When Woolloongabba was Wattle Scented

Saturday, April 30, 2011

What's Under Brisbane City Hall? - Skate Rinks, Tar Pits and Mysterious Phantom Building!

We published our speculation on a  what's under Brisbane City Hall in a pre-Easter rush, and in our haste omitted the citing of any source material but we have been busy clipping and snipping away. The clipping above is of the most comprehensive article we found in relation to the early construction work of City Hall. It gives a great overview of the construction of the Town Hall foundations, an account of activities of the Corporation Yards and the protracted battle of where the hall was to be built. You can view and read the full article at Trove Australia by following the citations at the end of the post.

"The site was used in recent recent years as a storage yard for the City Council drays, tar supplies and other municipal odds and ends. Incidentally it may be mentioned that the site question was for many years the subject of protracted City Council debates, while the final location of the new Town Hall was still undecided. The aldermen who favoured Albert square had many hard controversial battles to fight with those who in and out of season espoused the rival claims of the Valley, and it was only when the foundation stone of the new building had been laid twice that the way was at length clear for a beginning to be made with the Town Hall."

The Bradley and Holland car dealership on the Adelaide and Albert St. corner of the City Hall site was originally the Columbia Skating rink. The amazing thing about the ice rink is that it was opened in 1888. Yep, of the all the things that the early colonial settlers needed they managed to build  roller skating rink when Brisbane had been an independent colony for all of 30 years or so.

When the mysterious archaeological site  under City Hall was recently unearthed, there was mention of plenty of tar being present on the site. The above clipping reports a fire in  the the tar pit at the Corporation Yards in 1917. The tar pit was situated on the Anne and Roma St side of the site and the report makes note of the loss of one hundred gallons of tar and that shed housing the pit was destroyed by fire.

And finally, a mystery and some amusing local government argy bargy. A report titled , "A  Municipal "Dug Out"" published in 1919  claims that large sums of unauthorised money had been spent on the construction of a building within the grounds of the Corporation Yards. The allegation was that this was not a modest building and that it was used by the Alderman of the city. In a prior Under City Hall post we published a photo of the yard prior to its clearing that shows a number of ramshackle buildings and stone foundations on the site. Could it have been that some mysterious, phantom building existed on the site that was demolished prior to the final removal and clearing of the yards.
"Alderman Buchanan suggested that it was a miniature Town Hall, and another that it was a dug-out, but whether as a place of refuge for Aldermen from infuriated ratepayers was not made clear."

We'll refer to this as the the "What's Under City Hall Mystery...Mystery!"

1921 'NEW TOWN HALL.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864-1933), 4 November, p. 6, viewed 1 May, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20517784
1888 'THE COLUMBIA SKATING RINK.', The Brisbane Courier(Qld. : 1864-1933), 28 June, p. 6, viewed 1 May, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3478980
1919 'A Municipal " Dug-out.".', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864-1933), 29 January, p. 6, viewed 1 May, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20236519
1917 'FIRES.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864-1933), 20 October, p. 4, viewed 1 May, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20193739


  1. Wow this is fascinating stuff! I was told that there was a skating rink on the site of City Hall but I could hardly believe it. I think it was a roller skating rink though, rather than an ice rink.

    What an amazing find!

  2. Melissa. We stand corrected on the ice skate rink. As you speculated it was in fact a roller skating rink. We have made some amendments. :) Thanks!

  3. I have an artist's drawing of the inside of the Columbia rink as built by John Young (G-G-Father). Will 'dig it out' one day. Cheers, NY

  4. my great grandfather, john william young built the Columbia rink around 1888 -
    John won the tender to build the Columbia Skating Rink, which was a huge commission. Situated on the Town Hall Reserve site – now King George Square – it had space for 600 spectators with a gallery at one end for l00 people, a magnificent wooden floor, a bandstand, cloakrooms, dressing rooms, and shower baths. At the grand opening, the mayor praised John’s workmanship.

  5. Some drawings of the Columbia building: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10217995922148266&set=gm.2182224988490198&type=3&theater&ifg=1

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