Standing tall in the park is a bronze statue of the great Scottish poet Robbie Burns (“My love is like a red, red rose That’s newly sprung in June: My love is like the melody That’s sweetly played in tune.”) which was presented to the City of Brisbane by the Burns Club and “dedicated to Scotland’s immortal bard” in 1929.
Burns’ best known work around these parts though, would be Auld Lang Syne.
Not far away is a similar sized statue on a similar high plinth of Thomas Byrnes who was the Premier of Queensland for not quite six months in 1898.
Poor old Thomas Byrnes was only 37 when he succumbed to measles which had led to pneumonia. At the time he was premier, attorney-general and chief secretary of the State.
His was a classic rags to riches story. He was born in Spring Hill in 1860 to poor Irish immigrant parents and went on to become a wealthy barrister with a finger in a lot of pies, becoming the state’s attorney-general in 1893. He had a state funeral and is buried in Toowong cemetery.
The significance of his statue now is that it was Brisbane’s first, sculpted in bronze by Sir Bertram Macenall.
It was unveiled in 1902 further down the street at “Petrie Bight” – the intersection of Boundary and Wickham streets, and was moved to its present position when the park opened in 1925.
The third Beirnes, who is actually Thomas Charles Beirne isn’t mentioned the park but I think he should be as he had a prominent store in nearby Fortitude Valley and is another classic rags to riches story.
He was the son of Irish farmers who came to Australia in 1884 and found a job in a drapery in Melbourne before coming to Brisbane and setting up his own business. He became one of Australia’s first millionaires and was a great philanthropist and also a politician and University Warden. The store he built in Wickham St in 1902 is now part of Chinatown.
TC Beirne’s business was taken over by David Jones in the 1950s. When he died in 1949, this poor uneducated boy from Ireland left an estate of £1.25 million in Queensland. His generosity alone – he gave thousands to the law school and the Catholic church – should have earned him a spot in Centenary Place with Burns and Byrnes.
Now back to the park. Work started in 1924, on the centenary of European settlement in Queensland, hence its name.
During the 1960s, it became the local equivalent of London’s Hyde Park, where those advocating free speech came with their soapbox to spruik their cause each Sunday. Today, I’ve heard on good authority, the faithful still gather at the immortal bard’s statue for Burns Night on January 25.
There is a further little attachment to Old Blighty, and that’s the stone bridge at the park’s entrance which is in the spirit of many a little stone bridge to be found in English villages around the Thames, in the Chilterns or the Cotswolds.
More Australian are the huge old poincianas.
With its wide paths, statues and greenery, Centenary Place is literally a lush island in a sea of traffic and busy city life.