An Indigenous Sacred Place
I wonder if some places have an innate spiritual attraction? I’ve written about Bologna’s monumental cemetery in a post in another of my blogs. The cemetery was built in the early 19th century on the site of a medieval monastery, shut down along with hundreds of others in the wake of Napoleon’s conquest of Italy. Some 70 years later during excavation work, the remains of a long-forgotten two and a half thousand year old Etruscan cemetery were discovered.
Certainly Hawthorne Street today, with its bridge over the busy South East Freeway,
doesn’t feel very spiritual. However, two hundred years ago it was still a treed ridge top.
William Clark arrived in Brisbane in 1849 as a 12 year old and was friends with Aboriginal boys. In several articles such as this one, he describes some of his experiences.
Woolloongabba was the location of a major pullen-pullen or fighting ground, as well as a habitual camp.
Clark writes about two connected bora rings, which he describes as the largest and most used in the area to his knowledge. They were on the ridge near Merton Road and Inkerman Street. Inkerman Street was a casualty of the freeway construction, but his description places it very close to Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
The rings had the common feature of being scooped out to a depth of around 60cm and they were connected by a sunken pathway. Young initiates or “kippars” had a separate camp near the rings during ceremonies.
It was in the smaller ring that young men were initiated into the secrets of their group by Elders. During ceremonies, others were warned off by other Elders using bullroarers made from dried kangaroo skin. Ceremonies sometimes lasted for several weeks.
Today there are three churches in the street, although strangely the street sign only mentions two.
Holy Trinity Church
The first Anglican services in the area were held in a room in the Buffalo Hotel at the corner of Ipswich and Hawthorne Streets in the 1860s.
The land where successive Anglican churches have stood was donated by the Reverend R. Creyke. The first church was built in 1870 but blew down in a major storm on a Sunday afternoon in 1874, and was rebuilt the following year.
The rectory was designed in 1890 by John Buckridge who arrived in Brisbane from England in 1886. He was involved in numerous projects of the Bishop, William Webber, as Diocesan Architect. Unfortunately, the rectory hasn’t survived.
In 1895, a day school was established and by 1910 it had 80 to 90 pupils. A new organ was installed in 1908.
Around this time, parishioners decided that they needed to build a new bigger church and fundraising proceeded slowly.
By the 1920s, the parish was flourishing. As well as the various church groups, the hall was used by Boy Scouts, Cubs, Girl Guides, Brownies, and a dancing school.
By 1929, sufficient funds had been raised for the construction of the new church, and a demolition crew was about to start work.
However, in December, a major fire destroyed the church. Although an inquiry was held, the origin of the blaze was never found.
Ten months later, and a year after the fire, the new church was completed at a cost of just under £10,000, including organ and furnishings. It was designed by the architecture firm Chambers and Ford. Notable was the use of “Cordova” roof tiles imported from Spain.
In 1938, the church’s “dungeon” was converted into a columbarium, thought to be the first in an Australian church. Four nearby houses which had been bequeathed many years previously were sold off in 1956. The church chronicles record that the reserve price of one was increased to prevent its purchase by Russian Seventh Day Adventists to use as a church!
In 2014 the church and hall were both badly damaged by wildly destructive November storms which hit Brisbane. The repairs cost close to one million dollars and took over 12 months to complete. The organ suffered water damage and roof tiles had to be imported from Spain to match the existing tiles.
The church remains one of the landmarks of the Woolloongabba area. It’s also where my parents were married in 1950.
The first group of Lutherans in Brisbane were missionaries who arrived in 1838 before the official opening of Moreton Bay to free settlement. They established a mission on 650 acres of land allocated by the Government for this purpose at what is now Nundah.
There was continuous immigration from Germany, in part driven by efforts of the Prussian Government to unify the various protestant churches under a newly formulated agenda for worship, to the dismay of traditional Lutherans.
By 1857, the Lutheran presence in South Brisbane had grown to the point at which Pastor Schirmeister was able to organise a deed-of-grant of one acre as a church reserve which was bounded by Cordelia, Merivale and Glenelg Streets. This is the site of today’s Brisbane State High School extension.
Pastor Hausmann arrived in 1861 and a chapel was completed in 1862. The building was extended in 1881 but the disastrous flood of 1893 convinced the congregation that a move was necessary. Also, many parishioners were by then living farther from South Brisbane in Woolloongabba and beyond. The congregation decided to move the old church building to a new site which had been acquired on Hawthorne Street. The old site was sold.
A newspaper article in April of 1895 reported that the enterprising Pastor Becker had managed to purchase all the materials required to build a new church. It seems that these came from a hotel being demolished near the Stanley Street Bridge, in East Brisbane. The architect Charles McLay was selected to design the church. His most prominent surviving work is the Customs House at Petrie Bight.
The old chapel in Cordelia Street was dismantled and re-erected as a hall and schoolhouse beside the new church in Hawthorne Street. It was demolished in 1936 and a new hall built.
In the early years of the 20th century, the congregation went through a period of turmoil with two rival pastors. This was symptomatic of the divisions within the Lutheran Church in Australia at that time, when there were up to 8 separate groups in existence.
By 1912, these difficulties were largely overcome. As part of the congregation’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the German Consul presented the congregation with a bible autographed by the Empress of Germany, Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein.
Whilst attempts to introduce English language services were made in the 1890s, after World War One English gradually became the norm. In the 1930s, services from the church were broadcast on radio stations 4QG and 4QR. For the 75th Anniversary of the congregation in 1937, the church was renovated and new stained-glass windows were installed.
During World War II, the church changed its name from the German Lutheran Church to the Nazareth Lutheran Church. The congregation benefited from a significant number of US servicemen attending the church during World War 2, and they were able to pay off their debt.
For the 100th anniversary in 1996, the church was renovated again. In May 2000, multiple fires were lit by an arsonist. This caused substantial damage with only the brick walls surviving. The walls were still structurally sound and the interior was rebuilt close to the original design.
The church had a new organ built by Pierce Pipe Organs in Northern German tradition.
Regular services at the Nazareth Church are held in the Finnish, Swedish, German, Latvian and Estonian languages, as well as English.
Saint Seraphim Russian Orthodox Church
Brisbane has long had a sizable Russian community. Major waves of immigration occurred after both Russia’s defeat in its war with Japan in 1905 and later after the two revolutions in 1917 which led to the founding of the Soviet Union. Many settled in the Woolloongabba area.
This was despite antagonism towards Russians in Queensland. In 1913, for example, Queensland Premier, Digby Denham, tried unsuccessfully to convince the Commonwealth to prevent Russians from landing anywhere in Australia. This seems to have been based on faulty advice from the Queensland Police that most were escaped criminals.
In March 1919 the infamous anti-Bolshevik ‘Red Flag Riots’ took place in Brisbane. Thousands of returned servicemen attacked Russians without any regard to their religion or political affiliations, if any. Despite this, the community survived and in 1925 Australia’s first Russian Orthodox church was established on Vulture Street in Kangaroo Point. Today it’s known as the St. Nicholas Cathedral Church.
In the same year, the building which today serves as Saint Seraphim’s church was constructed as the private home ‘Dalma,’ for Theodore Harvey Bird. In 1940, ‘Dalma’ was converted into flats.
The parish of Saint Seraphim’s was formed on the 20th March, 1950. Initially, services were conducted by Father Alexey Godyaew at nearby St. Luke’s Church.
In 1952, the house was donated and converted for use as a Russian Orthodox church. It’s named for Saint Seraphim of Sarov who lived in the 18th century. It was the second Russian Orthodox church to be established in Brisbane.
In 2007, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which had been founded in the 1920s and of which Saint Seraphim was a part, reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate.
The three church towers of Hawthorne Street.
Hawthorne Street in the news
Hawthorne Street, originally known as Hawthorne Road, has appeared in the news over the years, most spectacularly in 1900. James Drevesen was the first person in Brisbane to contract the plague. He lived in the house on the left of the photo below, two doors down from the Lutheran church.
Drevesen worked as a carrier plying between the markets and the wharves, where rats were common. Whilst he survived, there were 57 deaths from 136 cases that year in Queensland. The street was isolated and the eleven occupants of the two adjacent houses placed into quarantine.
In 1932, a building containing a sawmilling business, cordial manufacturer and clothing manufacturer located in the street burnt down, following an explosion in the cordial factory.
In 1971, a large part of the street was cut away during the construction of the South-east freeway.
It takes a bit of imagination, but you can picture Woolloongabba as it was for tens of thousands of years, with ancient ceremonies being held on the ridge overlooking the swampy low lying corroboree grounds below.
“The Trinity Chronicles”. Mark A. C. Norton. 1980 (Anglican Archive South Queensland)
© P. Granville 2020