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The South Brisbane Municipal Chambers: A landmark with many pasts

  • Peter Roennfeldt (a1)

Abstract

During its 125-year history, the South Brisbane Municipal Chambers (Old Town Hall) has had numerous custodians and functions. Designed as a prominent landmark directly across the Brisbane River from the Queensland Parliament building, its ornate architectural features make it a unique example of late colonial extravagance. With the absorption of the City of South Brisbane into the greater Brisbane City Council in 1925, the building lost its original purpose, but was subsequently deployed in various ways. After serving as a Council Works Depot, it became the headquarters of the US armed forces Military Police during World War II, and was then converted into post-war residential flats for government engineers and architects. Since the late 1950s, ‘The Chambers’ has been an educational and cultural centre, initially as the first campus of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, then as a centre for adult learning, and finally now in its completely refurbished form as part of the girls’ school Somerville House. This ‘building biography’ traces the various phases of this iconic landmark from the viewpoint of those who worked, lived or studied there, and also provides insights into its social context within the South Brisbane community.

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1 Metcalf, Bill, ‘South Brisbane Memorial Park: A memorial to what?’, Queensland Review 18 (1) (2011): 5472; Metcalf, Bill, ‘South Brisbane's cultural hub: From Post and Telegraph to Griffith Film School’, Queensland Review 19 (2) (2012): 217–33.

2 Metcalf, ‘South Brisbane Memorial Park’: 56.

3 The Queenslander, 8 August 1891, 278.

4 South Brisbane Municipal Council Minutes 25 May 1888 to 27 October 1890, p. 297.

5 For a complete discussion of these buildings around the time of the planning of SBMC, see Metcalf, ‘South Brisbane's cultural hub’: 217–18.

6 SBMC Minutes, 25 May 1888 to 27 October 1890, p. 475.

7 Brisbane Courier, 6 November 1889: 7.

8 SBMC Minutes, 25 May 1888 to 27 October 1890, p. 473. For more information about the Hall family of architects, see Watson, Donald and McKay, Judith, Queensland architects of the 19th century: A biographical dictionary (Brisbane: Queensland Museum, 1994), 8492.

9 Rowe, David, ‘John Smith Murdoch: Early Commonwealth Government Architect of Australia’, Proceedings of the 1993 Annual Conference of Society of Architectural Historians Australia and New Zealand (Perth: SAHANZ, 1993). See also Watson and McKay, Queensland architects, 127–9.

10 Murdoch's brief tenure with John Hall and Son, which lasted until 1893, also included Woolloongabba's Broadway Hotel, but his first Australian-designed building was the Sandgate Post Office, created in 1887 while he was employed by the Department of Works and Mines.

11 Rowe, ‘John Smith Murdoch’, p. 4.

12 Rowe, ‘John Smith Murdoch’, p. 4.

13 Southern World, 3S December 1890, 5.

14 SBMC Minutes, 3 November 1890 to 18 April 1893, p. 25.

15 Southern World, 31 January 1891, 2.

16 Southern World, 12 September 1891, 2.

17 Brisbane Courier, 6 June 1892, 7.

18 Brisbane Courier, 6 January 1892, 6.

19 SBMC Minutes, 3 November 1890 to 18 April 1893, pp. 369–70.

20 Bianchi, Geoffrey, Roberts, Anthony, Gardner, John, Woolrych, John and Heckenberg, Norman, Synchronome Brisbane 1903–1991: The story of the Jackson family of electrical clock makers (Brisbane: National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors Queensland, 1998), 1920.

21 In particular, Brisbane Courier 6 June 1892: 1 and Southern World 8 June 1892: 2.

22 Southern World 29 June 1892: 2.

23 Brisbane Courier, 2 July 1892: 5.

24 Southern World, 4 June 1892: 2.

25 State Library of Queensland, negative no. 195078.

26 John Hall and Son Architects, Plans for proposed new municipal offices South Brisbane, 1890. Queensland State Archives Item ID 328586, Architectural plans.

27 Brewer, F. J. and Dunn, R., The municipal history of South Brisbane (Brisbane: Pole, 1925), p. 13.

28 Program of Commonwealth Peace Celebrations — Grand Procession Brisbane, 19 July 1919, p. 1.

29 Brisbane Courier, 21 July 1919, 7.

30 Brisbane Telegraph, 30 July 1920, 2.

31 Brisbane Telephone Directories, 1926–35.

32 Brisbane Courier, 14 June 1926, 7.

33 Brisbane Courier, 18 February 1932: 16.

34 Courier-Mail, 23 July 1940, 10.

35 Queensland Figaro 24 October 1931, 9.

36 Brisbane Telegraph, 2 June 1937, 2.

37 Brisbane City Council Minustes, 1931, 258.

38 BCC Minutes, 1940–41, 455.

39 ‘Headquarters Base Section No. 3 — Office of the Base Section Register’. Copy of undated document held by Somerville House Archives.

40 Letter from George Pederson to Helen Bennett, 24 January 1991. Document held by Somerville House Archives.

41 BCC Minutes, 1942–43, 211–12.

42 Memoirs of Ray Logue, 1993. Document held by Somerville House Archives.

43 McKeering, B. K., A gracious lady: The South Brisbane Municipal Chambers (Brisbane: South Brisbane TAFE, 1992), pp. 1213.

44 Gubby, Rachel, ‘Time to wind up, after one last visit to the haunted tower’, Courier-Mail, 15 October 1988: 5.

45 Peter Dunn, ‘Office of the Provost Marshall Base Section No. 3 — South Brisbane Municipal Chambers’ (2006), pictorial webpage: http://www.ozatwar.com/usarmy/provostbs3.htm.

46 BCC Minutes, 1946–47, 314.

47 BCC Minutes, 1947–48, 629.

48 BCC Minutes, 1946–47, p. 445.

49 Brisbane Courier, 22 February 1947, 5.

50 BCC Minutes, 1947–48, 629–30.

51 BCC Minutes, 1948–49, 38.

52 Department of Public Works, South Brisbane Town Hall — Conversion to Conservatorium of Music, June–September 1955, Queensland State Archives Item ID 578342 — ID 578342 inclusive, Architectural plans.

53 It is possible that Flat No. 3 was the one that attracted the highest weekly rental, rather than No. 2.

54 Hitch, John, John Hitch: Record of a life in architecture (Mt Macedon: John Hitch, 2002), p. 87.

55 Seymour, Mary Jane, ‘They live in the old Town Hall’, Australian Home Beautiful (April 1950): 22–3, 49.

56 Veronica Burningham née Bocker, personal memoir 1999, held in Somerville House Archives.

57 Courier-Mail, 22 October 1954, 16.

58 Courier Mail, 23 June 1954, 15; Telegraph, 1 October 1953, 23.

59 Roennfeldt, Peter, Northern Lyrebird: The contribution to Queensland's music by its Conservatorium (Brisbane: Australian Academic Press, 2012), 18. For a complete discussion of the Conservatorium's occupancy of SBMC, see pp. 22, 27–8, and Chapter 2, 38–65.

60 Public Service Commissioner's Department, Minute of 8 September 1953, QSA Item ID 130342.

61 Public Curator, Memorandum to Department of Public Works Under Secretary, 22 February 1955, QSA Item 130342.

62 Rex Hobcroft, ‘Confounded Consequences’ (unpublished typescript, 2006), p. 137.

63 GW Murphy on behalf of Education Director-General H. G. Watkin, memorandum to Public Works Under Secretary, 23 January 1957, QSA Item ID 130342.

64 Ron Stevens, interview with author, 7 April 2010.

65 Sunday Mail, 19 February 1957, 8.

66 Courier-Mail, 10 February 1962, 7.

67 Sunday Mail, 24 November 1968, 2.

68 Noel Milliken Conservatorium Registrar, letter to Department of Public Works Under Secretary, 17 October 1975, QSA Item ID 601639.

69 Department of the Public Service Board, Memorandum 1 April 1975, QSA Item ID 601639.

70 John Herbert President National Trust of Queensland, letter to Minister for Works and Housing, 22 March 1973, QSA Item ID 130342.

71 Public Service Board Chairman, Proposal to State Cabinet, 12 November 1972, QSA Item ID 60163.

72 Public Service Board Chairman, Memorandum 19 January 1976, QSA Item ID 601639.

73 Department of Public Works, Memorandum 28 November 1977, QSA Item ID 601638.

74 McKeering, A gracious lady, 22, 24.

75 Courier-Mail, 19 July 1978: 18.

76 McKeering, A gracious lady, 33.

77 Department of Public Works, Old Town Hall South Brisbane Department of Education — Adult Education 1975–1954, QSA Item ID 168442–ID 1684431 inclusive, Architectural plans.

78 Brisbane Telegraph, 13 December 1978, 78.

79 R. S. Warry, Department of Education, Memorandum to Department of Public Works 21 May 1984, QSA Item ID 601638.

80 McKeering, A gracious lady, 28.

81 National Trust of Queensland Journal (June 1987), 6.

82 Somerville House Newsletter 18/99 (16 June 1999), 1.

83 Southern South News, 17 June 1999, 1.

84 Letter from Queensland Government Environmental Protection Agency to Adam Lovell Architects, 29 October 2001.

85 Adam Lovell Architects, Former South Brisbane Municipal Chambers: A conservation plan for Somerville House (Brisbane, 2001).

86 Catherine Brouwer Landscape Architects, Former South Brisbane Municipal Chambers — Landscape Heritage Report (Brisbane, 2004).

87 Andrew Ladley Architect, Somerville House and the former South Brisbane Municipal Chambers — Cultural heritage impact assessment report for proposed building and landscaping works (Brisbane, 2012).

88 Ladley, Somerville House, p. 6.

89 Phillips, D. H., ‘Town Hall South Brisbane’ in Historic Public Buildings of Australia (Melbourne: Cassell, 1971), 282–7.

90 McKeering, A gracious lady.

91 de Botton, Alain, The Architecture of Happiness (Melbourne: Penguin, 2006), 107.

The South Brisbane Municipal Chambers: A landmark with many pasts

  • Peter Roennfeldt (a1)

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