Sunday History Photo / Qld

Submitted: Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 02:20
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In 1848 the NSW government devoted 1000 pounds to the establishment of customs facilities in Brisbane. A prominent site was selected, on the banks of the Brisbane River along Queen Street. An unassuming single storey brick and stone building with ancillary structures was constructed at the site in 1849.
As the region's economic development intensified, Brisbane's customs facilities became increasingly inadequate. A new wing and new verandah were added to the customs house in 1872, but by the 1880s these too were no longer adequate for the volume of river traffic and the 70 staff that the customs service now employed. The Colonial Architect's Office had begun developing plans for a new customs house and, after much indecision, a design (probably by Charles McLay) was agreed in March 1886. Tenders for the new building were awarded to local builders John Petrie and Son for the sum of 37,342 pounds and work commenced in June 1886. Construction was scheduled to take 30 months, but ended up being 39 months after considerable delays in obtaining adequate raw materials for some stages of the building. The new customs house finally opened for business on 2 September 1889, and immediately became a prominent and awesome landmark on the Brisbane riverscape.
For its first twelve years of operation the Brisbane Customs House collected tariffs and duties on goods imported from overseas and from other Australian colonies. When the colonies federated in 1901, responsibility for customs collection was transferred to the new Commonwealth government and all intercolonial duties were abolished. All existing customs houses and employees were transferred to the administration of the Commonwealth, although many inland border stations became redundant. With the focus on international duties, the large capital city ports became central to customs operations, with the Brisbane Customs House being one of the larger properties inherited by the Commonwealth. Around the time of Federation the Queensland government also constructed a number of new customs houses at major centres along the coast, including Bundaberg, Maryborough Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville in order to make a significant contribution to the new system of government.
The Commonwealth Customs Service operated at the Brisbane Customs House until it was finally vacated in 1988. Over the course of the Twentieth Century, the siting of the building declined in significance as Brisbane's port activities became more focused on the river mouth. The building has remained in Commonwealth ownership, but was leased to the University of Queensland in 1994. After a public fundraising campaign and contributions from the Commonwealth government, the University embarked on a seven million dollar restoration campaign. Restoration works were completed in 1997, when the building was re-opened to the public. The Customs House is currently used for art exhibitions, conferences and functions, as well as providing the University with an inner city presence.
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The Brisbane Customs House is a late Victorian building constructed in the Free Classical style. It is a masonry structure of three stories, although only the top two storeys are visible from the Queen Street facade. The ground floor, constructed as a warehouse can only be seen from the river due to the deep excavation of the site prior to construction.
The building features an asymmetrical facade which, excepting the warehouse level, is identical whether viewed from the river or from Queen Street. The facade is highlighted by a large copper-sheeted dome which crowns the Long Room space inside. The facade is flanked by two pedimented gables featuring colonnaded sandstone and balustraded balconies to the upper level. The balconies contain curved ironwork balustrades imported from England. Externally, the major modification that has occurred since 1889 has been the replacement of original roof materials (except for the copper dome) with corrugated iron, which took place in the 1940s, along with other significant internal modifications.
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Internally, the key space, as with all contemporary customs houses, is the Long Room, which was the major area for public transactions. Originally designed as a large open space, featuring timber floors and joinery, this room was also modified in the 1940s, with suspended concrete floorings. Other internal rooms, spaces and fittings (including staircases) received similar treatment, significantly altering the internal appearance. Recent restoration works have reversed this effect, however, with conservation architects working to the building's original specifications.
One of the key aspects of its former function as a customs house is seen in its prominent siting on the Brisbane River. The irregularity of the street layout and the bends in the river open up several significant views from the building, which would have played an important role in the observation of river traffic in the past. It is also prominently visible from both street and river, promoting an air of authority from a significant distance. The site is delineated by a sandstone retaining wall around the perimeter, incorporating a wrought iron balustrade, which was added in 1891. A masonry jetty, built between 1902 and 1917 also survives. The Brisbane Customs House is also one of the few substantial 19th Century buildings remaining along the river near the former entrance to the port of Brisbane.

To view the 1st floor plan and a Drawing showing the Elevation on the River side , CLICK HERE

These are large photo's and you will use the side and bottom sliders to move the photo's.

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Reply By: Member - Fred B (NT) - Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 09:35

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 09:35
You have done it again "McGoo"

Well done Doug, another interesting history lesson.
Fred B
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Follow Up By: Andrew & Jen - Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 09:44

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 09:44
First thing I turn to on Sunday AM.
Rivalling Macca, I reckon :-)
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Follow Up By: disco driver - Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 14:33

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 14:33
Sorry Andrew,
Doug's postings leave Macca for dead, he's more concerned with hearing his own voice than listening to what his listeners have to say.

Doug's very welcome informative postings can be re-read if one needs to clarify anything again later.

Thanks Doug.

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Reply By: Member - David C2 (VIC) - Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 09:44

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 09:44
It is funny how we will often pass by old buildings or local landmarks and not really notice them, or maybe give it a quick glance and off the cuff comment. Once again Doug, you have shown us that they are all worthy of a second look as they form such a vital part of our short history and the nation we are. As we become a more multicultural society and embrace the cultures of our new citizens we must not lose sight of our own heritage and where we came from.

Thanks Doug.

Happy Travels Dave
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Reply By: Member - Rick P (NT) - Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 10:15

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 10:15
Thanks again Doug, I remember this part of town very well, painted a couple of buildings up the road when I was doing my apprentice ship in the early 60'.
If you have got Google Earth or Google Chrome you can check the place out now
Rick P
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Reply By: Rangiephil - Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 10:54

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 10:54
Unless my memory is playing tricks, the Customs House was still in operation in 1968 as one of the duties of my first job was to import cars for public servants returning from PNG, and I recall taking the documents there.

Regards Philip A
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Reply By: Member - Mfewster(SA) - Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 16:02

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 16:02
That's terrific Doug. I'll make a point of stopping at that next time I'm in Brizzie. The Ols Melbourne Customs house is also worth a look to anyone down that way. It's now used for marriages.
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Reply By: Marion - Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 20:08

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 20:08
Thanks again Doug, Marion
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