Sepia Saturday 201: History Slips Away

2013.10W.07This week’s topic for Sepia Saturday 201 is houses and fits perfectly with a story I’ve been contemplating for some time. It will also link to my Book of Me stories about my childhood house.

Image from Google Earth, street view: my parents' (left) and grandparents' (right) houses.

Image from Google Earth, street view: my parents’ (left) and grandparents’ (right) houses.

Back in July 2013 my mother sold the house my parents lived in virtually all of their married lives – they’d lived next door with my grandparents for a year before I was born.

Map AG2 40 chains to the inch.

Map AG2 40 chains to the inch.

With that simple move to a retirement unit, all shiny and new, a tiny piece of Brisbane history slipped away. Yes, definitely a piece of my own family’s history, but also an unnoticed change in a near-city suburb. The sale of my childhood home was the final break in our family’s link to the street, after nearly 96 years. In Australian terms this is a quite an extensive association with an area, especially in an urban environment.

Brisbane and Suburbs Sheet S 1917, scale 8 chains to the inch, courtesy Museum of Lands Surveying and Mapping.

Brisbane and Suburbs Sheet S 1917, scale 8 chains to the inch, courtesy Museum of Lands Surveying and Mapping. The Recreation Reserve adjacent became Ballymore Park, home of Queensland Rugby from the 1960s.

You see, back in September 1917, my paternal grandfather was relocated back to Brisbane by the Queensland Government Railways. His railway employment card makes it clear he’d been in Gympie since mid-1911. (I was very lucky to find that card in the old railway offices in Ipswich back in the late 1980s). Family anecdotes tell that Grandad had boarded his young brother Ken with a woman in Kelvin Grove, after all the children had been orphaned in 1901. The carer was later said by Ken to have been quite cruel or at least demanding, but if any of the anecdotes hold water, I’m sure my grandfather can’t have known this or he’d have moved Ken elsewhere. My concern with the stories is that the timelines don’t quite gel for me.

Mackellar Sheet 4 dated 1895 from Museum of Lands Surveying and Mapping.

Mackellar Sheet 4 dated 1895 from Museum of Lands Surveying and Mapping.

At any rate when Grandad moved back to Brisbane he bought a block of land in Bally Street, so perhaps this was indeed were Ken had been living, and how Grandad came to know of it. The Ballymore estate had only been subdivided for resale in 1912 and before that had been called Ballimore – the large block of land where Ballimore House had been remains intact but the house is no more, supposedly destroyed by fire.

A section of the title deeds for my grandfather's first land purchase in 1917.

A section of the title deeds for my grandfather’s first land purchase in 1917.

Grandad’s purchase and title deeds are documented as 13th September 1917 and the block he purchased was re-subdivision 29 of subdivisions 22 and 23 from the original Portion 270 granted to John and George Harris.  The block of land was 16 perches and it was this block that my grandparents gave to my parents after my birth. On 22 October 1917 my grandfather enlisted in the Railway Unit and headed off to northern France.

In December 1920, on his return from overseas, Denis purchased the adjoining allotments, 30 and 31, a combined block of 32 perches block from the woman who was said to have been Ken’s carer. Denis built his house in the middle of the three blocks, but the date of construction is something I still don’t know, though Brisbane Council valuations may help as the valuations should increase around the time of building. My guesstimate is that it was built before my grandparents’ wedding in April 1922.

My grandparents’ house was sold, some years after Grandma’s death, c1980, so around sixty years after Grandad took ownership of the block. It has been substantially upgraded since then, though superficially is recognisable as the same house. I wrote in some detail about it in 2011, as part of the 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series, and also here in terms of the red tape surrounding houses. I also worked the electoral rolls over to analyse the history of the street, its residents, and their occupations. You can read the two stories here and here.

1932 Sewerage maps from Brisbane City Council.

1932 Sewerage maps from Brisbane City Council.

I’ve mentioned before that sewerage maps can be incredibly useful – a tip I learned from a talk given by Susie Zada. This area of Brisbane was sewered quite early: the Council approved a budget of £19,167 in February 1939 (thank you Trove!) However the maps themselves predate this by seven years, and since many of the houses in the street are indicated by their names, it will make it easier to link the people on the electoral roll to them, an unexpected benefit. Who’d have thought it was interesting to know where one’s grandparents’ dunny was?

After my parents took ownership of the block initially purchased in 1917, my grandparents’ house was moved a few metres to the right, and my childhood home was built. Over the decades the house was extended slightly, to include a front verandah and carport, and an extension at the rear for a sunroom.

And so, with the sale of all three blocks of land, and the two houses, a link was broken with the establishment of this Brisbane suburb. A small, unremarked part of personal and local history disappeared along with the family’s 90+ year residence in the street. Or as Mr Cassmob puts it succinctly “there goes the last of the originals”.

Meanwhile the mango tree, planted when my father was born 90 years ago, remains sentinel to the family’s erstwhile presence.

This photo of my grandparents' house was given to me recently by my mother. I estimate that it would be in the 1930s as the backyard toilets are still in evidence.

This photo of my grandparents’ house was given to me recently by my mother. I estimate that it would be in the 1930s as the backyard toilets are still in evidence.

There has been a local history published of the area, Herston, Recollections and Reminscences. It adds valuable background to the area’s history something which is lacking for many suburbs. However it also suffers from a lack of footnotes, and a typical omissions of local histories: the tendency to source information from a familiar section of the community. So it’s ironic that my father, who at the time had lived in the area for over 70 years, was not consulted,when he could have added so much.

For example he would easily have corrected what I believe to be an error on page 15, where it is stated that Ballymore House “would probably have suffered several floods before a fire reputedly damaged the interior….and it has since been demolished”. My conversations with Dad confirm that as far as he was aware, the street had never been flooded, making in fact highly unlikely that Ballymore House had suffered flooding since it was on the higher side of the street. The error probably arose because while the tributary of Breakfast Creek is very close in horizontal distance, the height above the creek means any flood waters are absorbed into the parks across the river.

My criticisms are probably churlish given the depth of information provided on the suburb, but it remains frustrating that more could have been added. The wonderful resource of Trove would no doubt have added all sorts of little snippets that would once have been nigh on impossible to find in the newspapers.

Herston, Recollections and Reminiscences, DJ Hacker, DR Hallam, M Spinaze, Brisbane 1995.