The history of the Coronation Drive Office Park - Part 8

The history of the Coronation Drive Office Park - Part 8

A hub of transportation

By Angus Veitch

The tram workshops

In May 1914, an area of 49 perches on Boomerang Street was resumed with the intention of establishing a new power-house for the city’s tram network, then operated by the privately owned Brisbane Tramway Company. Two months later, E.J. Bennett’s ‘Poplars’ residence, which had been standing at the south-east corner of the CDOP site for about 50 years, was torn down. No power-house was ever built there (it was eventually built at New Farm), but the Tramway Company retained the land and used it for stables.

In February 1924, the Tramway Trust (the Council-owned entity that took over the trams in 1923) resumed a further acre of land at the CDOP site to build new workshops, as the existing facilities at Countess Street had become inadequate. The new workshops were completed in 1928 and were situated near the railway at the north-eastern corner of the CDOP site. In the following year, the City Council (which took over from the Tramway Trust in 1925) built a new administration office for tramway staff on the corner of Boomerang Street and River Road.(1)

The tram workshops were built in 1927, the same year as the Council’s detailed plan for the site was drawn. They occupied the north-east corner of the site, but would later expand. The outlined buildings on the left side of the figure are the Carr brothers’ sanitary stables. Hover over or tap the image to see the modern landscape.

The tram workshops were built in 1927, the same year as the Council’s detail plan for the site was drawn. They occupied the north-east corner of the site, but would later expand. The outlined buildings on the left side of the figure are the Carr brothers’ sanitary stables. Hover over or tap the image to see the modern landscape.

The tram workshops, 1968. (Brisbane Tramway Museum)

During World War II, the tram workshops produced sprocket wheels for the caterpillar treads of army tanks, as well as ‘dummy’ wooden guns that were designed to fool the Japanese into thinking that Brisbane was well defended.(2) After the war, the workshops were duplicated to increase the production of trams and replace the aging fleet. By 1949, the workshops employed 450 employees and were turning out a new tram every three weeks. All parts were made at the site except for motors, wheel centres and brakes. The site even included a printing press for tickets, signs and advertising.

Still hungry for space, the council resumed the property of the sanitary depot and the incinerator in 1950. The plan was to build a bus and tram depot on this land, but later photos of the site suggest that buses were simply parked on the grass. The council had hoped to acquire the entire CDOP site at this time, but a building application for the expansion of Dell Price’s garage stood in the way.(3) The south-east corner of the site was never resumed, and today is still owned and operated separately from the rest of the site.

After Brisbane’s tram services ended in April 1969, many trams were destroyed on the CDOP site. Buses were likely kept at the site until the administration centre at the CDOP site was closed in 1978-9. All of the council’s buildings and facilities were demolished, leaving most of the site unoccupied for the first time since 1850.

From left to right: trams being destroyed in 1969. (Brisbane Tramway Museum); buses at the CDOP site in 1976. (BCC-B120-30940); the site in 1980 after the transport depot had closed. (BCC-B120-1123.1)

The Park-and-Ride

The CDOP site had been a crucial hub of Brisbane’s tram and bus network for more than 50 years when the transport office and bus depot closed. In the 1980s the site made one more contribution to the city’s transport system by hosting Brisbane’s first ‘park and’ ride’ car park. This scheme enabled commuters to park their cars just outside the city and finish their journey by bus or train. The car park covered only the eastern side of the site, while the council’s land on the western side remained undeveloped. In the original version of the image shown below, you can see in the south-west corner of the site a Datsun car centre and an office building owned by VACC insurance.

In the mid-1980s, the council settled on a new direction for the site, and in 1986 they called for tenders to design an office park. The development of the present site commenced in the early 1990s.

The park-and-ride site in 1982. (BCC-B120-2696)

Celebrating an unglamorous history

For a site covering just a few hectares, the Coronation Drive Office Park has a surprisingly rich history. While many uses of the site over the years have been (to put it mildly) less than glamorous, they nonetheless have been of great significance in the development of Brisbane, and arguably Queensland as well. John George Cribb’s efforts to acclimatise new fruit varieties and pioneer new farming technologies surely earned the site a place in the state’s horticultural history.

The site’s non-agricultural industries were also of local and regional importance. The Milton Distillery addressed a shortage of local rum supplies in the 1870s and accounted for a sizable share of the state’s production. The nightsoil dump and the incinerator played a vital role in Brisbane’s sanitation in the first half of the twentieth century, disposing of much of the city’s garbage and sewage. From the late 1920s the site was a crucial hub of Brisbane’s public transport system, being the place where many of the city’s trams and buses were built and maintained. As the city’s first park-and-ride car park during the 1980s, the site made one final contribution to the evolution of public transport in Brisbane.

As the uses of the site have changed over the years, so too has its landscape. There is little evidence now of the meandering, tidal reaches of Boundary Creek, and you have to look closely to notice the hill that kept Fairholme dry in the 1893 flood. I never learned when the Moreton Bay figs were planted, but judging from the 1946 aerial photo, these trees have been one of the few constants on the site over the last three quarters of a century.

The filling in of Boundary Creek was perhaps the defining act in the site’s history. It fused two separate pieces of land into one, opening up new opportunities for how the site could be used. Despite erasing part of the site’s history, this act served to preserve some of it as well. Among the rubbish used to fill in the creek were the ashes from the Milton Incinerator, and undoubtedly other junk from around the site. Quite literally then, a chapter of the site’s history lies embedded in its built-up grounds.

As parts of the site gets redeveloped, perhaps some of this buried history will be unearthed. An old rum bottle, a molten jam tin, a part of a tram — who knows? Even if none of the site’s history is resumed physically, there is still an opportunity to resurrect it symbolically. Perhaps a water feature in memory of Boundary Creek, a bar in honour of the distillery, a fruit tree or plough to remember John George Cribb, or (my personal favourite) a toilet block in memory of the sanitary depot.

A recent initiative of the City Council has already made some aspects of the CDOP site’s history more visible. During the course of this investigation, the council erected a handful of educative signs on the site as part of the Meander through Milton Heritage Trail. There’s also a trail called Reminisce in Rosalie, as well as a very informative installation at the mouth of Western Creek. Despite getting an eerie feeling that the council’s historian and I are somehow stalking one another, I am heartened to see that the area’s history is getting so much attention. And I am glad to have given it a little bit more.

Thank you to AMP Capital for supporting this research.

  1. The guns are described and pictured in the City Council’s booklet for the Meander through Milton Heritage Trail.
  2. Tramways Correspondence, Brisbane City Archives, BCA0967.
  3. Ibid. 
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