In her new book Midnight Sun to Southern Cross Ruth Bonetti tells of her grandfather WA Back’s role in heading Coronation Park Ltd, a syndicate of graziers and businessmen who were active in the residential development of the southern part of today’s St Lucia. In 1921 they acquired 148 acres of land and converted it into 870 lush building blocks, of which the University later resumed 200 blocks.
“From the time I first saw the beautiful hills of St Lucia I knew that one day it would blossom” Mr Back muses. “There were times though, that courage, faith – and a bundle of unwanted land – was all that we had. The subdivision had been carried out on a contour town plan system by two of the best surveyors in the business [McInnis & Manning]. We wanted to make it a model suburb; and even in the early days each sale contract carried certain development clauses. Trees were to be left intact and only houses costing a minimum of £700 were allowed to be built”…
In 1946-47 Coronation Park Ltd wound up voluntarily and the unsold land was divided among the partners. Mr Back, left with a parcel of about 40 blocks agreed to take over the sale of some of the other land of his associates. “In 1948 there were mobs of Kangaroos all over the place, dirt roads, and no worthwhile shopping facilities” he says. (WA Back interview – The Telegraph 25 January, 1948)
Born in 1886 in Finland, then a Grand Duchy under Russia, Wilhelm Anders Back escaped conscription into the Russian army by migrating to the Byron Bay area as a 16-year old. Ruth’s book outlines how he became the quintessential Migrant Made Good, building the Art Deco ‘Big House with a lift in it’ on Hawken Drive, later owned by Michael and Quentin Bryce.
What drove the wheeler-dealer Wilhelm Anders Back, known as WA, to become in his time Australia’s richest Finn? And what stirred his eccentric writerly elder brother Karl Johan, KJ, pacifist and political dissenter whose own story is told in this books predecessor Burn My Letters.
Both books are timely in the centenary year of Finnish Independence as they track the Back brothers’ flight from Russian-occupied Finland to Australia as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth. From frozen Finland to the lush rainforests of northern New South Wales, to the dry and dusty sheep country of western Queensland, the stories follow the highs and lows of their new life. It is an extraordinary tale of success, failure, hard work and dreaming.
Midnight Sun to Southern Cross was launched by Dr Bill Glasson OA in the St Lucia Uniting Church with a recital using the organ Ruth’s grandfather donated.
Copies of the book, $28 each or $50 for both, are available from http://www.ruthbonetti.com/burn-my-letters/