Monday, September 29, 2014


 While favoured members of Brisbane’s elite mingled on the lawn of Government House, the Toowong tram carried revellers home to the suburbs…
   The swimming enclosure on the river at Mowbray Park as you can see was well patronised…and a few suburbs across in Clayfield the local tennis club posed for the camera, racquets in hand…
   And while these prim and proper young nurses at the Brisbane hospital were tending their youngest patients, Brisbane’s rat catchers were sombrely displaying their days catch, a sobering moment in our history – Bubonic Plague was terrorising the town. 

In a moment reminiscent of Africa’s current Ebola plague Brisbane doctors improvise their safety gear.  An entire street in Brisbane suburb of Woolloongabba is fenced off and placed in quarantine following a resident’s diagnosis of plague.

          1900-1910:  Unbelievably Queen Victoria’s 62 year reign over her dominions has encompassed almost the entire lifetime of Brisbane’s main thoroughfare: Women are demanding their voting rights, Australian troops have been sent to fight the Boers in South Africa:  Horse drawn trams have finally given way to electric powered carriages...and in 1901 Brisbane crowds mass in Queen Street to celebrate Federation Day.
 Again: A favourite photographers spot, Queen Street near the intersection with Edward.

With decorated arches and marching bands, swirling flags and colourful bunting Brisbane is out in force to celebrate Federation.

With no TV or radio, nor mobile phones or sensational Murdoch style press to spread the word, advertise the event, the city centre is still shoulder to shoulder jam packed with Brisbane’s entire population plus a good deal more trained in from the country. Entertainment back then was hands on, word of mouth enjoyed by a mob of well behaved though excited observers.
 They line the street, climb out onto shop awnings, wave patriotic flags and noisily make their presence felt. The imposing, though only partially built Treasury Building is the backdrop for this official ceremony on 1st January 1901 marking the proclamation of the Federation of Australia by Queensland’s Governor, Baron Lamington.
 The vice regal party can be seen on the suitably decorated balcony fronting William Street with its view across the river: the Governor standing in for the absent and far away Queen Victoria.
None could guess the venerable old lady’s death is only 22 days away.

In the shot above the camera man has moved round the corner into Queen Street, at this stage it’s still evident the partially completed Treasury’s Queen Street façade has a long way to go.
Further along Queen Street.: The Royal Lancers leading the Federation Day Parade…

…. And next, perhaps just an hour or so later, the parade has ended, the crowd have spilled out into that same part of Queen Street; traffic is at a standstill, the city still awash with celebration.

Look carefully at those two photos, the one above and the one before, both taken at the very same spot in Queen Street. The imposing building midway along on the left is the old National Bank, now housing a fashion boutique.
Those first town planners must rue the day they quibbled over the width of a street, nowhere is their narrow mindlessness more evident than on occasions like this when Queen Street becomes an impenetrable mass of bodies.


By the time this next photo is taken years have passed. The Treasury’s Queen St frontage completed; its façade much as it appears today, there is though, a great deal of work still to be done on the invisible Elizabeth Street side.

For a while until the stone work becomes weathered by rain and wind, as this early photo shows only too well, the contrast between the first built section and the more recent is considerable.  In this picture the weathered sandstone approach to the new double lane Victoria Bridge is just in view, with 1915’S motor vehicles swinging across into William Street.
Nowadays in the 21st Century the same building is better known as the Treasury Casino where spirits of a different sort are most certainly imbibed.
Drop back a wee bit to 1900: Australian women reluctantly send their men off to a war in far away South Africa. The photo below predating the Federation celebrations shows Queen Street and the corner of Albert thronged with crowds cheering troops bound for the Boer War. It’s not the first time Aussie boys have been sent overseas to fight for King and country and sadly it won’t be the last.
 Aussie soldiers were first deployed overseas to the Sudan in 1885 following the death of General Gordon in Khartoum.

In the same photo focus further past the mounted soldiers towards the Edward Street intersection where you can see horseless trams banked up behind the procession:  Electricity is the buzz word of the day, but who back then could imagine the glittering neon throbbing Mall this part of Queen Street would one day become?
For the fair sex it has been a long battle, but the photo of this lone Brisbane woman in the midst of male compatriots says it all.  She has at last won the right to enter that bastion of male decision makers, the voting booth.

Queensland’s rail service began in 1865; not in the State’s capital, but in nearby Ipswich, the opening ceremony attended by ladies in voluminous crinolines.

A few years later a line was opened to Brisbane, and very soon branch lines began spreading to outer suburbs.

The steam train, or puffing billy’s as their smoke stacks indicated only too well played a huge part in shifting Brisbane’s population from country and rural suburbs to the city centre.  Exteriors of Central and South Brisbane station have changed very little, but who would recognize the Roma Street Station of the early 1900’s?  It looked more like a stately manor house.
These three stations along with trams and buses will soon become the focal point of a major dispute when Brisbane traffic is crippled by a world first – a united transport workers strike.
The women in the photo below seen stepping out proudly in their Sunday best, march full of confidence and so they should: They have after all achieved liberation and a voting right denied them for so long … but as they blithely march seemingly intent solely on the job at hand, each and every one of them has no idea a brutal, bloody world war is only a few years away.  No idea at all the scope of suffering and loss that will surely make their present cause seem trivial and inconsequential to the extreme.

The strike and resulting demonstrations started with a dispute over the right to wear a union badge then escalated to the basic right to join a union. Brisbane women had gained their voting rights five years earlier and were now marching through city streets in solidarity with their menfolk.
Did I mention the ladies marching included young girls and even elderly grandmothers?  One in particular will achieve lifelong notoriety and even hero worship before the dispute is finally settled.
 The women’s striking husbands, fathers, brothers meanwhile were massing a few blocks away in  Market Square, now King George Square, right outside the old Tivoli Theatre. (But not in front of Brisbane’s City Hall because at this stage it hasn’t yet been built.)

Even though tram and train drivers had walked out and public transport was at a standstill the Government of the day banned processions after taking the incredible step of issuing bayonets to the police force and even swearing in special constables…evident in the picture above.
 This photo taken in front of Finney’s in Queen Street features a requisitioned tram and the horse and buggy beside it moving police officers and special constables between the city and Fortitude Valley. The watching crowd denied the right to protest appear wary.

More hands on activity however was taking place in George Street in front of Parliament House where the lady pictured below has taken up her stance.

This elderly Brisbane Grandmother, Emma Miller, 73 years old, only 4 feet 11 inches tall, a women’s rights and labour activist will soon claim her place in Brisbane’s Black Friday history.  At the height of the demonstrations when confronted by the law, she takes a hatpin from her fashionable bonnet and sticks it into the rump of the horse ridden by the Police Commissioner.

The horse of course reared and the gentleman was thrown to the ground and consequently injured…though not seriously.

And Emma became an instant heroine of the Union movement. 

There’s a lot more history attached to Emma Miller, she deserves a story line to herself…perhaps later in the year.

 1914: WAR, like rain and flood seemed always to hover.

The Commonwealth’s worst fears have been realised. With the advent of WW1, the march past of troops heading overseas becomes more frequent.  The crowds are quieter, more reserved.  The atmosphere is one of fidelity and loyalty to Mother England but at what dire cost?
News from England and Europe is sobering. In Australian homes dreaded telegrams are becoming more prevalent.

Soldiers of the 9th Battalion wearing white emu feathers on their slouch hats pass along Queen Street. Teenage school boys watching from the crowd easily identified in their white straw boater hats are probably looking on with envy: Hero worship of men with guns.
But before this war, supposedly the war to end all wars finally ends, some of these boys will themselves be marching off to battle, and like the soldiers they’re watching now, striding along in smart formation, many of them will not come home; ever.

1916: WW1 shows no signs of abating. Brisbane crowds gather to cheer the boys of the 41st Battalion.

Marching four abreast, the long line of khaki uniforms stretch the entire length of Queen Street. How many I wonder survived to join the ensuing Peace Parade of 1919 shown next.

And yes, this is the same much photographed section of Queen Street captured so often in earlier photos.

Brisbane some 35 years after WW1 - not a great deal has changed apart from women’s fashion; even the enemy is the same as Brisbane gathers again to support their boys, this time the 7th Australian Division as they march off to fight yet another war on foreign soil.


The small settlement intended only as a convict prison has grown to an enormous size. The population has swelled and now in the 2014’s the central Queen Street area of Brisbane has pushed its perimeters up, up into the sky.  A few grand old buildings have survived:  they still dot the CBD streets, their historical value at last recognized and preserved.

Modern Brisbane has caught up with southern sisters, Sydney and Melbourne:  South Brisbane has become the museum, art gallery and performing arts hub of the river’s south bank. Queen Street no longer a traffic thoroughfare linking north to south is now a glittering pedestrian mall thronged day and night with a passing parade of shoppers and office workers.
Gone from sight and mind are the everyday remnants of times past, the quaint corner pubs, the butchers with their sides of beef and lamb hanging in window fronts, the horse and cart trotting by on muddy streets, the sweeping gowns, the days of parasols and moustachioed gentlemen.
Go back through this four part series, view again the transformation of a small insignificant collection of convict gaols and flimsy huts into this busy pulsing metropolis and become enraptured with these people from our past… let your mind wander back in time and you will see and hear them as surely as if you were there, treading in your ancestors footsteps.

BOTH QUEEN STREET AND THE RIVER rushing by were old Brisbane’s major thoroughfares. The river though, and the eternal  problem of flood proofing the Victoria Bridge seemed always to be a constant thorn in the best laid plans of a succession of city fathers.
Eventually the river will be spanned by no less than 12 bridges, both pedestrian, traffic and rail but all that will take place in a far distant future. 
VICTORIA BRIDGE in all its previous and present persona tells best the story of Queen Streets evolution.  After all where street meets river man must provide a way across.  The photos show the doggedness of early developers, the triumph over flood.

First there was the temporary bridge joining the town centre to South Brisbane.  Worm rot and flood brought that one down and tenders were called to erect a more substantial version.  I guess authorities rather hoped they had the problem solved with this single lane iron bridge shown below.  

But they hadn’t bargained for the Great Flood of 1893 which ultimately left Brisbane with only half a bridge, and South Brisbane minus their piped water supply.

For the next four years passengers and goods will be carried back and forth by barge and ferry until 1897 when the new Victoria Bridge, a grand steel version with two carriage ways and two footpaths is finally completed.
 This graceful arched bridge will outlast the horse and buggy, usher in the advent of modern motorised transport, see the start and finish of WW2 and continue in service until 1969 when it will be honourably retired and replaced with the sleek modern version in use today.

 It’s not until you view Victoria Bridge in all its previous guises that you realise its ongoing role in the history of Queen Street.   While The City itself was undergoing it’s metamorphose from village to metropolis,  Brisbane’s Victoria Bridge was doggedly keeping pace, constantly adapting and changing its width and strength to accommodate the gradual switch from horse and buggy to motor vehicle and tram. 
 Some of you may not remember Brisbane’s trams; your mothers, fathers and grandparents most certainly will. Their banishing from Brisbane’s streets go hand in hand with the demise of Cloudland and the historic Bellevue Hotel.


Victoria Bridge in all its various persona, down through the years has carried and been privy to the dreams and aspirations of a succession of Brisbane’s inhabitants.  We’ve walked across the river pausing to watch the ebb and tidal flow below, we’ve watched its demise from the river bank, we’ve ridden across in cars and buses, we’ve sat perched in the back of modest drays and trotted along smartly on high stepping horses: Street and bridge, trusted holders of secrets and whispers, the musings of ghosts from our past. 

But Brisbane’s old and venerable Victoria Bridge, solid and long lasting as it was, when finally pulled down and relegated to land fill, did leave behind a ghostly reminder of those earlier days.

A portion of the stately carved stone approach was left standing as a glorious memorial commemorating the untimely death of an 11 year old boy of Greek heritage, Hector Vasyli; killed in a motor accident on the bridge in 1918 while welcoming home soldiers returning from the war.
Young Hector’s spirit in step with countless pedestrians and passengers has overseen the life and times of nearly a hundred years:  The gradual addition of high rise buildings reaching to the sky, the subdued design of the new modern bridge, the passing parade of historical change.
And maybe his spirit keeps company with all the other souls that came before him, the soldiers marching off to war, wretched convicts and pioneering settlers, all the city’s original inhabitants from earlier times who left behind a multitude of footprints imprinted along a simple muddy track that came to be known as Queen Street.
 Listen carefully for their whispers when you cross that new bridge and walk through the mall, listen to the Ghosts of Queen Street past, clamouring only to be remembered.


Heartfelt thanks to the many unknown photographers who left their work to posterity and to the faceless people behind the Archives who preserve and safeguard these collections.  Without their dedication our children and their children would never discover much less appreciate their hard fought heritage.

Robyn Mortimer – Concept and Storyline ©2014

Preceding 3 parts of Queen Street's Past.

Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.