Guest blogger: Dr Madonna Grehan, 2015 John Oxley Library Fellow.
After buying Exton House at 337 Queen Street Brisbane, the Centaur Memorial Fund needed £15,000 for renovations. In early 1949, they devised a raffle, ‘the first of its kind in Queensland’,¹ in which the main prize was a house and land package in the Chester Estate No.2 at Mt Gravatt.
The Chester Estate was Brisbane’s first large-scale property development, begun in 1948 by George Chester, a banana merchant-turned builder. Over five years, Chester & Sons developed four distinct estates, building two houses every week.² Architects Blackburne & Gzell produced ten house designs which applied to the entire project, a consistency which made these neighbourhoods ‘depressingly monotonous’.³
Chester agreed to donate to the Fund a 32-perch block of land and build a house on it for £2,000. The Fund expected to recoup that cost in raffle ticket sales.5 Valued by F.P. Blight at £200, the block was Subdivision 142, possibly located on the south-west corner of Herrick Street.6 This novel first prize was marketed as Centaur House, Logan Road, Mt Gravatt, near the Mt Gravatt Hotel.
The idea for the raffle came from Joe Cranitch, the Fund’s Organising Secretary. Technically called an “art union”, this fundraiser needed permission from the Justice Department. But, as Joe Cranitch discovered, Queensland’s Art Union Regulation Act 1930 Amendment Act 1943 (QLD), Section 5(1), expressly prohibited real estate from being offered as a prize. Cranitch appealed to Mr P.F. Byrne, Undersecretary of the Justice Department, arguing that furthering an educational memorial to the nursing profession was worthy of a permit. Mr Byrne was unmoved.
To proceed with the Centaur Art Union, the Fund had to offer something else as first prize. The Justice Department recommended Commonwealth Bonds equal to the cost of the house so that the winner could use these Bonds to purchase Centaur House Mt Gravatt. George Chester meanwhile had to sign an affidavit, guaranteeing completion of the building.
Lord Mayor Alderman Chandler turned the first sod on the ground on 1 September 1949. At 1 shilling each, tickets sold all over Queensland, but sales were low. The closing date of 24 December 1949 was extended to 6 February 1950, with a draw on 14 February.
Mr W McIlwraith, a 72 year old pensioner from McDonnell Road, Redcliffe, won first prize. He had been unable to work, having been badly injured in a car accident which claimed the life of his wife. Unfortunately for the Fund, McIlwraith loved his neat cottage in the bush. He did not want a new home and opted for the Commonwealth Bonds. This left the Fund £4,000 out of pocket, being the cost of the Bonds and the cost of constructing the house. Further embarrassment followed. Mrs D. Pope of the Golden Crest Hotel in Isisford advised that she had inadvertently posted the butts for her sold tickets to the Red Cross. Those tickets were not included in the draw and refunds were necessary.
The Fund invited tenders for the property at Mt Gravatt. An initial offer from Sergeant Christopher Dan Begley of 12 Magdala St Ascot was later withdrawn. In August 1950, Centaur House Mt Gravatt was purchased by Mr Charles Frederick and Mrs Therese Albina Myrtle Illidge for £2,800.
While the Centaur Art Union cannot claim to be Queensland’s first raffle of real estate, it triggered substantial legislative change. In 1954, amendments to Queensland’s Art Union Regulation Act 1930 allowed houses and land to be raffled as prizes.
Dr Madonna Grehan was the 2015 John Oxley Library Fellow. Her previous research on the Centaur Memorial Fund can be found here:
- ATNA Nurses’ Rest Home, 17-19 Mallon St, Bowen Hills
- Avenging the Nurses: Government’s response to the sinking of 2/3 Australian Hospital Ship Centaur
- Centaur Day, 14 May, and Red Roses for Remembrance
- Queen of the Nurses Quest
- How to crown a Queen
- Brisbane’s first street markets – The Spring Hill Fair
- The Diggers’ Friend: Sadie [Sarah] Charlotte Macdonald 1875-1970 (with Marg Doherty)
- Two men and a presentation cricket bat
- Len Shillam’s 2/3 AHS Centaur Memorial, 1957
- At the Brisbane Ekka, 1950-1977 – the Centaur Memorial Fund’s money spinner
- Flotsam from the 2/3 Australian Hospital Ship Centaur
- Fiesta Gardens 1948 – a touch of Hollywood at Slacks Creek (with Dr Hilda Maclean)
- Centaur House Memorial Hostel, Magnetic Island
1. 26 July 1949. Cranitch to Mr Chester 5/5 Outward Correspondence, 1.3.1949 -3.5.1949
2. Kate Harbison, 2000. Brisbites. http://archive.li/EUTkv , accessed 2 May 2016.
3. M.B. McCabe, 1968. A Chronological Classification of Brisbane House types and its relevance to a study in urban geography, MA thesis in Geography, University of Queensland, p57, available at: https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:205552. Accessed 2 May 2016
4. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:205552. Accessed 2 May 2016
5. OMEG/23 and 27/3
6. Thanks to Steve Grehan, Licenced Surveyor, for identifying this location, using aerial imagery from the 1960s to track the roof line and layout, and comparing topography with images today.