The 2023 Memories of Stephens Conference wrap-up

The 2023 Memories of Stephens Conference wrap-up

There was an engaging array of speakers last weekend, at the Memory of Stephens conference held at Our Lady’s College, Annerley. The venue was bright and airy, with food and refreshments served on the deck with stunning views of Stephen’s mountain   A student of the school, Layla Agora of the Gubbi Gubbi people conducted an acknowledgement of Country of the Jagera and Turbal people on which the conference occurred.

This post gives a brief run down of the themes presented in the papers. We eagerly await the publication of conference papers in the forthcoming, ‘Memories of Stephens’.

For the conference program and full author details on the papers refer below.

The conference did lose one of its speakers, a paper on Aboriginal Camp life in Moorooka, due to the Indigenous week of silence in response to the referendum, however, matters of First Nations people of Stephens still had quite a presence.

Dr Macklin turned the spotlight on Brisbane before the colonists arrived. At the time the Indigenous population of Brisbane was approximately 12,000, with a few hundred in the Yeronga area.  This made Brisbane the most densely populated in Australia. He also reminded us how beautiful it was along the banks of the Brisbane River: a ‘veritable garden of Eden’.  Dr Macklin emphasised how for local Indigenous people; language belonged to the land…to know the language is to know the place.

John Pearn’s paper connected in with the Stephen’s indigenous story through the story of Dr Lindsay Page Winterbottom who had a GP practice in Annerley, corner of Ekibin Rd and Ipswich Rd. He was a much-loved member of the community, often treating families for three generations. Among many other achievements, Dr Winterbottom was founder of the Anthropology Museum, at the University of Queensland. Early on he had recognised the importance of collecting and recording indigenous artefacts and languages.

Dr Bill Metcalf revisited the Aboriginal burial cave found in Toohey forest, and mentions in the paper by Ray Kerkhove, ‘Enduring Presence: Aboriginal Landscape and History in Annerley-Stephens, in Stories of Stephens, 2016. The Bones discovered in 1900 and removed from the cave were relocated in the collections of Queensland Museum. It was confirmed the bones were pre-contact.  The research continues. 

Of course, a conference about Stephens is primarily about place. And there are many perspectives across time, and through people of different cultures.

Georgina Dove gave insights into the origins of The Wilderness house and Tarragindi House, built by Marie and Esther, daughters of Benjamin Cribb of the highly successful Ipswich department store, Cribb and Foote. Once again, we encounter the naming of place, this time through the man Tarragindi. ‘Tarra’ as he was affectionately called, was blackbirded from New Caledonia, and eventually taken in by the Footes in Ipswich. So, the first major house in the Ekibin end of Annerley was built by Mary Cribb and her husband, and named Tarragindi House. Tarra was buried with Foote and Cribb family, and later the suburb would take his name.

The Cribb sisters had connection with the beginnings of the Annerley Congregational Church, the story beautifully told by Georgina Dove’s mother, Ronda Dove.

The paper by Jan Richardson and myself shifted focus to the Chinese people of Stephens.

From the 1880s through to the 1940s this research has uncovered over fifty Chinese residents in the area.

The impacts of the White Australia policy meant numbers slowly declined, however, it has left quite a trail of documents at the National Archives, which helps give names to many who lived in the area.  Jan and Janis’s research has also uncovered places they market gardened, identified through early survey maps of Norman Creek as well as the aerial photographs. More information on this work can be found at on their Facebook page, Journeys into Queensland’s Past.

Jeanette Wiley beautifully related the history of Tennyson, situated at the southwestern end of Stephen’s where the Oxley Creek flows into the Brisbane River. Many of us remember the landmark of the power station built there.  Originally named Softstone, it was renamed after the poet, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and the streets around took on names from his King Arthur poem: King Arthur terrace, Camelot, Lancelot, Merlin and so on.  Sadly, many of the grand houses of the terrace have been demolished but the suburb seems to have kept some magical qualities.

What 20th century Brisbane suburb would be complete without a local scout group. Don Marshall gave an incredibly entertaining, and enlightening talk about scouting and the formation of

Stephen’s district scout group in 1919. Don demonstrated how to swing the Billy to draw the tea – then pouring it sideways into a cup. He went on to tie a knot, a Bowline no less, behind his back! He flipped flapjacks and spoke of lavishly embellishing them with golden syrup. Cross dressing scouts got a mention as did scouts learning bomb defusing, in war time.

World War 2 of course had its impact on the people of Stephen’s, and Dianne Hacker 1942 told the moving story of the brave men of operation Jaywick, and the naval vessel, MV Krait … the ‘bloody crate’ which is now held in the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

A very confronting story of WW2 was shared by Glen Dyer on a wartime tram disaster on Ipswich Rd.  After a head on collision with a US army truck, a tram was engulfed in flames on Ipswich Rd. Many on the tram were women who worked at the local munitions factory in Salisbury. Five women perished. 

The railway line has been an ever-present feature of Stephens. Greg Hallam spoke of how Queensland’s railway network origins were not driven from the city, as in the other states, but by country needs. It took ten years for the railway to open in Brisbane after the first stage of Queensland’s line from Ipswich heading west to Toowoomba was opened in 1865.

Greg has a Qld rail history podcast which may be of interest.

Finally, Tracey Oliveri and Chris Dawson Spoke on the history of the South Brisbane Cemetery at Dutton Park, partly positioned in the Stephen’s Shire when it was extended across Cornwall Street.  Sadly, a Brisbane beautification scheme in the seventies destroyed 1000 headstones. Some have been found buried on the site, but so much history has been lost. 

Many thanks to the panel chairs, Stephen Sheaffe AM, Councillor Nicole Johnston, Bec Langdon, President Community Plus, Councillor Krista Adams, Deputy Mayor.

Stephen Sheaffe and Glenda Sheaffe did a fabulous job in bringing the event together, backed by the Annerley Stephen’s History Group committee and members. We look forward to the forthcoming book, Memories of Stephens, based on these papers. 

Full list of session, papers and authors:

Chair: Stephen Sheaffe

Dr Ruth Kerr and Greg Hallam: Railways on the Southside: The South Brisbane Railway of the 1880s and early 20th century.

Dr Michael Macklin: Indigenous Yeronga 1822.

Don Marshall: Stephens Boy Scout Group 1917-2003.

Chair: Councillor Nicole Johnston

Georgina Dove: The Wilderness and Tarragindi House.

Ronda Dove: The Congregational Church, Cracknell Road.

Jeanette Wiley: Softstone to Tennyson.

Chair: Bec Langdon

Professor John Pearn: Dr Lindsay Page Winterbottom (1887-1960).

Diana Hacker: The Forgotten, Brave Boys.

Dr Janis Hanley and Jan Richardson: Chinese in Stephens.

Chair: Councillor Krista Adams, Deputy Mayor

Dr Bill Metcalf: Toohey Forest Park and Stephen Sheaffe, Bones in the Park.

Tracey Oliveri and Chris Dawson: South Brisbane Cemetery

Glen and Gail Dyer: World War II Tram Disaster.