Who will save Yungaba — ‘the land of the sun’?

by Ian Curr

demolition of the bellvue

Demolition of the Bellevue Hotel opposite Parliament House in April, 1979

“Job and me and Jesus sittin’
Underneath the Indooroopilly bridge
Watchin’ that blazin’ sun go down
Behind the tall tree’d mountain ridge
The land’s our heritage and spirit
Here the rightful culture’s Black
and we sittin’ here just wonderin’
When we get the land back”

Kev Carmody ‘Thou shalt not steal’

If you walk underneath the Storey bridge you can see what has happened. Developers like Australand have had a field day. All public spaces have been exploited and made private. All that remains public is a little park, a Jazz Club and Yungaba.  Even the Palm trees are feeling the strain. As it reaches up from Yungaba the tallest Palm nearly hits the bridge. Private tunnels travel under, roads are above and all around. The old immigration depot, Yungaba, looks condemned, only a few officees remain in its grounds: Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre [BEMAC], Translators, 4EB and a place called the Hall with part of its roof caved in.Women are inside doing yoga or some exercise like that.

There was real significance of having a ‘Save Our Public Assets’ [SOPA] picket outside parliament house yesterday, Tuesday, 10th November 2009. Everyone from the Left of 30 years ago could immediatley see it. We were standing on the corner across the road from where the Bellevue was knocked down under police protection at midnight on 20th April 1979 (pictured). Only time separated us. Similar acts conceived by similar government policies – one to redevelop the Bellevue, the other to sell- off Yungaba.

The old Bellevue is not there anymore, but the memory remains. Nearby stands the redeveloped mansions and behind them the Department of Works building with its rooftop garden and BBQ area. Ironically, inside this building the government has its offices of Heritage Building Conservation.

Seaman Frank and his friend, Monica, remembered. Sparky Mark, teacher Phil and I saw the destruction of the old heritage-listed Bellevue by the Bjelke-Petersen government. The lady from the Yungaba Action Group knew and put it in her speech about saving the beautiful old building at Kangaroo Point called Yungaba. Of course Sam Watson knows cos it was done on murri land. “Here they are repeating the same mistakes of 30 years ago” is what everyone thought. Different political party, same bad government.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) blokes knew. They brought their black maria and sausage sizzle to lend some organisation and support to the picket. ‘Simmo’ and his members are all that stand between public ownership or government sell-off. And the other unions, must not forget them. The Railways Union (QRU) with its rich history, the metalworkers (AMWU) whose members slog it out in railway workshops, bus drivers like Owen (RTBU) who gets workers and shoppers to the city and back home, the public servants (QPSU) and the cleaners and hospitality workers (LHMU). And thanks to the Yungaba Action Group members, the ordinary folk from the community, for standing up. I did not see the building workers (BLF & CFMEU) at the picket but they will be there when it counts.

Yungaba is an aboriginal word meaning ‘land of the sun’. It was the name given to the immigration depot many years after it was built by the Queensland colonial government at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane in the 1880s.

In the 1950s, the newly named Yungaba State Migration Office and Reception was run by David Longlands who had held senior positions in the State Migration Office since 1946. As an immigration depot it was linked to the racist White Australia Policy administered by various Australian governments from federation till the 1970s.

Queensland state archives describes this office as being:

“Responsible for the provision of community services, including housing, to the disadvantaged, children, multicultural groups etc. as well as administration of sporting events and recreation.”

So Yungaba was a place where migrants first set foot in Queensland.

Would Longlands, if still alive [he died in 1988], be upset to hear that Yungaba was being sold off? Probably. He was an old style public servant where public ownership still had a place, even in the capitalist world.

In 1974, when pressure was put on the then premier of Queensland, Bjelke-Petersen, to have a public ombudsman, to people’s surprise, Joh had no qualms in catching up with the times.  He understood the subtleties of the modern state.

So, who did he turn to? David Longlands became the first state ombudsman. Bjelke-Petsersen had cut the template for future Qld state apparatus.

There were suspicions inside the public service at the time that Sir David had blotted his copy book when his house could be seen adorned with iron lattice work that resembled the iron work from the old Bellvue Hotel.

Bjelke-Petersen had ordered the Department of Works to demolish Queensland the heritage listed Bellvue in the dead of night.


As if to close the loop, the Department of Works secured the services of a successful migrant family, the notorious Deen Bros, to do the job in the dead of night.

A large crowd had gathered around the building. There was a cordon of police. They had thrown up a barbed…a mesh wire fence around it. And then the Deen Bros arrived, rolling through like an armoured division, straight through the crowd. People were knocked sideways. Police were dragging people out of the way. Parking meters were knocked over. Traffic signs were bent and twisted on the road. It looked like Stalingrad.

Here we were, a group of members of the parliament of Queensland in the governing parties, totally powerless to put a stop to this outrage as it was happening.

—TERRY GYGAR, FORMER LIBERAL MP speaking to Michael Cathcart on the ABC Rewind Program in 2003.

BOB KATTER, FORMER NATIONAL PARTY MP in the Queensland government:

We did act in a callous disregard to their interests, because we saw them as self-indulgent, you know, citified sort of people that would be concerned about ridiculous things like that when people were going hungry.

Bob Katter went on to become Aboriginal Affairs minister and he saw to it that Murris did not go hungry, didn’t he?

In 1989 after Longlands had recommended modernisation of the old Boggo Road specifically and the prison system generally, the Bjelke-Petersen government named the correctional centre at Wacol after him.

You see down through the years, Sir David like many public service heads had become closer to the National Party in government. They were all Joh-men back then. Originally a Labor appointment, from before and after Joh took over as premier, David Longland’s star was on the rise. He was appointed head of the state public service board in 1969. He had been the under-secretary of the Works and Housing department from 1957 after the demise of the Gair Labor government.

Has Anna Bligh taken a leaf out of Bjelke-Petsersen’s copy-book with the sell-off of Yungaba or is the rule of a modern Labor premier cut from more subtle cloth?

South East Advertiser 19 Nov 2009


A FESTIVAL of migrant culture will be the fi nal public event at Kangaroo Point’s historic Yungaba building before it is redeveloped. A free, family-friendly World By Night festival featuring contemporary music, dance, food and craft inspired by Yungaba’s migrant and refugee past will take place on Friday from 6-10pm.

On December 15, the State Government will hand over the 1.9ha site, a former migrant depot, to new owner Australand. Ben Langfi eld, of marketing agents Colliers International, said more than 800 prospective buyers had already registered interest in the riverfront apartments planned for the site. Mr Langfi eld said excavation would begin almost immediately.

Long-time opponents of the sale of Yungaba expect the excavation to uncover historic artefacts indicative of the site’s migrant, Aboriginal, South Sea Islander and convict past. Yungaba Action Group spokeswoman Delene Cuddihy said: “We called upon the State Government last year to make sure there was thorough documentation of the site including an archeological dig. We’ve seen no signs of this archaeological dig so expect this excavation will yield signifi cant archaeological fi nds,” she said.

Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre (BEMAC), which operates from the historic Yungaba building, is hosting the World By Night which is a Q150 / B150 event. Director Jo Pratt said Friday’s event would be tinged with sadness but would be mostly a celebration of culture. BEMAC administration will be based at Yungaba until late 2011 or early 2012.

The $160 million project features 167 apartments across three buildings with the fi rst tower, Promontory, planned for a September 2010 start and settling early 2012. Sales are expected to top $2.2 million for Promontory.

More importantly, as our aboriginal brothers and sisters say:

Who owns this land? We do! It is not theirs to sell.

Perhaps we should take some heart from the fact that the federal government has refused permission to flood the Mary River and build the Traveston Dam?

I wonder if the Federal Environmnt minister, Peter Garrett, looked at the company behind the failed Traveston Dam that is the Qld Water Infrastructure Pty Ltd [QWIPL].

It has one 1$ shareholder – Bernard Burke (Department of State Development). That makes it a Government Owned Corporation (GOC), and what a mickey mouse operation is all seems now!

Bligh’s under treasurer and chief of selling-off public assets, Gerard Bradley, is one of the directors.

Here are the other directors of QWIPL:
Bob McCarthy (DG NRRM&W)
Gerard Bradley (Under Treasurer and Under Secretary of Queensland.)
Richard Parris
John Gralton
Thomas Fenwick

The Traveston Swamp News refers to this GOC in these terms:

” In my opinion QWIPL is set up as a company simply to artificially distance the State Government from public scrutiny during the legal processes that need to occur for the various licences and approvals needed under State and Federal law to build the dam. QWIPL applies to the various State Government bodies for licencing and approval, and undertakes commercial contracts with State Government entities to perform work for them (for example, mapping  and hydrological studies). All these activities are now commercial transactions and very difficult for the public to scrutinize. “

There are many Government-owned corporations mentioned at the Qld Treasury website in the areas of Energy, Funds management, Gaming, Ports, Rail and Water. Queensland Water Infrastructure Pty Ltd (QWI) is one of these.  This GOC is credited in company reports and in itd audit as signing memoranda of agreement with institutions like the University of the Sunshine Coast and is a signatory of the Traveston Crossing Dam Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA).

The state government has identified public assets of Energy, Ports, Rail and Water for sell-off.It wishes to hide the process whereby this is done. But at the same time it is determined to get its agenda through.

A simpler view of GOCs  like QWI is that they are the means whereby the sell-off of public assets is executed.

The question is: who is going to stop them and how?

“You talk of conservation
Keep the forest pristine green
Yet in 200 years your materialism
Has stripped the forests clean
A racist’s a contradiction
That’s understood by none
Mostly their left hand hold a bible
Their right hand holds a gun”

Kev Carmody ‘Thou shalt not steal’.

Ian Curr,
November 2009

Sir David Longlands file in Qld State archives.

ABC Rewind program

Deen Bros ” All We Leave Behind Are The Memories”

Kev Carmody ‘Thou Shalt not Steal”

The Traveston Swamp News

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