DARK SE­CRETS

There’s blood-soaked her­itage aplenty in Bris­bane’s grue­some past, writes Denise Cullen

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

FROM the top of Bris­bane’s land­mark Story Bridge, climbers can peer down on the site of a sav­age mur­der that shaped the for­tunes of the city. One morn­ing in 1848, the body parts of a for­mer con­vict turned tim­ber-get­ter — ‘‘ ex­pertly butchered’’, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal au­thor Rosamond Siemon — were found scat­tered around the gen­tle curve of Kan­ga­roo Point.

The legs were dis­cov­ered be­low the high­wa­ter mark of the Bris­bane River, the arms and up­per torso up the road, and the in­testines spilling out of a nearby well.

The ‘‘ still bleed­ing’’ head, mean­while, was propped up in an un­fin­ished build­ing, Siemon writes in TheMayneIn­her­i­tance (Univer­sity of Queens­land Press, 1997).

A man was hanged for the crime within months, but it was an­other 17 years be­fore the real killer — butcher, school pa­tron and prom­i­nent al­der­man Pa­trick Mayne — made a deathbed con­fes­sion. It turns out Mayne had used the money stolen from his vic­tim to set him­self up and, with time and cun­ning, par­layed th­ese ill-got­ten gains into a busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal em­pire that stretched across bud­ding Bris­bane.

Mayne’s de­scen­dants sub­se­quently do­nated the land on which the Univer­sity of Queens­land’s jacaranda-stud­ded St Lu­cia cam­pus is sit­u­ated and, through other acts of gen­eros­ity, were widely recog­nised as the state’s great­est bene­fac­tors.

Yet th­ese and other bloody lega­cies would be news to many Sun­shine State res­i­dents. Each week, an es­ti­mated 1500 in­ter­state mi­grants, mostly from NSW and Vic­to­ria, pour over the border in search of a less com­pli­cated, more care­free lifestyle.

Most would be shocked to learn of their adopted cap­i­tal city’s grue­some past, says lo­cal his­to­rian and tour guide Jack Sim: ‘‘ There has been a dis­tinctly south­ern fo­cus when it comes to our coun­try’s his­tory.’’

The Rocks dis­trict in Syd­ney and Tas­ma­nia’s no­to­ri­ous Port Arthur prison, Sim adds, weren’t the only places built on the backs of pris­on­ers trans­ported to Aus­tralia. Along with Nor­folk Is­land, the More­ton Bay pe­nal set­tle­ment (as Bris­bane was known from 1824 to 1842) was re­served for ‘‘ the worst of the worst’’ and gar­nered a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the harsh­est con­vict out­posts.

Yet there is lit­tle re­main­ing phys­i­cal ev­i­dence of the dark­est days of Bris­bane’s birth. When the area was opened to free set­tlers, Sim claims the pop­u­la­tion’s ‘‘ patho­log­i­cal’’ need to es­cape the past re­sulted in the de­struc­tion of many re­minders.

Build­ings from the pe­nal era were torn down, gi­ant stately More­ton Bay fig trees (to which pris­on­ers were tied for flog­gings) were up­rooted and foun­da­tion stones were ‘‘ cut out of the face of the earth’’.

To­day, only two con­vict-built struc­tures stand along­side the city’s sky­scrapers. Con­structed in 1828, orig­i­nally to grind wheat and corn for the early pe­nal set­tle­ment, the Old Wind­mill finds it­self in­con­gru­ously perched amid the med­i­cal spe­cial­ist of­fices of Wick­ham Ter­race, Spring Hill. (While not open to the pub­lic, this land­mark is in­cluded in most whistlestop tours of Bris­bane.)

The first two floors of the Com­mis­sariat Store on the banks of the Bris­bane River in William Street were also built by con­victs at warder dived in head­first, broke his neck and drowned in the shal­lows.

This is one of dozens of bleak tales that emerge dur­ing our sunny day in the old slammer. With of­fences such as ‘‘ singing in the ward’’ pun­ish­able by soli­tary con­fine­ment and ‘‘ in­so­lence and dis­re­spect’’ by 14 days’ shot drill (a march with a can­non ball af­ter a day’s hard labour), many pris­on­ers saw sui­cide as their only ticket off the is­land.

Oth­ers tried to es­cape by swim­ming to the main­land. How­ever, many more were dis­cour­aged by the warders’ nightly prac­tice of throw­ing an­i­mal of­fal and other ber­ley from the prison farm’s slaugh­ter­house to at­tract sharks. And if that didn’t put off pris­on­ers, the prospect of 25 lashes likely did.

Back on the main­land, Bris­bane’s Boggo Road Gaol, dat­ing back to 1883, shares an in­ter­linked his­tory, as it was orig­i­nally in­tended to serve as a hold­ing place for pris­on­ers head­ing to St Helena Is­land. More

‘ about the same time, un­der the di­rec­tion of com­man­dant Pa­trick Logan. The build­ing now houses a mu­seum.

More elu­sive ghosts can be glimpsed else­where. Leav­ing be­hind hun­dreds of gleam­ing white boats at the Bris­bane bayside sub­urb of Manly to cut through a calm green sea, it’s a half-hour voy­age aboard the cata­ma­ran Cat-O’-Nine-Tails to haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful St Helena Is­land.

Dis­em­bark­ing pas­sen­gers ut­ter shouts of de­light at dol­phins leap­ing in the dis­tance. Dubbed Aus­tralia’s Al­ca­traz, St Helena Is­land func­tioned as Queens­land’s fore­most colo­nial max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison from 1867. Most of the is­land, in­clud­ing the stone prison ru­ins, is ac­ces­si­ble to­day only by guided tour.

Near the jetty, a bizarre rec­tan­gu­lar en­clo­sure com­pris­ing rusted iron bars is re­vealed to have been a swim­ming en­clo­sure for the prison warders. But as much as it kept out sharks, it kept in sand: one morn­ing, a than 42 peo­ple were ex­e­cuted there over the years. In the 1980s the jail was the scene of ri­ots, which even­tu­ally led to its clo­sure.

Con­verted to a mu­seum in 1992, it at­tracted thou­sands of vis­i­tors, but is again closed to the pub­lic pend­ing re­de­vel­op­ment into an ur­ban vil­lage with the his­toric sec­tion of the jail re­tained as part of the project, says his­to­rian Peter Lawler. (The prison is sched­uled to re­open to the pub­lic in 2009.)

In the mean­time, tours of Toowong ceme­tery, Queens­land’s old­est and largest, take place ev­ery Satur­day night. Hugged by free­ways, fly­overs and high-priced real es­tate, the ceme­tery is the burial place of some of early Bris­bane’s most prom­i­nent iden­ti­ties, in­clud­ing colonel Samuel Black­all, Queens­land’s sec­ond gov­er­nor.

There is also an im­pos­ing me­mo­rial to the no­to­ri­ous Mayne, along with the bod­ies of his de­scen­dants, though his phys­i­cal re­mains lie else­where. With her wide eyes glint­ing in the dim light, our tour guide claims that grates at the base of the fam­ily crypt, de­signed to al­low gases from the de­com­po­si­tion process to es­cape, have been seen to gush with a ‘‘ thick crim­son liq­uid rep­re­sent­ing the blood on the hands of the mur­der­ous Mayne’’. She urges fur­ther re­flec­tive pause at the tomb near the main gates be­long­ing to rail­way worker and hote­lier Ed­ward McGre­gor. Ru­mour has it that the life-size mar­ble like­ness that sits atop McGre­gor’s fi­nal rest­ing place has been re­ported ris­ing from its pedestal to wan­der the ceme­tery grounds and pinch flow­ers from the nearby botanic gar­dens.

Back to­wards the CBD and across the snaking Bris­bane River, the glitzy recre­ational precinct of South Bank — with its shops, ho­tels, restau­rants and ar­ti­fi­cial beach — is an­other site of sig­nif­i­cant leg­end.

The ghost of Logan is a ‘‘ par­tic­u­larly well­known piece of lo­cal folk­lore’’, says Brian Ran­dall, man­ager of her­itage in­for­ma­tion ser­vices with the State Li­brary of Queens­land. In ad­di­tion to serv­ing as one of the pe­nal colony’s ear­li­est com­man­dants, Logan was a keen ex­plorer and ad­ven­turer who went miss­ing, re­port­edly killed dur­ing a skir­mish with Abo­rig­ines in 1830.

Dur­ing the time be­tween Logan’s dis­ap­pear­ance and the dis­cov­ery of his body by a search party two days’ ride from Bris­bane, con­victs stand­ing where the Vic­to­ria Bridge now arches from the CBD over the river to South Bank re­ported see­ing his for­lorn form. ‘‘ They thought they saw him wav­ing from the other side of the river, in­di­cat­ing he wanted them to come and get him,’’ Ran­dall ex­plains.

Ran­dall, who is com­pil­ing a book on haunted Aus­tralian ho­tels, used the fa­mous 118-year-old Break­fast Creek Ho­tel as his start­ing point.

Over the years, bar­tenders, cel­lar­men and other em­ploy­ees have re­ported en­coun­ters with the orig­i­nal pro­pri­etor, William McNaughton Gal­loway, in the older part of the ho­tel. Ru­mour has it that staff locked their drunken boss, af­fec­tion­ately known as Bill, in an up­stairs room to sleep it off.

Re­luc­tant to miss the party be­low, how­ever, the publi­can shim­mied down a drain­pipe out­side the win­dow and slipped to his death.

Ghost musters: Bris­bane’s Story Bridge at sun­set, above; the con­vict-built Old Wind­mill Ob­ser­va­tory, Wick­ham Park, top right; haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful’ St Helena Is­land, bot­tom right

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