The Davies Park Story

 The land

The land occupied by Davies Park was described by an early European settler in Brisbane as part of an “immense jungle” which extended along the length of the riverbank where Montague Road now runs. This area of rainforest was an important hunting ground for its traditional custodians.

After the commencement of free European settlement in 1842, the land was soon surveyed, sold and cleared. Its proximity to the fledgling settlement of Brisbane and its fertile soil made this land important in supporting the growing demand for vegetables, fruit, grain and milk.

henry wade 1844 map south brisbane

Henry Wade’s 1844 map of Brisbane shows the riverbank already divided into blocks for small farms. The site of Davies Park is circled.(Queensland State Archives)

For decades the riverbank was lined with market gardens, orchards and dairies. Gradually the farms were sold off and either subdivided for housing or reused for industry. 

The birth of the park

davies park location 1885 mckellar

The Davies Park location as it appeared in McKellars 1885 map of Brisbane. (State Library of Queensland)

Towards the end of the century, community agitation for more areas dedicated to sport and recreation was on the rise. The population of South Brisbane and West End had grown rapidly and with only Musgrave Park available (see my post Musgrave Park – The Early Days), sports matches, community picnics and other events were often held on vacant private land, which was fast disappearing. 

By the late 1890s, one of the few large blocks of vacant land available for purchase in the area was a dairy paddock located between the Gas Works and Montague Estate. It was in part low lying land, traversed by a creek that originally ran from Kurilpa Swamp into the river near Musgrave Street (see my post Kurilpa – Water, Water, Everywhere ).

The Montague Estate had been subdivided and sold in 1885.

montague estate

The Montague Estate. (State Library of Queensland)

The South Brisbane Gas Company established their works in the same year. 

gas works 1935 slq

The South Brisbane Gas Works in 1935. The stripping tower now located in the park is circled. (State Library of Queensland)

Over an extended period, the South Brisbane Town Council and the West End Reserve Committee lobbied the Colonial Government for financial assistance in purchasing the land. The Committee also organised various fund raising activities such as concerts.

deputation to see premier 1900

A request to lobby Premier Robert Philp in 1900. (Queensland State (Archives)

Finally, in July of 1900, the Government agreed to give the Council a grant of £1,500 along with a loan of £3,000 to be paid back, with interest, over 40 years. It was finally fully repaid in 1966.

Davies park site ca 1897

The West End Reserve/Davies Park site ca 1897. (State Library of Queensland)

Prominent amongst those whose efforts led to this successful outcome was local pharmacist John Davies, who served as an alderman on the Council and as chairman of the Reserve Committee. He had operated his business at the corner of Boundary and Vulture Streets since the late 1880s.

The chemist shop, at what was known as “Davies Corner” up until the 1960s, was later run by a nephew. There’s still a chemist at this location today.

davies chemist 1969 bcc circle

Looking down Vulture Street in 1969, Davies Chemist is still operating at Davies Corner. (State Library of Queensland)

John and his wife Sarah lived in a house in Granville Street, West End, that they called “Orleton ” after their home town in Lancashire.

The park was initially named the West End Reserve, but following the receipt of a petition in 1909 signed by 600 local residents, the Council renamed it Davies Park, in recognition of John’s efforts to secure the land. He died two years later.

Filling a need

cricket bc 10 may 1905

Brisbane Courier, 10th May 1905. (TROVE)

After the opening of the reserve at the end of 1901, both cricket and rugby matches began to be held. The park was fenced, shade trees were planted and seating was provided along the river and around the cricket ground. 

picnic shelters along the rover davies park 1912 bcc

Picnic shelters along the river in 1912. (Brisbane City Council)

Both South Brisbane and West End Cricket clubs were based at the West End Reserve. The South Brisbane Cricket Club was formed in 1897 and continues today.  

sb cricket club 1903 1904 a grade premiers

The South Brisbane Cricket Team that won the A grade premiership in 1903/1904. (South Brisbane District Cricket Club History)

In the image above, John Davies is seated in the middle row, second from the left. In the back row, second from the left is Albert Henry. He was one of the first Aboriginal Australians to play first class cricket and was reputedly the world’s fastest bowler at the time. 

Community fund raising continued to pay for improvements. For example, in 1908 a fancy dress cricket match between the “Sons of Rest” and the “Has-beens” attracted over 2,000 spectators.

davies park from auchenflower ca 1910 slq

In this view of Davies Park from Auchenflower taken ca. 1910, a football game seems to be in progress. The gas works are visible at the right. (State Library of Queensland)

dp rubbish 23 sep 1906 truth

Brisbane Truth, 23 September 1906. (Trove)

One problem that persisted for some years was the use of rubbish for fill in the gully that traversed the park near Montague Road. Not only did this give out a foul smell, but it also occasionally spontaneously combusted with smoke blowing across nearby streets for days.

Following on from the break away in 1895 of the “Northern Union” in England, the Queensland Rugby League was founded in 1908. The South Brisbane Rugby League Club, later known as the Carlton Football Club,  played in the initial 1909 Brisbane competition. In the following year a West End Club was formed. Both were based at Davies Park.

davies park 1912 water mains laid bcc

Davies Park in 1912 during the installation of water mains. (Brisbane City Council)

A grandstand was built in 1914 and opened with the unveiling of a memorial plaque to Alderman Davies.

After the outbreak of World War 1, sporting events dropped off although Rugby League games continued, adding to the code’s popularity. Patriotic Carnivals were held around the country to raise money for sick, wounded and disabled returned soldiers and their dependents. An early one held in September of 1914 started with a long procession from the city to Davies Park where fund raising events took place.

patriotic carnival september 1914

The Queenslander 19th September 1914.(State Library of Queensland)

The following year, further fund raising supported by major retailers culminated in another carnival. A crowd of around 6,000 came to watch the Queen of Queens, Grace Perry of T.C. Beirne & Co., crowned and to enjoy the entertainment including foot races and a regatta. 

queen carnival qlder oct 2 1915

The Queenslander, 2nd October 1915. (State Library of Queensland)

The roaring 20s

Sport

all blacks the week 4 jul 1919

The Week, 4th July 1919. (Trove)

After the war, there was competition between the Rugby Union and Rugby League organisations for the limited playing fields available in Brisbane. In 1919, both sought a lease on Davies Park. Rugby League was successful. The touring All Blacks, at that time playing Rugby League, played in the park later that year. Queensland won, 26 to 13.

carlton football club 1921 rogerswebsite.com

The Carlton Football Club, pictured here in 1921, changed its name to Southern Suburbs in 1933 with the instigation of district football. (rogerswebsite.com)

In addition to the football lease, the Council sought further income in 1919 by calling for tenders for the right to graze stock in the park!

Cricket competition matches took a bit longer to restart than football, with the first post-war senior match between South Brisbane and Woolloongabba taking place in October, 1922. 

davies park oval from grandstand 1921 qlder

The oval in 1921 viewed from the grandstand. (The Queenslander, 24th December, 1921)

The swimming pool

A further parcel of land, adjacent to the river where the Commercial Rowing Cub shed is now located, was purchased by the South Brisbane Council and a swimming pool was opened there at the end of 1921 with a carnival involving five district primary schools. The City Pastime Swimming Club was formed in 1924 and was active in the Davies Park pool until at least the 1950s. The pool was closed in 1967 when the Musgrave Park pool was opened.

Below : The Davies Park pool in the 1920s, prize winners from a BSHS swimming carnival, 1926 and Salisbury SHS students at the pool in 1965.

Davies Park 1926 detail plan 97

Davies Park in 1926. (Extract from Brisbane City Council Detail Plan No. 97)

Events

While the main use of the park was for sport, the riverside developed into a popular and attractive place of recreation and bands occasionally performed on weekends. Special events also were held.

In 1922, despite the protestations of those who opposed boxing as pandering to the baser instincts for profit  and a threatened injunction by the Progress Association, the Council granted a licence for the first and possibly the only prize fight to be held at Davies Park. Under a hot January sun, unusually for the time, men took their coats off. A big turnup was expected, as the organisers had announced that “women’s presence would be acceptable”. Only 2 women were spotted by a journalist covering the event. Archie Bradley, the “Idol of Gympie”, narrowly defeated Harvey Stone, the “Wizard of the Ring”, on points.

davies park prize fight stones comics

Antics in the ring at Davies Park. (Brisbane Courier, 20 January 1922 via Trove)

In 1918, the Seventh Day Adventist Church held a national conference and camp in the park. This was repeated in 1926 when six marquees and 112 accommodation tents catered for the 700 attendees.

seventh day adventists

The Seventh Day Adventist camp with the gas works in the background. (The Week, 30 August 1918 via Trove)

Encouraged by good attendance at equestrian events in the park, the Progress Association inaugurated a South Brisbane Show in April of 1923. Some 8,000 people attended.

Queenslander 6 September 1919 dp show

The Queenslander, 6th September 1919. (State Library of Queensland)

As well as ring events, there was the usual judging of entries of cooking, dogs, poultry, bees, flowers, vegetables, needlework and schoolwork. By the time of the 3rd annual show held in 1925, there were 300 dogs, and 200 entries in both the cooking and poultry categories. This seems to have been the last time the event was held.

tradie turnout 27 show new

The winner of the tradesman’s turnout at the 1924 South Brisbane Show was Day and Co. Their bakery was located at 184 Boundary Street, West End. (Telegraph 17th April 1924 via Trove)

The speedway

In the 1920s, a motorcycle craze led to the beginning of speedway racing. The entrepreneur A. J. Hunting established a speedway at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds in 1926, but problems there led him to seek Council permission to build a track at Davies Park. The major lessee of the park, the Rugby League, agreed and the track was built circling the football field.

The speedway opened on a chilly August evening in 1927, with a crowd of 6,000 in attendance. As well as motorcycles, there were car and bicycle races. One rider lost control of his motorbike and it jumped the safety fence, knocking out a boy. One woman fainted and another received a blow to the hip. All recovered after ambulance attention.

speedway paper

A Davies Park Speedway programme from 1931. (State Library of Queensland)

davies park tram extension

The tram loop.

With crowds of up to 13,000 attending on Wednesday and Saturday nights, a tram loop line was built in 1927, dropping patrons off at the gate. A ferry service also ran at times, calling at various points down the river.

Whilst the speedway brought money and jobs to West End, not all residents were happy. There were complaints about the noise that one correspondent to the Brisbane Courier described as “an inferno of diabolical sounds, interspersed with the shrieks and yells of admirers of the contestants, which completely beggar description. “

davies park speedway ca 1930

A practice session at Davies Park ca. 1930. (State Library of Queensland)

Fay-Taylour-The-Vintagent-Douglas-riding-gear

Fay Taylour (thevintagegent.com)

In 1929, Irish born Fay Taylour, known as “Flying Fay”, made a series of appearances at Davies Park during an Australian tour in which she won many races. 

By 1931, attendance was dropping and the speedway closed in 1932. This was probably due to a combination of the loss of many top riders who were pursuing opportunities overseas and the depression enveloping the country. 

Tony Webb1 describes the Davies Park speedway as “one of the first purpose built speedways in the world that truly combined all of the basic themes of spectacle, crowd participation, sponsorship, noise and excitement in a two hour package.”

The homeless

As the decade drew to an end, the worsening economic conditions led to a rapid rise in unemployment. A camp grew on the fringes of Davies Park, a location which allowed the men living there to pick up day work in nearby South Brisbane and in the city. Despite attempts to evict them after local residents’ complaints, the camp remained until the early 1940s.

campers near davies park tele 5 10 1929

Telegraph (Brisbane) 5th October 1929. (Trove)

More sport and another war

After the closure of the speedway, all sorts of ideas surfaced for use of the park, including tin-hare coursing and night trotting. None came to fruition. The depression continued and the numbers of paying spectators dropped off. The Brisbane Rugby League successfully sought a reduction in rent.

A common sight along the park riverbank was of hundreds of people lined up shoulder to shoulder fishing for perch. Mick Crocker, who was one of Brisbane Rugby League’s finest lock forwards and grew up in West End , recalled ” You’d catch a sugar bag full and take ’em home to put through the mincer because they were full of bones. Those fish kept food on the table for a lot of families during the hard years”.3

In the 1930s, baseball became popular in Australia and women’s teams started to use the park for their games from around 1937.

The Brisbane State High School was leased a small portion of land next to the swimming pool in 1935 and a rowing shed was built there.

davies park BSHS rowing shed and jetty 1951

The BSHS rowing shed and park jetty in 1951. (Brisbane City Council)

The old grandstand was demolished in 1934 and the oval reconstructed in 1938 with the financial support of Queensland Cricket. Competition recommenced at Davies Park in 1939 only to be interrupted by war. 

sb cricket team 1939 40

The South Brisbane A Grade Premiership side 1939/40. (South Brisbane Cricket Club History)

During World War 2, only the swimming pool remained in operation and the rest of the park became a military site. Sport continued at nearby Musgrave Park which was not used by the military (see my post More Tales from Musgrave Park ).

The Australian Army 3rd Base Post Office and a United States Navy receiving barracks were based in the park. There were also drills for air raid readiness with large numbers of volunteers as well as professionals practising bomb disposal, rescue and demolition, first aid and fire fighting. These attracted curious spectators. For more on this topic, see my post Brisbane Prepares for Air Raids .

Below: Scenes from air raid response drills at Davies Park in 1942 and 1943.

The first public sporting event held after the war seems to have been a cricket match between Combined Services and Brisbane City towards the end of 1945 when the park was still under military control. 

telegraph 12 nov 1945

Telegraph, 12 November 1945. (Trove)

 

davies park 1946 aligned

An aerial view of Davies Park in 1946. The swimming pool is at the top left, with the BSHS rowing shed just below. Army huts sit on number 2 oval and the Gas Works are visible at the bottom. (QImagery)

It wasn’t until 1953 that the ex-army igloos visible in the image above were removed, allowing the reuse of oval number 2.

Later years

After the war, Davies Park continued as a sporting venue. The Souths Rugby League team went through a highly successful period, winning 4 premierships over a period of 9 years. In 1978, the main oval was named after Bill Tyquin who was the team captain in 1949 and also captained the Australian team on three occasions. Souths became known as the Magpies in the 1960s, triggered by the number of the birds commonly seen in the park.

souths 1985 glory glory

The Souths Magpies team that defeated the Wynnum-Manly Seagulls to win the premiership 10-8 in 1985. (rogerswebsite.com)

In 2013, the oval saw the Badu Island Argun Warriers defeat the Newcastle Yowies in what some called an Indigenous State of Origin equivalent.

The South Brisbane Cricket Club continued to use the park until 1960, when they moved to Fehlberg Park in Yeronga.

As always the park was used for other activities from time to time.

tele 9 oct 1953 davies park square dancing

Telegraph, 9th October 1953. (Trove)

In the 1950s and 60s, the Council’s long term plan for a river side drive came to fruition. This cut the park off from the river, but with the closing of the through road and construction of bike and walking paths in recent years, the connection has returned. In 1979, the stripping tower from the Gas Works was relocated to the park as an historical display and the remnants of the works were demolished in 2003.

Below : The riverbank at Davies Park at left and the view looking towards the park from the William Jolly Bridge at right ca. 1950.

Today

Livid music festival West End 1993 kathy dora slq

Livid music festival West End 1993 (Kathy Dora, State Library of Queensland)

Sports remains the major land use of Davies Park as it has been for 120 years. Number 1 oval is the home of the Souths Logan Magpies Rugby League Club. Number 2 oval is used by several soccer clubs. There was also a beach volley ball court, now replaced by a basketball court. A mini skate board plaza is popular.

Occasionally, the football ground is used for other purposes such as the Livid Music Festival in from 1991 to 1996.

The Brisbane Grammar School boat shed was built in 1974. The Council built a rowing complex on the site of the swimming pool and old BSHS shed in 2002, currently occupied by the Commercial Rowing Club and a number of schools.

commercial rowing club revolutionise.com

The rowing sheds with the Commercial Club highlighted with  number one oval in the background. (revolutionise.com)

A well tended community garden recalls the land usage of the mid 19th century. A popular market takes place every Saturday, bringing crowds back to enjoy the riverbank. At the time of writing there were more changes to the park planned as it continues to evolve to meet community needs.

davies park market 2011

Davies Park market. (P. Granville)


Memorial Plaques

There are two plaques remembering sportsmen in the park. 

Jim Montgomery

A plaque and fountain near Montague Road commemorate Jim Montgomery. Jim, who lived in Granville Street, West End, was a strong supporter of both the Souths Rugby League and City Pastime Swimming Clubs at Davies Park. He served in committee positions for both for many years. His daughter Lyra Lister ran the Souths canteen for decades.

Alfred Baynes

Located near the river and the Commercial Rowing Club shed, the cairn mounted plaque commemorating Alfred Baynes was originally located at North Quay near the previous rowing shed. Baynes, a member of Commercial, was undefeated Queensland Sculls champion over 6 years and Australian champion in 1920 and 1928. He competed with good results at Henley. Baynes died from blood poisoning at just 33 years of age, leaving a widow and baby daughter.

References

1. Webb, Anthony Brian (2009). Speedway tonight : Davies Park Speedway 1927-1932. Boolarong Press, Brisbane

2. Brisbane City Council Heritage Listing

3. “Glory, Glory to the Magpies” by Roger Waite

4. South Brisbane District Cricket Club History Compiled By Clayton Bradford (Based on the 100 Year Book by Athol Fulwood)

© P. Granville 2021

5 thoughts on “The Davies Park Story

  1. Paul, another superb piece of work. I admire your attention to detail.

    Bill

    Dr William J Metcalf

    Adjunct Lecturer, Griffith University,

    Honorary Associate Professor, University of Queensland,

    Brisbane, Australia

    ________________________________

    Like

  2. Paul,
    Another fabulous addition to the annals of our local history.
    Your mixture of text and illustrations makes for easy reading.

    Two things come to mind;

    Firstly, Granville Street is mentioned twice, once in reference to that grand home ‘Orleton’, home of John Davies, and then as the domicile of Jim ‘Monty’ Montgomery.
    So, your own surname of Granville…is there any connection?

    Secondly, the Boundary and Vulture pic on page 5 shows the JP Davies pharmacy on the south-eastern corner ( closest to Torbreck) and yet it is now located on the city side of that intersection …i.e. north-east plus in the 1950’s (to early-mid 60s?) wasnt that newish brick building on the corner of this block (bounded by Sussex and Brighton) the site of a BCC grocery store ( i.e. ‘Brisbane Cash and Carry’…an early foreunner of local supermarkets and I recall an orange paint scheme) but of course there may have been interim relocations, and so over to you.

    Thanks for your brilliant ongoing efforts.
    John Carson

    Like

    • Hi John, thanks for your kind remarks. I think the various Granville streets as well as the Sydney suburb and other places around the old empire such as Granville Island near Vancouver were all named after Earl Granville (definitely no relative) who was Foreign Minister and at one stage Minister for the Colonies in the second half of the 19th century. I believe that the chemist shop was always on the northern side of Vulture Street but I might be wrong. It’s definitely shown as being there on a 1920 street map. The photo in the blog is looking east down Vulture Street. Paul

      Like

  3. Paul
    Of Course!!
    Now I see it
    I feel silly and was thinking the pic was taken in Boundary Street looking south from outside Avid Reader…. or in those days,… National Bank, West End, where circa 1971 I spent a few weeks on Qld Relieving Staff
    Yes, I’m definitely becoming old and silly!
    John

    Like

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