DIRECTLY under the Gateway Motorway bridges, Queensport Rocks Park is a pretty little spot beside the river with walks leading up to bridge views, and a quirky part of Brisbane’s past thrown in for good measure.
Concealed by the industrial estates of Murrarie, the 4ha park at its opening in 2011, was spruiked as having more than 200 trees, riverfront views, big picnic areas, high vantage points and a natural amphitheatre as well as signage giving a guide to the area’s history.
This is all quite true, but I prefer the more poetic description written in 1893, when the park was the site of the Queensport Meatworks:
“The Queensport works are placed on a bend in the river and command a really lovely panorama … The outlook is most picturesque. Looking towards Brisbane are the broad mangrove-fringed waters of the Hamilton Reach upon which many white-winged craft are skimming along, stirred into life by the sharp crisp breeze; just at our feet are three stately pelicans sitting lightly on the breast of the stream and wearing an almost judicial air, overhead the birds are flying in flocks.
“Turning round, the mouth of the river is visible, the cap of Moreton Island can be seen … The works are alive. From the chimney stack smoke is arising and being swept out to the sea. On top of the hill can be heard the lowing of doomed cattle.”
Today a little jetty gives views over the mangroves, to the Hamilton towers, the golf course opposite and down to the river mouth.
Also worthy of mention is the towering spans of the Leo Hielscher Motorway bridges overhead, and planes from Brisbane Airport which are still gaining height at this point.
This part of the river was industrial from the outset with handy access for shipping, plenty of water for various manufacturing processes and, alas, a handy dump for by-products.
The park is backed by rock cliffs which provided grey freestone from the Black Ball Quarry in the early days of the colony ,and there was also rockblasting here when the river mouth was widened and deepened.
Then along came the Queensport Freezing and Food Export Company which opened the Queensport Meatworks (a nice way of saying abattoir) in 1881.
It produced Queensland’s first processed meat and first frozen meat. Alas, the first shipment of frozen Queensland meat – 3954 mutton carcasses and 100 quarters of beef – which left on the steamer Dorundain 1884, was not a success.
Fifty years later, it was all over. Remnant buildings of the wharf and sheds were demolished to tidy up the river bank ready for a visit from the Queen in 1954.
Some footings and stairs from the original meatworks buildings have been incorporated into the design of the park.
The really quirky bit is that the park is very near the location of Queensland’s first theme park, the Queensport Aquarium and Zoological Garden which opened with great fanfare in August 1889.
“The aquarium grounds cover an area of 11 acres, and are situated about two miles beyond the meatworks, at the back of Gibson Island.”
It was washed away by a flood in February 1893, never to be rebuilt. It had already weathered a flood in 1890, but this time the fences were torn down, the animals escaped and the landscaped gardens with fountains and grottos turned to mud.
The Queensport park, had a short but illustrious time.
There were all sorts of sea creatures, the “finest collection of tigers in captivity”, a black panther, cheetah, bears, monkeys, birds and reptiles as well as a huge concert hall which could seat up to 1400 people. Electric lights were connected in 1889, and an electric organ organist and the Aquarium Band with “the best singers to be found in Brisbane” entertained the eager crowds on weekend afternoons.
Moonlight excursions to dances in the hall were also popular.There was even a rollercoaster of sorts. Called a switchback railway, it was blown into the river by a storm in 1892.
There is still an Aquarium Avenue in Hemmant and Aquarium Passage is in Bulimba Creek, inside Gibson Island.
There still a bit of wreckage to be seen here which I like to imagine is a relic of the old enterprise but is more likely to be the hulk of the Boko, once Brisbane’s best-known tug which also carried many passengers on excursions.
Queensport Rocks Park also has access to the walkway/bikeway entrance to the Gateway Bridge. It’s steeper than imagined, but there are lookout points along the way for spectacular views of the river and all the activity below.
The first Gateway Bridge opened in 1986 and the second in 2010. They are now called the Leo Hielscher Bridges.
Near the southern entrance to the bridge, a plaque, announces that in May 2007, during excavation of an area adjacent to the original bridge, bottles and glass shards were uncovered.
The contents of 15 bottle types, believed to have been dumped in the mid to late 1880s, were identified and included fresh beverages, food products, pharmaceuticals and liquor.
Then in September 2007, during dredging, a a rectangular metal stencil with the letters SS Ormondewas recovered from the river sediments.
Ormonde was built for the Orient Steam Navigation Co and launched in 1918 as a troopship. It was used again in World War II, returned to commercial service in 1947, and scrapped in Scotland in 1952. It made at least 30 trips to Brisbane.
The most practical way to get there is by car although there is a cycleway.Access is available off Lytton Road via Administration Drive, but this carpark is tricky to find. The other is is right at the end of Metroplex Avenue at Murrarie.
As this is still very much an industrial area it can be tricky to find a parking spot midweek but be assured, it is worth the effort.