Day 78: Not so Belle view

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Belle Vue square Brismania
Life size statue of the Queen

HERE’S  an interesting spot, not so much for what it is but for what it could have been.

At the end of George Street, on the corner of Alice Street opposite old parliament house, and in the State Government building precinct, is a wind-swept square.

Its most famous occupant is a statue of Queen Elizabeth II said to be the only true-to-life sculpture of the queen in the southern hemisphere.

There’s also a memorial recognising the people of the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies for their contribution to the Australian war effort in World War II but otherwise, it’s a large, open, paved terrace with a few trees, not particularly shaded, landscaped or wildly worthy of note. It doesn’t even have a name.

Belle Vue square Brismania
Thanks for the memories

Except for one thing. And that’s a little plaque in one wall that states that the Belle Vue Hotel, “regarded for many years as Brisbane’s premier hotel”, stood on the site from 1886-1979.

It was a superb building, three storeys with wrought iron lace balconies, and an iconic Queensland design. There’s a small picture on the plaque.

The scandal was that it was demolished in the middle of the night to outwit the protesters trying to save it.

Belle Vue square Brismania
Belle Vue square

And this could also explain why the prime site remains vacant to this day –it’s said that there’s not a union around whose workers  will touch the site because of what happened to the Belle Vue.

During his term as Queensland’s longest serving premier (1968-87) Joh Bjelke-Petersen won notoriety for authorising the demolition of old buildings – 66 in all, most with heritage value – earning Brisbane the dubious title of demolition capital of Australia.

Most famous among them though, was the Belle Vue.

It was a prominent landmark and accommodation house for almost a century. Its guest register included Frank Sinatra, Katharine Hepburn, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.

Belle Vue square Brismania
Site of the old Belle Vue

In 1967, the Queensland Government bought it for the use of Members of Parliament representing rural and provincial electorates and probably with an eye for construction of future government buildings.

The story goes that the Premier received a report saying that the Belle Vue had fallen into such disrepair that it was uneconomic to restore.

In 1974, the government removed its verandahs and distinctive ironwork to make it less appealing as a restoration project.

However secret Cabinet documents released after 30 years, revealed the National Trust had advised the Bjelke-Petersen Government it was worth preserving.

This would be at a cost of $2 million when the price of destroying it was only $40,000, prompting Bjelke-Petersen’s Government decision to order its demolition.

Belle Vue square Brismania
Memorial stone

Intense public pressure to save the Belle Vue  continued, ultimately involving large crowds clashing with police and a barbed wire fence going up.

Finally, under cover of darkness around midnight on April 20, 1979 – 12 years after the government bought it – the beautiful old Belle Vue was brought down.

On the bright side, the controversy following the BelleVue’s sacrifice did save the beautiful old parliament house building next door and ultimately lead to a greater appreciation of the city’s past and ultimately the introduction of legislation to protect heritage buildings.

The site today has little to commend it other than the story of its glorious past.