Sharing stories from Multicultural Communities

“What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilisations and cultures, progress weakens life and favours death.” – Octavio Paz

“Infinite diversity in infinite combinations… symbolising the elements that create truth and beauty. - Commander Spock, Star Trek

Migration and globalisation have brought diversity to societies all around the world. Although policies of assimilation have been implemented with the view to create a melting pot whereby one culture and people emerge, such notions were (rightly) discredited by the sheer reality that cultures survive!

And thank goodness for that. Diversity brings a richness of experience and perspective, of history, language and culture and, well, you bloody beaut tucker!

Worth lining up for (and wish I was there!). What a feast at the Africa Day celebrations festival, Rockhampton. Image by Dean Saffron.

Queensland is a multicultural State. It  is as true of its cities as it is of its regional and rural communities. These communities have not been passive participants in the development of Queensland, but active members contributing to our history and future way of life.

Of course life is constantly in a state of change, not to mention a state of flux.  Similarly, culture is ever evolving and changing making the representation of diversity and our cultural interactions more complex. Yet, the sharing of cultural information provides us with the effective means to interact and cooperate with one another.

Grape stomping competition (looks like fun!) at the Australian-Italian Festival, Ingham. Image by Sarah Scragg.

There are many ways that we transmit cultural information from direct learning to casual observation. Multicultural festivals are ways in which we directly transmit cultural information for they are not only places which allow for a public celebration showcasing diverse ethnic cultures of local communities; but they are also places for dialogue and exchange, helping us negotiate the notions of identity and belonging, as well as exclusion and disadvantage.

They reveal to us where cultures  merge and diverge, creating reciprocally beneficial experiences and relationships in the process.

The gorgeous Ka Maeva Cook Island dance group at the The Pacific Unity Festival, Logan. Image by Reuben Stafford.

Through a “Your Community Heritage Program’ grant, from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Australian Government, we embarked on a project entitled “Sharing stories from Multicultural Communities.” We hoped to highlight just a few of the wonderful multicultural festivals which are held throughout Queensland. The result was a rich collection of photographs and oral histories from established and new migrant groups sharing their culture through festivals.

The 29203 Sharing Stories from Multicultural Communities Photo Essays and Oral Histories, 2013-2014 is available on our online catalogue.  See the Link to the record and the Link to the digital item .

There is also a  multicultural showcase for this collection on our website. It showcases only some of the images that are available in their entirety through our online catalogue. It also includes the oral histories.

Thanks to Sarah Scragg, Reuben Stafford and Dean Saffron who completed the brilliant photo essays and Jan Cattoni, Jennifer Barrkman and Hamish Sewell for recording the wonderful oral histories. Thanks also to the organisers of the Australian-Italian Festival, The Pacific Unity Festival, Queensland and Africa Day celebrations,  for their cooperation and assistance!

Zenovia Pappas – Contemporary Collecting Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

Queensland Places – Keiraville, Ipswich

This grand Ipswich residence, located in Roderick Street, has long been a part of the city’s history, dating from 1886. It is believed to have been built for the Cribb family by local building contractor, John Mackenzie, who originally acquired the land upon which Keiraville stands, in 1884. It is not clear who actually planned the building, but it is likely that the design was developed in close consultation with the Cribb family, as they purchased it from Mackenzie soon after its completion.

Keiraville is a single storey building of rendered masonry which, apart from some minor changes, remains largely unchanged since it was first constructed. Fortunately, most of the changes have only impacted on the rear of the building leaving its front appearance intact. The home remained in the Cribb family for many years before being used as a manse, for around forty years from 1938, by the adjoining Congregational Church. It should be noted that this new use is entirely logical, given that the Cribb family were prominent members of the Congregational Church. Later, Keiraville was used as the local headquarters for the Blue Nurses as well as eventually being used as a centre by Lifeline.

Keiraville’s importance within Ipswich’s history and development has been recognised by its inclusion in the Queensland Heritage Register as well within Ipswich itself, by an Ipswich City Council historical marker.

Keiraville, Ipswich. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 195363

Keiraville, Ipswich

This photograph shows Keiraville in around 1900, with what appears to be a newly replaced roof and wide verandahs surrounded with lattice work, giving it an attractive presence in the local streetscape.

Brian Randall – Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame 2014 Induction Dinner

Business Leaders' Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, 2014

Business Leaders' Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, 2014

On Thursday 17 July I had the pleasure of attending the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame 2014 Induction Dinner at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. In its sixth year and with more than 800 guests, the Hall of Fame inducted six more Queensland leaders, businesses and families at the gala event. Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, presented the awards to inductees. Professor Jan Thomas, Chair of the Library Board of Queensland accepted the prize on behalf of Queensland’s first businessman, John Williams (1797– 1892). Other inductees were: Teys Australia, Sir Vincent Fairfax CMG, RACQ, Bank of Queensland and Sarah Jenyns. You can find out more about each inductee online.

Jo and Kym Fort  from the Birdsville Hotel receive the Queensland Business History Award 2014.

Jo and Kym Fort from the Birdsville Hotel receive the Queensland Business History Award 2014.

The Queensland Business Leaders History Award was awarded to the Birdsville Hotel for excellence in its business record keeping and the public exhibition of the iconic hotel’s history. We hope that awards of this type encourage other businesses to be aware of their history and consider how they document that history as it happens.

Sponsored by Crowe Horwath and many other organisations, the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame is a joint venture between State Library of Queensland, Queensland Library Foundation and QUT Business School.

Mary Kajewski - Directorate Support Officer, State Library of Queensland


Indigenous Languages Blog Launched

The State Library has launched a new Indigenous Languages Blog!

SLQ Indigenous Languages Blog.

This space will be a portal for State Library, IKCs, Indigenous Language Centres, Community Language Workers and others to share and network about Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. The Categories for the Blog reflect some of the key themes for Indigenous languages: Resources, Training, Contacts, etc.

Language Resources.

The Resources section will provide useful Indigenous Language resources and links to help community groups and language workers with their research. In addition to highlighting resources within the State Library collections, this element of the Blog will serve to focus on community-based resources and collections.

Railways map of southeast Queensland showing the Aboriginal tribes in the region.

Within the Collections category, items within the State Library collections will be showcased. For example, the above Map is from OM73-20F J Watson Papers and identifies “The Aboriginal tribes of south-east Queensland – with map showing their lingual divisions”. This item accompanies Watson’s work ‘Vocabularies of four representative tribes of South Eastern Queensland: with grammatical notes thereof and some notes on manners and customs, also, a list of Aboriginal place names and their derivations’.

Launch of Yugambeh Language App.

State Library and community activities will be highlighted in the Events category. This space will allow IKCs, language Centres, Community Groups etc to share news of upcoming events such as language workshops, culture love programs, etc.  For example, the above image is from the launch of the Yugambeh Language App, held in April 2013.

Norman Tayley presenting at Research Discovery Workshop.

State Library holds regular research activities, including Indigenous Languages Research Discovery Workshops – these will be a key component of the Workshops section. In addition, key outcomes or findings from workshops will also be presented here. Again, community groups are also able to provide accounts of their local/regional workshops as well as language research activities.

Philip Brown - Guest Blogger.

Guest Bloggers are encouraged to submit posts on their language activities within this section. State Library is aware there is a range of community language activities in place across Queensland to preserve and maintain Indigenous languages; these range from small individual or family activities to those coordinated via language centres through to larger-scale projects supported by external organisations/collecting institutions. State Library invites language workers, IKC Coordinators and community members to submit a Blog Post about their work with language; e.g. recording language, community resource development, language stories, etc.

Meston Notebook - Birds.

Digitised Content identifies language material that has been digitised and made available for community access. In addition to State Library, other collecting institutions such as University of Queensland, AIATSIS and State Library of NSW have significant digitisation projects underway.  The above image is an extract from the Meston Vocabulary Notebooks which were recently digitised and made available online via the State Library’s website.

Sandra (Injinoo IKC).

The IKCs also have a section on the Indigenous Languages Blog to share news and events within their communities.

Kabi Kabi kinship terms.

It is envisaged that the Indigenous Languages Blog will be a dynamic space with news and updates on a regular basis. State Library welcomes your input into the Indigenous Languages Blog and looks forward to supporting your language journeys.


Desmond Crump – Indigenous Languages Researcher, State Library of Queensland

State Library’s Indigenous Languages Webpages

References and Further Reading

OM73-20 F J Watson Papers

OM64-17 Archibald Meston Papers

REFJ 499.15 wat Vocabularies of four representative tribes of South Eastern Queensland.


Electric city : trams and power in Brisbane

Brisbane in the nineteenth century was in many ways a primitive, frontier town with unpaved streets and an unreliable water supply but in other ways it was in the forefront in adopting new technology.  I have previously described Brisbane’s early and enthusiastic adoption of the new telephone technology.  The Brisbane Gas Company was incorporated in 1864 to supply gas for street lighting and domestic and commercial purposes which it manufactured from coal.  Gas lighting soon had a competitor in the form of electricity.  The world’s first public electricity supply was delivered in Godalming, Surry in 1881 and Thomas Edison opened the world’s first steam driven electricity generation plant in London in 1882.  The first public electricity supply in Brisbane followed less than a decade later in 1888 when Barton White & Co. was contracted to provide electricity to the G.P.O. from their building in Edison Lane.  Brisbane was not the first Queensland town to have established electric street lighting however, that honour went to Thargomindah in the west of the state.

Advertisement for Barton White & Co, manufacturers of electrical equipment, Brisbane, ca. 1890, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 167304

Advertisement for Barton White & Co, manufacturers of electrical equipment

C. Frank White was one of the first electricians in Queensland, taking up the agency for the American Edison Company around 1881 and operating as an electrician and electrical supplier from a shop in Creek Street before forming a partnership with Edward Barton in 1888 with financial backing from his brother Thomas.  Edward Gustavus Campbell Barton was a pioneer of the electricity industry, having supervised the first commercial electricity supply in Godalming in 1882.  After working as an electricity consultant in New Zealand and Australia, Barton was engaged by the Queensland Government to complete the installation of electric lighting equipment in the Government Printing Office and parliament buildings in 1886 and was appointed Government Electrician.


 Formal portrait of Edward G. Campbell Barton, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 187003

Formal portrait of Edward G. Campbell Barton

The depression years of the 1890s proved to be a tough time for developing a new industry.   Uptake of electric power was slow and running cable over the roofs of city buildings was expensive.  The Queensland Government was slow to respond to the new technology and the first legislation for the control of electricity supply was not enacted until 1896.  Transmission of electricity by overhead cables was illegal until 1898.  In 1896 Barton, White & Co. was declared insolvent and the partnership was dissolved.  Barton formed the Brisbane Electric Supply Company to carry on the business.  The original powerhouse in Edison Lane was abandoned in 1898 and a new powerhouse opened at 69 Ann Street.  A unique personal perspective on the early development of  the Brisbane electric industry comes from F. R. L’Estrange who’s presentation to the Post Office Historical Society on Brisbane’s early electricity supply was published in 1954.  L’Estrange joined the company as a 14 year old apprentice in 1904.  In that year the company was renamed the City Electric Light Company.

Brisbane Electric Supply Co. employees in Brisbane, 1904, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 39117

Brisbane Electric Supply Co. employees in 1904. 14 year old apprentice F. L'Estrange is third from the right in the front standing row.

In the mean time another player had come on the scene.  Since 1885 the Metropolitan Tramway and Investment Company had offered a horse-drawn tram service in inner Brisbane from Albion Park and New Farm to West End and Buranda under the Tramways Act of 1882.  An amendment to the Act in 1890 allowed for the sale of the company and electrification of the line.  The 20 miles of track and 51 cars were sold to the Brisbane Tramway Construction Company, the owners also registering the Brisbane Tramways Company to operate the electric trams.  American company General Electric were chosen for the task of electrifying the tramways and Joseph Stillman Badger was sent out as Chief Electrical Engineer to oversee the work.  Badger would stay in Brisbane until 1922, transfering from GE to work directly for the Brisbane Tramway Company as Manager, then General Manager and ultimately Managing Director.

Badger family, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 7557

Joseph S. Badger, of Belle Vue, Miskin Street, Toowong with his wife Carrie and sons Arthur and Richard

To provide the electricity supply for the trams a new powerhouse was built on land at Countess Street bordering the Roma Street goods yards.  Three Robey cross-compound, horizontal, non-condensing, steam engines were installed, each driving a 300 kW, 550-volt DC generator.  The engines were supplied with steam from four large boilers under a 150 ft. high brick chimney.  Alongside the powerhouse, additional land provided space for the offices and workshops for tram maintenance and manufacturing.  In 1902 the installation of more powerful generating equipment meant that the tramways now had excess power which could be sold off to homes and businesses adjoining the tram lines.

View of the Roma Street Railway Station, Brisbane, ca. 1900, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 6408

Roma Street goods yards with the tramway Power Station behind

As well as distributing electricity the tram service had an important role in distributing mail.  This began in the horse tram era when the trams were contracted to transfer mail between the G.P.O. and suburban post offices at Breakfast Creek, South Brisbane and Woolloongabba.  This arrangement was continued and expanded when electric trams were introduced and continued until 1934.  As well as transferring mail between post offices the trams also served as mobile post boxes with posting bags being carried on trams from 1894 until 1916.

Described in the Australian dictionary of biography as able, courageous and ruthless, Joseph Badger oversaw the expansion of the tramways into a profitable company able to pay handsome dividends to its stockholders.  He was implacably opposed to trade unions and his hard line approach led to the General Strike of 1912 after union members were locked out for wearing union badges on their uniforms.  The Labor Party remained hostile to Badger and when a Labor government of T. J. Ryan was elected in 1915 they began planning a government takeover of the tramways.

Boss Badger

'Boss Badger' a cartoon from The Worker, Saturday, 7 January, 1905

The government put plans in place to buy out the Brisbane Tramways Company and at the same time sought to limit the company’s profits by legislating to control fares in a bid to reduce what they would ultimately have to pay for the company.  At the same time they raised doubts about the legality of the company’s electricity supply sideline.  The government did not want to have to compensate them for their electricity distribution assets as well as their core tramway business.  The Tramways company’s electricity distribution assets were sold to the City Electric Light Company in 1921 when the company realised that its aging generating equipment limited its capacity.  Conflict between the government and the company continued with the government attempting to devalue the company and refusing to include tramlines it claimed were built without permission.  The company struck back with its London based investors urging a boycott of lending to the Queensland Government.  In the meantime the company refused to invest in new lines or equipment and the network was becoming run down.  Eventually a compromise valuation was agreed and the company was purchased by the Brisbane Tramways Trust before being handed over to the newly formed Brisbane City Council in 1925.

The City of Brisbane Act of 1924 created what is often known as Greater Brisbane from two former Cities, seven towns, ten shires and parts of two other shires.  Section 36 of the Act gave the city council the authority to generate electricity for light and power.  The only generating capacity in the control of the council was that of the tramways which had three small and obsolete power stations in Countess Street, Light Street and Logan Road.  Much of the city was already being supplied with electricity by City Electric Light Company.  The Council had to decide whether to continue buying electricity from CEL or to go into competition by generating its own electricity.  Firstly, however, the council decided to try to purchase the City Electric Light Company.  The council had turned down the opportunity to purchase the company when Barton & White was declared insolvent in 1894 and on a number of occasions since the idea had been put forward but no agreement had been reached.  In 1926 the council made an offer to by the company’s assets for £1,500,000 but the company was not impressed, making a counter offer to sell at £2,500,000.  The distance between the two parties proved to be too great and the BCC resolved to build their own power station.

Construction of the boiler house at New Farm Power Station, ca. 1926, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 90744

Construction of the boiler house at New Farm Power Station, ca. 1926

The New Farm Power Station was opened in 1928 with two units generating less than 10,000 kW although the capacity would rapidly increase.  The new power station was controlled and operated by the council’s tramways department, supplying in bulk to the electricity department, the tramways and the council’s workshops.  The bulk supply required by the tramways was essential as the council was unable to supply the industrial and commercial customers in the city centre which were supplied by CEL under franchises it owned under the terms of the 1896 Electric Light and Power Act.  City Electric Light had opened its new Bulimba power station in 1926.

The existence of two major power stations in Brisbane where one would have been sufficient was just one example of the inefficiencies that had developed as a result of the piecemeal and patchy development of electricity generation and supply throughout Queensland and in 1936 the Queensland Government established a Royal Commission on Electricity chaired by J.R. Kemp, the Main Roads commissioner and a well qualified civil engineer.  The commissioners gave their prime attention to ‘ensuring the orderly planning of the electrical supply industry in Queensland’, to the elimination of waste and duplication, to the economic development of the state, and to rural electrification.  The end result of the Royal Commission’s work was the formation of the State Electricity Commission.  They undertook to implement a scheme for the electrification of south-east Queensland with the City Electric Light Company playing a leading role with a plan for the government to purchase the company in 15 years time.

Eventually instead of the government purchasing the company a compromise was reached.  The company was converted from a privately owned company into a public authority under the Southern Electric Authority Act of 1952.  The company’s directors would remain in charge, supplemented by the electricity commissioner and an official from Treasury.  There would be no cash payment and the shareholders would have their investments converted into stakes in a public loan.  In 1962 a further rationalization occurred when agreement was reached for the Brisbane City Council to relinquish its power stations and instead take over electricity distribution for the whole Greater Brisbane area.

 Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Image number: lbp00005

Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959

The ownership of Queensland’s electricity generation and distribution infrastructure remains a contentious issue with moves by the current government to privatize parts of the network generating a lot of discussion and conflict.

A very thorough description of this history can be found in A history of the electricity supply industry in Queensland by Malcolm I Thomis.  The story of Boss Badger and the Brisbane trams can be found in One American too many by David Burke.  The last Brisbane trams ran in 1969 when they were replaced with buses, however trams are making a return to south east Queensland with a new light rail service carrying its first passengers on the Gold Coast this week.  See an album of Queensland trams on SLQ on Flickr.

Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland

83 Queensland history interviews and going strong

State Library of Queensland’s project coordinator Myles Sinnamon has recently completed 83 interviews with ABC Radio, talking about Queensland history every Tuesday night at 9 pm.  An employee for more than 20 years, Myles brings out ephemera, curiosities, and knowledge of collections from the John Oxley Library to share.

Myles Sinnamon shares Queensland history.  State Library of Queensland staff image

Myles Sinnamon shares Queensland history

Myles said that his favourite of all the interviews has been a show called “Do you believe in magic?” This show was all about magicians, hypnotists and escape artists who visited Queensland in the 1920s and 1930s.

Magic tricks, explosive submarine charges, thousands of spectators, and the Victoria bridge garnered huge attention in Brisbane for traveling magicians and escape artists. In Rockhampton, an escape artist escaped from a straightjacket whilst a speeding car headed towards him.

Toby Ryan magician and escapologist Rockhampton 19251935, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Image No.2000_038_234

Toby Ryan magician and escapologist Rockhampton 19251935

Hypnotists travelled Queensland extensively during the time as well, with good reviews in local papers,  and enjoyed extensively by communities for many years. Volunteers often offered to be hypnotised and apparently were induced to eat imaginary peanuts, according to one news story. Sports teams were also hypnotised and convinced to beat opponents whilst hypnotised, including the Atherton hockey team, to encourage a win.

The radio shows are lively, fun and full of fascinating stories of Queensland history not available anywhere else. Link to a recent JOL blog post by Maxine Fisher to read more about the interviews Myles has done on the ABC. All of Myles’ interviews are available on the ABC website, including the Do You Believe in Magic interview.


Snapping Dinosaurs

Whilst Clive Palmer might be raising hell with the carbon tax, there’s a roaring of a different kind at his Palmer Coolum Resort, Queensland. Canberra may indeed seem like a land before time, but if you want to see some “real” dinosaurs, head to Palmersaurus, the Dinosaur theme park at Clive Palmer’s Coolum Resort.

29351, Opening of Palmersaurus Dinosaur Park Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by Hamish Cairns

Dinosaur enclosure at Palmersaurus Coolum Resort Coolum Queemsland

Documentary photographer Hamish Cairns was on hand at the ribbon cutting ceremony to capture the opening of this park. It was officially opened by Palmer along with the Irwin family on 14 December 2013 and has become a unique contemporary cultural icon on the ever surprising Queensland landscape.

29351, Opening of Palmersaurus Dinosaur Park Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by Hamish Cairns.

Clive Palmer speaking at the Press Conference for the opening of Palmersaurus at Palmer Coolum Resort Queensland

If you visit Palmersaurus you will find 160 semi-moving, life-size dinosaurs, with button activated roars (someone tell me what they sounded like!). The dinosaurs range from 2.5 to 22 metres in length and from one to 10 metres in height. They include species such as the Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus Rex (T-Rex!!!!!!!!) and Triceratops.

But if you can’t make your way there, check out the wonderful photographs captured by Hamish on our online catalogue: 29351 Opening of Palmersaurus Dinosaur Park Photographs!

Link to digital item

Link to this record

29351, Opening of Palmersaurus Dinosaur Park Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Photograph by Hamish Cairns

Small child and his father gaze up at the TRex model at Palmersaurus Coolum Queensland

Zenovia Pappas – Contemporary Collecting Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

Podcast: Queensland Places (A night in the JOL)

State Library of Queensland’s collections contain a wide range of material about Queensland locations. Many of the items promote these places as tourist destinations, illustrating aspects of the Queensland tourism industry from as early as the 1920s, such as the Queensland Rail Sunshine Route.

Listen to Queensland historians Professor Peter Spearritt from The University of Queensland and Andrew Moritz from the Workshops Rail Museum, in conversation with Ian Townsend from ABC Radio National, as they highlight the way in which place has been documented in Queensland.

Further reading


Queensland Police Service and last police tracker, Coen

Guest blogger: Susan Boulton – A/ Manager Public Access, Queensland State Archives

Established on 1 January 1864, the Queensland Police Force is celebrating 150 years of service. Since the inception of Queensland and the Police Service, local trackers have been employed, initially to assist troopers and later Queensland Police officers. The hunting skills of Aboriginal trackers and their ability to find food and water were utilised by the Queensland Police Force to locate offenders fleeing through the bush and outback areas.

Police Detectives and trackers, Blackfellow Creek, Gatton c1899. Queensland State Archives. DID 21878

Police Detectives and trackers, Blackfellow Creek, Gatton c1899

On 3 July Coen celebrated not only 150 years of the Queensland Police Service but the retirement of the last remaining police tracker, Coen local Police Liaison Officer Barry Port.

In the general correspondence records for the Department of Public Works two memorandums addressed to the Government Architect provide an insight into the police camp at Coen. For instance, on 1 October 1912 the Inspector of Works writes that about 22 years ago the Sergeants Quarters ‘was a hotel in Cooktown, it was then pulled down and re-erected in Coen as a hotel and then converted to a skating rink. It was afterwards purchased by the Police Department pulled down and re-erected at the Native Police Camp’. Accompanying this memorandum are sketch plans of repairs to, and photos of, the Sergeants Quarters.

Plan of proposed Sergeants Quarters 1910-1919. Queensland State Archives. DID 26853

Plan of proposed Sergeants Quarters 1910-1919

Photograph of the Sergeants Quarters 1912. Queensland State Archives. DID 26855

Photograph of the Sergeants Quarters 1912

Sketch of the Sergeants Quarters 1912. Queensland State Archives. DID 26854

Sketch of the Sergeants Quarters 1912

Discover more about the Coen Police Camp through the digitised correspondence available to view on ArchivesSearch at Item ID 107412, Correspondence.

Susan Boulton – A/ Manager Public Access, Queensland State Archives

Queensland Places – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, Thursday Island

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church was built by the priests of the Mission of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart soon after they arrived on the island in late 1884.  It is likely that the first church building they built forms part of the existing church, although this is not certain.  However, by the early 1900s, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church had taken on its present form and appearance.

The church had come about as the Sacred Heart fathers wished to establish a mission in New Guinea to act as a base or foothold in the region.  In view of this, a mission in the Torres Strait would serve as a convenient mid point and connection between the society’s churches in Australia and those proposed for New Guinea.  The first priests arrived on 24 October 1884 with the early masses being held at McNulty’s Hotel, which later became the Federal Hotel.

The land upon which the church and residence were to be built was purchased in January 1885, with the first small Sacred Heart church being erected over the next year.  By the end of 1886 the mission had expanded to several buildings including a small convent and presbytery.  A small school house was erected in around 1900.  The murals inside the church building were painted by a local islander, David Sing in 1935.  David Sing, born in 1911, had become a lay preacher by around the age of seventeen and used his artistic skills tp paint murals in this church as well as others in Port Moresby and Tully, Queensland.  He also painted a range of other works during his life.

The Sacred Heart church and school have undergone various changes over the years including the way in which, and by whom they are administered.  For instance, after 1967, the parish was no longer staffed by Sacred Heart priests but by priests of the general Cairns diocese.  Some of the various renovations and changes that have been made to the church since its original construction include the replacement of the spire in 1983 by a fibreglass replica of the original iron sheet spire.  The church also underwent substantial centenary restoration in the later 1980s/early 1990s and now survives as an important reminder of the place of the Sacred Heart Mission in Thursday Island’s history.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Thursday Island ca. 1905

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Thursday Island ca. 1905

This photograph shows the church in 1905, only some twenty years after it was first constructed.

Brian Randall – Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.