Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Queen City of the North: A History of Townsville

Queen City of the North: A History of Townsville - is now available to purchase!!

Thanks to its stature as the premier city of North Queensland, from as early as 1895 Townsville was known as the “Queen City of the North”. This book is a leisurely stroll through some of the fascinating aspects of the Queen City’s history since its settlement in 1864 as a port for the region’s pastoral industry. From tragic tales such as the disappearance of the last lighthouse keeper at Bay Rock, the sinking of the SS Yongala, shark attacks in Ross Creek, and the destruction caused by floods and cyclones; to gun battles in the city streets over workers’ rights, the bombing of the city during World War II, and a cast of colourful characters that shaped the city’s fortunes; this book presents a remarkably vivid picture of life in early Townsville that will delight history lovers.

Trisha Fielding won a National Trust of Queensland Award in 2010 for her first book, Flinders Street, Townsville: A Pictorial History, and was awarded the John Oxley Library Award in 2015 for her blog on North Queensland History. 

Praise for Queen City of the North:
“Trisha brings early Townsville to life in an exploration of important, quirky and ordinary events. These snapshots of our history bring us closer to our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations.”
Paula Tapiolas
 ABC Local Radio Current Affairs Presenter.

Trisha Fielding at the launch of Queen City of the North: a History of Townsville
Photo: Ashley Fielding

Cost: $35
Plus postage & Handling to anywhere in Australia: $15
(this postage covers up to 4 books)

Other details:
A4 paperback, 160 pages, weight 700 grams, published 2016.
ISBN: 9780646941349

To place your order, please email me at and I will provide direct debit details.

The book is also available at the following outlets:

Mary Who? Bookshop
414 Flinders Street,
Telephone: (07) 4771 3824
Queen City of the North: a History of Townsville - on the shelf at Mary Who? Bookshop

QBD The Bookshop
Willows Shopping Centre
Thuringowa Drive and Hervey Range Road, Kirwan
Telephone: (07) 4766 9600
Queen City of the North: A History of Townsville - on the shelf at QBD The Bookshop, Willows Shopping Centre

QBD The Bookshop
Shop 293, Stockland Townsville
310 Ross River Road, Aitkenvale
Telephone: (07) 4422 0300
Queen City of the North: a History of Townsville - at QBD The Bookshop, Stockland Townsville.

Townsville Museum
1/27 Barbeler Street,
Telephone: (07) 4775 7838

State Library of Queensland
Library Shop
Level 1, Cultural Centre
Stanley Place, South Brisbane
Telephone: (07) 3840 7576


Listen to my interview with Paula Tapiolas on ABC Local Radio, from November 2016, where I talk about the book and its connection to ABC radio.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Townsville on the Move

Townsville has long had a love affair with all things aviation. The success of the recent T150 Defence Force Air Show and RAAF Base Open Day capped off a tradition of flocking to see air shows and displays that has existed in Townsville since the 1930s.
The 'Star of Townsville' at Ross River Aerodrome, 1930.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
When the Star of Townsville flew into the city for the first time in March 1930, thousands of excited locals were gathered at the newly constructed Ross River Plains aerodrome to see it land. The Queensland Air Navigation Company Limited’s Avro 618 Ten - named the Star of Townsville - was a tri-motor monoplane capable of carrying eight passengers and two crew between Townsville and Brisbane in just one day.

The following day the Mayor, Alderman W.J. Heatley, was invited to christen the Star of Townsville, something he was pleased to do, as he felt that “aviation was soon going to be a big mode of travel in Australia”. A propeller on the Star of Townsville was decked with flags and a bottle of champagne, which the Mayor duly broke with a decorated hammer.

Later in the day, locals were able to take a half-hour flight over the city in the Star of Townsville, and that weekend, an air show was held at the aerodrome that attracted 10,000 people - approximately a third of the city’s population.
Southern Cross arriving at Essendon aerodrome, Melbourne, on 13 June 1928, on a tour following the trans-Pacific flight. Austin Byrne collection, National Museum of Australia. 
A little over two years later in July 1932, crowds again flocked to the Ross River aerodrome, this time to see famed aviator Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith and his Southern Cross. “Smithy” flew passenger joy flights over three consecutive days, for the cost of 20 shillings per flight. The 25-mile flight promised to take in the sights of Magnetic Island and Cleveland Bay, but the cost must have been a little steep for some, as a second aircraft was scheduled to run flights in conjunction with Smithy. The de Havilland DH50, piloted by Mr O.B. Hall, conducted the same flights for half the price - 10 shillings - “to suit the pockets of those who cannot afford the higher price”.

Because of its close proximity to the river, the Ross River aerodrome was prone to seasonal flooding and by 1938 the Townsville City Council were planning a new “all-weather” airfield. They chose a site on the Town Common, because it was considered a dead-end, with little likelihood of nearby residential development in the foreseeable future. Soon, the Royal Australian Air Force chose to set up a base at the new airfield at Garbutt, and the future of air travel in Townsville, for both commercial and defence purposes, was secured.

The enthusiasm for air travel was such that people all over the world believed that before long air travel would be as common as travelling in a motor vehicle. A Frenchman named Henri Mignet had this in mind when he designed a small aeroplane in the early 1930s called the “Flying Flea”. Apparently anyone with basic carpentry skills who was capable of following Mignet’s instruction book could build their own Flying Flea for roughly £100. Amateur flying enthusiasts seized the opportunity and 1,000 of the aircraft were built and flown in England in 1935 alone.

But the aircraft’s safety credentials were less than ideal. After seven fatal nose-diving accidents in France and England up to May 1936, the Civil Aviation Department moved to temporarily ban the Flying Flea from Australian skies. A 1936 report of the French Air Ministry based on full scale tests in a large wind tunnel, found the Flying Flea suffered from “lateral instability” and poor handling qualities, and was not powerful enough to satisfy the requirements for a certificate of navigability.
Pilot Bill Stewart and James Carey, who built the plane, standing beside the Flying Flea.
Photo: W.J. Laurie, JCU Library Special Collections.
Townsville’s first (and possibly only) “Flying Flea” was built by Mr James Carey with the assistance of his father, Mr William Carey, who both lived in North Ward. The machine was powered by a four-cylinder motorcycle engine and could fly at a speed of over 60 miles an hour. Carey’s friend, Bill Stewart, was the first to fly the machine, in October 1938. Mr Stewart went on to join the RAAF as a pilot and saw service during World War II. He was killed in an accident in England at the end of 1941 and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

After design improvements, the ban on the aircraft was lifted. However, even though the Flying Flea was popular in Australia, it is likely that less than ten of the aircraft were ever actually flown here, making Townsville’s Flying Flea a rare bird indeed.

This is the final article in the JCU Library Special Collections’ series of eight articles written by Trisha Fielding, which utilise the Collections’ varied resources to explore the historical themes for its “Townsville Past & Present” T150 project.

To read the JCU Library News blog post on the displays pertaining to this theme, go to:

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Bold and The Brutal

Hundreds of students pass by, and through, the Library building at James Cook University’s Douglas campus every day during semester, but many would have little idea of the building’s significance, other than for its obvious function as a library and central meeting place. Designed by architect James Birrell, and opened in 1968, it is arguably one of Townsville’s most architecturally significant buildings.

Stage 1 of James Cook University Library, c. 1970. Designed by architect James Birrell.
Source: James Cook University Library Special Collections.
The undisputed focal point of the campus, Birrell designed a three-storey rectangular, off-form concrete building, with an oversized steel-framed copper roof. Described as having a “sculptural form with sloping exterior walls”, Birrell’s library is an outstanding example of 1960s Brutalist architecture.

Descended from the Modernist architectural movement, Brutalism (which was in vogue in Australia from the 1950s to the 1970s) has been described as one of the most polarising architectural movements of the twentieth century. People either love Brutalist buildings, or they hate them. There’s no middle ground.

James Cook University Library under construction, June 1968. Note the "floating" copper roof.
James Cook University Library Special Collections. 
Considered by many to be aesthetically displeasing, even ugly, because of the style’s use of exaggerated scale and unrelieved use of raw, undressed concrete, Brutalist buildings are common on university campuses built throughout Australia during the post-war years. The name Brutalism itself does the movement no favours - evoking as it does images of something savage, harsh, or unpleasant - although the term is in fact derived from the French “b├ęton brut”, and means “raw concrete”.

Brutalist architecture in Australia had wide-ranging international influences and Birrell’s library design was a beneficiary of these. Those influences included the Hungarian-born architect Marcel Bruer, who designed the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; English architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry; and Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier, who designed and planned the city of Chandigarh, in northern India. Le Corbusier’s 1950s Brutalist Capitol Complex in Chandigarh comprises three buildings - the Secretariat, the Legislative Assembly, and the High Court - which were recently collectively listed as a World Heritage site. The two latter buildings inspired JCU Library’s monumental roof.

Legislative Assembly, Chandigarh, India, designed by Le Corbusier
By duncid (KIF_4646_Pano) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
High Court Building, Chandigarh, India, designed by Le Corbusier.
By Paul Lechevallier [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Not unsurprisingly, Birrell was also influenced by his lecturer at Melbourne University, Roy Grounds, a leading Victorian architect of the Modern movement. Grounds’ National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne (the first stage of which was completed in 1968) shares similar features to Birrell’s JCU Library. Both buildings employ the use of reinforced concrete (though Grounds’ gallery is clad in bluestone), and both have a “floating roof” with oriental design influences; and similar arched entrances. Grounds’ gallery is surrounded by a water-filled moat, while dry, stone-filled drains, designed to carry away storm water runoff from the roof, surround Birrell’s JCU Library.

National Gallery of Victoria, designed by Roy Grounds.
By Robert Merkel at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Although the ground level of the JCU Library has since been enclosed, Birrell designed it so that, “the lowest level was mostly open as a great undercroft where the university population could meet and relax.”

“The concrete walls of the exterior slope slightly as they rise and at the level of the meeting place were pierced with circular openings, random in size and location,” he said.

“I felt this important to the atmosphere of relaxation and a counterpoint to the intensity of study.”

Together with Gordon Stephenson, Birrell also designed the overall master plan of the university’s layout. In his design, Birrell was influenced by Walter Burley Griffin’s design for the city of Canberra, particularly in relation to integrating the architecture into the landscape. Buildings were sited along broad axial lines that referenced Mount Stuart and Magnetic Island, with academic services to be situated inside the “ring road”, and other facilities, including residential colleges, to be located outside the ring.

Architect James Birrell sited JCU's library in such a way that it would have "an affinity with the mountain backdrop".
Photo: James Cook University Library Special Collections
Although it has been added to and altered considerably since the first stage was built, Birrell’s JCU Library is perhaps one of the most unique buildings in Townsville, and the only one that can truly be described as “Brutalist”.

However, there are two buildings in Townsville’s CBD that could be described as “Brutalist-inspired”. The Supreme Court complex in Walker Street was designed by the Queensland Public Works Department in the mid 1970s. Of masonry construction, with a raw patterned concrete finish to the exterior, the design employs heavily over-scaled features, with each floor extending over the one below. The Townsville City Council’s Civic Centre, also in Walker Street, designed by the Brisbane architectural firm of Lund, Hutton, Newell and Paulsen in 1973, is another example.
The "Brutalist-inspired" Townsville City Council Civic Centre.
Source: City Libraries Townsville Local History Collection.
This is the seventh in the JCU Library Special Collections’ series of eight articles written by Trisha Fielding which utilise the Collections’ varied resources to explore the historical themes for its “Townsville Past & Present” T150 project.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Queensland Railway Ambulance Corps

The Queensland Railway Ambulance Corps was established in 1892 to train railway employees in first aid. It was considered that railway employees, because of the nature of their employment, were “especially liable to accident, and that the knowledge of the elementary rules of the treatment to be followed to preserve life and prevent undue suffering,” was likely to be of great value to them, as they were often situated far from medical assistance.

Members of the Queensland Railway Ambulance Corps (Bowen team) competing for the Commissioner's Shield in the State Final of the annual first aid competition, Brisbane, October 1939. They are seen here constructing a makeshift stretcher.
Photo: Private Collection.
Annual competitions to test the first aid skills of members of the Corps were held from 1914. Teams from all over Queensland proudly represented their region. One north Queensland team – the Bowen team - was extremely successful in the annual first aid competitions in the late 1930s.

In September 1939, the Bowen team defeated Charters Towers, Hughenden and Townsville at Rollingstone, before going on to defeat Cairns, Innisfail, Kuranda and Alma Den at the regional final in Cairns. The team members consisted of Messrs E. Moore (Captain), I.A. Fielding, F.R. Andrews, P. Herlihy and R. Ryan (patient). Team member Ivan Fielding won the individual contest, with 53 points, over W. Ross of Alma Den, and G.A. Bell, of Cairns.

The Bowen team then went on to compete against four other teams for the Commissioner’s Shield, in Brisbane, in October. The competition involved a number of set tasks, including making improvised stretchers from whatever material could be obtained. Each team member was allowed one pocket-knife, and each team was allowed one tomahawk (to be used for splitting saplings). Team members could also use their own items of clothing.
Members of the Queensland Railway Ambulance Corps (Bowen team) competing for the Commissioner's Shield in the State Final of the annual first aid competition, Brisbane, October 1939. Second from right is Ivan Fielding, who won the individual award, the St. John's Ambulance Silver Cup.
Photo: Private Collection.
You can see in the photograph above that the patient’s legs are strapped down using belts and neck ties, and that the bandaging has been made from the team members’ shirts. Even shoelaces could be used, provided they complied with the competition’s regulation length. Challenges for competitors also included an oral examination on anatomy, and carrying a “casualty” over obstacles on an improvised stretcher.

Members of the Queensland Railway Ambulance Corps (Bowen team) competing for the Commissioner's Shield in the State Final of the annual first aid competition, Brisbane, October 1939. Watching on with interest, are members of the Australian Army Medical Corps Militia, and the pipers of the 61st Battalion Queensland Cameron Highlanders, who in time of war were regimental stretcher-bearers.    
Photo: Private Collection.
Rockhampton won the shield that year, with 448 points out of a possible 530. Bowen came second, with 419 points, and Mayne Junction came third, with 410 points. But it was Bowen’s Ivan Fielding who excelled again, winning the St. John’s Ambulance Silver Cup.

Bowen Independent, 15 September 1939; 16 October 1939.
Cairns Post, 14 September 1939.
Brisbane Telegraph, 12 October 1939.
Macno, V., Buchanan, R., and Blake, T., 'More than work', Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 5 (1), 2011, pp. 107-120.