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This issue of Queensland Review, our second with Cambridge University Press, consists of two autobiographical reflections on Queensland in the 1950s, followed by six scholarly articles on various aspects of Queensland history – musical, literary, legal, architectural and institutional.
My cousin Harvey was beginning to annoy the crap out of me. It was mid-1956 and I had just turned twelve. Harvey had been saying it all morning, over and over, like he was mesmerised: ‘Elvis the Pelvis, Elvis the Pelvis’, with a stupid grin on his face. It had been on the front page of the Courier-Mail that day – a story about a new American singer who wiggled his pelvis like a girl. There was even a little cartoon of someone contorting himself like Plastic Man. But the more Harvey said it, the more stupid it sounded. It was starting to coalesce into one ridiculous word: ‘Elvisdapelvis, Elvisdapelvis’. I shouted, ‘Will you cut it out? That is not his real name, you know. It's just what the papers say.’ Harvey picked up the paper again: ‘But it's funny. Look at him wriggling. Elvisdapelvis.’ We went down into the backyard to play badminton, but he wouldn't stop. ‘Elvis!’ he called out as he threw the shuttlecock up; and then, ‘da PELVIS!’ as he served it like a missile at me over the net. ‘If you don't shut up, I'm not playing,’ I said. ‘He's just another one they've all got it in for. You haven't even heard him yet.’
Ten years ago, a colleague and I co-wrote an article about the Bunya pine tree in Queensland's literary history. In the course of our joint research, we made an interesting and surprising discovery: that there appeared to be two separate and distinct ways of seeing or imagining the Bunya in early Queensland literature – there were, in effect, two different Bunyas. One was the Romantic Bunya, a dark, gloomy, threatening tree, overwhelming in size, and sublime in its capacity to elicit awe and even terror from those nervous European explorers who found themselves surrounded by them. This is the Bunya described in Leichhardt's letters and in the novels of Rosa Praed, for whom it evoked anxieties about cannibalism among the Aboriginal tribes who gathered at the triennial feast.
The early development of Queensland's musical culture has only been partly documented. Despite a number of general surveys and a few specialist publications in recent decades, the largest body of research, dating mostly from the 1970s and 1980s in the form of academic dissertations, remains unpublished. As I demonstrated in a recent article for this journal, the narrative of Queensland's music can be traced in various ways, including focusing either on a specific organisation or ‘cause’ – phenomena that in turn interface with the efforts of countless individuals. An alternative strategy is to survey a specific genre of music-making, where likewise a diverse range of performers, repertoire, venues and events are part of the mix. This article endeavours to trace the development of chamber music in colonial Queensland as an important subset of an active concert life that included numerous popular entertainers, touring artists and musical-theatrical troupes. Support of chamber music, a so-called ‘high-class’ genre, was also viewed by some colonists as an emblem or barometer of increasing cultural self-worth, particularly in the two decades leading up to Federation.
To date, histories of literary culture in Queensland have not paid particular attention to newspapers, despite the fact that metropolitan and regional publications carried considerable material that allows us insight into the ways in which books were circulated and evaluated. Reviews and essays sat alongside advertisements run by department stores, specialist retailers, large distributors and newsagents, in turn jostling for attention with interviews with authors, poems, reports of literary gatherings and substantial critical essays. This article offers a ‘case study’ of literary materials in The Brisbane Courier, part of a project on the representation of literature (broadly conceived) in Australian newspapers from 1930. The year 1930 was chosen because the interwar years are so frequently characterised, in discussion of the critical study of Australian literature in particular, as a time of neglect, and the Depression as a catalyst for the gradual narrowing of literary horizons. Our larger aim is to understand this historical period better, as well as to calibrate the discussion of Australian literature against the discussion of literature generally. By focusing on a single year for data collection, we have been able to assemble a rich and detailed picture of ‘talk about books’. This, in turn, has enabled us to analyse the significant differences between, for example, the ways in which books are discussed and represented as commercial and aesthetic objects in regional and metropolitan newspapers (see Dale and Thomson 2010).
The cultural association of Queensland with a condition of imagination or unreality has a strong history. Queensland has always ‘retained much of its quality as an abstraction, an idea’, asserts Thea Astley in her famous essay on the state's identity (Astley 1976: 263). In one of the most quoted descriptions of Queensland's literary representation, Pat Buckridge draws attention to its ‘othering’, suggesting that Queensland possesses ‘a different sense of distance, different architecture, a different apprehension of time, a distinctive preoccupation with personal eccentricity, and . . . a strong sense of cultural antitheses’ (1976: 30). Rosie Scott comes closest to the concerns of this present article when she asserts that this so-called difference ‘is definitely partly to do with the landscape. In Brisbane, for instance, the rickety old wooden Queenslanders drenched in bougainvillea, the palms, the astounding number of birds even in Red Hill where I lived, the jacarandas, are all unique in Australia’ (quoted in Sheahan-Bright and Glover 2002: xv). For Vivienne Muller, Buckridge's ‘cultural antitheses’ are most clearly expressed in precisely this interpretation of Queensland as a place somewhere between imagined wilderness and paradise (2001: 72). Thus, as Gillian Whitlock suggests, such differences are primarily fictional constructs that feed ‘an image making process founded more on nationalist debates about city and bush, centre and periphery, the Southern states versus the Deep North than on any “real” sense of regionalism’ (quoted in Muller 2001: 80). Queensland, in this reading, is subject to the Orientalist discourse of an Australian national identity in which the so-called civilisation of the south-eastern urban capitals necessitates a dark ‘other’. I want to draw out this understanding of the landscape as it is imagined in Queensland women's writing. Gail Reekie (1994: 8) suggests that, ‘Women's sense of place, of region, is powerfully constructed by their marginality to History.’ These narratives do assert Queensland's ‘difference’, but as part of an articulation of psychological extremity experienced by those living on the edges of a simultaneously ideological and geographically limited space. The Queensland landscape, I argue, is thus used as both setting for and symbol of traumatic experience.
Entering Brisbane's South Bank from the Victoria Bridge, we walk past the concrete 1980s Queensland Performing Arts Complex, the brick Queensland Conservatorium and the modern, glass-fronted ABC Broadcasting buildings, then past assorted cafes and pseudo-beaches until reaching the Ship Inn. Here, we enter an enclave of mid- to late-nineteenth-century architectural gems, surrounding and focusing on the small but tranquil South Brisbane Memorial Park (1923). Opposite the Ship Inn (1865), Cumbooquepa (1891) and South Brisbane Town Hall (1891–92), and adjoining the Maritime Museum (1881), at the eastern edge of South Bank Parklands stands a magnificent old building now known as the Griffith Film School. This building has been the cultural hub of South Brisbane for 130 years, and provides a stylish, heritage ‘bookend’ to today's South Bank Cultural and Educational Precinct.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Queensland courts tried, convicted and hanged sixteen men for the crime of rape. Of these, one was Caucasian, three were Pacific Islanders and twelve were Aboriginal. The Indigenous total would have been fourteen but for the fact that two other men convicted and sentenced for this offence evaded the gallows: one died in custody, the other was shot dead while attempting to escape. In each case of execution, the victims were European women or girls.
Reflecting on the first nine months of his role as Queensland's first State Ombudsman (then titled Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations), David Longland noted that support for this independent watchdog of local and state government administration had not always been forthcoming:
When the question of the appointment of a Queensland Ombudsman was first raised, there was consistently an opinion that the services of an Ombudsman were not necessary, but with the growth of administrative action commensurate with the wider field of legislation born of a variety of governments, negative argument was reduced and eventually became positive argument. So effluxion of time brought the adoption of policy for the appointment of an Ombudsman by the Queensland Government.
Such an explanation belies the variety of factors that both aided and hampered the Queensland Ombudsman's creation throughout much of the 1960s and early 1970s. Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen made official announcement of Longland's appointment on 12 August 1974 through the provisions of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1974 that had entered into force on 1 July 1974. Longland's appointment ended more than a decade of lobbying in Queensland, providing the community with an important means of addressing complaints of administrative error in an apolitical and non-adversarial manner. Most scholarship on this topic has assessed election promises, lobbying efforts from academics, internal political negotiations and the opposition of Joh Bjelke-Petersen to the Ombudsman concept. While each is an essential component of the Ombudsman's foundation in Queensland, there has been no effort to understand how the political debate was influenced by other policy actors, particularly high-ranking public servants.