Tag Archives: Aboriginal Australia

John Gladstone Steele (1935-2016)

A friend has let me know that John Steele has just died. The funeral will be held next Monday, 1 February, at 10am in St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

John Gladstone Steele was a physicist and antiquarian (his word!) who worked for many years in the physics department at the University of Queensland. I know absolutely nothing about his scholarship as a physicist, but John worked across two disciplines, physics and history. That was unusual even thirty years ago. In our more specialist age it is practically unheard of.

I never knew John Steele particularly well, but I used to run into him occasionally when our research rummaging overlapped in UQ’s specialist Fryer Library. He gave me a copy of his family history, The Petersons and the Uhrs: An Australian Family since 1825, when he had it privately published in 2003. This book sits firmly on my desk as I write my book, because John’s Australian connections begin with the merchant Richard Jones, who arrived in Sydney in 1809, and was for many years my Walter Davidson’s business partner.

But on this Australia / Invasion Day, it seems appropriate to talk about John Steele’s most significant book, Aboriginal Pathways in Southeast Queensland and the Richmond River (1984). In his younger days, John was an enthusiastic bushwalker, and this book was based on an earlier gestetnered and stapled pamphlet he produced for the University of Queensland Bushwalking Society. He wrote about Aboriginal pathways in the first instance so that his group of bushwalkers could follow them, but in doing so, he became increasingly curious about the people who had made them.

J.G.Steele Aboriginal Pathways

I once asked him where he got his information – and he said he just asked the local Aboriginal people he met while out walking. In the 1970s and 1980s, very few people did. About the same time he published Aboriginal legends of Stradbroke Island (1984).

Bushwalking gave John a sensibility to the Australian landscape that many of us lack. In Conrad Martens in Queensland: the frontier travels of a colonial artist (1978), John looked at the sketchbooks and paintings of Conrad Martens, who travelled to the Moreton Bay settlement (not yet Queensland) during 1851 and 1852, to drum up painting commissions amongst the squatters of the Darling Downs. John had the eye to identify the locations of many of Martens’ sketches, which now represent an important visual record of Aboriginal occupation. Because of John’s identification of the location of an Aboriginal camp in one of Martens’ drawings, for instance, the botanist Rod Fensham was able to show that this place marked the northern limit of the yam daisy, a native plant with a tuberous root that was an important food source for the Aborigines – and soon to be wiped out by hungry sheep.

John’s work dates from before Mabo, before Native Title, before current sensitivities about the European occupation of Australia. His books are resources for later researchers, rather than historical works in their own right, and he was surprisingly humble about his abilities as a historian. He once urged me to write a biography of his ancestor, Richard Jones. Jones certainly deserves a biography, and in many ways John Stone had much in common with his ancestor. Both were politically conservative high Anglicans, and thoughtful scholarly men. I told John that he should write the biography himself – but he demurred. As he admitted himself, he was an antiquarian, not a historian.

I have just looked at the UQ library catalogue to find that 8 – eight – copies of Aboriginal Pathways are held in the library, of which 2 are held in the specialist Fryer Library, and of the others, 4 are currently out on loan, including one that is overdue. Not bad for a book more than 30 years old.

John’s twin disciplines of physics and history seldom overlapped – but I do like his explanation, in Explorers of Moreton Bay (1972), of why Cook’s and Flinders’ charts of Moreton Bay diverge – John thinks (and at least to my uneducated eye proves) that the magnetic pole must have moved in the 30 years between their voyages. Not many historians could have figured that out.

Libby Connors’ Warrior wins Premiers Prize

Last night my good friend Libby Connors won the Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance for her book Warrior: A legendary leader’s dramatic life and violent death on the colonial frontier (Allen & Unwin, 2015).

libby connors warrior

To my shame, I’ve been meaning to review Warrior for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for a few months now, but it has been on the backburner – well, okay, my whole blog has been on the backburner this year, as I try to finish my book.

Now of course, with the recognition that comes with winning the major prize in the Queensland Literary Awards for 2015, Libby will get all the publicity she needs without my poor endorsement but, for what it’s worth, Warrior is terrific: an engrossing read and an enlightening new perspective on racial accommodation and conflict at Moreton Bay. It is also a high wire act. Unlike most of those who write about race relations in Australia, Libby has chosen to write from the point of view of Dundalli, the warrior of the title, a lawman from the Dalla tribe in the mountains north of Brisbane who later moved to Bribie Island, and who was hanged in Brisbane in January 1855.

In Connors’ account, Aboriginal people are not generic victims of generic white abuse, but have names, tribal affiliations, objectives and agency – and their own customary law. Aboriginal dispute resolution might lead to fights, and occasionally to deaths, but it had its own internal logic, and it was not disproportionate to the original offence.

In March 1842 a terrible offence occurred when the shepherds of Kilcoy Station gave out flour poisoned with arsenic. Somewhere between 30 and 60 Aboriginal men, women and children died. Connors forensically examines how this event affected Aboriginal politics, and how certain men were legally designated to avenge the crime. More killings followed, a clash of cultures that culminated with another judicial killing, the hanging of the lawman, Dundalli. Like most forensic examinations, the story is fascinating but hard to summarize – and you really should read the book.

The Queensland Literary Awards have been controversial in recent years. One of the first acts of the previous LNP government, under Premier and Minister for the Arts (!) Campbell Newman, was to cancel the Premier’s Prizes. The Premier justified the act as a way to save money, although the savings were infinitesimal compared with the ill will generated in the arts community – and arts communities, as Federal Arts Minister George Brandis learned to his cost, can express their resentment in creative ways.

george brandis as venus by botticelli

The response in Queensland was the keep the prizes going through crowdsourcing. This meant a smaller pool of money for prizes – but for many writers, perhaps most, the publicity generated by winning a prize is still valuable, especially as the subsequent boom in sales brings more royalties anyway.

The prize money has now been restored under the new Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, while Campbell Newman experiences the sour aftertaste of disapproval, with some Brisbane bookshops refusing to stock his new biography. (I can see Avid Reader’s point, but this seems to smack of censorship to me.)

One unspoken reason for the Premiers Prize controversy, I suspect, is that writers from Down South frequently dominated the Queensland prizes. That tends to be the case with prizes: in any one year, a few titles do the rounds of all the competitions. Their domination may be deserved, but sometimes it feels like the lazy option, and in any case, there’s an argument that local awards should honour local writers. Hence the ‘Work of State Significance’ category. Connors deserved to win on merit, but winning this category with Warrior also says much, I hope, about Queensland’s maturity, its ability to confront the centrality of Aboriginal dispossession in the state’s history.

Connors was in many ways the ideal person to write this book, for it depends on a sympathetic understanding of the local landscapes around Moreton Bay, and Libby’s environmental credentials have served her well. She is probably more familiar to most Australians as an environmental activist than as a historian. She has stood as a Senate candidate for the Greens, and is associated with the Lock the Gate Alliance that has campaigned against coal seam gas mining, initially on the Darling Downs.

In addition, like many academics these days – especially, dare I say it, women with more senior partners – Libby has spent her life as a #FIFOacademic, commuting between her home in Brisbane and her job at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba. I know that has made research and writing difficult at times, but it has also taken her regularly through Dundalli’s lands, across the Brisbane Valley, through the backwaters of the river systems – the Stanley, Bremer, Brisbane, Pine and Caboolture – that mix and merge on their way to Moreton Bay.

In Warrior, this intimate knowledge of the landscape comes through very clearly:

The Brisbane Valley stations formed a crescent around the spine of Brisbane’s D’Aguilar Range. They occupied the river and creek flats of the Brisbane River as it curved west and north of the old penal station, and the pastoral leases reached right into the foothills and scrubs of the mountains that fed the river. These mountains were Dalla heartlands. [p.58]

Dundalli’s country. Congratulations, Libby, you’ve done him proud.

The Invisible History of the Human Race

I picked up Christine Kenneally’s book because it was on the short list for the Stella Prize – and because my sister recommended it. Once I’d picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. The book is The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures (2014). As the over-long title perhaps hints, this is a hard book to categorise. It is part history, part science, with large and important chunks dealing with the contemporary issues thrown up by the new technologies of DNA analysis.


Some of the issues are controversial. Kenneally deals cautiously and well with the inevitable issues of race and eugenics, but other controversies hadn’t occurred to me before: What are the implications of so much data (either genetic or genealogical) being held by private companies like Ancestry.com or 23andMe? What happens to that data when a company is sold? This happened to Kenneally, who had her genes tested by 23andMe, in the interests of research, in 2010. The company gave certain commitments about the privacy of her record – but it has since changed hands, and the status of that information is now unclear.

One of the issues the book covers is the history and meaning of family history. Genealogists are often dismissed as cranks by academic historians – and I know how infuriating it can be to sit in front of a microfilm reader, next to someone who keeps tapping me on the shoulder to tell me she (it’s mostly she) has just found Uncle Freddy – but Kenneally endorses both the validity of this research for the individual and the wider value of such projects, when they converge into large-scale studies, such as the Founders and Survivors project.

Kenneally is good at finding just the right anecdote to illustrate her wider arguments. The story of Thomas Jefferson and Sarah Hemings is widely known: for 2 centuries, Jefferson was a famous Founding Father with an unblemished private life. He and his wife Martha Wayles had 6 children. But an oral tradition also passed down that suggested that after Martha’s death, Jefferson subsequently had another family with one of the house slaves at Monticello, Sarah (Sally) Hemings.

The historical record can only go so far, but DNA testing eventually shows what historians could not prove: that Sarah Hemings’ male descendants carried the Jefferson Y-chromosome. Despite some rearguard action trying to finger another Jefferson – uncle or nephew – the dates of conception make it pretty clear that Thomas fathered Sally’s children. This story is not just of prurient interest. It also tells us a lot about the lived experience of men and women in 18th century Virginia, and how it diverges from the written record.

So far, so well known. But Kenneally looks at another angle: as well as 6 children raised at Monticello, there was another, older boy, Thomas Woodson, who was sent to live at another estate at the age of 12, where he took the name of his new master, a common practice. The Woodson descendents also believed they were descended from Thomas Jefferson – but repeated DNA analysis has failed to make the link. Sometimes knowledge is power – but sometimes it is a shattering disappointment too.

For me, it was yet another angle on this story that intrigued me. Sally Hemings and Martha Wayles were half-sisters. They shared the same father, for clearly droit de seigneur operated in the generation before Jefferson too. While the Hemings-Jefferson inter-racial liaison has shocked some Americans, and delighted many more, I’ve never seen any concern expressed that Jefferson was sleeping with his deceased wife’s sister, a relationship that was legally equivalent to incest at this time in English law.

Kenneally ranges widely across time and place. One study illuminates the Dark Ages: a map of the modern genetics of the British population shows that people still reproduce within old cultural boundaries, so that the kingdoms of Dalriada, Rheged, Elmet and Dumnonia emerge from the genetic data.

In Ireland the same Y-chromosome appears widely – in the northwest an extraordinary 17 percent of men carry it – and this is attributed to the influence of Niall of the Nine Hostages and the men of the Niall clan, who clearly practiced droit de seigneur on an industrial scale. Polygamy and easy divorce, even into the Christian period, must have helped. More generally, when a new population displaces the old, the marks of the invasion are more frequently present on the Y chromosome – as it true for Aboriginal Australians.

Kenneally looks at Tasmania, where the late 19th century saw a great forgetting, when the population chose to keep silent about its convict origins. Now of course everyone wants a convict ancestor, and Kenneally shows how her own research on her family origins led to a convict – and made her, for a moment, ‘a convict princess’.

This is a rich and rewarding book, clearly written and entertaining, but with a good deal of meat on its bones. To my unqualified eyes, it seems about as up-to-date as one can expect in such a fast-moving field. I can’t recommend it too highly.

NB: This review was written as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

From Cover to Cover

A few weeks ago, Melbourne University Press released Jonathan Green’s new book.  The Australian’s Strewth column saw a Gotcha moment, because The Year My Politics Broke (2013) has a surprisingly similar cover to David Malouf, Ransom (2009).



Continue reading

Occupying Wall Street and Boundary Streets

Wall Street.  The name has been in the news lately – describing a concept, capitalism, rather than a real place.  But the Occupy Wall Street movement has thrown up some interesting historical references – so let’s look again at the place itself.

The Dutch who settled Nieuw-Amsterdam in the early 17th century first occupied the southern tip of Manhattan Island, the area around Battery Point.  Along the northern limit of their settlement, using African slaves, they built a defensive wall or palisade.  The earliest map of the settlement, the Castello Plan, shows this fortification along what is now Wall Street.

Early New York / New Amsterdam

Castello Plan, from Wikimedia Commons. North is on the right, with Wall St running from top to bottom.

The Wall marked the boundary between the Dutch settlement and the local Lenape people of Manahatta, part of the Algonquin language group, who ‘sold’ Manhattan Island to Peter Stuyvesant and the Dutch West India Company for 60 guilders worth of trade goods, and who were no doubt startled to discover later that the exchange was meant to take away their land in perpetuity.  (Many people on Wall Street today have the same problem with derivatives.)

It was partly a defensive barrier, but also a place to trade.  The Dutch, after all, had come as fur traders, so wanted good relations with the local tribes.  But a tradition began – so they say – that Native Americans who hung around the settlement were evicted at dusk, with Wall Street marking the boundary between civilized and savage worlds.  (Maybe it still does, though which side are the savages these days?)

While Broadway followed a Lenape pathway, and was sympathetic to the local topography, Wall Street was not, running directly at right angles to the ancient route.

Fast forward from Peter Stuyvesant and his 17th century colonists to 19th century Brisbane.

Boundary St, Brisbane

Brisbane has many streets called Boundary Street, but 2, through Spring Hill to the north of the river, and West End to the south, are critical.  These streets too run in straight lines in defiance of local topography, a good hint that early surveyors were involved.  Using chains and trigonometry, the surveyors marked out straight lines across the landscape, carving out a chunk of land that would be put up for sale for town lots.

According to local tradition, both Boundary Streets also marked the border between the white township and the local Aborigines, who were ordered out of the town at dusk. [see History of the Boundary St Curfew put together by Storyteller Daryll Bellingham]

The evidence is sketchy, and often based on the repetition of the same oral tradition, but it goes back a long way.  In any case, as Brisbane was surveyed and sold, lot-by-lot, the surveyors’ pegs creeping across the landscape marked the alienation of the land from its original inhabitants.  In Australian law today, freehold title extinguishes native title, and introduces the idea of trespass on private land.

Meanwhile in America, the Occupy Wall Street movement has thrown up an interesting irony for today’s Native Americans, who argue that Wall Street is already occupied territory.

Algonquin territory

Guilty can’t be inherited, but property can be.  Forgive us our trespasses.

Our Sedentary Ways

Julia Gillard has been in Central Australia to talk to Aboriginal leaders.  No doubt most of these meetings took place in air conditioning, but she promised to visit several town camps as well.  So we can expect to see images of the Prime Minister and her advisors, looking awkward and uncomfortable, sitting in the dust with some selected long grassers.

Tony Abbott went to Alice Springs in April, and the photos show him, awkward and uncomfortable, hunkered down on the floor of a humpy, engaged in painful small talk.

Politicians are on a hiding to nothing really.  They always look awkward and uncomfortable in these places, because they are – and not just because no government of either complexion has ever satisfactorily healed the gaping wound which is the relationship between Aborigines and the rest of Australia.

They are also awkward and uncomfortable because they are.  Unlike their hosts, comfortably sitting cross-legged on the ground, most of us, including politicians, haven’t sat that way since we left kindergarten – though all that cycling probably means that Tony Abbott’s pelvic floor is in better condition than most.

There are various ways of categorising human beings, not all invidious.  One that we don’t often consider, but which is surprisingly potent, is the great divide between those societies where people sit on the ground / tapa cloth / tatami mat / Persian carpet and those who sit in chairs.

These patterns of behaviour are learned in early childhood.  I went to kindergarten in Amsterdam in the 1950s.  In a cold climate, we spent most of our time indoors, sitting on small chairs at small tables, playing in fairly sedentary ways, with paper and scissors and glue.  We sat at a table to eat our sandwiches, cut in tiny squares, with a fork.

Then I came back to Australia, where children my age had spent years at kindy, cross legged on the ground, eating their sandwiches with their fingers.  At 5 years old my fate was already sealed.  Forget the lotus position; I couldn’t even sit cross-legged like the other kids.  I don’t remember, but I’m guessing that they wriggled more than I did, as they gradually adjusted to life in a chair, at a desk, after years sitting on the ground.

No doubt everywhere, but particularly perhaps in Central Australia, there are people who move comfortably between chairs and the ground, but for most of us, it is hard to adjust.  So Gillard and Abbott will wriggle uncomfortably on the ground – and perhaps Aboriginal children will wriggle more at their school desks than their peers.

This divide goes back a long way.  The Egyptian elite used chairs; in the Fertile Crescent most people did not. In his excavations in Ur, Leonard Woolley studied the burial of an elite woman, Queen Shub-Ad.  From the skeleton, Woolley thought she had spent most of her time in a kneeling position, perhaps a similar style to the Japanese seiza.  China was using chairs by the 12th century, but in Japan the change from kneeling on the ground, or (for men only) sitting cross-legged, is only now taking place.  Sometimes the change goes with new technology.  Traditionally, tailors sat cross-legged to sew by hand, but when sewing machines arrived, they moved on to chairs.  No doubt computers have had the same effect.

For the Greeks and Romans, a chair indicated high status, just as it did in medieval Europe: kings sat on thrones while their courtiers stood; bishops sat on the cathedras that gave their name to cathedrals.  But you don’t need a chair-based culture to show high status.  In the Middle East, everyone sits on the ground to eat, but the most important person will certainly be served the best food at the meal.

When people from each side of the sitting divide meet, the result can be strange.  I’ve seen this interface at work, waiting for a plane at Dubai airport.  Courtesy of Emirates airlines, the wealthy of two separate worlds cross paths here, some waiting in family groups, sitting on the ground, some on the seats – all equally jetlagged.  The airport offers 2 sets of toilets too, recognizing that sitting in chairs has given us westerners shortened Achilles tendons that make squatting for long periods difficult!

Politicians struggle when they are confronted with the sitting divide.  They want images that show themselves in a position of command or camaraderie, but neither is easy, when your lower back is killing you, whether you are on the ground of a shanty town, or seated in a kindy chair, as John Howard was when – briefly – spooked by Mark Latham in 2003.

Anonymous: Reception of the Venetian Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511
There is a wonderful image of such a meeting across the sitting divide from 1511, when a Venetian artist painted ‘The Reception of the Venetian Ambassadors in Damascus’.  There is no doubt who is receiving whom.  The Venetians are led by a man in red with a black cap, while behind him huddle a bevy of black-coated ministerial aides.  In front of them sits the Mamluk viceroy of the Ottoman Empire, in a magnificent headdress, with two white clothed underlings behind him.  All three are seated cross-legged on a raised dais, which has been covered with a fine carpet.

Reception of the Ambassadors, detail

Anonymous, Reception of the Venetian Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511, detail. From Wikimedia Commons

Padded seating such as this eventually became the item of furniture we call an ottoman.  Checking in the Oxford English Dictionary that I’ve got this definition right, I find an illustrative quote: ‘Draw up the ottoman; so long as you have a spine, rely upon it.’  In their dealings with Aborigines, I hope one day our politicians find the spine to sit down comfortably with them and cross the divide.

Sandgate, in a good pair of boots

I don’t do marathons.  Pheidippides dropped dead at the end of the first ever marathon in 490 BCE, and I’ve no intention of following in his footsteps.  However WordPress.com recently asked its approximately half million bloggers to participate in a 5k. run or walk during the week leading up to 10 April.  And as I’m very grateful to any organization with a business plan that includes a free blog space, I’ve done as instructed. Yesterday morning I went for a 5k walk around my home suburb of Sandgate.

The historian Manning Clark famously said that a historian needs a good pair of boots.  And it’s true.  Ideally, to get a sense of the history of a place, you need to get around its geography.  I used to live in Brisbane’s western suburbs, a featureless sprawl of postwar chamferboard and tile, where it was very difficult to get a sense of the pre-settlement landscape.  Once the natural watercourses are funneled into culverts, and the hills and valleys are tamed into real estate, it is hard to get a sense of place, or of a prior Aboriginal presence.

Sandgate is different.  In Sandgate, the past is still visible; the bones are close to the surface. Lagoons, escarpments and the sea shape the land, and the natural cycles of the seasons are visible too: the coral spawns in summer and brings in fish; sting rays dig into the sand on the full tide;  wading birds migrate from the northern hemisphere in summer.  It’s easy to get a sense of what this place looked like, a century, or two centuries, ago.

Heading out the front gate, I’m at the bottom of the cliff after which my street, Cliff St., is named.  At the top of this cliff, in December 1859, a man on horseback waited for the new Governor, Sir George Bowen, to sail into Moreton Bay.  As soon as the ship rounded Moreton Island, he set out to ride the 12 miles into Brisbane, to alert the local dignitaries.  Bowen brought with him the Letters Patent that proclaimed the new colony of Queensland.

Turning left, it’s a couple of hundred metres walk along Cliff St to the corner, to reach the shores of Moreton Bay.  To the right I can see the Sandgate pier, but I’m heading northwards, to the left, along Flinders Parade.  This part of southeast Queensland once had the largest Aboriginal population of anywhere in Australia, because of its abundant food resources – fish, water birds, turtle and eel – in the salt water of the bay, and the fresh water lagoons.  Now the mangroves and sea grasses have gone, and a sea wall, built as a depression project during the 1930s, has been topped with another layer on concrete blocks – against a rising sea level?

On the corner of Cliff St and Flinders Parade is the Baptist Church, built in the 1880s.  It was built in a style known as ‘carpenter Gothic’, as an ecumenical space for all Protestant denominations.  My grandfather worshipped there as a young man, and I’ve been to weddings and funerals there, but it’s secular now, a children’s crèche.

Sandgate was proclaimed a town in 1880.  When the railway came through in 1882, it became a popular holiday destination, full of boarding houses for naughty weekends or respectable honeymoons, as well as a wealthy town in its own right.  Walking along Flinders Parade, I pass a number of old houses from this period, all with their own names: Cremorne, Torquay, Seaview…

Torquay is currently for sale, and I visited for a peep during an ‘open for inspection’ day a few weeks back.  Wide timber floors and walls, complete with stenciled paneling, high ceilings and generous spaces, broad cool verandahs, a classic Queenslander.  Beside the kitchen, there is a room with a separate entrance that must have been the maid’s bedroom.  It is also the only house I’ve ever seen with its own bomb shelter, built during World War II, when people with houses on the waterfront were frightened of attack from Japanese midget submarines.

The cross streets, very boringly, are numbered rather than named.  I walked past First and Second Avenue to Third Avenue, which is low, and floods in heavy rain, such as the January floods.  Old maps show that there was once an occasional waterway linking the First Lagoon – Einbumkin Lagoon – to the sea at this point, a route for migrating eels that is now cut off by the sea wall and concrete walls around the lagoon.  But those walls have contained the lagoon since the 1960s, and the eels are still there, so are they making their way overland in wet weather, or travelling underground through the storm water drains?

I walked on, past a couple of restaurants and an ice cream outlet, to Seventh Avenue.  On the corner is Cremorne.  The house was owned by a theatrical family, and named after the Cremorne vaudeville theatre in South Brisbane, which opened in 1911.  The actor John McCallam grew up there.  Now there’s a new Cremorne Theatre at South Bank, and the old Cremorne at Sandgate is due for renovation.

I turned up Seventh Avenue, away from the water, but before leaving, it’s worth a last glance out to sea. I’ve been walking in a gentle crescent along the esplanade, so the view is broader than from my own street.  To the left are the Glasshouse Mountains, straight ahead is Moreton Island, and to the right is Sandgate pier, with the cranes of the port of Brisbane now clearly outlined behind it.  This northerly part of Moreton Bay is called Bramble Bay, after HMS Bramble, which mapped the coastline in 1851.

Behind the avenues, parallel with the waterfront, the land has been rising gently, and Seventh Avenue ends at another cliff face, with a pathway up to the main road above.  Somewhere here, below the escarpment, was a native police encampment during the 1850s and 60s.  The Native Police were a quasi-military force of Aborigines, recruited out of their own tribal areas, under the control of European officers, whose job was to police the frontier.  And Sandgate was the frontier, in the 1850s.  The first land sales took place in 1853.

It’s an easy walk up the pathway to Brighton Rd, then across the road to the right of the Catholic church, and take the pathway down to the Second Lagoon, Dowse Lagoon, named after an early settler, Tom Dowse.  In 1858 Aborigines attacked him near the lagoon, triggering the arrival of the Native Police.  ‘Lieut. Wheeler, of the Native Police, cleared out the aboriginals, who never again troubled Sandgate,’ reported E.V. Stevens ominously.

Dowse Lagoon is brimming with fresh water at the moment, though 3 years ago it was almost empty, with scrubby weeds growing across most of the surface.  Spoonbills and black swans used to breed here.  I haven’t seen them back since the drought, though a lot of effort has gone into making this area more bird (and people) friendly, with bird hides, nesting boxes and toilets.

I followed the pathway around the lagoon, then up the small rise, barely high enough to call a hill, that separates the two lagoons.  Here on the rise are the various symbols of authority: Catholic and Anglican churches at either end, and between them, the state school, the RSL, the bowling club, and the magistrates court.  One oddity is the British Australian Club, established 1958, dating from the era of the Ten Pound Pom, when new British immigrants came here to live because it was cheap, its grand homes broken up into flats and boarding houses after the war.

I walked down the hill to the shopping centre on Brighton Rd, its centre of gravity being pulled inexorably towards the new supermarket at one end; the rest of the shopping strip now looks rather like a row of teeth, where every loose tooth destabilizes its neighbours.

Ahead, enclosed now in a one-way traffic system, is the old war memorial, with a garden and a small rotunda.  Then across the road to the Town Hall, built in 1909 in a rather splendid art deco style. Sandgate’s town hall is one of a number of similar town halls that date from before Brisbane’s suburban councils were amalgamated in 1925.  All of them, these days, lack real purpose, except to house the public library and host an occasional concert.

Then I’m back in Cliff St., heading for home.  I’ve probably walked 5k, though I can’t be sure since I didn’t take a pedometer with me.  It doesn’t matter really.  The exercise proves once again that Sandgate is rich in history – its bones are close to the surface.  I just wish mine were.