Tag Archives: sandgate

The Brisbane City Council elections

There are local council elections across Queensland today. Here in Brisbane, we are voting for Mayor as well as the local councilors. According to reports the election will be tight – and I can vouch for the fact during the last fortnight we have been drowned by a tidal wave of polls, robot-calls, letter drops, emails and – wonder of wonders! – one real live human doorknocker.

The Brisbane City Council is the largest local government authority in Australia – and one of the largest in the world. It dates from 1925, when 20 local shires and towns were consolidates into a single-mega-council. This size has given the BCC greater political heft than the local councils in other Australian capital cities, and the Mayors of Brisbane gain extra authority from the fact that they are popularly elected.

The creation of the Brisbane City Council came as part of a package of reforms introduced by the Queensland Government under the radical Premier Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore. Over a few years in the early 1920s, Queensland abolished the upper house of Parliament, abolished capital punishment (the first place in the British Empire to do so), introduced a compulsory age of retirement for judges – and converted local councils into the BCC.

The creation of a mega-council was controversial, as amalgamations always are. Where, for instance, was the appropriate boundary of Brisbane? I live in Sandgate, on the extreme northern edge of the city, and in 1925 Sandgate was a separate town, with a separate mayor and council. The locals didn’t want to join Brisbane, especially as they had just recently (1911) spent a small fortune building a brand new art deco town hall, designed by the local architect George Prentice.


There are other, similar, late 19th and earch 20th century council chambers across Brisbane that became redundant as a result of amalgamation, such as South Brisbane Town Hall. It was okay for George Prentice though, whose firm Prentice and Hall went on to get the commission to build the new City Hall.

There are great advantages in having a larger council area. It is easier to design an integrated transport system, for instance, or to borrow library books across a wide network of council libraries. Other effects are more intangible. The Mayor of Brisbane – or Ipswich or Townsville or Toowoomba – has greater political clout in dealing with other levels of government, and the state government doesn’t carry the can alone for every urban misfortune. In New South Wales, state governments rise and fall trying to deal with Sydney’s transport problems. Here in South East Queensland, the problem of urban congestion is shared – not fixed, mind – but shared.

Everywhere, corruption flourishes at the local government level – all those zoning applications and tenders for supply of goods or services are a great temptation to small councils and smaller councilors. I suspect that the size of the Brisbane City Council has kept at bay the sort of small but profitable fiddles that occur in the suburban councils of Sydney or the other capitals. Though I’m not naïve – a larger government area sometimes just leads to the fiddles scaling up too.

Because voting is compulsory in Australia, the habit of voting is strong, even at this most humble level of government. So I’ll be fronting up at the polling booth this morning. Queuing to vote seems to me a mark of adulthood, and an act of community solidarity. It reminds me a little of that other habit of the good citizen: the ceremonial weekend visit to a Bunnings warehouse in search of hardware supplies. They both involve the whole community, people line up as couples or in family groups, they speak of respect for property and stability, and they both have sausage sizzles.

Keep the red (and black and gold) flag flying

There’s a cat and mouse game going on in my suburb of Sandgate, and until recently, I didn’t even realize it.

Across the street from my house is a strip of bush land rising in front of a cliff face. The area is too narrow, and too low lying, to ever be built on, so it’s a refuge for wildlife. There are a few tall gum trees, scruffy undergrowth and a large clump of bamboo that may hint at a Chinese market garden once upon a time. It hosts our street parties, until the mosquitoes drive us home. Once a week a group of women do tai chi there in the mornings; a few years back, there was a regular game of boules on Sunday afternoon.

I’ve lived here for more than a decade, and ever since I moved here, I’ve occasionally seen an Aboriginal flag painted along this strip. Unlike graffiti that defaces buildings and screams ‘Look at me!’, these flags are always unobtrusive, painted on natural features such as trees or rocks. Just a gentle reminder, I feel, to me and you and the tai chi ladies, that people have lived in this place for a very long time. Continue reading

Are you a local?

Last weekend our neighbourhood hosted the Sandcliffe Writers Festival, named after two of the participating suburbs, Sandgate and Shorncliffe. I missed the Saturday, but I spent part of Sunday afternoon in the audience at the Sandgate Town Hall for a session entitled ‘Loving the Australian Landscape’. I knew almost nothing about what to expect, except that it began at 1:30, was free and – most importantly for someone of my natural apathy on a Sunday afternoon – was happening about 5 minutes walk from home.

Foolishly imaging it might be hard to get a seat, I arrived early. As I came in the door 2 volunteers grabbed me, one with a camera.
‘Are you a local?’ they asked.
‘Well, yes…’ I live at the other end of the street.
So they hung onto me as a useful (and possibly rare) prop for photographs with Our Local Member, and in due course I was squeezed in between him and Matt Condon, the first of the speakers to turn up. I’ve no idea what they did with the photos, but as they forgot to get my name, if I feature in them, I will have to be labeled ‘A Local’. Continue reading

A Mystery Object in Moreton Bay

Last week, someone contacted me by email to ask for help to find out more about this object:

seal found under Hornibrook highway

seal found under Hornibrook Highway

He thought it might have some historical significance. I’ve no idea, but I wonder whether the hive mind of the Internet may be able to help identify it. It seems to be a seal stamp designed to impress sealing wax on the back of an envelope. But how old is it? Continue reading

Two Pioneers of Aviation and the accidents of history

Powered flight has transformed our lives during the last century.  Like many technological breakthroughs, the history of flight is usually written in terms of great men, the heroes of invention like Orville and Wilbur Wright, who were the first men to build and fly an aeroplane successfully at Kitty Hawk.  But heroic individuals explain only so much.  Context, circumstances, contingency, all play a role as well.

Which brings me to the story of Igor and Vladimir, and the curious connection between my suburb of Sandgate, on the shores of Moreton Bay, and the helicopter.

Around the early years of the 20th century, many people were experimenting with the idea of a heavier-than-air flying machine. In France and Germany, England and America, amateur aviators tinkered with kites, gliders and balloons. Even in Australia, on the remote edge of the British Empire, Lawrence Hargrave played a part with his experiments with box kites.

Russia had its enthusiasts too.  Continue reading

Blood in the Water: shark attacks in Australian history

There was yet another fatal shark attack off the West Australian coast last week, the 5th this year, making Western Australia ‘the world’s deadliest place for shark attacks’.  Statistically, the chance of dying in a shark attack is very low – just as the chance of dying in a plane crash is low – but statistics don’t really matter. We are creatures of the land.  In the ocean or the air we are literally out of our element and vulnerable.

Continue reading

Thomas Dowse: Unaccompanied Minor

There is a lake in Sandgate, my suburb on the edge of Moreton Bay, called Dowse Lagoon.  It is named after one of Sandgate’s first European settlers, Thomas Dowse, (1809-1885) who settled here with his wife and family in 1842.  Thomas Dowse was an ex-convict.  In September 1824, at the age of 15, he was tried in the Old Bailey:

for stealing, on the 16th of August , at St. Andrew, Holborn , a coat, value 2 l. a waistcoat, value 5 s. a pair of trowsers, value 10 s. a handkerchief, value 4 s. and a shirt, value 4 s.

He stole these items and pawned them for 35 shillings.

This is where the story gets strange, for the main witness in the case was Catherine Dowse, a widow – and Thomas’s mother.  The clothes belonged to Tom’s brother (though technically they were Catherine’s, since minors could not own property).

So what was going on?  Continue reading

Teredo – worms shall devour them

Places matter to people.  In my suburb, one of our best-loved places is the Shorncliffe pier.  Throughout the day, it is a place for tai chi and joggers, crab pots and fishing.  In the early evening, it is full of friendly walkers, with or without dogs.  People sprinkle the ashes of those they love from its railings, or use it as a backdrop for wedding photos.  It was recently used in a UK television ad available on YouTube here.

They used to say that Sandgate is 12 miles from Brisbane – or 13 at low tide.  It is a long way out to deep water, so early settlers could not get their goods – or themselves – from ship to shore without wading.  As the community grew, in 1865 they made plans ‘for the construction of a PIER or LANDING STAGE at Sandgate’.  This pier opened to the public in 1882.

From the start, the pier had a dual purpose, as a commercial landing stage, but also as a popular promenade.  Piers were a part of the tradition of beach ‘watering places’, growing popular amongst all classes by the mid-19th century.  They were destinations for city day-trippers who came by railway to enjoy a day at the beach, perhaps swimming, but probably just strolling along the waterfront, and enjoying the concerts, food outlets, Punch and Judy shows and other commercial activities that took place on and around a pier.

Shorncliffe pier

Our pier followed the social model of British piers such as the West Pier at Brighton (1866) and the Cleveden Pier on the Severn (1869), both built at much the same time.  People came by coach, and then by rail (1882) to enjoy a day at the beach.  But while the British piers were mainly built of iron, wood was much cheaper in Brisbane, so our pier is wooden.

A few weeks ago, council inspectors found marine borers in its timber pilings and the pier has been closed until further notice.  Since then there have been petitions and a rally, a local newspaper campaign and a lot of promises.  A local election next Saturday has raised the temperature. Continue reading

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.