Tennyson: the power of the ebb and flood

Tennyson: the power of the ebb and flood

By Susan Prior

The site of the Queensland Tennis Centre, and the surrounding suburb of Tennyson, has an interesting history that is definitely worth exploring. I clearly remember the enormous derelict and decaying hulk of the disused power station when I first moved to the area. Now the tennis centre and exclusive apartments dominate the landscape.

As a suburb Tennyson's fortunes have waxed and waned, from rural farmland to semi-industrial boom and decline, and finally to premium real estate. Over the years, the site has had a number of different uses, including as farm land, an army camp, a power station, and more recently as luxury apartments tucked between the river and the tennis centre. But let’s start at the beginning.

Before the arrival of white colonists, the Jagara tribe lived south of the Brisbane River, and this particular area was probably occupied by the Yerongpan clan who lived along Oxley Creek. They spoke the Turrbal language and had a ceremonial ground at Chelmer, further along the river, where the Sherwood Australian Football Club now stands.

In 1823, Thomas Pamphlett and two other shipwrecked men, Finnegan and Parsons—all cedar wood cutters—made their way up what is now known as the Brisbane River until they reached a tributary where they found two native canoes. They named this waterway Canoe Creek, but it later became known as Oxley Creek. And the stretch of river just before the creek, which runs alongside the suburb now known as Tennyson, was called Canoe Reach.

Bronze canoe near Pamphlett Bridge.

Today, as a nod to these three intrepid souls, there is a bronze sculpture of an aboriginal canoe containing a spear, a dilly-bag, a crab and a fish—which is the kind of cargo that would have been on board such a vessel—in the park near the Pamphlett Bridge. Pamphlett’s adventures are also remembered in the naming of the Pamphlett Sea Scouts and the aforementioned bridge that was finally built over the Oxley Creek in 1964—having first been requested as far back as 1863, and again in the 1930s when the proposal was met with public opposition.

A spear, a dilly-bag, a crab and a fish.

The area was tangled dense scrub, so in the 1850s the first use of the land came when timber cutters felled trees and floated them down river. By 1861, George Pratten had surveyed the area for farmland and in 1862 the first blocks were sold. The Grimes brothers bought the area that is now the Brisbane Golf Club and a Mr J Mooney purchased the area that later became the Tennyson Power Station. The variety of crops grown at various times included arrowroot, sugar, cotton, bananas and potatoes, along with the construction of sugar and arrowroot mills. The area has always been flood prone, as one of the original settlers James Strong found out in both 1863 and 1864; in addition, a series of bad winters in the 1870s put paid to the sugar industry.

By 1884, the same James Strong named the area Softstone, but in 1892 (although I have also seen the dates of 1887 and 1894 quoted) this was changed to Tennyson, apparently as a compliment to the poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This tiny suburb (with a population of 859 in 2011) has just a few streets, but at least four are named after his Arthurian poems: Camelot Street, King Arthur Terrace, Lancelot Street and Merlin Street.

Front view of the beautiful Hayslope, a residence in Tennyson, Brisbane, 1932, photo courtesy of the John Oxley Library, negative number 47509

Built in 1887, by Mr Thomas Martin, was the notable estate of Hayslope. On 20 October 1932, F.E. Lord wrote in The Queenslander that Hayslope was named:

for the reason that from the slopes of the site hay was gathered and chaffed in a converted sugar mill that was on the property when he purchased it.

The article went on:

The very name Hayslope brings to mind rural scenes; and the lovely home of this name rears its queenly height from the midst of the open spaces of Tennyson, near the ever beautiful river. It also is in view of most parts of Yeerongpilly. When I viewed it last on a fair morning, after some of our recent rains, with ‘The vaulted blue above it, and the sunlit slopes below, 'peopled' with beautiful trees,’ a more comely picture than it would be difficult to find. The surrounding scene, especially in its present state of verdure, is one ‘divinely fair’.

Tennyson Power Station, Brisbane, 1961, photo courtesy of the John Oxley Library, negative number 201308

Apparently, the home was quite stunning. But sadly for posterity, it was purchased by the Brisbane City Council in 1947 and demolished to make way for the construction of the Tennyson Power Station, the building for which commenced in 1950. The site, part of which had also been used as a staging camp during World War II, had been chosen by a Mr Quinn in 1945, the former manager of the Tennyson and Power House Department of the council. By this time Tennyson had changed from being a semi-rural idyll to being a bustling semi-industrial suburb with a rail goods yard, a plywood factory, wine warehouse and a cigarette factory, albeit with pockets of delightful suburban houses, including some very luxurious estates, such as Tintagel, along King Arthur Terrace.

Floodwaters surround the power station at Tennyson in southern Brisbane. Royal Historical Society of Queensland

Built at a cost of $1 million by Brisbane City Council workers, the power station operated, while liberally sprinkling ash over the surrounding area, from 1954 until 1986. Head master of Milpera State High School, Tom Beck, told me that at one stage the ash waste from the power station was transported to a landfill site where the school now stands in Chelmer. The power station survived flooding, but eventually closed down; it fell idle for 15 years while the future of the site was deliberated. The process of decommissioning the plant was complicated by the large quantities of asbestos involved in the building, which required careful disposal. At one stage, there was a proposal to convert the building to a film studio, but eventually the site was purchased by Mirvac in 2005. Mirvac won the contract to build the international Queensland Tennis Centre and 300 luxury apartments.

This video is of the Tennyson Power Station Demolition, Tower 3 Pull Over. Back in 2004 Rosenlund was commissioned to demolish the old Tennyson Power Station that was situated along the Brisbane River.

In 2009 the Tennis Centre opened. And in January 2011 the area was once again inundated by flood waters, much to the consternation of the new apartment dwellers. Mirvac decided not to go ahead building a further apartment tower planned for part of the site because of the flooding, and consequently sold the land back to Brisbane City Council, eventually settling on a price of $9 million. The Ken Fletcher Park was built on this land and has been voted by Brisbane Kids as one of the most ‘awesome’ children’s play areas in Brisbane.

More recently, in 2015, a 40-metre long stretch of land in front of Ken Fletcher Park slipped into the Brisbane River taking the cycle path with it and destabilising an unused Mirvac sales office. The council insisted that this was a natural phenomenon and there was no cause for concern.

But this isn’t the end of the story for this site by a long shot.

Just over the fence in Yeerongpilly, in an area adjoining the tennis centre and the Mirvac apartments, there are plans for between 1100 and 1200 new units, a home base for the Queensland Music Festival, plus retail and food outlets. Construction began in 2016, and you can find a detailed plan of the development here

From Oxley Creek, looking up Canoe Reach to the Mirvac apartments

The lazaret at Peel Island, Moreton Bay

The lazaret at Peel Island, Moreton Bay

Arboretum – A place grown with trees

Arboretum – A place grown with trees