There has often been discussion at St Lucia History Group meetings about the reported difficulties experienced by the early European settlers accessing Brisbane in the late 1850s/early 1860s. The requirement to deliver their produce to market in town by rowboat is well recorded and reflects on the state of early road making.
When the surveyors prepared the original sub-division plans for St Lucia they included for ‘Government’ roads. In reality these were merely identified road reserves. They were provided to enable free access to each of the lots offered for sale, without the need for easements, and in addition, common access to the riverbank. The individual lots (Portions) were in the order of 40 acres each and dedicated roads were kept to a minimum, road reserves generated no income. Interestingly the first lot offered, which was purchased in 1852, is described as Portion 7 of the Parish of Indooroopilly. It had no nominated road access.
On completion of the surveys the provision for roads comprised one running east–west along the spine, Carmody Road (current day names used for simplicity), collecting on its way from its eastern extremity ‘Jetty Road’ a north-south river connector in the line of Mill Road, and Ryans Road, before turning south and joining Swann Road. Swann Road extended from Sandy Creek (just south of its current junction with Carawa Street) through to Moggill Road at Taringa. Its intersection with Indooroopilly (Pocket) Road at Gailey (then) four ways and then via Burns Road, was the most direct way to head off to Brisbane. A road bridge over Toowong Creek near the river, and Gailey Road would not be constructed until the mid/late 1880s respectively.
But which direction did the farmers take from the intersection of Burns Road and High Street, head up Jephson Street towards Milton Road or down High Street to get onto Coronation Drive ? From the mid 1860s, if there was a choice and they were undecided, they could at least ponder this over a beer at the pub on the intersection, the Toowong Retreat.
Many texts note that surveyor James Warner established the line of the road out through what are today’s western suburbs as early as 1849, so referring to his early surveys seemed a good place to start. Once his proposed route for this road was examined it revealed a number surprises (and didn’t really help with answering the above !).
Warner was one of the three surveyors sent up from Sydney in 1839 to prepare for the free settlement of the Moreton Bay District, as it would be known after the closure of the penal establishment. Up until this time there was a strictly enforced fifty mile exclusion zone around what was essentially a semi-open prison, for which there had been little need for any co-ordinated survey or mapping. Free settlement, with land being offered for sale or lease, was the impetus for this work to be done.
One of the outcomes was senior surveyor Robert Dixon’s 1842 map, which provided a co-ordinated representation of the natural features of the district based on survey. It extended from the Maroochy River in the north to Mt Warning in the south, and from the escarpment up to the Darling Downs in the west, to Point Lookout in the east. It included the principal rivers and creeks, the rudimentary line of such ‘tracks’ as existed at the time, named and unnamed mountains, and indicated diagrammatically the extent of elevated ranges. Dixon’s map also included suggestions for the layout of ‘Parishes’, notably on the lower reaches of the Brisbane River and along the Bremer and its tributaries.
Land tenure terminology includes ‘County’ (hundreds of square miles), ‘Parish’ (around 15,000 acres) and ‘Portions’ (sub-divisions of Parishes – typically 5 to 50 acres in the inner west suburbs). The land that would become St Lucia is part of the County of Stanley, the Parish of Indooroopilly and its initial sub-division in the 1850s comprised Portions 7 to 25, 29, 30 and 31.
Warner’s 1849 proposal for the route of the road north of the river, believed to be to avoid the need to build bridges across the significant creeks running into it, was clearly neither along the line of today’s Milton Road nor Coronation Drive. Its (crudely projected) route was much further from the riverbank, along today’s Heussler Terrace and Haig Road, crossing Milton Road near Dixon Street, bisecting Sylvan Road and then just north of the route of the railway to the intersection of High Street and Burns Road.
In contrast, his proposed crossing point of Moggill Creek closely resembles the current line of Moggill Road. Warner selected the point as it had a good shingle bottom that would suffice as a ford until such time as a bridge could be built. His plan shows six portions of land already surveyed south of Moggill Creek (boundary of the Parish of Indooroopilly), explaining why the St Lucia ones stared at No 7.
Obviously the actual route of the road through Milton was determined by some other criteria, and in this case, the answer appears to be tied in with the initial sub-division of land. Within months of submitting his plan for the road he was called upon to produce a survey for the first suburban allotments to be offered for sale immediately west of the Brisbane Town boundary.
His 1850 plan is for the land extending from the boundary to Western Creek, between the river and current day Milton Road. 28 allotments are identified and it is fairly clear what provision he made for roads. These allotments were offered for sale in August 1851. Five allotments in the Park Road area were re-offered in January 1852 suggesting they did not sell at the first auction.
The description of the allotments in the Government Gazette proclaiming the sale (and subsequently reported in the Moreton Bay Courier) identify the road reserve which would become Coronation Drive, describing it as ‘1 chain 50 links wide from high water mark’. The Government Gazette also refers to this as the ‘present road to Brisbane’. This is somewhat confusing, at least west of Boundary Creek. To this point the road would be a logical extension of North Quay, beyond this there is no indication that any of the creeks had been bridged on this or any of the other two surveys that defined the route of the main roads through Milton.
The c1851 plan, the balance of the riverfront land from Western Creek to just beyond Toowong Creek, was offered for sale from 1852. This included the first land to be sold in St Lucia, Portion 7 which was purchased by Robert Cribb who established it as Lang Farm. Again take up must have been slow as notifications continued until at least July 1853.
The 1854 plan defined the line of the balance of Milton Road, the Government Gazette noting that Portions 36 to 41 would be offered for sale by auction on 2 August 1854.
Warner’s proposal for the road through Moggill fared better over time. In preparing the survey he was originally responding to directions from Sydney to not only determine its line, but also to provide a plan for a ‘village’ and ‘suburban’ allotments in the loop of the river, the land stretching from the intersection of today’s Matfield Street/Moggill Road and the ferry crossing. Surveyor General Mitchell in Sydney was not too happy with the village layout, however, there appears to have been no adverse comments about the road.
West of Moggill Creek Warner settled on a route in part defined by existing land sub-division, but largely determined by his own expertise. By 1865 this was effectively cemented in place by subsequent sub-division surveys as the land was progressively offered for sale.
Creating a road reserve on plan and making it usable were two different things. Back to the Milton Reach, Warner’s 1849 proposal was designed to avoid the need for bridges, the subsequent and overriding alignments made them a necessity. The following letter to the Editor of the Moreton Bay Courier in December 1857 suggests that their construction had only recently been completed. [Creek names below are authors interpretation].
THE BRIDGES IN THE MILTON SUBURBS.
Sir, I would crave a small space in your columns to draw attention to the manner in which a portion of the grant for public works has been expended. When we invest our money in the erection of bridges, we may reasonably expect that those in authority will see that we secure the best possible article for our cash.
Three bridges have just been erected in the Milton suburbs, one near to Mr. McDougall’s, and two others at intervals towards Lang Farm. The first [Boundary Creek] does not seem objectionable, the second [Western Creek] is below the level of the road; but, being anxious to avoid, the reputation of being a mere grumbler, I avoid further comment. The third [Langsville Creek], however, is a very stupid job, and, to the eye of a person uninitiated in the mysteries of Government engineering, presents a perfect puzzle.
The workmanship in all those structures does not appear to be open to censure, the fault is in the plan of the third ! Instead of being placed so as to form a continuation of the right line of the road, the third bridge crosses it diagonally ! The creek does the same, and the party preparing the plan seems to have been anxious to set the bridge square across the latter ! I should like to see our Engineer (if it is his planning) drive a team of bullocks and a dray past the sharp angle of this bridge. It is possible that he has been unjustly censured, and that he is not to blame for this waste of money, so pitiable, where a few pounds more would have avoided the evil. Who then is it attributable to, the Engineer himself, the Board of Works or the Board of Incapables may be doubtful, but this is certain, that as at present constructed, the bridge in question is made to fit the road to Nowhere.
This ‘skew’ bridge would be held up as an example of begrudging expenditure by the authorities in Sydney as part of the push for separation from NSW (Queensland would become a colony in 1859). Other articles in the press during the late 1850s/early 1860s complain of resident’s fencing encroaching onto the road reserves, the Brisbane Council considering the use of prisoners on road making in the Milton area, and repairs to the bridge at Boundary Creek. By the end of 1862 it had been condemned and demolished, to be replaced by a new one with stone rather than timber piers.
A little closer to Toowong the reserve for the western end of Coronation Drive would not be finalised on Title until the Village of Nona sub-division plan was lodged in 1865 (the area that would become the current ‘CDB’ of Toowong). By coincidence the estate plan was prepared by James Warner. At least by this time the real estate agents were noting that the road alongside the river had been recently ‘perfectly formed and made, converting it into one of the pleasantest carriage drives out of Brisbane’ particularly as it afforded views of the river along its length.
So, which way from the Toowong Retreat ? Perhaps it was immaterial, the Indooroopilly farmers (St Lucia, Long Pocket and parts of Taringa/Indooroopilly) were still having trouble getting this far, as the following outline:
Road Conditions – To the Minister January 18, 1865.
To The Honourable A McAllister, Minister for Land and Works
We the undersigned free-holders, leaseholders and residents in and about the neighbourhood of the Six Mile Reach on the north side of the Brisbane River and beyond Lang Farm, beg most respectfully to invite your attention to the serious disabilities under which we at present labour in bringing farm and garden produce to market.
By reference to the Surveyor General’s map of the locality you will perceive roads have been marked out, which if opened out would give access to our homesteads, that not having been done necessitates our conveying the produce of our farms by the river.
We are fully alive to the advantages of the river communications, yet the delay and loss of much valuable time, waiting for the tide when proceeding to or from Brisbane, is found to be a very serious drawback to an industrious man whose entire attention is required upon the ground to make farming pay.
Under these circumstances and with the knowledge that you have done much to ameliorate the condition of many persons engaged in agricultural pursuits by causing roads to open out to the locations.
We beg most respectfully that you will be pleased to take this our prayers into your kind consideration and direct the roads in the locality above be opened to be at least partially cleared so that we may make a dray track from our farms to the metropolis whereby we shall be enabled to save much valuable time and instead of losing as we sometimes do, a day in getting to markets, accomplish that objective in a couple of hours.
Petition had 45 Signatures (Queensland State Archives)
Letter to the Editor of The Queenslander April 1868
THE ROAD vs THE RIVER.
It is a common impression that if a man can gain a river frontage he is all right. It is said to be so easy to take produce to market by water. But the experience of a few years tells a different tale.
Here are we of the parish of Indooroopilly who mostly have boats on the water, what is the result ? Number 1 boat, which cost £25, is completely used up after five years’ service ; No. 2 cost £26, and is not now worth £5; No. 3 cost £30, and after only three months service is so badly eaten with cobra that repairs are necessary. This shows what actually happens to boats after a short service. When we take into account the number continually coming to grief by accident, it will be seen that the conveyance of produce by river is no trifling expense.
Then there is the time consumed in making the long journey by a winding river, ordinarily four times the length of the road. It takes us eighteen hours to make a trip by water. Besides, we must have a dray or drays, and if the roads were at all passable, it would be much better for us to go by land.
What I wish to impress upon the road authorities is that it does not follow because a number of people settle at a certain place and have good river frontage, it is therefore unnecessary to do anything for them in the way of roads. In this neighbourhood there are many settlers, but all find it ruinous to do business with town by means of the river. We would rather that a tax was imposed upon each one to make the bad places crossable. The feeling is very prevalent here that if Government paid a share of the necessary expense to make passable roads, the settlers would only be too happy to pay a share also.
Yours, ONWARD. Indooroopilly, April 4 (NLA Trove)
In its formative years the Colonial Government’s response was limited by both the availability of funding, and an appropriate structure to implement the necessary works. This was in part improved by the creation of local road trusts in the early 1870s, however, these appear to have relied to some extent on a self-help basis (locals providing haulage etc). It wouldn’t be until the early 1880s, when local authorities beyond the metropolitan boundaries were created, and local rates levied (ONWARD got his wish), that any significant improvement would be made in suburban road making and maintenance. This would coincide with the residential land sub-division boom, the period when our network of secondary roads and streets would be defined.
[These notes are based on presentations given at meetings of the local history groups and societies at St Lucia, Indooroopilly and Moggill. Andrew Darbyshire, November 2019]