Saturday, 28 February 2015

Ogden Street Multi-Storey Car Park

The first multi-storey car park built outside of Brisbane opened in Townsville in December 1976.  Built at a cost of $3.6 million, the ten-storey car park could accommodate more than 1,000 vehicles and was the first of its kind to be built by a local government authority in Queensland.
Ogden Street Multi-Storey Carpark, nearing completion, September 1976.
Photo: Alex Trotter, held by CityLibraries Local History Collection.

The Townsville City Council built the car park through the State Government Insurance Office (SGIO) on a 50-year lease agreement, in order to alleviate parking shortages in the central business district, and to plan for projected growth in the city.

The SGIO’s adjacent building (the now iconic “Sugar Shaker”) was connected to the multi-storey car park by an elevated walkway, and 200 parking spaces on the lower levels of the car park were reserved for the SGIO building’s customers.
Construction of the walkway between the multi-storey carpark and the Hotel Townsville, November 1976.
Photo: Alex Trotter, held by CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

On weekdays, parking fees were set at 30 cents per hour for the first two hours, and 25 cents per hour after that.  On Saturday mornings, a flat fee of 60 cents applied, for any period of time, up until the car park’s closure at 1pm.

The potential complexity of negotiating the car park, with its upward ramps and downward spirals, prompted the Townsville Daily Bulletin to warn female drivers of the possible hazards that might be encountered at the new car park.

“Oh girls, you’ll need to practise your hill starts before you think about coming into town to use the new SGIO car park,” the unnamed, female writer warned.

“Those of you who have used parking stations like this in a city like Sydney, for instance, shouldn’t have too many problems, for you’re geared to rethink your driving habits once you get up the ramp.”

“But if you’re a Townsville girl and you’ve never driven in the big city rat race, you might do better to do a ‘reccy’ on foot before you accept the council’s invitation to park for nothing.”

In an effort to entice drivers to use the new car park, council offered free parking for three days in the first week of operation, during which time about 500 vehicles parked there each day.  On the first day of paid parking, that number dropped to about 400.

A week after the car park opened, the Bulletin reported that the Mayor, Alderman Perc Tucker, was pleased that the facility had been more widely accepted than critics had believed it would be.  Even concerns that “lady drivers” would avoid the car park had turned out to be unfounded, and “at least 50 per cent of parkers so far were women”.

But it was feared the multi-storey car park might become a “white elephant”, with running costs far outweighing takings.  Council’s leasing and operating costs were expected to be about $900 per day, and after only a couple of months, the car park was only taking in $200 a day in parking fees.

Alderman Delma Benson argued that despite public criticism about the car park’s huge size, it was roughly in line with the recommendations of the 1966 Townsville Transportation Study.  That study had forecast Townsville’s inner city parking needs as two car parks, each of four to six storeys.

“Perhaps it is a few storeys too big, perhaps it is a few years too soon.  But it is built and the people of the future will appreciate it,” Alderman Benson said.

Author's note:  The multi-storey car park in Ogden Street is now Metro Quays, a 92-unit residential development, with commercial tenants on the ground floor.
Metro Quays, Ogden Street, Townsville.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Grasshopper Plague - 1912

In 1912, Townsville witnessed an event of Biblical proportions when a plague of grasshoppers swarmed over the city, devouring every patch of green in its path.

Grasshoppers fill the air and cover the ground, during a plague in Townsville, April 1912. The building on the left is the School of Arts building in Stanley Street.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection

The earliest recorded grasshopper plague in Queensland was in 1884 in the Lower Herbert region, which saw £30,000 worth of sugar cane crops destroyed. 

Locust and grasshopper plagues are a common natural occurrence, and develop when seasonal weather conditions are favourable, in particular when good rainfall follows a very dry period.

During 1911 and 1912, grasshoppers in plague proportions descended on north Queensland, affecting Mossman River, Cairns, Tolga and Townsville, before moving on to Springsure, Clermont and other districts in central and western Queensland. 

Townsville had received fair warning of the impending infestation, but when swarms of the pests did arrive, residents were still surprised by what they saw.

Contemporary newspapers described the grasshopper plague as a “visitation”, evoking images from the Biblical story of the ten plagues of Egypt.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin described the event as an “invasion”, beginning in North Ward on a Tuesday afternoon and moving into the city area by the following morning.

“From shortly after nine o’clock a perfect cloud of the insects came from the direction of North Ward, flying generally in a southerly direction.”

The newspaper likened the sound the insects made to that of “crackling flames”.

“They began to settle on the green patches and gardens, avoiding the shade, and wherever there was grass, were so thick that they rose in a perfect cloud around every pedestrian and horseman.” 
A horseman rides along Walker Street, Townsville during a grasshopper plague, 1912.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

“The green grass disappeared before the pest, and bare patches appeared, only the weeds being left untouched.” 

When the grasshoppers swarmed over The Strand, they resembled a “thick snowstorm”, and although they avoided the sea, they later negotiated Ross Creek “without hesitation”. 

Numbering in the millions, and moving at an estimated speed of at least six miles per hour, the grasshoppers were capable of devouring their own body weight in food in just 24 hours, and reports of the destruction of lawns and gardens were received from many areas. 

“Whilst the green spots were the most favoured, the bare stretches of Flinders Street were invaded all day, especially at the lower end, and all day the insects were rising in clouds before every vehicle. Towards night the bulk of the pests had disappeared, but at night wingless insects were a great pest in the houses, and wherever there were lights.” 

Not confined to flight, one northern correspondent even described seeing grasshoppers that swam across rivers.

“The hoppers are taking to the water like mixed bathers in the surf.  They (the insects) have been seen in squadrons and platoons swimming across the little Mossman River and the Herbert at Alligator Point, near Goondi.”

As well as wreaking havoc on crops and other vegetation, grasshopper plagues could cause other problems too, with the potential to disrupt rail transportation when the crushed insects caused loss of traction on the railway lines.

Of the 1912 grasshopper plague, residents of 20 years’ standing could not recall having witnessed a swarm of grasshoppers on such a scale before in Townsville, but it would not be the last plague they saw. 

Grasshoppers returned in plague proportions again a few years later in 1915, and a number of times during the 1930s and 1940s.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

QATB Time Capsule

When a building in Sturt Street was demolished in 1968, a crowd of curious onlookers gathered to inspect the contents of a time capsule, unearthed from within a cavity in the foundation stone of the building.
Inspecting the contents of a time capsule, uncovered during demolition of the QATB building in Sturt Street, Townsville, September 1968.
Photo:  Alex Trotter, held by CityLibraries Local History Collection.

The building was the Townsville Ambulance centre, on the corner of Sturt and Stanley Streets and the time capsule was really just a rusty old tin that had been sealed with solder and placed in the foundation stone of the building when it was built in 1904.

The tin contained copies of the Townsville Daily Bulletin and the Townsville Evening Star, both dated Saturday, September 25, 1904, and the first three annual reports of the Townsville Ambulance Centre, which had been established in 1900.
Looking over an edition of the Townsville Daily Bulletin from 1904.
Photo:  Alex Trotter, held by CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Along with the newspapers and documents was a glazed, earthenware whisky jar, although it’s not clear from reports at the time whether this was empty or still filled with whisky when it was recovered.

At a special ceremony to mark the laying of the foundation stone for the ambulance building in 1904, Mr F. Johnson, a life member of the QATB, had the honour of tapping the stone into place.

According to the Townsville Daily Bulletin, as the foundation stone was lowered into position in the south-eastern corner of the building, Mr Johnson “tapped it in the orthodox fashion with a trowel”, before declaring it “well and truly laid”.

A plaque inscribed with the names of QATB office bearers, fashioned by monumental masons Melrose and Fenwick, was also attached to the foundation stone.  Unfortunately, when the building was being demolished in 1968, vandals smashed the plaque on the foundation stone and it had to be patched up.
Inspecting the contents of a time capsule, uncovered during demolition of the QATB building in Sturt Street, Townsville, September 1968.
Photo:  Alex Trotter, held by CityLibraries Local History Collection.

Despite being only a little over 60 years old, the building which had been designed by Townsville architects Messrs Eaton, Bates and Polin, was undergoing demolition because it had been sold to the MLC company, who intended to erect a modern, six-storey office block on the site.
Townsville Ambulance Station, corner Sturt and Stanley Streets, c. 1910.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The Townsville branch of the QATB had moved to a new, purpose-built premises in Hugh Street, Currajong, in May 1967, after having outgrown its Sturt Street home.

Built at a cost of just over $100,000, the new headquarters in Hugh Street consisted of four buildings - an administration block, plant room, superintendent’s residence and a garage that could accommodate ten “modern, well-equipped” ambulance vehicles.  These vehicles were Holden station wagons.

The centre would now be centrally located in a position that could better service a rapidly growing city, with easy access to the main arterial roads.

But the cost of the new centre was a concern for the president of the QATB, Mr J. A. Turner, who believed that the burden of raising funds for the ambulance service rested too heavily on the ambulance personnel themselves.

“These men are forced to run raffles and other fund raising schemes to provide this service to the community,” Mr Turner said.

While the service did receive some government support, Mr Turner felt that if every wage earner in Queensland contributed ten cents per week, that would then be enough to guarantee a free ambulance service for the state.