When Woolloongabba was Wattle Scented

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Have They Found Under Brisbane City Hall?

In recent months the Brisbane City Council has announced the discovery of many relics amongst  the excavations of city hall. While there have been a number of finds, the most recent discovery was of a significant streetscape and the foundations of at least two structures. The recent finds were described in the media as, "A cobblestone street and horse stables from Brisbane's pioneering past have been discovered during excavation work at City Hall." and that "The buildings were made from porphyry [stone] then they added concrete and bitumen throughout the area. It was a shock discovery amongst the excavation of the halls auditorium and a team of archaeologists are busy trying to make sense of the find. Here at the McWhirters Project we couldn't help ourselves and decided to see what we could discover amongst the newspaper resources of Trove Australia.

The final selection of the site for the current Brisbane City Hall was a local government showdown. Two other sites were considered for City Hall, the corner block where the Aurora Tower stands today (Cnr. Creek and Queen  streets) was an early contender but subdivided into 17 individual blocks, the other controversial site was opposite Centenary Place (bordered by Wickham and Anne streets). It was later to be the site of Brisbane's proposed Roman Catholic Basilica, which was a pet project of the influential Archbishop Duhig. There were allegations of impropriety involving the church's selling of the site to the council and the church in turn bought it back a short time later and proposed the cathedral. Foundations were laid in the late 1920's and the site became part of Brisbane folk lore, known as the Crypt, and sat derelict and idle for eighty years until it was redeveloped as an apartment complex, Cathedral Place.

In the early twentieth century King George Square was known as Market Square and the site where City Hall stands today became known as Town Hall Reserve once the site was finally decided. The reserve actually housed what was known as the Corporation Yards, originally livestock yards until an outbreak of ticks in the late 1800's closed down the sales yards and  the site was utilised as a general stores and works yard for the local council. There was a tar pit, gravel pits and all manner of tool, plant and equipment used to build and maintain the city's infrastructure. The yard was also used for the sharpening and maintenance of local labourers tools (in particular stone masons) and stored the paving stones and curbing used in building and maintaining Brisbane's early streets. To make way for the foundations of City Hall, the Corporation Yards were relocated to Constance St., Fortitude Valley which  were still in operation up until only a few years ago.

The cobblestone street discovered may not have been an actual street but rather part of a network of pathways and drive ways that allowed the movement of plant and equipment. The stables may have housed the horses the council used in dray teams and would further support the theory of an internal road network on the yard site. The buildings found  made from the porphyry stone were likely structures from the original sale yards, the reference to the concrete and asphalt makes sense as there would have been plenty spare as there was a tar pit on the site and concrete would have been in plentiful supply.

Whilst researching our City Hall Project we found lot's of interesting material; newspaper articles, sketches, maps and diagrams of City Hall. Some may have not been seen since they were originally published in the newspapers decades ago so we will post these along with the source material supporting some our speculation on what's been found under Brisbane City Hall. A report on the find is due from the archaeological team in a few weeks and excitedly we wait to hear what the experts have to say.

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