When I grew up in post WWII Brisbane, it had the reputation of being ‘Australia’s biggest country town’. I don’t know what contributed to this idea: perhaps it was its laid-back lifestyle, a lack of restaurants, no nightlife (apart from ‘going to the pictures’), its overall lack of sewerage, streets almost deserted of road traffic jams, with many roads of bitumen down the middle and dirt to the gutters. Brisbane was largely a city of branch offices with Sydney and Melbourne vying for their headquarters.
Then came along Clem Jones as our Lord Mayor and he transformed Brisbane into a modern city with the introduction of fully sewered housing, fully bituminised roads, the abolition of trams and trolley buses to name just a few of his many accomplishments.
Then Brisbane hosted the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the 1988 World Expo. Both these events helped to catapult our city onto the world stage.
Brisbane has never looked back since then. Unfortunately, our very liveable city has become too popular and traffic chokes our streets. The pace of life has picked up and competition is keen. But I guess that is the price we pay for success.
The definitive histories of Brisbane during World War II have all been long written, sometimes accurately, so these are just the recollections, often inaccurate, of what Brisbane looked like to a schoolboy and youth of that era.
We lived in New Farm from the early 1930’s. New Farm was a very river-oriented suburb; the wharves and warehouses were a big part of life. Big liners like the Strathnaver and Strathaird seemed to tower over the whole suburb. Each year the Navy sent the Canberra and Sydney at Ekka time, and we would visit them at New Farm wharf. It was a personal thing when each in turn was lost during the war.
Things were looking up in the late 30’s, the Depression was over, buildings were going up, and I could watch progress on the Storey Bridge from my classroom at St James in Boundary St. But war was obviously coming, there was no euphoria about it, just dread, an attitude of “oh no, not again”. And so, it started, slowly at first. Evans, Deakin finished their Storey bridge, and were persuaded that ships were not much different from other tanks and silos, so Kangaroo Point got its shipyard.
At Nudgee in 1941, we farewelled two members of the previous senior class, and within 6 months had memorial services for them. Things then got really bad. Sydney was lost with all hands, then Parramatta with heavy loss, then came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the fall of Singapore, and their repeated attacks on Darwin – all within a few months. Current history writers talk of cover-ups, that’s nonsense, information was plentiful, it’s just that disasters were unremarkable, there were so many.
It was a bit of a worry as all our trained forces were half way around the world. Us school kids were sent bush, heaven knows why. But sanity prevailed and by Easter we were back home. The digging of slit trenches was begun around the schoolyard, but boys turned practice drills into a re-run of WW1 trench warfare, so they were stopped.
One day I was watching two fighters stunting over Sandgate, when one nosedived, followed by a thump. He was gone.
There was a big anti-aircraft unit, searchlights and guns, near Nudgee Station, and for most of 1942 they practiced on aircraft, we thought this more fun than homework. I left school and started work as an apprentice Toolmaker at the Rocklea ammunition factory in early 1943. They were making 3.5 million .303 shells per week plus .38 and .455, and 25 pounder shells. And this was the smallest of 7 factories in Australia! Where did they all go? At the end of 1943 they had enough, and switched to rebuilding aircraft engines, with test bays in the bush at the end of Compo Rd, now Evans Rd. The factory hadn’t really get going properly when the war moved too far north to make it worthwhile, so it closed and I shifted to Evans-Deakin shipyard.
Brisbane was a real mess by this time. It was the first decent port this side of the troubles, so things tended to concentrate here. Macarthur turned up, Canungra was set up for jungle training, all wharves were occupied and other temporary piers were put in wherever possible, USS Benson (or was it Benton) arrived at New Farm with its submarines, Eagle Farm grew new hangars and became the major bomber base, Archerfield housed fighters, and light bombers. I think the river could dock over 1000 ships, and the Bay was thick with others waiting.
I recall watching the arrival of a spectacular mass ferry flight into Eagle Farm of light bombers, mainly Mitchells and Bostons that took most of one day to get in and down. Crashed aircraft were stripped and piled four high in dumps at Eagle Farm, Bulimba, Enoggera, and Meeandah, each of 20 or 30 acres – a lot of grief there.
All this stressed Brisbane quite heavily. The civilian population was only about 250 thousand, and I was told once that about 1 million troops were quartered within 50 miles, a 4 to 1 ratio. All these fit and trained men were very toey, so the brawls were legendary. It was almost an entertainment to go into the Valley to watch the fights. The best riot, because it was harmless, was by the entire 7th Division. They had been overseas since 1940, did Kokoda, and were not allowed beer in camp. They all marched out of Enoggera, down Queen St, acquired a large keg from a pub near the Post Office, broached it there, and went back to camp. They got their wet canteens.
Brisbane was dim and gloomy, and not pretty. The combination of aboveground water mains, ugly concrete blast shelters, blackout lighting, lack of upkeep, and shabby austerity made for a general run-down look, and it did not really brighten up for another 20 years. The Americans kept their black troops, who were mainly labour battalions, segregated on the south side, and they were quite severe on any transgressions. A workmate told me that he saw a Negro shot on Victoria Bridge over this. In fact, the treatment of their blacks probably did more harm to our opinion of them than any other single factor. Actually, the individual American was usually a very nice bloke, but in the mass, they were a lot more foreign than Hollywood had led us to expect. Just in odd little ways. Macarthur himself was too flamboyant for our taste and his army was not much respected, but the air force and navy, and especially the Marines were highly regarded.
I joined the Evans Deakin shipyard late in 1945, installing the main engines in HMAS Murchison, a sister ship to the frigate now permanently on display at Southbank. I was thus a little late to be personally involved in their wartime work, but I knew and heard much about it and it was magnificent. There were few trained tradesmen, so apprentices matured early and it was nothing to see a handful of 17 year-old’s under one or two tradesmen heading off to Colmslie Dock to do a major job on a crippled ship. The submarine flotilla could provide some nasty jobs, like flooded compartments with dead crew, and one had its whole forward compartment blown off, which Evans Deakin rebuilt.
Shipbuilding was very satisfying: to see a pile of rusty steel take shape, get launched, fitted out, and then come alive as the boilers fire up and the engines turn over, is one of life’s great experiences. Sea trials were always a great day, I was out with Murchison, then Dalby, Dubbo, Binburra and Bilkurra – all good ships that gave no trouble. It was a pity that the yard could not last, but too much of inefficient work practices, demarcations, and union restrictions had been inherited from the Clyde so it had to go.
Even though the Mirimar had been impressed for wartime service, it continued to service Amity and even in the black days of 1943 a group of fellow apprentices introduced me to beautiful Pt Lookout. Not that it was any picnic getting across the island, I recall midnight in winter, pouring rain, on the back of an Army FWD truck, bashing through bush. On a later visit we were standing on the beach looking at the half of the Rufus King wreck, then quite close inshore, when some air force planes turned up for target practice. First came a Spitfire, very pretty and interesting to watch. Then a Mosquito. Lots of guns, its speed would check noticeably when firing. Then a Liberator bomber. Gun turrets all over, all firing. Now there were spurts of sand kicking up not far away, so time to drop the rods and run.
One day it was all over, they all left, and we wondered at the quiet. Brisbane slept for years.
(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘Moreton Bay People 2012’ (now out of print)
Raising the “Maid of Sker”. (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)
Further to my previous post of 28.04.2018‘Kleinschmidt’s Depot at Grey Street’, Frank Willoughby had also given me the above photo.
The Kleinschmidt’s vessels had long been transporting sand from Stradbroke Island for the Brisbane Glassworks at South Brisbane/West End. Eventually some of their boats such as the “Maid of Sker” and the “S’port” were converted to gravel barges working the Brisbane River. In the above photo, the “Maid of Sker” had sunk where the Merivale Street rail bridge is now situated.The vessels from left are: “Regina”, “26”, “Maid of Sker” (underwater), and a barge “Glen Iris”.In the background (from left) are Carmichael’s sawmill, Foggitt Jones (meatworks), and QGM Glassworks.
Frank Willoughby had also supplied the following photo of the “S’Port” (a shortened form of Southport, where the Kleinschmidt’s depot was situated in the south of Moreton Bay.)
“S’port” at Depot under Grey Street Bridge (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)
and of the “Maid of Sker” in more happy circumstances above the surface of the water:
“Maid of Sker” loading sand at Canaipa (photo courtesy Frank Willoughby)
Kleinschmidt’s depot at Grey Street (photo courtesy Graham Day)
Robin Kleinschmidt writes:
The wharf, office and a house were on the upstream site of where the William Jolly Bridge is now. This photo is of the bins and storage areas of Moreton Sand and Gravel approximately where the Kurilpa Bridge enters the parkland today. It was the secondary part of their operations, but when the shipping on the bay began to lose out to the road and rail transport, this became their mainstay. They acquired it from a consortium of hardware retailers whose building company customers wanted a one stop shop which including the sand and gravel for their concreting. It was run poorly and without enthusiasm until Uncle Ted and his son Ray bought it. They had long been transporting sand from Stradbroke Island for the Brisbane Glassworks at South Brisbane/West End, and eventually some of their boats such as The Maid of Sker and the S’port were converted to gravel barges working the Brisbane River.
USS Ronald Reagan conducting rudder check in 2007 (photo by M. Jeremie Yoder)
The USS Ronald Reagan visited Brisbane again this week. Getting her into our port requires much planning. On a previous visit in 2007, Captain Steve Pelecanos had this to say about piloting her into Brisbane:
‘There are some episodes that stand out as highlights in one’s career. In 2007 I piloted the USS Ronald Reagan into Brisbane. At 343 metres long and about 78 metres wide, it is the biggest ship ever to come into Brisbane. The preparation for it involved going to the United States and working with the American Navy.
‘The channels in Brisbane aren’t really designed to accommodate ships of that length, so as part our briefing with the US Navy, the Brisbane harbour master requested that the pilotage be done on a simulator first to validate what we thought was possible, and to develop and agree to a methodology for bringing the ship in safely.
‘We identified the most difficult and challenging aspects of the pilotage and worked on those until we got them right. We then worked out where and at what stage of the tide we would be at each stage of the passage. There were other issues we had to deal with. For example, there was the vessel’s sewage capacity which, with 6,500 bodies on board, would be reached in about 4.5 hours – the duration of the pilotage. One of the priorities then, was to get the ship alongside ASAP to plug into a facility that could accept its sewage.
‘The morning the Ronald Reagan was due to enter we went on board to do our pre-passage briefing. Normally on merchant ships this is done with one or two people, but on the Ronald Reagan we were taken into this room and there were about three hundred people there. I nearly fell over. I couldn’t believe it. Every man and his dog were involved.
‘The briefing went on and on and on and everyone seemed to be asking more and more questions. I couldn’t see an end to it. We had worked out that we had to get the first line ashore at 16.30 to plug into the shore sewerage tanks and to do this we had to pass the Fairway Buoy at noon and time was slipping away. I kept telling the captain that we really had to get going. He said ‘Don’t worry we have plenty of time,’ and I said ‘No we haven’t.’ For security reasons, they won’t tell us what their top speed is. It’s all classified. In the end he said, ‘what speed do we need to get to the Fairway Buoy on time’ and I said, ‘we now need 40 knots captain and he said ‘No problem.’ ‘‘No problem?’ I was stunned.
‘The ship just came up on his command. I have never been on a ship displacing 100,000 tons doing a speed of 40 knots before. It was so smooth and silent. It was unbelievable. The ship itself was more manoeuvrable in real life than she had been in the simulator. The entire pilotage – the movement of the biggest ship ever to enter Brisbane, 6,500 soles and eighty aeroplanes on board – went like clockwork. I guess it’s the sort of legacy one can expect from careful and detailed planning.
‘Although at the time I didn’t think it was a big deal, on reflection it was probably the highlight of my pilotage career.’
Captain Steve Pelecanos
Chairman, Brisbane Marine Pilots
(Extract from Peter Ludlow’s book ‘The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities’)
Any businessman working in Brisbane after 1950 will be familiar with the well-known suit manufacturer George Symons Suits. It was with a great deal of pleasure then that, as a result of my profile in the Consultants Register in the Professional Historians Association (Queensland) webpage, I was asked by George’s granddaughter to write the history of the family behind the firm. Because I had been so lacking in the history of my own grandfather (it is limited to just three sentences!) I jumped at the chance, full of admiration for her far sightedness.
George Symons was born to a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church on the tiny island of Kastellorizo in 1895. Because of its strategic position just 2 km off the Turkish coast it straddles the two continents of Asia and Europe and has been controlled by many different countries over the ages. The fact that it has a magnificent, deep-water harbour has made it greatly sought after.
The beautiful harbour at the island of Kastellorizo
After WWI the economy of Kastellorizo, like the island itself, was in ruins, and its inhabitants were leaving in droves. George had been living in nearby Alexandria in Egypt where he married and learned the tailoring trade from his brother in law. His initial intention was to migrate to America where his wife’s family were involved in the fur trade. However for whatever reason he missed the boat so it was suggested that he migrate to Australia – the other country of Greek migration. This he did in 1924 and set up a successful tailoring business in the Melbourne’s prestigious Block Arcade in Collins Street. There he employed many of his Greek family and friends until 1950 when, on the advice of one of his brothers, he sold up and came to Queensland, where he bought a bigger factory in Ipswich. After an unsuccessful few years George transferred the business to Brisbane’s CBD – initially to Charlotte Street and then to Elizabeth Street next to the Treasury Hotel.
George was gradually to hand over control of the business to his son, Sim, who was later to be joined by Sim’s son, George, who introduced many advertising ideas for the firm. Most successful was the firm’s sports advertising, where, in 1972 George Symons Suits started giving a suit to the player of the week. Then they sponsored the Brisbane Bears, who later became the Lions and were also involved in other forms of sport. Tony Roche, the legendary tennis player and a relative, was also doing some advertising for the firm but asked for nothing in return.
The opening of the Myer Centre resulted in George Symons Suits moving to addresses South Brisbane, where it was eventually sold.
George Symons Suits employed many thousands of people over its half century of business in Brisbane. If you, the reader, have a story, either as an employee or a customer, please send it on to me. Like all family histories, it will never be finished, but I will be very happy to add your contribution to the saga of George Symons Suits.
Copy of the sign that graced George Symons Suit factory in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane
Collin Myers speaking to the Toondah Probus Club at their August General Meeting
Our Toondah Probus Club’s August Guest Speaker was journalist Collin Myers whose topic was ‘The Malcolm Frazer Experience’. After leaving school Collin worked for the Courier Mail, then Reuters in London, then for Malcolm Frazer, and then headed corporate affairs at Mount Isa Mines. During his long career, he accumulated a long list of memories and anecdotes. Here are just a few:
‘After I left school I worked as a journalist for the Courier Mail covering the Queensland State Parliament. It was an interesting time then and I interviewed many of the political personalities of the day: Les Dipplock, who was the last Minister for Public Instruction (now the Education portfolio); Premier Vince Gair, who used to float ideas with the journalists before introducing them into Parliament; Jack Duggan, with the Mount Isa strikes, Colin Bennett, and Clem Jones. In 1965 my boss at the Courier Mail announced that there was a journalist’s job going in Canberra. I had visited Canberra in my final year at school, so I applied for the position. I was the first person to have actually asked to go there, so I got the job.
‘These were the Menzies’ Years, and I was impressed that he was always courteous and valued the Westminster System of Government. As Prime Minister, Robert Menzies was especially courteous to the Opposition Leader, Arthur Calwell, because he thought that as long as Arthur was the Leader, he would have little chance of being toppled. Menzies also removed threats to his leadership from his own party by appointing would-be rivals to overseas postings such as the High Commissioner in London.
‘In 1967-8 I worked for Reuters in London. I found the politicians there interesting too: Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, if he didn’t want to answer a tricky question, always spoke quickly in his Yorkshire accent; Margaret Thatcher, at that time spoke in a high pitched voice – unlike her later lower tone as Prime Minister. These were interesting times politically, too: the 1967 Falklands crisis, the Rhodesian crisis, Common Market membership. Interestingly in the House of Lords, Notice Papers were written in Latin.
‘I returned to the Courier Mail in the late 1960s and early 70s. At that time the so called ‘Ginger Group’ of pollies used to have clandestine meetings with the journalists; and journalists were able to walk in to Ministers offices unannounced.
Prime Minister Malcolm Frazier of Australia is welcomed upon arrival for a visit to the United States.
‘Then I got a job in Canberra as Malcolm Frazer’s Press Secretary. In those days he had a staff of just 4 people in his office, whereas today there would be 15 to 20 on the Prime Minister’s staff. I became very close to the Frazer family and even had my own bedroom in their homestead, ‘Nareen’. Frazer’s electoral seat was always a marginal one and he had to work hard to keep it. I remember he once visited 36 pubs in a day during a campaign, and on another occasion in a small country town, he gave a policy speech to an audience of one (at the audience’s insistence!).
‘1972 saw the Aboriginal Tent Embassy crisis in Canberra, and Malcolm played a pivotal role in negotiations with them. I was surprised that when some of the Aboriginal Elders arrived from the Northern Territory, Malcolm knew them all by name.
‘Malcolm Frazer recognized my loyalty as a Senior Adviser, and on one occasion he asked me to cost the ALP’s election policies, which I did in a few days – much to the amazement of McMahon who had a team of economists working on it for three months.
‘And finally, another personality who I knew well was Tom Burns who liked to say ‘A politician is not worth two bob until you have made an enemy.’
Because Melbourne’s climate was not suited to his respiratory condition and lead to constant bouts of pneumonia, George Symons brought his family to live in Queensland in 1950. After a short stint in Ipswich they settled in Brisbane.
Although its population was just over 500,000, Brisbane in the 1950s, had the reputation of being ‘Australia’s biggest country town’. It slumbered, still wrapped in the euphoria after the end of World War II and hopes for the future, as families settled back into a normal existence, boosted, too, by the cessation of rationing of petrol, butter and tea.
City Hall, Brisbane 1950s
The City Hall tower was a Brisbane landmark, and towered over all the other buildings in the city centre. Its shops opened on weekdays from 9 to 5 and on Saturdays from 9 to 1 pm. Sundays were a day for rest and church attendance – and the Sunday roast.
‘Eating out’ was a rare family occurrence, and was reflected in the lack of nightlife in the city. Pubs closed at 6 pm resulting in the so called ‘six o’clock swill’. Greeks still owned and operated the majority of cafes in Brisbane, and their long shop hours enabled workers to snack before work, or after the pictures at night. Friday night was the family’s night out at the pictures in the city at the Regent and Wintergarden Theatres in Queen Street while around the corner in Albert Street the St James and the art deco Metro theatres vied for business. Every suburb, too, had its own picture house with deck chair for the audience to sit in. On Saturday afternoons the kids attended their matinee sessions – noisy affairs with much enthusiastic shouting!
To get around, people caught trams that trundled along Queen Street, and out in all directions to the suburbs.
Queen Street, Brisbane 1950s
At Christmas the man from Hunter Brothers would leave his crude Christmas card as a reminder of his year’s service to the household’s backyard dunny, and the following week the family would leave out a carton of Fourex longnecks for him as thanks. There were all sorts of home deliveries, too: early in the morning, the milkman would have replaced the empty milk bottles left out on the back step with ones full of milk each with a thick collar of cream – and the change if you didn’t have the correct money for him.
On the front lawn, or in the bushes or trees, would be the day’s ‘Courier Mail’ newspaper neatly folded into a square for easy throwing from the delivery car. At night on the way home from work, paperboys hawked the ‘Telegraph’ newspaper for workers to read the on the tram trip home.
There were also deliveries from the baker and the aroma of freshly baked bread on lifting the lid of the bread tin. A van also would come around with fresh fruit on display for housewives to come along and choose from.
However, the post war peace in Brisbane was not to last. Its citizens, like those in the rest of the world, were gripped with fears of the Cold War between Russia and the West, of the atomic bomb that had ended World War II – and that was likely to start World War III. Cloaked behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ Russians and Communists seemed to be infiltrating everywhere: trade unions, the Communist Party, the 1954 Petrov Russian spy affair, even troops were sent to Malaya in 1956 to fight Communism.
Brisbane’s youths were also becoming restless: teenage rebels nicknamed bodgies (the blokes) and widgies (their sheilas) were beginning to make the news when they challenged the social norms of the time. The era of rock n roll had begun. ‘Blackboard Jungle’, the first rock n roll movie was shown in 1955 at the Metro Theatre and in 1956 the Tivoli showed ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – both of which raised a few eyebrows from the more conservative Brisbaneites. In November 1956, the era of the bodgies and widgies climaxed with a confrontation between them and the police during a street rock n roll riot…
It was into this Brisbane environment that George Symons Suits entered – and flourished – in the 1950s.
(Peter Ludlow is currently researching the family history of the firm George Symons Suits).