The history of the Coronation Drive Office Park - Part 1
By Angus Veitch
This series of articles is all about the part of Milton bounded by the railway, Cribb Street, Coronation Drive and Boomerang Street. If you live in Brisbane, it’s a place that you have probably passed many times without really noticing. From Coronation Drive it presents as a row of office buildings and some jacarandas; from the train, as a car park and some Moreton Bay figs. From within, the site feels like a secluded, shady village. Interspersed with the eight office buildings and fig trees are a tennis court, a childcare centre, a multi-level carpark, an open carpark, cafes, and various shops including a Flight Centre and a real estate office. This site is known (to those who know it as anything at all) as the Coronation Drive Office Park.
AMP Capital, which manages of the majority of the site (1) are considering the next stage of its development. Before commencing this development, AMP Capital wanted to learn more about the site’s past. They asked me if I would like to do some research, and I jumped at the opportunity. After several weeks plumbing the depths of Trove, the Brisbane City Archives and various other sources, I produced a report documenting the history of the Coronation Drive Office Park.
You can download the report here (it’s about 13MB – apologies for the big download), but for a shorter, more web-friendly version of the story, read on. The story is divided into eight sections, with this one being the first, each examining different phases or aspects of the site’s history: 'Before European settlement', 'The edge of town', 'A place of residence', 'Roads and railway', 'Boundary Creek', 'A site of industry', 'A hub of sanitation', and 'A hub of transportation'.
Before European settlement
Most of what is known about the site of the Coronation Drive Office Park (from here onwards called the CDOP site) prior to European arrival comes from the records of the first European explorers and settlers. Captain Cook sailed around Moreton Bay in 1770, and Matthew Flinders surveyed part of it in 1789, but neither of them found the Brisbane River, let alone came close to the CDOP site — and neither did any other Europeans until 1823.
The accidental tourists
The first Europeans to discover the Brisbane River were not explorers, and they did not come there on purpose. They didn’t even know where they were. They were so thoroughly lost that they thought they were in Jervis bay, south of Sydney. These accidental explorers were three paroled convicts named Thomas Pamphlet, Richard Parsons and John Finnegan, who had set off from Sydney on 21 March 1823 bound for Illawarra. Their boat was blown off-course by a storm, and after three thirsty, wretched weeks at sea (during which a fourth passenger, named John Thompson, died) they came aground at Moreton Island.(2)
Through the generosity of the local Aboriginal tribes, the three men regained their health and spent the next six months trying to walk back to Sydney. They rowed to present-day Cleveland in a canoe and headed north (they were lost, remember) until they reached the Brisbane River. Unable to cross it, they trekked upstream as far as Oxley Creek, where they found a canoe. Here they crossed the river, but found the scrub on the other side too thick and rough to walk through. Back on the south side of the river, with one man paddling and the other two walking (the canoe was not big enough for the three of them), they returned to the bay and continued northwards.
In their journey to this point the three castaways would have passed the CDOP site twice, but only from the opposite bank of the river.
Their journey north did not get any easier. Pamphlet made it is far as the Mooloolah River before aching feet and the urgings of an Aboriginal friend drove him back to the company of the natives. Finnegan turned back at the Noosa River after quarrelling with Parsons, who continued alone.(3) When John Oxley sailed into Moreton Bay on the evening of 29 November 1823, Pamphlet was on the beach of Bribie Island cooking fish with the natives. He waved Oxley ashore, whereupon he learned with astonishment that he was 500 miles from home, and in the opposite direction to what he had presumed. Finnegan was away on a hunting trip but returned the next morning, and a day later led Oxley to the Brisbane River.
The man on a mission
John Oxley had been tasked with finding a site for a new penal settlement. He had been as far north as Port Curtis and was making his way back down the coast when he encountered Finnegan and subsequently made the first survey of the Brisbane River. He named it after Sir Thomas Brisbane, who was then the governor of the colony of New South Wales. Oxley explored the river as far upstream as Goodna and delivered to Governor Brisbane an enthusiastic report about the surrounding country and its prospects for a new settlement.(4)
Although John Oxley did not land near the CDOP site in 1823, he did record observations as he sailed past. He marked and described navigational ‘stations’ about every mile or two along the river. Station 10 was at the bend in the river at North Quay near the Grey Street Bridge, and Station 11 was near the site of the Regatta Hotel.(5) Of these stations he noted:
Station 10. – From this station to the next on the same shore, the river forms a magnificent crescent of two and a-half miles of forest land. The larboard [south] shore, a thick brush with some cypress ...
Station 11, on Starboard Side. – Which still continues low, open forest, good grass and iron-bark trees; opposite side, rich, low brush.(6)
The CDOP site was at the downstream end of this magnificent stretch of forest, a part of the river that Oxley referred to as the Crescent Reach when he returned for a more detailed survey in September 1824. On that second expedition, Oxley came much closer to the CDOP site, and may have even set foot there. He travelled as far upstream as the Mount Crosby area before the depressed state of the river impeded further progress. On his way back to the bay he spent the night of the 27th of September camped in present-day Auchenflower near the site of the Wesley Hospital. The next morning he landed in present-day Milton to look for fresh water, which he found ‘in abundance and of excellent quality, being at this season a chain of ponds watering a fine valley’. The abundance of water here even in a time of drought led Oxley to note the area as suitable site for a first settlement on the river.(7)
There is now general agreement that Oxley came ashore near Western Creek – better known today as the Milton Drain – and found water in the vicinity of Gregory Park. Oxley’s field book is sufficiently sketchy, however, to permit the possibility that he landed closer to the CDOP site or investigated it on foot. The historian T.C. Truman, who first proposed the account of Oxley’s landing that is accepted today, even speculated that the CDOP was where Oxley found the chain of ponds.
The pre-European environment
Suppose that Oxley had ventured onto the CDOP site in 1824. What would he have seen?
The first thing he would have noticed, especially since he was looking for water, was a creek. Visible on all maps of area the dating up to the early 20th century, this creek met the river where the Go-Between Bridge now meets Coronation Drive. From here it meandered across the CDOP site, taking a dog-leg turn in the north-western portion and forming a ring-like confluence where it crossed the path of the railway. It then continued upstream through a swamp where Suncorp Stadium now stands. Its headwaters were the slopes of Paddington and Red Hill.
This waterway later became known as Boundary Creek. The figure to the right shows how it was depicted on the earliest surviving map of the area, drawn by the surveyor Henry Wade in 1844. The image below shows the approximate extent of the creek’s catchment area in the context of the modern landscape.
Boundary Creek would have been tidal throughout the CDOP site and possibly as far upstream as the stadium. The water in the tidal zone would have been fairly fresh in wet periods, but occasionally brackish in dry spells.(8) The vegetation along the creek, at least at the lowest reaches, was probably a mix of mangroves and freshwater species.
Something else Oxley might have noticed while searching for water was evidence of the local Aborigines — perhaps a fishing net or a canoe by the creek, or freshly dug-up swamp fern (Blechnum indicum), the roots of which were a staple food. He certainly knew that the Aborigines were near, having had a dramatic encounter with them the night before near the site of the Wesley Hospital. In both 1823 and 1824 he observed large gatherings of Aborigines at the site of the Regatta Hotel.
The area was home to the Turrbal People, whose language was spoken from Logan to North Pine and as far inland as Moggil.(9) Their association with the CDOP site and its immediate surrounds likely went back thousands of years. Sadly, no information about it has survived except for John Oxley’s brief accounts.
- Except for half a hectare at the corner of Coronation Drive and Cribb Street, the site is owned by AMP and Sunsuper.
- Pamphlett’s account of the castaways’ misadventure was documented by John Uniacke, a member of Oxley’s crew. A Reproduction of Pamphlett’s narrative is available at SEQ History. The Wikipedia articles for Thomas Pamphlett, Richard Parsons and John Finnegan provide additional background.
- Parsons continued for several hundred kilometres before the intensifying heat tipped him off to the fact that Sydney might be in the opposite direction. He returned to Bribie Island, from where he was collected by John Oxley in September 1824.
- Oxley’s own account of his 1823 expedition up the Brisbane River is available at SEQ History.
- I have taken the station locations from T.C. Truman’s article, ‘Rewriting the history of Brisbane’s birth‘, printed in the Courier Mail on 3 May 1950.
- From the reproduction of Oxley’s journal at SEQ History.
- John Oxley’s field book from the 1824 expedition is reproduced in J.G. Steele’s The Explorers of the Moreton Bay District 1770-1830, published in 1972 by University of Queensland Press, St Lucia. All further references to Oxley’s 1824 visit are based on this source.
- See Section 2.2 of the full report for more information about this topic.
- Most of what is known about the indigenous people of Brisbane derives from the account of Thomas Petrie. Thomas came to the Moreton Bay settlement as a child in 1837 with his father Andrew Petrie, a builder who was assigned as the colony’s Superintendent of Works. With few other white children to play with, he mingled freely with the local Aborigines, learning their language and customs. His experiences were recounted by his daughter Constance Campbell Petrie in her book Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland, published in 1904. A reproduction of the text is available at SEQ History