KING George Square, the heart of the CBD, has quite a collection of statues which I often stop to admire, but today I came across a remarkable little trio that I had never spotted before, tucked away in its Adelaide Street corner.
This jolly threesome, honoured together in death, didn’t actually hang out together in life but all did Brisbane proud.
Emma Miller, the woman of the group, was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in England in 1839 and migrated to Australia with her second husband in 1879. She worked as a seamstress making shirts for gentlemen.
Miller was nearly 50 when she helped found a local Freethought Assocation and became known for her radical ideas on equal pay and opportunity for women in the workplace. What a cheek!
A year later, drawing on her experience as a seamstress, she gave evidence at a Royal Commission into what were effectively sweatshops.
She also actively supported the 1891 Shearer’s Strike which resulted in the formation of the Australian Labor Party and “Mother Miller” went on to become the leading female in the Queensland labour movement.
She campaigned for the women’s vote and was almost 66, when women were granted the vote for Queensland parliament in January 1905.
At the 1912 Brisbane General Strike, she stuck her hatpin into the Police Commissioner’s horse resulting in a tumble for the top cop who suffered permanent injury – no way to get yourself a statue these days!
Miller died of cancer at the ripe old age of 77 but was busy campaigning until the end, being active in anti-conscription rallies during World War I and also finding time for a third husband.
What a woman … they don’t make ‘em like that much any more!
Beside her is the storyteller Steele Rudd, the pseudonym of Arthur Hoey Davis who was born at Drayton near Toowoomba in 1868 and was best known for his book “On Our Selection” with the iconic Dad and Dave characters.
He left school before he turned 12 and worked doing odd jobs on a station before becoming a junior stockrider at 15 and then a junior clerk in the Curator of Intestate Estates office in Brisbane when he was 18.
When he was 21, he was transferred to the sheriff’s office and took up rowing in his spare time which led to his choice of pen name, originally Steele Rudder – the first name of English essayist Richard Steele and the surname for the boat.
His story based on his father’s experience and called “Starting the Selection” was published in the Bulletin in 1895 and became the first chapter of “On Our Selection” which was published in 1899.
Within four years, 20,000 copies had been published and this rose to 250,000 by 1940 and it became compulsory reading for Australian school children.
He died in Brisbane in 1935, just before his 67th birthday.
Standing in front of these two is Sir Charles Lilley, the fourth premier of Queensland and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who shaped state education in colonial Queensland.
Lilley was born at Newcastle on Tyne in the north of England in 1827 and arrived in Sydney in 1856. Before long he set off north to Brisbane where he joined the Crown Solicitor’s Office and finished the law degree he had started at London University College.
He then moved into journalism and acquired an interest in the Moreton Bay Courier (now the Courier Mail) where he was editor for two years.
Lilley was part of the push for Queensland to separate from New South Wales and was elected by a majority of only three votes as the Member for Fortitude Valley in Queensland’s first legislative assembly.
He served two terms as Attorney-General and in 1868, became Premier of Queensland and made his name by introducing free state education, making Queensland the first of the Australian colonies to adopt the principle.
He also influenced establishment of the Brisbane Grammar School and was chairman of a commission investigating the establishment of a university.
Lilley was Premier for only two years, declining a later offer to step back into the job, but became a judge of the Supreme Court and was Chief Justice from 1879 until 1893. He was knighted in 1881.
Sir Charles died in 1897, a week before his 70th birthday.
So there they are now, strutting their stuff in perpetuity in King George Square. There’s a seat right beside them to read their plaques and ponder a portion of Queensland history.