17 December 2016

The Life & Death Quiz #3: Brisbane Prison History

It's time for another 'Life and Death Quiz', this time with ten multiple-choice questions about the history of various prisons in Brisbane.

Be warned - they're not too easy! You can find some answers in the 'Prisons of Colonial Queensland' website.

(Also check out more 'Life and Death Quizzes' here when you've finished).

07 December 2016

The Short Life of Marburg Prison Farm

During World War 2 the small town of Marburg (about 60km west of Brisbane) had a brief but somewhat confusing role in the Queensland prison system. A new prison farm for women was established there in 1944 to help relieve the overcrowding problem at the female division of Boggo Road in Brisbane, caused by the strict policing of local women's sexual contact with Australian and American servicemen. The female division at the time was a bit of a ramshackle timber-and-tin affair with a capacity of 24, and the rising crime rate among women meant that the facility was often overcrowded. At one point it contained 50 inmates.

One particular problem was the number of women being kept in prison because they kept escaping from the Lock Hospital, a place where women with STD’s were forcibly detained for treatment. This was in the days before Penicillin, a drug that would render such facilities obsolete during the following decade.

The state government announced in April 1944 that a former private hospital in Marburg would be converted into a new prison farm for women, similar to the recently-opened male State Farms at Palen Creek, Numinbah and Whitenbah (a fifth Queensland prison farm opened in late 1944 at Stone River, near Ingham). These were low-security facilities based on the ‘honour system’, whereby the inmates would engage in agricultural work and promise not to escape. The one at Marburg was designed as a poultry farm with four fowl-houses and four laying sheds.

Palen Creek Prison Farm, 1936. (State Library of Queensland)

Obviously the prisoners had to be sufficiently low-risk to be considered for such a move. Also, for practical purposes, female inmates who were serving short sentences, or were on remand or requiring specialist treatment, were still to be kept at Boggo Road.

The Marburg hospital had been owned by the splendidly-named 90-year-old Dr Euchariste Sirois, who was subsequently appointed as visiting surgeon to the new facility.

The newly-opened hospital at Marburg, c.1912. The larger building was later converted into a prison farm facility (Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council).

The Marburg prison farm had only been open a few months when the male prison at Boggo Road was hit by an overcrowding crisis, caused in part by court-martial military prisoners housed there. A number of low-security men were transferred to Marburg from Brisbane in August 1944, while ten women prisoners were returned the other way. This was only intended to be a temporary move, and it remained a male-only prison until November 1945, when it reverted back to being a female prison again. The men had made a success of the vegetable gardens there and tended up to 174 fowls.

Probably the most notable inmate to be held there was Cecil Bates, who was sentenced to two years' prison in 1944 for attempting to kill an American serviceman (yes, it was over a woman). Bates was suffering from advanced and incurable tuberculosis and it was thought that serving his time at Marburg would be better for his health than being confined in Boggo Road.

In October 1946, the government ordered that facility become the ‘Institute for Inebriates, Marburg’, much to the consternation of the local residents. This replaced the recently-closed institute at Dunwich, and remained open until 1965, when it was replaced by a new home at Wacol. The Marburg buildings were demolished in the 1980s.

Due to the short amount of time it was actually open, Marburg prison farm is no more than a footnote in prison history (it doesn't even warrant a mention in the Corrective Services history website). It does show, however, that the Queensland prison system was not a monolithic beast, and as times changed it could be what certain modern politicians might even call 'agile' and 'innovative'. 

05 December 2016

The Life & Death Quiz #1: Hanging in Queensland

Welcome to a new series of quizzes about Queensland history. In this first entry you can test your knowledge of the dark history of hangings in Queensland.

Be warned - they're not too easy! You can find some answers in the 'A Scaffold High' website.

(Also check out more 'Life and Death Quizzes' here when you've finished).

17 November 2016

Did Johnny Cash Play a Concert at Boggo Road?

Did the great Johnny Cash ever play a concert at Boggo Road? It's a reasonable question to raise, as I have been contacted twice during recent months by media/marketing types wanting a chat about 'that time Johnny Cash played at Boggo Road'. He had of course famously played at Folsom and San Quentin prisons in the United States, so it seemed believable that he might have done something similar here in Brisbane.

Johnny Cash performs for prisoners at the Folsom Prison, 13 January 1968. (Dan Poush/AP)

I was well acquainted with the 'Cash at Boggo' story, having heard it from two men who had worked at the prison and went on to help manage the museum there in the late 1990s. These were my fellow Lancastrians Donny Walters and Bill Eddowes. They recounted Cash playing there in the early 1970s and practically sparking a riot, which resulted in Donny having to unceremoniously escort Mr Cash out of the building.

I was hugely impressed with this very blokey story, but it wasn't until a few months later that I started looking for more information on it. Surely there would be some mention of it in online Johnny Cash pages, or newspapers of the time, or prisoner or staff memoirs? I dug around but found nothing. I asked Donny and Bill again but they seemed a bit evasive about providing further info, so I turned to their good friend and colleague John Banks, the museum manager.

'Hey John, do you remember when Johnny Cash played that concert here?' 'What?' I explained what the other two had told me and a bit of a smile flashed across John's face. 'Is that what they told you?' 'Yeah'. John did a little 'humph' laugh. 'I think they might've been having a pull of your leg', he said.

I phoned a couple of other former officers, but neither of them had heard anything about any concert. When I mentioned this to Donny he half-heartedly persisted with the story for a few minutes before realising the gig was up, and he laughed a bit and said 'did I tell you about that time that Frank Sinatra played at Bogga Road?' I took that as a confession. His idea of humour included making up absurd little stories about prison life to trick gullible 'outsiders' like me. He had told me another one about a secret underground office in the prison, since used as a secret-document dump and then filled over with soil and rubble. That was another story that didn't hold up to inspection. Once you got to know Donny and Bill a bit better, it was easier to pick up on their tongue-in-cheek tall tales.

Donny and Bill retired soon afterwards, and sadly have since passed away. I never got to raise the subject with them again, and generally forgot about it. That is, until this year, when I got those phone calls. The men I spoke to seemed convinced the Cash concert had happened, but didn't let on who told them about it. I said I was pretty sure it did not happen, but then did some basic research and asked around anyway. I sent an email out to a couple of hundred former staff and inmates from Boggo Road, asking if anyone knew anything about this alleged concert. Over the next week I received 26 replies from men who had been there during the 1960s and/or 1970s. Every single one of them said it never happened. If it had, they would have known about it. These are people who remember just about everything about the place. If the Salvation Army band had played there in 1973, they'd remember it.

So there is nothing in the records about a concert, and people at the prison at the time denied it happened. In the absence of hard evidence - beyond a single story told by known pranksters - it is safe to say that Johnny Cash did not play at Boggo Road. It doesn't take much historical research to reach that simple conclusion.

Since starting this article, I have since seen the recent online source of the concert story, a marketing piece in which it is acknowledged there is no evidence outside what was said by Bill Eddowes (the same story told to me by Donny and Bill and then shown to be a 'joke'):
"The details are scant and hard to verify, as many prison records - such as correspondence from that era - were destroyed long ago... At this time a strict no photography rule applied inside all Queensland prisons; no known pictures exist."
How convenient. Unfortunately it looks like another case of cherry-picking unverifiable sources and ignoring better and contradictory evidence. In other words, don't let facts get in the way of a bit of marketing (see here and here for other examples of this practice). Any decent researcher with contacts in the field would have worked out that it wasn't a true story, and anyone who values credibility would not have shared it. And yet here we are with another bloody Boggo Road myth.

For the record, Cash played in Brisbane seven times, including 1971 and 1973. Venues included: Festival Hall, Milton Tennis Courts, and the Entertainment Centre. Venues not included: Boggo Road prison.

24 October 2016

The Gallows of the Old Windmill Tower

This story can be read at 'A Scaffold High'

Depiction of the 1841 hanging. (Telegraph, 10 March 1970)

11 September 2016

Weddings, Parties, Anything… At Boggo Road, It’s All Been Done Before

I was recently having a discussion about the Boggo Road heritage prison, specifically about what kind of events could be held there, and which ones already have. It got me thinking about the decade up to 2005, when the volunteers of the Boggo Road Gaol Museum established guided tours, created exhibitions, and really built the place up as a tourist attraction.

They had started that work back in the early-to-mid-1990s, following the closure of the last male prison at Boggo Road in 1992. The museum was eventually closed to the public in December 2005 when construction work commenced on the neighbouring redevelopments, including the Ecoscience Precinct, although members of the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society continued their maintenance work there until mid-2006.

I was a volunteer (and eventually the curator) there from 2001, and now realise that just about every type of event that could be held there already had been held there under not-for-profit management by 2005. These included:
  • Plays: Shakespeare and other productions were held inside the cellblock areas from the 1990s on.
  • Art exhibitions: The cellblocks and other original prison rooms were used for various art exhibitions, including Aboriginal material.
  • Film screenings: There were fundraising and school production screening nights held in the 'Circle' area in front of the cellblocks.
  • Guided Tours: We developed a highly successful school tours programme, sometimes taking up to 7 or 8 groups a day through Boggo Road by 2005.
  • Museum exhibitions: The volunteers designed and installed several successful artefact exhibitions in various spaces around the prison.
  • Team building workshops: Businesses would hire out the prison for a day or two to run team-building exercises for their staff.
  • Writers festival: The prison was sometimes used for Brisbane Writers Festival events, such as discussion panels.
  • Parties: On average, the prison was hired for over 100 parties per year - workplaces, birthdays, engagements, etc. 
  • TV and movie filming: TV shows such as 'Totally Wild' would use the prison to record or broadcast shows. Larger productions such as 'Inspector Gadget' also took over the prison for filming.
  • Markets: The front and inside of the prison was used for Sunday morning markets back in 2001-02.
  • Fashion shows: The volunteers occasionally organised fundraising fashion shows inside the prison.
  • Music rehearsals: Community bands used rooms inside the prison for weeknight rehearsals. The 'Circle' area in front of the cellblocks was also used for live music performances.
  • Youth intervention tours: Former officers would sometimes take groups of 'at-risk' youth through the prison to drive home to them the realities of prison life. By all accounts these were R-rated and highly effective wake-up calls.
  • Charity events: Successful charity 'bookfest' weekends and 'breakout' events were held in the cellblocks.
  • Open days: The volunteers organised hugely successful 'open days' such as the 2003 Centenary Day for No.2 Division, which was attended by thousands.
  • Weddings: Several weddings per year were held inside the prison.
  • School Arts festivals: Schools were allowed free use of the premises to host their Arts events.
  • Youth sleepovers: Out-of-town schools and Scout groups would use the prison for supervised sleepovers (not in the cellblocks).
There are no doubt some others that I have forgotten here. There really was such a wide range of activity there.

Apart from these volunteer-organised events, there were a few other activities held inside the prison by small businesses, such as the 'cellblock sleepovers' that unfortunately resulted in serious vandalism of the cells, with customers being left to daub graffiti all over the cell walls, and drink, smoke and burn candles in the cells overnight. These were later prohibited by the Queensland Government, as were the highly disrespectful 'ghost hunts' in which people were charged a lot of money to use 'ghostometers' to 'find' the ghosts of people who had died in custody. Of course there were also the standard olde prison ghost tours.

As the prison was run as a not-for-profit operation, the success of the volunteer-run activities enabled the museum managers to donate tens of thousands of dollars to various charities such as Drug Arm.

Of course, all the above really puts Campbell Newman's backroom deal with a small business to freeze the volunteers out of the 2012 interim opening of the prison into shameful context.

While the volunteer achievements at Boggo Road were considerable, it has to be remembered that this was all done on five-day weeks and uncertain tenure. And apart from manager John Banks putting in 50/60 -hour weeks, we never really tried that hard. After all - and I guess that this is the main point here - Boggo Road is a place that sells itself. You don't need much marketing to get people in there, Open it, and they will come, because people are primarily attracted by the buildings and the internal spaces themselves, regardless of what is going on within those walls.

But... that was then. The days of the old not-for-profit Boggo Road Gaol Museum have passed, and it is clear that when the prison is properly reopened in the future - hopefully with a major heritage and arts component - new levels of excellence and professionalism are required to transform the place into a commercially successful creative and hospitality venue.

This is part of the thinking behind the Boggo Arts and Heritage Alliance project - that Boggo Road needs to be opened up to a wider variety of ways of looking at the prison and its history, with more voices telling more stories in more formats. Allowing creative communities to apply quality ideas to using that space.

So while I do have some of my own ideas for all-new interpretive activities inside Boggo Road for the future, there really isn't anything that has been done at Boggo in recent years that hasn't all been done there before. The challenge will be to do it better and finally realise the full creative and commercial potential of the heritage prison.

13 August 2016

The Lost Graveyard of Terranora Creek

A look at a lost graveyard with links to some tragic events near Tweed Heads.

This story is now located at the 'South Brisbane Cemetery' website.

The dry dock (constructed 1898) on the Tweed, 1937. This was located near the old graveyard. (John Oxley Library)

06 August 2016

Three Men (& a Humpback) in a Boat: The Yeppoon Whale Tragedy of 1928

The whale-watching tourism industry springs into life off the coast of Queensland each year as Humpbacks migrate north to breeding and birthing grounds. The sight of breaching Humpbacks can be truly spectacular, but getting too close has its obvious dangers.

This was a lesson tragically learned back in 1928 by three men in a boat off Yeppoon, near the central coast city of Rockhampton. The following report appeared in the newspapers that week:

Quoin Island today (ljhooker.com)
'After having been wrecked by a whale, a party comprising N. Barton, owner of the pleasure launch Nellie, Frank Glazebrook, one of the staff of the Commonwealth Bank at Rockhampton, and Jack Horton, an employee of the Railway Department, was landed at Yeppoon early this morning. 
The men left Yeppoon in the Nellie about 9.30 o'clock on Monday night for a pleasure cruise. That night they anchored at Stockyard Point and the next day continued leisurely under sail until about 1.30 o'clock in the afternoon, when a sensational incident occurred. At the time Barton and Glazebrook were in the front of the boat and Horton was about amidships. They were about a mile from Quoin Island, which is 33 miles from Rockhampton. 
A whale, 40 to 50 feet long, rose 30 feet out of the water and crashed across the launch. The craft was smashed to pieces and sank immediately, but a dinghy which was lashed aboard broke away and floated with one oar in it. 
Horton received severe injuries to a foot and Barton had a frightful gash on a shin, cut by a barnacle on the tail of the whale. Glazebrook escaped injury and he kept Horton afloat, while Barton swam for the dinghy. The sea was infested with sharks. 
Breaching Humpback (Wikimedia Commons)
Retrieving the dinghy, Barton, under great difficulties, brought it to Glazebrook and Horton, who were in the water for hours. It was with the greatest difficulty that Horton was got into the small boat, which then had to be bailed from outside to keep it afloat. Eventually the other two got aboard. The dinghy, however, was swamped, and it was only by Barton's seamanship that it was righted again. 
Barton then made a rollock with his belt and started on the five miles journey for Port Clinton. Horton was lying in the bottom of the dinghy, in terrible pain and half-covered with water. While Barton rowed with the one oar, Glazebrook balled out the water. 
Within half a mile of Port Clinton the men caught sight of the launch Viking, with Messrs. Joseph Carpentier and Bert Cambridge aboard, making north. Glazebrook signalled by waving his shirt and Carpentier and Cambridge at once made for the dinghy. The three men were taken aboard the Viking, which made for Yeppoon. 
Horton was admitted to the Yeppoon Hospital, suffering from a compound fracture of the foot, and other injuries. Barton is confined to his bed. 
Tho Commissioner of Police (Mr. W.H. Ryan) has been advised by the Rockhampton police that Jack Horton (a railway employee), who received a compound fracture of the foot and other injuries when a whale fell across and wrecked a motor launch on Tuesday, died in the Yeppoon Hospital on August 2. There were three men in the boat at the time of the sensational incident, and two of them were injured.' (Week, 10 August 1928)

29 July 2016

A Whale Hunt Off Moreton Island

In 1954 two Humpback Whales - a male and female - paired up as they headed along the eastern coast of Australia to the warm breeding grounds of the South Pacific. They, along with thousands of other whales of their kind, had just left the frigid waters of the Antarctic after spending months there feeding up on krill. They meandered up the coast, zig-zagging and frolicking on a journey made by countless generations before them.

Male and female Humpbacks (whaletrust.org)

Unfortunately, there was a new danger in their way that year. The Australian whaling industry had recently began operations off this coastline and were targeting the migrating herds of Humpbacks. This couple had been heading north to procreate and create new life, but they were about to face a very different destiny.

A reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald was on board to witness the slaughter:
"One beautiful morning last week two humpbacks, a male of 39 feet and a female of 38 feet, were swimming north about a mile off-shore from the green hills and yellow beaches of Moreton Island, Queensland.

At 8.50 a.m., while they were breaking water to breathe, their spouts were seen by a Norwegian seaman in the lookout barrel of a whale-chaser, Kos II. "Two blows!" shouted the seaman, pointing to starboard. The gunner-captain of the chaser, Captain Bredo Rimstad, changed course immediately and ordered full speed.

Kos II, one of the two chasers supplying whales to the Whale Industries Ltd. station at Tangalooma, on the west side of Moreton Island about 25 miles from Brisbane, is a small, very powerful vessel of 243 tons. Her engine, which is capable of driving a 4,000-ton vessel, develops 12 knots when necessary.

The chaser is a little larger than an ocean-going tug, very low amidships (so low, in fact, that her decks are awash in moderate seas) and very high at the bow. The high bow, with its harpoon gun always aimed downwards, gives the chaser an eager, straining appearance.
The whaler Kos II, which was eventually scuttled off Tangalooma in 1974.
Captain Rimstad, because he is also a gunner, is even more important than the usual ship's master. The whaling company values his services so highly that it pays his passage to and from Norway each year and pays him about £3,500 for his work during the three month whaling season. About £3,260 of this is paid in the form of whale bonuses.

Bonuses paid to the officers of Kos II are calculated partly on production at Tangalooma and partly on the number of whales harpooned by their gunner. Consequently, at the climax of the chase every member of the crew, even the cook, does his utmost to help Captain Rimstad shoot the whale.

Captain Rimstad, a very short and slightly built man of about 45 years, has had 21 seasons of whaling in the Antarctic, one season off Carnarvon in West Australia, and two seasons off Tangalooma. He stands on the bridge during the search for the whale, wearing strangely genteel chocolate corduroy trousers, a brown and white fairisle jumper and a tan corduroy golf cap. When the chaser comes within harpoon range; usually less than 60 feet, he has run down a catwalk from the bridge and is standing alert on the gun platform.

Kos II, together with Kos VII, had rounded Cape Moreton at 7 a.m. and by 8.30 a.m. Captain Rimstad had killed his first whale of the day - a 41ft 8in male. This whale, inflated with compressed air, was floating alongside Kos II when Captain Rimstad began to chase the two humpbacks.

By the time Kos II, travelling at full speed, had reached the spot where the humpbacks had last appeared, Captain Rimstad was on the gun platform, swivelling the harpoon-gun and scanning the ocean ahead.

"Half speed!" he shouted in Norwegian. "Half speed!" the Norwegian helmsman called to the Australians in the engine room. Kos II slowed down and the search continued.

"Dead slow!" "Slow as possible!" Captain Rimstad looked back at the bridge inquiringly, the helmsman glanced up at the lookout barrel. But the only sign of the whales was a large smooth area, like an oil slick, on the surface of the sea.

"That's from their tails moving below water," explained the helmsman. "Sometimes we can follow them a long way like that, but this time they have gone deep."

A moment later, about 10 minutes after the whales had sounded, the lookout shouted and pointed to port. About a quarter of a mile away the humpbacks were breaking surface and blowing. Captain Rimstad ran back up the catwalk, the engine-room made full speed and the chase began again.

While Kos II bore down on the two whales, Captain Rimstad looked at Kos VII through field glasses. "Kos VII has a fish on the line," he said. "One on the line and one following," he added. "If you get a female first, the male will follow her right alongside. The female rarely follows the male, though."

Once again the humpbacks sounded before Kos II came within harpoon range. They surfaced 10 minutes later, this time about 300 yards to starboard.

"If they keep doing that, they'll run themselves into shallow water where we can see them," remarked the helmsman. For a quarter of a mile out from the pale sandhills of Moreton Island, the sea was a light, almost transparent blue. The whales, although they had sounded, were probably still in the deeper and darker blue water, although, if the helmsman's guess" were right, they might soon appear in the band of light blue.

Kos II chased them for an hour and a half, during which time they surfaced six times, breaking water about three times on each occasion. At one time, the chaser reached the whales as they were breaking water for the second time.

Captain Rimstad was close enough to see the morning sun making small rainbows in their spouts; but by the time he had aimed his harpoon-gun the whales were half-submerged. The white undersides of their tails rose up in the air and then cut down through the water as they sounded.

If the whales had broken water again, Captain Rimstad would have been in position to fire a 160-pound steel harpoon at one of them. The harpoon, five and a half feet long, four inches in diameter, and carrying a two-inch rope, would have buried itself in the broad rubbery side beneath the dorsal fin of one whale. Three seconds later, a time-fuse grenade on the harpoon barbs would have exploded, killing or mortally wounding the whale. But the humpbacks remained submerged. By this time, however, they were near the shallow water.

"We'll try to get him now," said Captain Rimstad when he returned to the bridge. "Steady steaming!"

"Right ahead now!" called the lookout. Captain Rimstad ran down the catwalk, took hold of the gun handle, and called: "Dead slow!"

Kos II stood by. Everyone aboard was watching Captain Rimstad. He motioned to port with his left hand, and the helmsman responded. The harpoon-gun fired with a detonation out of all proportion to its size; the harpoon and its rope struck the whale's side, releasing a spurt of blood; a muffled explosion, forcing smoke from the wound, blowhole, and mouth, sounded inside the whale's body. The whale reared out of the water and began swimming in a circle, dragging the taut harpoon rope through the waves like a moving radius.

"Following fish!" shouted the helmsman. He left the wheel and ran down to the lower deck to help bring the whale alongside. The ship's cook took his place on the bridge. Two seamen were quickly loading another harpoon. The harpooned whale broke water again, roared as it sucked in its last gulps of air, and died.

He had survived the grenade explosion for less than a minute. "Fast fish!" called the lookout. At this signal that the whale was now secure, a winch began noisily hauling in the harpoon line.
A Tangalooma gunner hits the target. (sylviaadam.wordpress.com)
The second whale, obviously a male, broke surface besides its dead mate and followed the body in towards the bow of Kos II, where Captain Rimstad crouched beside his gun.

"He's coming on starboard!" shouted the Captain. "He's coming on starboard!" The gun barrel sloped lower as the live whale swam closer. Another harpoon: explosion, rope, blood, muffled noise, and smoke. This time the whale was killed instantly.

"Fast fish!" called the seamen who were leaning over the railing. Two seamen had already brought the female under the bow and had punctured her hide with a long spear to which was fixed a compressed air hose. After pumping in air for four minutes, they secured her on the starboard side. A winch chain dragged the whale's tail up to deck level and a seaman cut three or four feet off each fluke with a long flensing knife. Unless clipped in this way, the lower fluke may act as a rudder and steer the chaser off course.

The winch had brought the male alongside; two seamen were casting a weighted heaving rope around its tail. A chain soon replaced the rope, and the same procedure of pumping and clipping began. While the two whales were being brought alongside, sharks had been inspecting the whale caught earlier in the morning and chained to the port side. The whale was still bleeding and 12 sharks - bronze whalers and white pointers, each between 12 and 15 feet long-were circling cautiously. At last a bronze whaler made a quick pass at the white and black corrugated belly, and scooped out a piece of blubber. Others snapped at the belly, lips and flippers, leaving round, white wounds on the whale's black hide.

Captain Rimstad, to whom each bite meant a financial loss in oil bonus, ran to the bridge, fetched a .303 rifle and began firing from the deck. His first bullet struck the head of a bronze whaler which had leapt six feet from the water so that it was half in the water, and half on the whale's belly. Another bullet hit the back of a white pointer which had broken surface to snap at the whale's lower jaw. The white pointer threshed the water and began to bleed freely.

After a few more shots, the sharks were ignoring the whales and attacking their wounded fellows. As soon as the third whale had been chained alongside the first whale on the port side, Kos II began the slow journey back to Tangalooma at about six knots. Sharks never attack the whales when the chaser is moving.

Kos II could have taken five whales; but a radio-telephone message from the station had informed Captain Rimstad that the factory could handle only three whales from Kos ll. Half an hour later, Kos II drew level with and passed Kos VII. Two black and white humpbacks were chained, like huge rubber surf toys, to her starboard side. The two chasers raced one another back to the station but Kos II reached the whale slips first. Captain Rimstad's crew had dropped their whales by 3p.m. and were put in the channel again by 3.30 p.m. to fish for schnapper."
A follow-up article detailing the long process of butchering dead whales at Tangalooma ended with these words:
"The second whale quivered to a halt on the flensing deck. Two men unrolled a steel tape and began to measure it. Its mate, with whom it had been swimming towards the tropics eight hours before, was a dark hulk in the water at the foot of the slipway."

25 July 2016

Whaling Days at Tangalooma

Tangalooma, 1957 (State Library of Qld)
Every southern winter, thousands of Humpback Whales migrate from the Antarctic and up the east coast of Australia to their breeding and birthing grounds in warmer tropical waters. Thousands of people head to the coast to witness these magnificent creatures, and whale-watching generates millions for the local tourism industry, and around $70 million per annum Australia-wide.

However, there was a time, well within living memory, when the Humpback migration generated big profits for a completely different industry. Instead of being admired and protected, the whales were slaughtered in their thousands and then stripped, hacked and boiled down for the marketplace. During 1952-62 a whaling station on Moreton Island was so successful in this task that it helped to bring the eastern Australian Humpback population to the threshold of extinction. In doing so, it sowed the seeds of its own demise, and so like any industry that depletes the very resource it relies on, the Queensland whaling business died.

Australian whaling had originally been based in the southern states, with Sperm Whales, Blue Whales and then Southern Right Whales killed for their oil, baleen and meat. The Australian Whaling commission was established in 1949 to develop the whaling industry's capacity to meet the rising demand for whale oil after the Second World War. The introduction of more efficient methods of killing whales saw an increase in the harvest rate, and there was a new focus on the east-coast Humpback migration routes.

Oswald Brierly, 'Whalers off Twofold Bay, New South Wales', 1867
 (Art Gallery of New South Wales).

The Australian Company Whale Products Pty Ltd was formed in Sydney in 1950 for the purpose of carrying out east coast whaling, and during the following year they began construction of the largest land-based whaling station in the southern hemisphere at a 12-hectare site just north of Tangalooma Point on Moreton Island. This location had several advantages, being close to the whales’ migratory route; not far from the city and ports of Brisbane; the island was undeveloped; it was relatively protected from the south-easterly winds, and a cheap lease was available from the Queensland State Government.

Looking towards the new whaling station at Tangalooma from the water, 1952.
(Qld State Library)

The company employed an experienced Norwegian whaler, Captain Alf Melsom, to manage the construction of Tangalooma Whaling Station. They also brought three whale chaser ships from Norway, and employed several Norwegians as senior crew and gunners. With payments of £250 per kill, gunning was a lucrative job.

The company's original five-year licence allowed the killing (their preferred term was 'harvesting') of 500 whales each year, with whaling seasons running for six months from May to October, depending on the migratory movements of the whales. The first season commenced at Tangalooma on 6 June 1952, with the first two Humpbacks being harpooned near Cape Moreton during that month. The annual quota had been killed and processed by October after a season of just 124 days. The harvests were so abundant that two years later the quota was increased to 700 whales.

All this meant big money, as just about every part of the whale could be turned into a saleable product. In 1954 the average whale cost about £625 to kill and process, and sold for £900. Each whale could yield more than 8 tons of oil, a valuable resource that was used to make - among other things - margarine, glycerine, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

The meat was used for pet food or human consumption overseas. The offal and low-grade meat were sent to the mainland and mixed with other proteins to produce A-grade meal for livestock or fertiliser, which sold at about £80 per ton. The bones were processed to make a lower grade of stock meal. An average whale would produce about 2.75 tons of meal.

Baleen (bristle-like strands in the whale's mouth used to strain food, was shipped to France and made into corsetry, street brooms, combs and buttons.

At the station

There were a few restrictions placed on the whalers. They were not allowed to kill a whale under 11.5 metres, or one that had a calf. If they did, the gunner and captain would lose their 'kill bonus'. They also had to radio the whaling station before any kill to make sure the machinery there was all in working order, to avoid any harmful delays in processing.

The whales were harpooned from one of the three chaser ships, using harpoons with a 75kg exploding head. An 11kg grenade inside the harpoon would explode four seconds after impact. The intent was to kill the whale quickly, which was usually the case if the harpoon was lodged near the backbone, but sometimes multiple spears were required to finish the job.

The whale carcass was inflated with compressed air to keep it afloat until it was ready to tow. It was then fastened to the side of the chaser by its flukes and towed back for flensing and processing.

A Tangalooma gunner hits the target. (sylviaadam.wordpress.com)

Tangalooma Whaling Station, 1950s. (Queensland State Library)

The carcasses would be slowly winched onto the flensing deck with steel cables placed around the tail.
'The winch started up again and the whale toppled over on to its side, exposing its black, white and pale pink corrugated belly. The humpback's characteristic bumps and ridges were visible along its spine and head. Its enormous tongue of perished black rubber had sprawled out of its mouth from behind the screen of fibrous baleen plates, or whale "bones, which act as a sieve to catch food. The only signs of life on the whale's body were the tentatively waving feelers of the many barnacles which had grown along the belly and jaws.'  
There is no smell of decay on the flensing deck unless, as rarely happens, a mechanical failure causes delay in cooking. All that remains after treatment is water, or graks. Yet the smell of the whales is far from pleasant. It is a memorable odour, rather like that of a wet. very dirty dog's fur. 
Despite the great quantities of blood and offal left on the deck before ' being consigned to the cookers, there are no flies on the flensing deck. Hygiene squads have all but eliminated flies from Tangalooma.' (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1954)
A CSIRO officer would inspect each whale upon arrival and record its sex, length, and any other required details. The location of each kill was also pinpointed on a map for future reference. 

The men on the wooden flensing deck then set to work, wearing 1-inch spikes in the heels of their boots to prevent them from slipping in the resulting mess. Firstly the whale was cut up with large, extremely sharp flensing knives - long-handled cutters shaped like hockey sticks. The cutters were assisted by chain men, who winched away the cut strips of blubber. Stripping the blubber usually took about one hour, beginning with ventral blubber, then the back, lower, the jaw and baleen. The carcass would then be turned over and the remaining blubber removed, the ribs separated, and the backbone removed.

The blubber was then dropped through holes in the deck and into huge (Norwegian) Kvaerner cookers beneath the deck, where it was cooked for four hours. The oil was extracted and cleaned of impurities before being placed into a separator. The end product had a honey-like colour. This whale oil was shipped in bulk to the mainland, pumped into tanks at Hemmant, and eventually pumped into ships bound for Europe.

Anything left over after the extraction of oil was fed into a Huse plant and processed into high-protein stock meal. The backbone of the whale was broken up with a large steam-driven saw, and put into huge pressure cookers through a hole in the deck along with other parts to make more stock meal.

Whale carcass after being pulled ashore, Tangalooma Whaling Station, ca. 1957.
(Qld State Library)

Workers at Queensland's Tangalooma whaling station.
 (Dave Schmidt,  The Australian)

Two whale carcasses being dragged ashore at Tangalooma Whaling Station,
ca. 1957. (Qld State Library)

Workers at the whaling station, Tangalooma, ca. 1957. (Qld State Library)
Workers with part of a whale carcass at Tangalooma Whaling Station, ca. 1957.
(Qld State Library)

At the height of production, the station provided employment for about 120 men, with a maintenance staff of about 20 employed during the off-season.

After such a successful start, the industry was heading for trouble by the late 1950s, when the introduction of vegetable oils triggered a big fall in global whale oil prices. Much more serious than that was the decline in whale numbers. In 1961 the quota was not met for the first time, with 'only' 591 being killed that year. In 1961 light planes were being used to spot the increasingly-scarce whales from the air, and on 5 August 1962 the whaling station closed after only 68 whales had been caught that season. In the end, it was a simple matter of economics. The industry had exploited a natural resource at unsustainable levels until the resource and the profits dried up.

Over the course of one decade, the whalers had killed 6,277 Humpbacks (and one blue whale). What had earlier been an estimated local migration population of 25,000 Humpbacks had been reduced to about 500. In 1963 the whaling of Humpbacks in Australian waters was banned, and two years later they were placed on the Protected Species list. It is also thought that illegal Russian whaling in the seas south of Australia and New Zealand during 1961 and 1962 probably took nearly 24,000 Humpbacks.

The Tangalooma Whaling Station was quickly sold to Gold Coast businessmen in June 1963, and the site was converted into a leisure resort, with the the factory and flensing decks being converted into a bar and lounge area. This wasn't the first time that Tangalooma had visitors, because groups of children from schools or Scout groups used to go there during the whaling years to watch and learn about the process of whale butchering, in the company of a guide from the whaling company.

Today, the only educational whale experience that children might have near Moreton Bay is whale watching, which is booming along with the population of Humpbacks. In 2015, researchers counted about 25,000 of the whales migrating up the coast, which means they have now returned to pre-hunting population levels. 

14 July 2016

The Burleigh and Bilinga Sperm Whales

On the hot afternoon of 27 December 1926, hundreds of holiday-makers on the main surfing beach at Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast, were horrified to see a massive white object floating out in the ocean. Most of the onlookers presumed that it was an overturned boat. The Southport police were quickly called to investigate, and they discovered that the object was in fact a dead 24-metre Sperm Whale.

By evening time the whale had drifted in to shore and was stuck hard and fast on the beachside rocks. News of this spectacular sight spread fast, and during the following morning thousands of people from the neighbouring holiday resorts of Southport, Coolangatta and the Tweed arrived to watch as a gang of men employed by the shire council began the process of trying to dispose of the carcass. The whale had also attracted a great number of sharks which were engaged in eating it.

Although the sharks kept the waters free of bathers, a number of surfers refused to be deterred by the danger and even ignored warning blasts.

Progress in chopping the whale into smaller pieces was slow, and the workmen reportedly found that 'trying to chop blubber is just like trying to chop rubber.' There were at times as many as 100 men working on the body, and an attempt to burn it was unsuccessful, as was an effort to tow the carcass out to sea.

The ongoing decomposition created an awful stench in the local area that reportedly caused 'much alarm to residents in the vicinity' and drove nearby campers from their campsites. On 31 December a large crowd gathered on the shore to watch what promised to be a New Year's Eve show with a difference when 30 plugs of gelignite were inserted into the carcass in an attempt to speed up the cutting process. The spectators had been expecting something of a spectacular explosion, and were reportedly disappointed when the big moment resulted in no more than a dull thud and a low geyser of oil shooting into the air.

Despite the low-key detonations, it was now easier to butcher the body. In preparation, a large grave was excavated several chains from the beach, to the objection of some local residents but the satisfaction of the council health inspector. The pit measured 10 metres long, 6 metres wide, and 4 metres deep. Steel cables were placed around the carcass and attached to two 2.5-ton trucks. With the help of skids and a double block and tackle, the remains of the whale were rolled up the beach to the point of burial.

The whale at Burleigh Heads (Sunday Mail, 27 December 1931)

There was a bit more drama a few days later when two massive jaw-bones were recovered from the surf near the site of the stranded whale. They were over 5 metres long and about 1.6 metres thick, with 12 giant teeth on each side. It was speculated that they must have belonged to some 'marine monster' which had fought with the whale and been killed, but Heber Longman, director of the Queensland Museum, arrived to identify them as the jaw bones of the Sperm Whales, and had obviously become dislodged during the efforts to destroy the carcass. The jaws were donated to the Queensland Museum and within 12 months were on display in their 'Mammalian Court'.

A week after the burial of the whale, a poem on the subject appeared in the Brisbane Courier:
BURLEIGH! Burleigh!
Sour and surly,
You're ungrateful,
Which is hateful!
Neptune sent you,
To content you,
From his restive
Fold a festive
Gift, at Christmas!
That grey, triste mass
Reached you early,
Thankless Burleigh!
Worth much MONEY,
But you're funny,
That great drift-whale,
That rich gift-whale,
You, complaining
And restraining,
YOU would ignite -
Used gelignite!
Tried to blow-up
What a show-up!
Santa Claus will now turn surly -
"No more Christmas gifts for Burleigh!"
13 years later a similar-sized Sperm Whale washed up at Bilinga, just south of Burleigh Heads. This one had apparently been dead for several months and was badly ravaged by sharks. 10,000 sightseers were reported to have visited the scene, which was great for local tourism businesses. The Bilinga Surf Club even organised a 'community beach concert' only 50 metres away from the whale. However, the stench soon became overpowering and the whale had to be removed. Council workers cut up the carcass with knives and axes, and the pieces were towed up the beach by tractor for burial. The whole process took five days. Once again the Queensland Museum requested the jaw bones.

The whale remains, Bilinga 1939 (Courier-Mail, 30 December 1939).
Workers cut up the Bilinga whale (Courier-Mail, 30 December 1939).
Decomposing remains of whale, Bilinga (Courier-Mail, 30 December 1939).

03 July 2016

Western Maps & the Dreaming

The map to the left is not of downtown Moscow, but is instead how my hometown of Heywood, Lancashire, looked on a mid-1970s Soviet map of Britain. It was produced for a potential Soviet invasion, and Russian mapmakers used existing Ordnance Survey maps, satellite images, road atlases and their own spy network to create a highly-detailed map that highlighted potential tank routes and included sites such as nuclear research facilities that were considered too secret for many British-produced maps. There was a colour code for different targets, and so industrial sites were black, administrative buildings purple, and military installations green.

It was how Soviet occupiers would initially interpret the British landscape had they made the trip: a militarily strategic roadmap with place names transliterated into Cyrillic. This act was nothing new, as invaders always create their own maps of lands they have ‘acquired’ (or intend to). It is an administrative extension of conquest. Back in the 11th century the Domesday project had been a way for the Normans to create a social map of their newly-conquered lands.

My involvement with the ‘Mapping Brisbane History’ project got me thinking about maps, especially as different cultural concepts of space and time had been a favourite subject area during my undergraduate Anthropology days. I was

So creating a map is an essentially political act. Peoples of different cultures perceive and chart the same landscape in different culturally-specific ways, and attempt to impose their own worldview on that landscape, or seascape, or even on the stars.

In the Australian context, European arrivals of the 18th and 19th centuries were largely incapable of comprehending (or at least acknowledging) the existing Aboriginal cultural landscape. Indigenous peoples have often been conceptualised as being detached from the landscape and, in a process described by anthropologist WEH Stanner as ‘zoomorphic’, were made invisible in that landscape like nocturnal fauna.

The new arrivals saw the new continent as essentially ‘empty’, a wilderness. Terra nullius. They set about transposing their own names to the country and attaching their own values to places and resources within it. This act was clearly at odds with Indigenous perceptions of a landscape that was not only filled with meaning, but had already been mapped and demarcated according to their own cultural conventions.

Indigenous connections to landscape are primarily based on a history of total dependence on local resources and the development and maintenance of the knowledge that allows sustainable use of those resources. In these small-scale cultures, experience is locked into a relatively limited space over a large time-span, and knowledge becomes highly refined and the landscape infused with a great deal of meaning.

The relationship between Aboriginal peoples and territory is strongly expressed in the form of language, which becomes a repository of knowledge about landscape. Languages are seen to be landed, as each different one is associated with particular territory, and even Dreaming figures are held to change their language as they move from one country into another. At the same time, land is said to be languaged as place names are imbued with myth and personal experience, establishing relationships between people and place. Because of this, place names are a repetitive feature of Aboriginal songs and storytelling and help to link people to their heritage through land, people and ancestors.
Indigenous Australian language map, 1996 (AIATSIS).

Aboriginal songs emerged from the creative process of Dreaming figures transforming themselves into country, and these figures are believed to continue to exist through the performance of such art forms. There is a circular relationship of culture and environment, as culture is a product of landscape, and landscape is maintained through cultural expression.

Sacred sites and song lines associated with certain ancestral powers, and landmarks associated with human historical events, and all resultant place names are ways in which landscape is culturally marked in Aboriginal society. Related songs and stories not only explain country and infuse it with meaning, they also create spatial boundaries and serve as a map in a political sense, demarcating those areas a clan is responsible for maintaining. Knowledge of particular songs and stories identifies a person as being responsible for the territory that those songs and stories refer to.

Of course times change, and Indigenous peoples around the world have long used Western cartographic methods to help validate claims to territory. These maps help ‘authenticate’ Indigenous legal claims and as such are powerful cultural symbols. As subjective statements, they are as much cultural constructs as the landscapes they depict. Also, books such as Dr Ray Kerkhove's 'Aboriginal Campsites of Greater Brisbane' use maps to demonstrate the extent of Indigenous use of country prior to European arrival. The result is that maps are becoming an important medium of expression in cultural conflicts, highlighting the fluid nature of perceived cultural boundaries.

30 May 2016

Stop the Rot at Boggo Road

Are you concerned about protecting the heritage and history of the Boggo Road heritage prison?

I am. I've devoted a big chunk of my life to the old place, as a labour of love without financial reward.*

There has been some recent debate about whether people should support or oppose plans for the future of Boggo Road. The best approach to this is to step back and look at the big picture.

Unfortunately, what we see is that the old prison buildings are dying a slow death. Ever since it closed as a working prison 27 years ago, Boggo Road has been in gradual decline.

There are no plans to demolish original red-brick 1903 buildings such as the cellblocks, but they have visibly decayed over the decades. Rust is eating metal, brickwork is weakening, gutters are collapsing, wood is rotting, invasive plants are spreading, and paint is peeling away.

Paint peeling in a Boggo Road cell, 2012. (M Wilson)
Plants growing into brickwork, Boggo Road, 2012 (C Dawson)
Inside an old office room, Boggo Road, 2012 (M Wilson)

New money is needed to fix this

The immediate problem is that, in a time of spending cuts across Australian society, there is insufficient public funding available to preserve Boggo Road into the future. The government can provide some, but only so much.

And although the prison has been used for occasional tours and functions since the 1990s, these activities have never raised anywhere near enough money to look after Boggo Road properly. As they stand now, the buildings are badly underused. Most of the time they are empty and dead.

New money is needed to save Boggo Road. This is the reality of the situation and it needs to be faced up to. If we continue with the same old failed approach, it is only a matter of time before the decay of the heritage prison gets past the point of no return.

As the most recent heritage report on Boggo Road, written by one of Queensland’s leading heritage architects, warned us:
‘Without adaptive re-use of the site there is little prospect of maintaining the cultural heritage significance of the place. The buildings are currently vacant apart from a limited use by a private tour operator. Unless the place is adaptively re-used, at least in part, the site will continue to degrade and ongoing maintenance will be further minimised.’

It is time to bring Boggo Road back to life

To protect the future of Boggo Road, we need a brand new way to attract thousands more people to discover its history, appreciate its unique heritage qualities, and contribute to saving the buildings.

But how can we re-use Boggo Road in a way that has a strong focus on history and generates substantial revenue to help protect it into the future?

The answer is to create a brilliant new heritage, arts and dining hub at the old prison. One that retains the old buildings and is home to new exhibitions, educational tours, drama and music activities and events, community meeting spaces, history research facilities, and top-class dining and coffee venues.

A place that is always alive with a constant stream of visitors, where things are always happening, each day and night. A place that becomes one of Brisbane’s very best cultural destinations.

Some of Brisbane’s leading history, visual arts, drama and music organisations formed the Boggo Arts and Heritage Alliance and have already been developing plans for just such a centre for over two years. Working closely with other stakeholders, the vision of a thriving cultural hub at Boggo is now very achievable.

The official Boggo Road development plans put forward by Calile Malouf Investments Pty. Ltd in October 2015 come close to enabling that vision. Those plans include refurbishment of the decaying parts of the old prison. They also include adapting some internal spaces for re-use.

The main compromise is that some of the 126 cells inside two of the three cellblocks would be modified to create larger rooms and the spaces needed for sustainable community, dining, arts and heritage facilities. The third cellblock would be left as it is and used exclusively for History and education. The clear assessment of heritage professionals is that the cultural significance of Boggo Road would be retained, and that new works would be carried out in a reversible manner.

Evidence suggests that some of the opposition to the plans is disingenuous and based on stakeholders trying to protect their own financial interests. However, I understand how some people can have genuine concerns about these changes. I know where they are coming from. I too wish modifications weren’t necessary. But the big picture cannot be ignored. This is the only viable plan there is to fix and sustainably protect the physical heritage of Boggo Road into the long-term future.

To just carry on under-using the place - as is happening now - is not an option. It has been over ten years since the prison was fully open to the public. Another ten years like that and the place will continue to slowly rot away. And the huge educational potential of this unique heritage site will continue to be wasted.

So if you are genuinely concerned about protecting the heritage and history of Boggo Road, remember that the current plans have two massive benefits:

  • PROTECT HERITAGE: A sustainable way to raise revenue needed to fix and protect the heritage of the old prison buildings for generations to come.
  • PROMOTE HISTORY: More people than ever before will discover the history of Boggo Road, and in exciting new ways.

While they might not be perfect, the proposals do present a very rare opportunity to create and fund a brilliant new heritage venue for Queensland.

On balance, I think that is an opportunity that we should be brave and forward-thinking enough to take while we can.

Chris Dawson, MPHA (Qld)
May 2016

*  I am a professional historian; former councillor of the National Trust of Qld; founder and committee member of the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society (Inc.); author of 14 publications on prison history; the curator of the Boggo Road Gaol Museum; and currently serve on the managing committees of the Boggo Arts and Heritage Alliance, the Brisbane Southside History Network, and the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery. I have also been closely involved in the Boggo Road planning process since it began well over a decade ago, and has met extensively with other stakeholders and decision makers during that time.

23 May 2016

The South Will Rise Again: Rebels of the 4077th

There was a big kerfuffle in the centre of Brisbane last month when a Vietnamese restaurant called 'Uncle Ho' - a nickname for Ho Chi Minh, founder of the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam - was the target of over 100 passionate protestors from Brisbane's Vietnamese community. They were angry about the seemingly affectionate reference to a man they see as a mass-murdering dictator, and things got ugly very quickly. The restaurant closed its doors after allegedly receiving death threats, and the (Swedish) owner has said she will be changing its name to something less 'controversial'.

The passion on display might have surprised many Brisbanites, but it came as no shock for those of us living in the heartland of 'Vietnamese Brisbane'. I have written before on the huge influence that Vietnamese refugees have had on the Inala/Darra/Durack/Richlands area south of Brisbane (mostly in the 4077 postcode area), noting the strong political undercurrent in these communities, which were established by people who fled their own war-ravaged country after the victory of Ho Chi Minh's forces in 1975. Communism and Uncle Ho are dirty words here.

While the Vietnamese of Brisbane are firmly settled here - compared to other migrant groups, the returnee rate to Vietnam is very low - and have integrated themselves into Australian society, taking advantage of all that the country has to offer, this is essentially a cultural community that has managed to recreate itself in another land. There is almost a sense of a 'country in exile'. The numerous third-generation families tend to stay in this area, which has become the most concentrated Vietnamese community in Australia, outside of Cabramatta in Sydney. The maps below - based on the 2011 census - shows the top-ranking immigrant birthplace for southern Brisbane suburbs, and the solid pink block from Pallara to Darra reveals the extent of Vietnamese settlement in the local area. Remember that this shows percentages by birthplace, and does not account for second-generation Vietnamese households.


The percentages (SBS).

Living within such a strong cultural base has allowed people to maintain old ways and pass them on to new generations. These include language, religious practices, clothing, food, cultural days in the calender, and a distinct perspective on history. Important organisations within the community include the Vietnamese Seniors Association Queensland, the Vietnamese Community Australia Queensland chapter, and the Vietnamese Veterans Association. There is a weekly Vietnamese-language newspaper, SS Tuan Bao, and Saturday School is a big thing here, when otherwise-empty State schools are hired out on Saturday mornings and children are schooled in Vietnamese culture and history. The days begin with a rousing rendition of the anthem of the old South Vietnam played over the loudspeakers. Then there is the Inala Civic Centre outdoor shopping area, effectively a 'Little Saigon' with around 80 Vietnamese-owned shops. 

This 'cultural enclave' has also enabled the survival of old political allegiances and grievances over the past 40 years. One thing you see a lot of around the local suburbs is the 'Heritage and Freedom Flag', which is the national flag of the former 'Republic of Vietnam', i.e. the old South Vietnam. The flag turns up outside Buddhist temples, local military memorials, primary school halls, on ANZAC Day, and at major cultural festivals such as Tet. It was also very prominent at the political protests outside the 'Uncle Ho' restaurant, The flag has become a symbol of defiance to the communist regime in the old country, in a similar (though less offensive) manner to the retention of Confederate symbology in the southern USA. The message is that 'we are still here and the South will rise again'.

In my experience, the local Vietnamese-Australian community is rarely involved in political protests, so the 'Uncle Ho' restaurant incident shows how deeply feelings run on that subject. I have also learned that North Vietnamese people are rarely welcome here. My wife once worked with a student from Vietnam who ended up migrating and moving to a house a few streets away from us. She received an unfriendly welcome from the local 'South Vietnamese' community that led to her moving away to another suburb. A friend of mine (who really should have known better) visited the Inala Civic Centre wearing a Ho Chi Minh t-shirt he had bought during a recent trip to Vietnam and found himself subject to a series of withering looks and clearly-hostile comments in Vietnamese from a few elderly people, wagging their fingers or shaking their heads at him.

It is now over 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War. It will be quite a few decades yet before the last of the younger refugees from that conflict have passed away. Until then, the Heritage and Freedom Flag will continue to have deep cultural meaning for Vietnamese-Australia communities. However, it is inevitable that as time passes, those communities will gradually dilute as people move away, memories of the war become less personal, and cultural wounds heal. Who knows, Vietnam itself might no longer have a communist government. As all Buddhists know, nothing lasts forever.

Wreaths laid on the 40th Anniversary of the 'Fall of Saigon' Day of Mourning, Freedom Place, Inala, 2015. (Milton Dick)

Brisbane 40th anniversary commemoration of the Fall of Saigon, 2015. (Newsbytes)

Procession at the annual Vietnamese Martyrs Mass at the Vietnamese Catholic Community Centre in Inala. (Catholic Leader)

Freedom Place, Inala, 2016. (C Dawson)

The Freedom Flag flies outside the Phap Quang Temple, Durack. (www.quangdoc.com)

Procession outside the Phap Quang Temple, Durack. (www.quangdoc.com)

The yellow flag with three red stripes was first used as the national flag of Vietnam during 1890-1920, and of South Vietnam during 1955-75. The stripes represent the three main regions of Vietnam - north, central and south. It is now illegal to fly this flag in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.