expecting the bull to break through the fence at any moment and chase the plumbers up the slope. She was disappointed when it didn’t happen.
“I’d have liked to see them trying to run up that slope, catching their feet in the sweet potato vines,” she said.
In Con’s tropical Innisfail yard there were banana plants, papaws, mangoes, passionfruit vines and citrus trees. It’s still the same in the North.
Our garden in Nambour, a 1500 km drive south and officially in the sub-tropics, had bananas and papaws, too, and also loquats, guavas, rosella plants, a mulberry bush and a big mango tree, left over from farm days. Across the state, a group of fine old mango trees, Moreton Bay figs and hoop pines often indicates that a farmhouse once stood there.
In Nambour, we never got to eat our guavas, because we would forget about them until we could smell the fruit. By then, it was too late – they’d be full of fruit fly grubs.
There was a flourishing choko vine on our fence. I haven’t eaten chokos since Mum used to cook them, serving them in white sauce to give them some flavour.
In these days of supply chain problems, we should all have a choko vine along the fence, along with all the other fruits and veggies that grow so well in Queensland.
Sadly, in old migrant suburbs like West End, because of high property values and the move towards denser housing, many fine backyard fruit and vegetable gardens are disappearing.
The Sunshine Coast hinterland north of Brisbane is perfect for growing tropical fruits and citrus in the backyard. In our Woodford yard, as well as an old mango tree there were macadamias, lemons, bananas, and a large custard apple tree of the bullock heart variety.
Huge productive avocado trees grow almost wild in Maleny backyards.
Dragon fruit vines smother Brisbane gum trees and loaded passionfruit vines festoon suburban fences; but the biggest passionfruit vine I ever saw was growing over the toilet block in the yard of the Silkwood Hotel, north of Tully. It provided shade over people enjoying a drink in the beer garden, and masses of fruit; possibly nourished by the septic tank.
We tend to take all this splendid bounty for granted, since it grows in spite of us and requires no care. Fruits that are rarities in cold climate countries are part of our everyday environment in much of Queensland, and visitors are amazed by them. When taking a drive around the Glasshouse Mountains with overseas visitors we stopped beside a pineapple farm with its neat rows of plants and young, green pineapples. Pines, as we used to call them. Our German friend looked at them in amazement. “So that’s how they grow!” he said.
I feel the same amazement when I visit Europe and see apple trees in fruit, hanging over people’s garden walls, or when I look at photos of my granddaughter picking apples in her Opa’s Berlin garden.
In York, U.K., in my friend’s wintery garden there was an enormous pear tree. It had one yellow pear still hanging on it on, metres above the ground. I’d had no idea that pear trees grew so big, and that you could just grow them in your back yard.
That big Nambour mango tree is long gone now, making way for brick and concrete; and in the old bull paddock there is a sprawl of houses. I’d be willing to bet sweet potato vines are still flourishing somewhere nearby, though.
When I first had a meal at my future mother-in-law Min’s house in Innisfail she said, “Do you like sweet potato?”
I didn’t, but of course I said yes. From then on, it was always on the menu when we ate there.
Years later when we visited, Min, now elderly, looked exhausted.
“What have you been doing, Mum?” Con asked.
“Well, I didn’t have any sweet potato, and I know Rose loves it, so I walked into town to buy some,” she replied.
A kilometre each way in the tropical heat.
It wasn’t the right time to tell her the truth. That time never came.
Every now and then I buy sweet potatoes, in Min’s memory, and put them in the potato basket and forget about them. By the time I notice them again they have sprouted, so I throw them out in the garden to rot away and nourish the soil.
They don’t rot, though; they keep growing until I trip over the vines.
A fine Queensland story. We lived in Townsville around the time the Mabo Native Title case began to be formulated, and one evening we had the experience of meeting Eddie Koiki Mabo, when he worked as groundsman at JCU.
By Leitha Assan, Senior Curator, Indigenous Cultures
From its inception in Townsville in 1981 to the High Court victory on 3 June 1992, 2022 marks 30 years since the historical landmark Mabo decision was handed down by the High Court of Australia.The High Court ruled that the Meriam people were entitled to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of their Islands, effectively recognising their Native Title. Native Title is the recognition by Australian law of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people’s traditional laws and customs that are connected to lands and waters.
More than 100 years after European settlement, a group of Islanders – namely Reverend Dave Passi, Deacon Sam Passi Snr, James Rice, one Meriam woman, Celuia Mapo Salee and led by Eddie Koiki Mabo – won a landmark legal battle against the Queensland and Australian governments. They proved that Islanders are the customary owners of land on Mer, Waier…
Bribie Island, Queensland The calm waters of Pumicestone Passage separate the quiet coastal suburb of Golden Beach from the narrow strip of land just offshore that is Bribie Island. The island hugs the coast from the northern end of Brisbane to Caloundra, creating a barrier between the open ocean of Moreton Bay and Pumicestone Passage. […]
I’m walking through a forest of scribbly gums, eucalypts iconic in Australia because of the scribbles on their trunks that fascinate children and adults. May Gibbs used scribbly gums, among other iconic images, to illustrate the children’s classic, “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”.
The scribbles are caused by the meandering path of the larvae of the scribbly gum moth through the bark of its host.
I’m not an entomologist or an arachnologist, but you can’t spend your life in Queensland, or indeed Australia, without coming in personal contact with insects and spiders.
I’ve been stung by bees and wasps, bitten by bull ants and green ants, had my blood sucked by leeches, ticks and march flies, and been irritated by mosquitoes, mites, fleas and cockroaches.
Mosquitoes like blood. As a child I slept under a mosquito net, and I’d put my finger against the net just to feel the sting, then squash the mozzie through the net. Mozzies carry Ross River fever. Con and our Lizzie have both had it and suffered for months with fatigue, fevers, and muscular aches and pains, missing weeks of work and feeling miserable.
In Burketown we were plagued by flying ants. Nothing would stop them: they’d come under the doors and round the edges of the screens. We would turn off the lights, but they’d still get in.
Flying ants don’t bite; but under the house and out in the yard were nests of biting meat ants. Our little kids would wander on to a nest of meat ants and stand there howling to be rescued. Meat ant bites hurt like a burn.
Green ants are tasty. If you pinch them on the thorax and bite off the abdomen you get a burst of delicious lemon liquid. They can bite, if you annoy them, as we would when we shook down mandarines from Con’s mother’s fine Innisfail tree, full of green ants and their nests.
March flies are merciless. In a beautiful rainforest creek one summer, we stayed under water up to our chins and pulled our hats down low to avoid their bites. From Stradbroke Island to Fraser Island and all the way up the coast, at certain times of the year, march flies can ruin your day wherever you are. They’re slow and easy to swat; but unless your house has insect screens the floor will soon be littered with dead flies and you’ll have to get the vacuum cleaner out.
Locals of western Queensland ignore the little sticky flies that get into eyes, nose and mouth and settle in hundreds on shirts, but they drive me mad. My dad swallowed one once, at the church in Jandowae, in the middle of giving a sermon. Prince Charles once had the same problem, on a visit to Central Australia. Queensland doesn’t have a monopoly on annoying insects.
After a day of walking in the Bunya Mountains with my brothers, I found a tick high on my thigh and quite fat with my blood. The Bunyas are famous for ticks. My brother pulled it off for me, and I returned the favour the next morning when he found one on the back of his neck.
Another story about my dad: in going over our female dog Lassie for ticks, he was about to get his tweezers on to a pale, tick-looking lump on her belly when he noticed that she had two rows of identical lumps nearby. Poor Lassie nearly had a bad day.
I’ve been frightened of huntsman spiders since I was a child in Nambour. We used to call them tarantulas. Playing dress-ups one day, I had one leg in a pair of cowboy costume pants when a huntsman ran out of them and up my arm. My mother heard me screaming and came running.
“All that fuss over a tarantula!” she said, unsympathetically. “They won’t bite you!”
Huntsmen can grow almost as big as my hand, and they don’t stay in a web. They hide behind picture frames or under clothes on the floor, then run around the house at night, hunting cockroaches.
One night I was woken by the feel of something running lightly across my face. I’m sure it was a huntsman. I’d rather have the cockroaches that disappear under the bench when I turn on the kitchen light, or crunch under my feet in the dark.
Redback spiders do have a dangerous bite. They don’t run around the house, though, like huntsmen. Redbacks hide away in cracks and dark places.
One Easter, leaving our house in Burketown for the holidays, I sprayed a can of strong insect killer around before closing the door. When we came back, dead redbacks were dangling in their webs from under our dining room table. We’d had our knees under that table every night for years.
It seems a redback can kill a huntsman many times its size:
“A bee stung me when I was driving north over the Isis River bridge. It flew in the window, landed on my neck and stung me.
“The funny thing is, though – when we were driving back south, a couple of weeks later, it happened again. At the exact same spot – the Isis River bridge! Another bee flew in the window and stung me!”
“I don’t remember that. Sounds a bit unlikely to me.”
“Well, maybe it didn’t actually sting me the second time. But it flew in the window. The Isis River bridge, south of Childers.”
Perhaps there were beehives in the bush near the river. Beekeepers set out their hives near flowering eucalypts.
Native bees also exist, in their many varieties, throughout bushland and gardens, playing a vital role in fertilisation.
Native bees don’t sting. My brother Mike Fox, local expert, gave me a native beehive in a paint can for my birthday one year. Sadly, it was soon ruined by an invasion of sawflies, a kind of fly or wasp.
Queensland has beautiful insects as well as annoying ones. Christmas beetles are rare now, but they were common in my childhood. We would hold them in our hands and enjoy the tickle of their claws.
There are jewel bugs – beautiful but stinking when disturbed.
There are dragon flies; and there are some wonderful moths and butterflies, especially in the tropics.
Looking out from our Yarrabah FNQ verandah one morning, I saw something moving strangely on the ground. It was brown, as big as a bird, but fluttering like a butterfly. It turned out to be an astonishing tropical insect: a Hercules moth, the largest moth in the world. They commonly grown to 27cms in wingspan, and sometimes larger. I feel privileged to have seen one.
At Bingil Bay, near Mission Beach, I saw my first Cairns Birdwing butterfly – a gorgeous sight.
Ulysses butterflies, sadly listed as endangered, flit like bright blue lights through the rainforests of Tully Gorge.
At Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory, within Flecker Botanical Gardens in Cairns, they breed many varieties of Queensland butterflies. You can see them in all stages, from eggs to adult butterflies, among the gorgeous orchids and flowering plants.
In South Queensland, my favourite butterfly is the Evening Brown that I sometimes see at dusk, fluttering around close to the ground and blending in with the leaf litter on bushland tracks.
Yesterday I finally worked out what has been eating my callistemon plants down to bare branches.
Dozens of disgusting-looking, squirming grubs were grouped together among the poor, chewed leaves, waving their ugly heads.
Mike identified them as the larvae of sawflies.
“They won’t sting you,” he said.
“I don’t care. They’re ugly, they killed my bees, and now they’re killing my callistemons. I’m going to turn the hose on them, hard. Let the ants have them.”
Beside the road to Carnarvon Gorge is a damaged aircraft wing mounted on steel pylons, next to a wing tip set into the ground.
Nearby, on 16 November 1943, this USAAF Dakota C-47 broke up in a severe storm and crashed. Five Americans and fourteen Australian soldiers died. This is their memorial.
There were many plane crashes across Queensland during the years of World War Two. Traces of crash sites, wartime airstrips, military bases and hospitals, radar stations, fortifications and ammunition dumps are located across the state, from Torres Strait to the New South Wales border. A Queensland government website lists the wartime sites: https://www.ww2places.qld.gov.au/place?id=1686 Some, like the memorial beside Carnarvon Gorge Road, have been cared for by dedicated locals. Others have become tourist attractions. Many are lost in the scrub.
1942 was a year of great anxiety for Australians, especially in the northern states.
The British fortress city of Singapore fell on 15 February 1942, a terrible shock to Australians. My father became a Prisoner of War. Two weeks later in Brisbane, my mother, in great distress, gave birth to her first baby, two months premature.
Now Russia has invaded Ukraine, and civilians and the military are preparing valiantly for what must come. Many have become refugees, and many have died. Unlike in Ukraine, tanks can’t drive across our borders. Troops can’t just march in. Nevertheless, in 1942, Queenslanders were frightened.
Trenches were dug in parks, school yards and house yards. There were air raid sirens and drills, and saltwater pipelines were laid through city streets for fire-fighting, and black-out warnings in place.
Con’s father, a sergeant, spent his wartime years driving army trucks across Cape York Peninsula, delivering fuel to military airfields and outposts.
“There are old wartime airfields all over the Cape,” a pilot once told me, and as I was in a small plane over the Peninsula at the time, this gave me comfort. If we got into trouble, we would always find somewhere to land. We might have to chase cattle and kangaroos off the strip first.
Relics of Brisbane’s preparations for war can still be found across the city.
With my grandson Gus, I recently visited the remains of World War 2 Naval installation RAN No. 9 in the old suburb of Myrtletown, Pinkenba.
In 1943, from here near the mouth of the Brisbane River, an indicator loop was laid under the river and a Photo Electric beam installed to shine over it, to detect enemy craft. The concrete block house, once vital to the defence of Brisbane, still stands in long grass in the Myrtletown Reserve. Nearby information boards give details.
Among the mangroves on the riverbank nearby lie the remains of the SS Koopa, which also played its part. A small section of the hull tipped sideways above the mud at the mouth of Boggy Creek; a few sad, rusted steel parts.
After Pearl Harbour was bombed, on 7 December 1941, the US “Pensacola” Convoy on its way to the Philippines was abruptly diverted to Brisbane, and on 23 December, nine large warships quietly dropped anchor in Moreton Bay.
No one knew, until the Koopa came down the river.
The SS Koopa was a much-loved excursion steamer that took passengers down the Bay to Redcliffe and Bribie Island, both before and after the War. My family took a trip on it when I was four. All I remember is a band playing on the wharf, an on-board kiosk down steep steps, and going to sleep under a seat.
To quote the book “The Battle of Brisbane”: The first Australian civilians to greet the Americans were in the SS Koopa… Joan Staines, an 18-year-old secretary, said: ‘We came out of the river and suddenly saw all these huge ships at anchor. My father said, “Cripes, it’s the bloody Yanks.”’
Up to one million US servicemen would be stationed in Queensland during the next four years. In 1941 the population of the entire state was not much more than that. As Prime Minister John Curtin made clear at the time, it was the Americans, not the British, that we would be looking to for help in the Pacific War.
The SS Koopa was requisitioned from 1942 to 1945, stationed at Toorbul and in the Milne Bay area of PNG, before becoming a Moreton Bay excursion boat again. Eventually, she was brought here to Myrtletown and broken up. Those rusting scraps of steel are all that is left.
Brisbane’s Archerfield Airport was an important RAAF base, also used by the Dutch and British air forces and the USAAF.
Many of its WW2 buildings have been redeveloped for business, those fine old sheds and the “igloo” hangars with their curved roofs.
One smaller igloo, now used by a mechanic, was a mess hall during the War. Another one nearby, almost derelict and used for storage, was once perhaps a dance hall or the Officers’ Club.
Just down the road from Archerfield Airport is an old quarry now filled with water. On one side, partly submerged, are concrete air raid shelters built during the war in case of air raids on the airfield. In 1992, some military aircraft and equipment, dumped here after the War, were salvaged from the water.
In 1942, bomb shelters were rapidly constructed in Brisbane, Townsville, Mackay, Cairns and coastal towns.
Many are still in use, converted to bus shelters, park shelters and public toilets. They are Queensland’s most common and visible relics of WW2.
There was concern that Mount Isa might be a target, and in 1942 miners carved out a fully functioning underground hospital in the hills near the Base Hospital, complete with electricity, operating theatre, delivery room and wards.
Newstead, Brisbane, is now gentrifying, but in the 1940s it was a place of warehouses and industry. In Stratton Street, Newstead, old wartime igloos have been redeveloped for entertainment purposes: The Triffid, a much-loved music venue https://thetriffid.com.au, and the upmarket Stratton Bar and Kitchen https://www.stratton.bar.
The iconic curved igloo roof is celebrated in The Triffid’s logo:
A few years ago, Con and I spent a night in a railway carriage at Possum Park, twenty kilometres north of Miles. During the War this was a top-secret RAAF munitions dump, situated, so it’s said, on the notorious Brisbane Line from which Australia would have been defended in the event of a Japanese invasion. 3CR RAAF Kowguran had its own railway branch line and a system of twenty underground concrete bunkers dug into a hill, reportedly storing up to 2500 tons of bombs and ammunition.
Now surrounded by gardens, some of the bunkers and the troop train carriages have become tourist accommodation.
Much of Queensland’s wartime industry was located in the suburb of Rocklea, and many of the old sheds and factory buildings are still there, some derelict and some repurposed, many heritage listed. There were large munitions factories here, and at least one of them remains.
Recently it caught fire, and one end of the enormous building was burnt out. Gus and I, always curious about these things, went to have a look. We walked the 100-metre length of the old factory, past an overgrown bomb shelter, and stared, fascinated, through the chain-link fences and locked gates.
Huge steel beams had been twisted in the heat of the fire, and the roof had collapsed.
“It would be great to fly a drone right through there,” said Gus. “We could get a look at what it was like inside.”
WW2 coastal fortifications still stand on Bribie Island and Magnetic Island, attracting visitors.
As Gus and I have found, these old sites are fascinating. For amateur researchers there are plenty to explore.
In Queensland and Australia there were bombings, but the threatened invasions didn’t happen. These places were never the scenes of such appalling tragedies as are taking place right now in Ukraine, where the enemy can walk across the border at will.
We were lucky.
 “The Battle of Brisbane”, Peter A Thompson and Robert Macklin. 2000. ABC Books, Sydney. Page 31
The recent weather event and flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales has sadly destroyed many homes and the personal items they contain including photos, important documents and valuables. All hope is not lost, if you act quickly now you may have a chance of recovering some of this items. While for many the immediate focus will be cleaning out homes, there is a chance to recover some important items. Remember if there is an opportunity to freeze items such as images and photographs, that will give you time to work on them in the future.
Here are some tips from the team at Queensland Museum on how to preserve a flood-damaged item:
Safety is priority – if it’s flooded, forget it!
Only enter a flooded site when it is safe to do so. Wear protective equipment including closed-in shoes, gloves, face masks and safety glasses.
In the Boyd’s Hotel, Mount Isa, Con sang the whole of “American Pie” from beginning to end. All eight minutes of it. People cheered.
It was 1974, and Don McLean’s famous folk rock song, brought out in 1971, was already a classic.
Con remembers the occasion well.
“When I’d finished, the publican offered me a regular gig – $300 a week plus keep!”
Con was principal of Burketown school at the time, and we’d made the long drive down for a Teachers’ Union conference. The evening get-together was held at this popular pub, known locally as Boydies.
Boyd’s Hotel was typical of Mount Isa hotels back then: a rough and tumble place. There was a notorious lounge bar out the back, known locally as the Snakepit.
In those days, as in so many places, Aboriginal patrons were not allowed in the front bar of Boyd’s. They had to go to the Snakepit.
A North West Star history column relates what happened when, in 1977, Senator Neville Bonner went to the Boyd for a beer.
…when Queensland Senator Neville Bonner popped into the pub for a quiet one in December, 1977, he was told by a barmaid, “We don’t serve darkies here.”
“I walked down the street from my motel, picked up a paper and dropped into the hotel for a cold beer”, he said.
“I sat at the bar reading and it was a few minutes before a barmaid came over to me and said, I’m sorry, I can’t serve you.”
He told her he was an Australian citizen and that she must be joking.
Senator Bonner was Aboriginal and, the unwritten rule at Boydies was, Aboriginals were expected to drink in the Snake Pit, not the public bar, let alone the private bar where he was sitting.
Finally sense prevailed and Senator Bonner was given a cold, froth topped pulled beer but not before he asked the manager, “Are you aware you’re liable to a penalty of $5,000 under the Race Discrimination Act for refusing to serve a person because of their colour or nationality?”
Twenty-five years later, when we next visited Mount Isa, the city’s hospitality scene had changed. Instead of a hotel, we went to the Irish Club for dinner.
The Mount Isa Irish Club, known to everyone simply as The Irish, was astonishing to us; and in a tough mining city with a famously high beer consumption, in a harsh desert climate, with many hard workers a long way from home, it’s flourishing.
From outside, the Irish Club looks like an enormous shed, but inside there is a whole, air-conditioned world: multiple bars and eating places, a nightclub and piano bar, bingo hall and a coffee shop in a restored Melbourne tram.
There’s a Dublin street with street lamps and a traditional Irish pub. There’s a collection of Waterford crystal, and any amount of Irish decor. The sports bar has a huge screen and many smaller screens, as well as half a dozen billiard tables, and there are currently 157 poker machines to choose from. Over the top? A little. But the Isa is that kind of place.
Twenty years ago we spent a couple of months in Kalgoorlie, that other famous mining town; and its fine old hotels were just as spectacular, and just as busy.
The Irish also offers a range of accommodation, catering for everyone from business travellers to sporting and tour groups and backpackers; a gym, and an enormous bottle shop.
Being a city of shift workers, Mount Isa never sleeps. The Irish is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, just like those grand hotels in Kalgoorlie.
If The Irish isn’t to your taste, you can go to its main rival – The Buffs. The Carpentaria Buffalo Club was founded by the Royal Antideluvian Order of Buffalos Lodge, and it is almost as huge as the Irish. Con and I went there too. In the name of research.
Old-style hotels linger on in Queensland country towns, and it’s those pubs that I enjoy, rather than the bright lights and glitter of the clubs; but many have had to reinvent themselves to stay viable. When we went to revisit Boydies, we got a shock to find it would no longer sell us a beer. It no longer exists, although the original building still stands on the corner of West Street and Rodeo Drive. Redearth Boutique Hotel has taken it over, and it is a very different establishment, providing the amenities that modern corporate travellers expect in accommodation.
Next door to the Redearth, and joined to it, is what was once the Mount Isa Hotel, now the Isa Hotel, focussing on eating, drinking and entertainment.
To celebrate Mount Isa’s coming centenary, ABC North West Queensland recently posted an interesting video on Facebook, filmed during the 1970s, around the time we were there. It brought back memories, and says a lot about the atmosphere of the place. I doubt if things have changed much, even today. https://www.facebook.com/ABCNorthWestQLD/videos/344122070925685
Normally, when we lived at Burketown, we drove to the Isa, and catching a glimpse of the tall, red and white striped Mount Isa mine chimney stack, after a long, dusty trip, was as exciting as it would have been to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Mount Isa meant fresh milk, electricity, comfort, air conditioning, shopping and streetlights.
Now, the Isa has an even taller chimney stack and a much larger population.
Like most of western Queensland in the last couple of years, Mount Isa is currently chronically short of workers, across all fields, from mining to the hospitality industry. A Facebook page, Mount Isa Jobs and Vacancies, shows how widespread the need.
I wonder if they need a singer at the Irish. Someone who knows every verse of “American Pie”. We could live in the backpackers’ accommodation, and I could work behind the bar.
It’s seven in the morning, and somebody’s knocking down a house.
I’ve heard this noise before, in this suburb of post-war public housing – humble buildings with large backyards. With Brisbane changing and property prices increasing at an appalling rate, these places have become very valuable.
Last year, a plain 1960s brick house a couple of hundred metres up the street from us sold for $870,000. Within weeks, the house had been demolished. The price was for the land alone – an ordinary suburban block.
Young couples and families wanting to own their own home will be out bidden at auction by developers and investors. Often, it seems, the house will then be demolished. In its place will be built a large, two-storied structure that takes up almost the whole block: probably a grey and white painted, gabled “Hamptons style” place like thousands of other new Brisbane homes. It’s this style that has sent grey and white paint spreading across the suburbs of Brisbane like some kind of contagious disease.
Alongside them are those box-shaped places that seem entirely out of harmony with traditional Brisbane houses.
Many of the houses that are demolished are not as comfortable or elegant as their replacements will be. I’m sorry to see them go, though, along with their mango trees and old-fashioned gardens of crotons and random brickwork.
A quarter of a century ago, we bought our house in what was then an “inner-outer” suburb, eleven kilometres by road from the CBD.
We now live in one of Brisbane’s “outer-inner” suburbs, with views of the tall buildings of the CBD; but we haven’t moved. The city has changed and sprawled.
In art, television series and novels, Brisbane houses are quaint, in the style called ‘Queenslander”, built in colonial years or the early 20th century, with verandahs, fretwork or cast iron, and frangipani trees.
Throughout the older, inner suburbs, this is true. There are houses like this sprinkled through the outer suburbs and beyond, as well: original farmhouses, country mansions of colonial times, and some that have been transported from the inner suburbs to make way for apartment blocks and modern mansions with multi-car garages, multiple bathrooms, pools and tennis courts.
However, far more Brisbane houses, thousands and thousands of them, are still the simple post-WW2 Housing Commission houses that were built from the 1950s onwards to cope with population growth and the results of wartime shortages of materials and labour. They don’t get the attention or respect that they deserve. Over 10,000 houses were built across the state through the Housing Commission in the post war period alone, most of them in Brisbane; and most of them still exist today.
Queensland’s Labor government of the day constructed these houses across enormous swathes of what were then outer suburbs. A huge undertaking in social housing, the Commission was set up to acquire and develop and build on, farmland, bushland, and superfluous wartime facilities such as the vast Military Hospital in Holland Park and the Leave and Transit Centre at Moorooka, and to manage sales and rental of the finished houses and cheap housing loans.
From 1950, 1000 houses were built at Carina, another 1000 at Coopers Plains. Thousands were built at Inala, Wavell Heights, Stafford, Chermside, Mount Gravatt, Zillmere and other outer suburbs, as they were then. Expensive real estate now.
The houses were built to a variety of plans, two and three bedroom, some with sleepouts or small verandahs. They were built of a variety of materials: brick, chamfer board, weather board, and fibro, with corrugated steel or tiled roofs; and they could be bought for around £2,000.
A famous 1950 photograph shows rows of newly constructed Housing Commission houses, built on both sides of a gently sloping dip in the land. Close together and almost identical, each has a long, treeless back yard and, startlingly, an outdoor toilet, a reminder of the fact that Brisbane wasn’t sewered back then. The location details are included with the photo, held by the State Library, and last week I went to see what changes have occurred there in the seventy-plus years since it was taken.
Standing on the site of a demolished house on Walker Avenue in what is now the suburb of Morningside, near the spot where the 1950 photo was taken, I looked north-west along that low valley, between Agnew Street and Moolabar Street.
Those long back yards are now full of trees. No dunnies in sight. Perhaps a few have been kept, out of a sense of history, hidden among the banana plants and palm trees.
Walking up Moolabar Street and down Agnew Street I saw that many of those little houses, built close to their neighbours, are still there, although mostly extended and altered.
Many are charming.
Some look as if they are rental properties, waiting for the owners to redevelop them. Some of them have gone, replaced by large, two-story houses that make the most of those long blocks.
This is now a suburb much in demand in the real estate industry, and the value of those quarter-acre blocks has soared. The average sale price of houses in Morningside is over $955,000, according to recent figures on www.realestate.com.au.
This story is repeated over most of the sprawling public housing developments of the 1950s and 1960s, and these changes are not unique to Brisbane. In many cities, older suburbs are redeveloped as populations grow and middle classes want more than basic housing.
Still, there are thousands of those little post war Queensland Housing Commission houses to be seen across Brisbane’s inner-outer suburbs.
Some look virtually untouched, sitting there with only a mango tree or jacaranda in the yard, or surrounded by a carefully tended garden.
Some have been lifted up, built under, moved aside, or extended with verandahs and extra rooms.
I look out for them as I walk around the suburbs. I like them. Maybe one day I’ll move out of our family-sized house and into a cute and snug post-war cottage.
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