17 February 2014

The Fairfield History Walk

'A fair field full of folk found I in between,
Of all manner of men the rich and the poor,
Working and wandering as the world asketh.
Some put them to plow and played little enough,
At setting and sowing they sweated right hard
And won that which wasters by gluttony destroy.'
(W Langland, Piers Plowman, c.1390-87)

In June 2014 I 'sweated right hard' myself and braved late-afternoon Brisbane summer temperatures that hovered in the mid-30s (brave for an old Lancastrian lard-arse like me, anyway) and headed out to discover the hidden history of Fairfield in southern Brisbane.

The event was a free guided tour researched and headed by local resident Denis Peel, who had invited along a group of friends and colleagues for this inaugural heritage event.

The tour group at Robinson Park, Fairfield, 16 February 2014. (C Dawson)
The tour group at Robinson Park, Fairfield, 16 February 2014. (C Dawson)

I confess something of a personal attachment to Fairfield, having lived there with my wife during our hedonistic university days and having also written the Brisbane Beginnings: Fairfield local history book (not to mention having been born at Fairfield Hospital in Bury, Lancashire), so there was also a nostalgic element to my enjoyment of the day (especially finding that the little 'AM + CD' we inscribed into wet roadside cement 14 years ago was still there).

As pleasant as it is, in the 19th century Fairfield was a generally agricultural area where, much as Langland would have described it, "Some put them to plow and played little enough", and so its history is not as incident-packed as some nearby suburbs. It is also bereft of major heritage landmarks and, as Denis pointed out, it's never even been home to a pub or a school. I discovered as much during research for the Fairfield book, and places like this require digging a bit deeper to get to the historical stories.

Interstate train passes through Fairfield, Brisbane, 1930. (John Oxley Library)
Interstate train passes through Fairfield, 1930 (John Oxley Library)

Denis had clearly done this groundwork, and although he acknowledged the help of the Fairfield book, he had uncovered so much more beyond that outline. We went from the railway station to Robinson Park (home of makeshift Depression-era golf links), saw some historic homes, including those of the Grimes family (we had Pam, a Grimes descendant, in the tour group as well), a scenic riverside stop, a church and the old Wilkins estate. Even as a former resident of Fairfield I still learnt a hell of a lot of new stuff and saw nooks and crannies of the suburb I hadn't noticed before.

It was a really good crowd of people too, with a few other history makers and buffs along for the walk. Although Denis led things along very comfortably, there were plenty of times when others in the group spoke up to add to the mix of information. It's a democratic approach to sharing history we also like to see on the Moonlight Tours of nearby South Brisbane Cemetery.

Walking tour stops at Mildmay Street, Fairfield, 16 February 2014. (C Dawson)
Mildmay Street, Fairfield, 16 February 2014. (C Dawson)

The tour will be repeated later this year, and similar walks will also be taking place in West End. Its great to see these projects being initiated at a local level, often without the framework of a historical society. The fact that they are non-profit (and usually free) show they are labours of love and genuine interest, which for me always gives this kind of activity the edge over for-profit tours.

I've always advocated that promoting a historical understanding of the buildings and streets and parks and waterways in the everyday suburban landscapes that surround us will promote a deeper sense of attachment to place in the community, and a stronger desire to protect heritage when it is threatened. So the more that people like Denis step up and create these excellent walks, the better.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris, nice to meet you yesterday. The link to the West End Making History Group website is www.streetwalkersguidetowestend.com
    Our next walk is April 6 and will follow Walk No. 1. The time and place will be on our facebook page closer to the date.
    Denis will pass on my contact details to you. Steve Capelin