Day 85: Power tower

The attached plate of its makers

SOMETHING I’ve always loved about London is that every street turns up the historic, the strange or just a good story, so that simply wandering about becomes an adventure.

And so it was in Brisbane’s West End which, incidentally, was named by early English settlers who found it reminiscent of London’s famous theatre district.

While on a pleasant walk along the river, with mangroves on one side and huge old fig trees on the other, an intriguing looking tower  popped up on the skyline.

The attached manufacturer’s plaque advised that it was built by Robert Hempster and Sons  in Yorkshire, England, in 1912.

That, along with its decorative reddish-brown and white exterior, piques enough interest to warrant further research, so here’s its story.

There it sits, in all its glory.
There it sits, in all its glory.

The tower, made of cast iron, was commissioned by the South Brisbane Gas and Lighting Company which had been providing gas to the south side of the river since 1885.

A product of their latest research, it was designed and built as a gas stripping tower.

“What’s that?” you may well ask.

From its arrival in segments and assembly on site at the gasworks in 1912 until 1949, raw coal gas was piped into the base of the tower. It rose to the top over a series of internal baffles. Water was sprayed from a tank at the top of the tower, thus removing, or stripping,  the tar and ammonia from the gas. Liquid drained to the bottom and was sold as liquid ammonia.

The tower comes as surprise when strolling along the river past big old figs.
The tower comes as surprise when strolling along the river past big old figs.

By 1949, technology had made the stripping technique obsolete and the tower was eventually decommissioned in 1970, by which time the availability of natural gas had put the old gas and light company out of business, to be replaced by Allgas Energy Ltd.

Most of its old buildings in Montague St were demolished in 1975, leaving only the stripping tower which was acquired by the National Trust of Queensland and moved 150m to its current location behind the Davies Park sports field, in 1980.

In 1988, Allgas refurbished the tower and landscaped its surrounds as a bicentennial gift to Brisbane.

For the record, the tower  is 21m high, about 3.5m in diameter, has a work platform, stairway and handrail,  a water tank disguised as a lantern drum, a cupola and a superimposed weather vane, while relief work decorates the curved panels.  And it looks very cool.

The tower commands a great river view
The tower commands a great river view

It is the only surviving gas stripping tower in Australia and is protected by a Heritage listing.