Western Creek in Detail Plans – a guided tour

I’ve used a variety of historical maps on this site to explore how the landscape of the Western Creek area has changed. These range from the 1843 plan of Brisbane’s CBD through to A.R. McKellar’s 1895 map of Brisbane and its suburbs. These maps are all at what you might call a ‘suburban’ scale: they cover an area of one or more suburbs and are good for tracking things like the ownership and use of land, the levelling of hills and ridges, the appearance of parks and roads and the disappearance of creeks and other waterbodies.

But of course, changes have occurred at a finer spatial scale as well. Houses have been modified and rebuilt; trees have been cleared and planted; gullies have been drained and drains have been covered. Changes at this scale tend not to be captured by the suburb-scale maps, so we need to look elsewhere to see them. Aerial photographs can show us some of these changes, but the earliest such photographs of Brisbane only go back as far as the 1940s. We can go a little further back in time by examining the ‘Detail Plans’ produced by the Brisbane City Council prior to sewerage being installed in Brisbane. An example of one of these plans is shown below.

Detail Plan no. 771, showing the area between Baroona Road and Elizabeth Street.

Detail Plan no. 771, showing the area between Baroona Road and Elizabeth Street.

The earliest of the detail plans cover the CBD area and date from 1911. The plans for the Milton and Rosalie areas were done in the 1920s and 1930s. Those in the Rainworth area were done a bit later, with some dated as late as the 1960s. As in the example above, each plan covers no more than a few blocks of houses.

A section of plan no. 771 (above) showing details of houses, tram tracks, an embankment and a contour line.

A section of plan no. 771 (see above) showing details of houses, tram tracks, an embankment and a contour line.

Digitised versions of the plans are available from the Brisbane Images section of the City Council’s library catalogue. As the catalogue explans,

The “Detail Plan” records for Brisbane are an important historical resource especially for researching houses.

These provide a dated record of the built environment including domestic dwellings of Brisbane suburbs and show the outline of various buildingsincluding land boundaries, fencing, house names and outbuildings. These can include stables, garages; retaining walls, chook sheds; toilets and tennis courts.

They also show the contour lines for Brisbane City Council Feet Datum.

I decided to give some of these plans the same Google Earth treatment as I’d given the other historical maps, and the results are shown in the gallery below. These images are Google Earth screenshots showing overlays of the detail plans along the course of Western Creek, starting from where Milton Drain meets the river and progressing up the catchment to the headwaters below Stuartholme. The images reveal both how much and how little has changed. You can see where open drains have been covered, where houses have been extended or demolished, where new streets have been laid and old ones re-routed. And lots of tennis courts! At the same time, you will find some features in exactly the same place as they are today, such as the swimming pool at Milton School and the cricket pitch at Rainworth School.

Putting these plans into Google Earth provides a fascinating and engaging way to explore local history at a detailed spatial scale. The more you look, the more you will find. But to get the full experience, you really need to explore them in Google Earth for yourself. Setting up these plans in an embedded Google Earth viewer (as I did for the other maps) has proven a bit tricky, but you can still explore them in the standalone version of Google Earth by downloading this kmz file. Or, if you want an easy way to locate the relevant plan for your neighbourhood, you can download this geo-referenced version of the index to all of the detail plans. (Just be sure to turn off 3D Buildings in Google Earth, or many of the details will be obscured.) Enjoy!

Last modified: June 17, 2020