08 December 2010

Queensland Historical Atlas is Go!

The launch of the online Queensland Historical Atlas.
Last night I attended the launch of the online 'Queensland Historical Atlas' at Customs House in Brisbane. This website has been a long time in the works and is part of an overall grant project of $1M overseen by the University of Queensland and the Queensland Museum.

The QHAtlas combines history, environmental studies, archaeology, anthropology and cultural geography to explore ‘themes in the landscape’, and is intended to "re-comprehend Queensland’s history on a grand scale - spanning historical eras, cultural perspectives and diverse human activities."

I was invited to take part in this project back in 2008, and contributed the page on prison history called 'Stone walls do a prison make'. There are about 100 contributors overall, and the website looks great, containing many articles and thousands of images and maps.

If I had one issue it would be the use of 'conceptual themes' to lay the information out, which I know has caused a couple of non-academic friends to scratch their heads when first looking at the site, but if you just use the in-site 'search' facility you should be able to find a number of links to whatever subject you are after. But then, classification of diverse knowledge is always a challenge, something I learned when creating a new catalogue for the artefact collection at Boggo Road. This little quibble aside, this website is a great new tool for people looking into Queensland history.

18 November 2010

Boggo Road Talk Draws a Crowd

A talk on Boggo Road Gaol at the State Library of Queensland draws a big crowd.
Yesterday I attended a talk at the State Library of Queensland on the subject of Boggo Road. This was part of the 'Out of the Port' series of talks at the library, and was given by Robert Riddel, an architect with a background in conservation and adaptive reuse. Robert also worked on a Conservation Management Plan for Boggo Road Gaol that is currently being updated.

It was great to see the auditorium full to capacity with around 70-80 people, which made the event a great promotion for the Boggo Road site. Robert covered much of the architectural and social history of Boggo Road, using an interesting set of slides, and hopefully the talk should be available on the SLQ website soon as a podcast (watch here). I was hoping for more discussion on the future of the site, as I have already done much reading on the history of the gaol, but state government planning is now a few weeks away from coming up with something more concrete and as someone involved in that process Robert had to be somewhat circumspect on the subject.

It was nevertheless a very enjoyable talk, and no doubt the assembled librarians, historians, public servants and members of the public came away with a renewed appreciation of the importance of the Boggo Road prison site.

Just as a side note, the mentioning of the fact that most female prisoners of the 1900s were in prison for drunkenness seemed to amuse some sections of the audience. Having written a book on this subject, I have to say that this amusement was misplaced. Hopefully the site interpretation at the Boggo Road site in future will help further explain the incredible hardships that working-class women of the time suffered.

07 November 2010

Boggoroadian Day 2010

The annual reunion of former Boggo Road officers, now known as 'Boggoroadian Day', took place as usual on the first Saturday in November, and once again it was a great success with well over 100 officers, spouses and family attending.

Not a scene from the reunion!

After years of little activity among the former officers, this event has recently been resurrected thanks largely to the efforts of John Peel, who spends much of the year phoning, emailing and snail-mailing ex-staff right around Australia. His dedication to the cause has ensured that the early achievements of Don Walters, Dave Jefferson and others in organising the Retired Prison Officers Association in the 1980s have been continued and more than matched.

Attendees represent a wealth of experience at the site, from the 1930s right up to the closure of the prison in the 1990s. It is a time to catch up with old friends, avoid old sparring partners, swap a few anecdotes, remember those who are no longer with us, and find out what is happening now at Boggo Road itself.

This was the third Boggoroadian Day for the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society, who assist in the promotion of the event and have a stall there. This year we attracted 44 new members, bringing our current total very close to the 200 mark. Some people even brought in memorabilia and artefacts from the old prison to donate to us, and these will be recorded and stored in our Queensland Prisons Collection.

It would have been special to see this event staged at the old prison itself, but it now looks like Boggo Road may not be reopening for a while. Until that can happen, John and the others will carry on with this great work in ensuring that the most important part of Boggo Road history - the people themselves - will continue to stay strong and connected, and keep that history very much alive.

28 August 2010

Moonlight Tours Madness!

Last night we ran our first 'Moonlight Tour' over at the South Brisbane Cemetery, and may well have saved the cemetery from serious damage when the prompt actions of tour staff led to the expulsion of a large group of rowdy trespassers.

Photo of Moonlight Tours South Brisbane Cemetery (BRGHS)

Reaching the point of presenting our first tour was no easy task for us and the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery. We've had to negotiate a long bureaucratic process and ignore a series of ridiculous threats from a person trying to stop us, and I guess it shouldn't have too surprising when our first tour proved to be rather dramatic.

Towards the end of the tour we were stood in the heart of the cemetery answering questions, when a car pulled into the cemetery, then another one, then another one. All up at least five cars full of yahoos drove in, parked up some 50 metres away from us, and the occupants got out and started larking around very noisily. We quickly moved the group away and called the cops, and about five minutes later two squad cars, two paddy wagons and the dog squad turned up. They blocked off the entrances to the cemetery and went in and managed to round up the trespassers, take their numbers, and send them on their way.

The police response was brilliant, and it was all rather exciting for the tour group! However, it did highlight some serious issues:

1. the need for lockable gates to be installed at South Brisbane Cemetery
2. the cemetery laws are too weak to allow for trespassers like these to be charged

We will be raising the issues with the city council, but in the meantime why not join us for a Moonlight Tour . We can't promise drama and action every time, but we can promise a fascinating and fun tour experience at the great price of just $15.

07 July 2010

Satan Story Rises From the Grave

There's a bit of strange article on the web today about the Brisbane City Council placing extra security to combat Satanist wannabees in our cemeteries in an attempt to reduce vandalism. What makes it strange is that these security patrols commenced last year, and those of us who had been pushing for a stronger approach by BCC on the issue of cemetery vandalism were told of them back then.

Satan Story Rises From the Grave

So why is it news now? It seems the measures were announced in the BCC Civic Cabinet in October 2009, the minutes of which were previously kept secret but have now been released.

Thats fair enough, but surely the introduction of extra security patrols in cemeteries should have been broadcast far and wide by the BCC back when they started. Unless of course they wanted to catch people unawares, but I don't know of any arrests yet.

There is still some way to go on this issue. Fencing off places like South Brisbane Cemetery would be a good step. It may not stop people from getting in, but a good fence sends a message to would-be trespassers, its lets them know that this is a line and if they cross this line then they are knowingly breaking the law.

Which is another thing. Although Attorney-General Cameron Dick is currently reviewing vandalism laws, it would also help if the BCC introduced some cemetery by-laws of its own. They only need to look at Ipswich council, who have such laws in place and the general cemetery fenced off, and have had only one case of vandalism in five years (BTW - that vandalism happened on the day that a Queensland 'paranormal investigation' group was in there. Connection or coincidence?)

So, yeah, strange to see old news surfacing this morning, but welcome nonetheless. Hopefully one day BCC will actually go all-out on this issue.

06 May 2010

The Best Social History Museum in Brisbane?

A merry band of Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society members paid a visit to Brisbane's Commissariat Store on William Street yesterday and enjoyed a very enjoyable guided tour of the place with Royal Historical Society of Queensland guide David Rex.

Commissariat Store, Brisbane.

IMHO, this really is the best social history museum in Brisbane. The building itself (1829) is one of the great Queensland artefacts, the exhibition space inside is used well, the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable, and it's very affordable. A great way to spend an hour or two if you're in town.

We had a little nostalgia attack when we saw the gallows beam that we used for our 2005 'Gallows of Boggo Road' exhibition, still in the display case that we made for it.

In terms of social history displays, the Commissariat Store currently has more to offer than the Museum of Brisbane or the Queensland Museum at Southbank, both of which have more funding and staff at their disposal.

Of course, it should be said that if the BRGHS gets its way, the best social history museum in Brisbane will be over at Boggo Road itself!