In the fourth episode of Uncovering Langsville Creek, I told the story of Elizabeth Dale, who on 31 January 1905 drowned in a waterhole in the Toowong Cemetery. I was intrigued by the notion that there was once a waterhole in this otherwise dry and barren land, so I set about trying to determine its location. I failed dismally, but at least got some mileage out of reporting my misadventure. Thankfully, two readers took pity and provided me with some new leads. I am glad to report that having followed those leads, I can now reveal where Elizabeth drowned. I would only be more glad if no-one else had figured it all out before me.
A wild ghost chase
My first attempt to find the site of the waterhole was as optimistic as it was misguided. The only clue I had was that the waterhole was somewhere near the graves of Elizabeth’s husband and brother. Or at least, that was the inference I drew — incorrectly, it turns out — from statements given at the inquest into Elizabeth’s death saying that her body “was found off a pathway between her husband’s and brother’s graves” and that “the pool was about 20ft. from the pathway”. I assumed that the waterhole and Elizabeth’s husband’s and brother’s graves must have all been close to one another, and that I could deduce the location of the waterhole by finding the graves of a Dale and a Dodd (I didn’t even know their first names) in a low-lying part of the cemetery.
That mission was never likely to succeed. Many of the headstones in the low parts of the cemetery — especially those from the 19th century — were unreadable or missing altogether, and unless I spent all day looking, I was never going to check all of the readable ones anyhow. On the bright side, I had a pleasant afternoon and got some exercise. I felt a little foolish, however, when a reader named Ann Stephens pointed me to a much smarter way of finding graves in Brisbane: the City Council’s Grave Location Search, which enables you to find a grave by specifying the person’s name and the year they were buried. It’s kind of like a Yellow Pages for the deceased. Continue reading
Way back in January, I reported that the City Council had begun constructing a floodgate at the mouth of Western Creek. This is the spot where the Milton Drain meets the river, right next to where the dilapidated shell of the old floating restaurant still stands. If you have passed by this spot in the last few months, you will have seen that the construction is complete: Western creek finally has its floodgate.
Hugh Bell’s letter to the editor of the Brisbane Courier in July 1889, arguing for the use of tidal valves to prevent flooding in Milton and Rosalie.
I say ‘finally’ not because more than three and a half years have passed since the 2011 flood (some people might even call that response time quick), but because more than 125 years have passed since a floodgate at the mouth of Western Creek was first proposed. In July 1889, while the mud was still drying from a flood that peaked at 3.75m on the Port Office gauge (about 2 ft lower than the 2011 flood), a Milton resident named Hugh Bell wrote to the Brisbane Courier, asking “Why are not tidal valves or flood gates being used” to prevent flooding in Milton, Rosalie and other low-lying suburbs? This question was no doubt raised again in March of the following year, when the river peaked at 5.33m — just under the mark of the 1974 flood. In response, the Toowong Shire Council in October 1890 unveiled an ambitious whole-of-shire drainage scheme which featured floodgates at the end of Western Creek and Langsville Creek. But the council could not afford to build the whole scheme, and so built it piecemeal instead. Some components, such as the drain through Red Jacket Swamp, took years to get finished, while the floodgates never materialised at all.
But the idea didn’t die: it resurfaced after every flood, only to recede again with the memory of the floodwaters. It probably sunk into near-oblivion after the completion in 1985 of Wivenhoe Dam, which — if you believed the real estate industry — was supposed to save Brisbane from ever flooding again. But when the flood in January 2011 proved — unless you believe the real estate industry — that Wivenhoe Dam is not a bottomless pit after all, attention turned once again to more localised methods of flood mitigation. The Brisbane City Council commissioned a study into backflow prevention, and since 2012 has been rolling out the installation of floodgates — more properly known as backflow prevention devices — at prioritised spots along the river. Continue reading