Navigating the history of Norman Creek

While I continue to neglect my own website, I did recently find time to contribute to someone else’s. In collaboration with Trish FitzSimons, who recently produced a wonderful series of short films featured in the Museum of Brisbane’s Navigating Norman Creek exhibit, and with support from the Brisbane City Council’s Community History Grant, I contributed to two pages about the history of Norman Creek for the website of the Norman Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee, or N4C.

The first of these two pages explores a plan of Norman Creek drawn in 1839 by the government surveyor James Warner. This plan, held today by the Queensland Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying, is a real treasure. It traces the entire length of Norman Creek, from its headwaters in Mount Gravatt to its junction with the Brisbane River. Warner not only depicted the course and form of the stream, but also described the surrounding terrain and vegetation as it was before Brisbane had developed beyond the penal settlement at the site of the modern CBD. His plan links us to the natural history of what is now a highly urbanised catchment.

The page, Navigating Norman Creek: Maps from 1839 and 2015, provides a guided tour of Warner’s plan, using Google Earth (in combination with some other special magic) to show how the features on the plan correspond with today’s suburban landscape. The image below is just one example.

Warner sketched an open forest and a stoney range on either side of what is now the Pacific Motorway as it passes the Greenslopes Hospital. Downstream, he found a large swamp that has since become parkland.

The second page explores another slice of Norman Creek’s history, this time via the 1946 aerial imagery of Brisbane. The image below, which will transition to the modern landscape if you hover your cursor on it (or touch it if you are using a mobile device), illustrates the level of modification that the creek has undergone since the middle of the 20th century.

The stretch of Norman Creek between Deshon Street and Stanley Street, Woolloongabba, was straightened during the early 1990s, with several meanders and sharp bends bypassed. Meanwhile, the previously cleared Moorhen Flats has been revegetated.

If you’ve been hanging out for some new content here at, I hope these explorations of Norman Creek provide some satisfaction. I can’t promise any more material in the immediate future, but if you happen to be interested in the intersection between data visualisation and the study of public discourse, you might find more joy at my other blog,, which has just lurched back into life and is likely to get a lot more attention in the coming months as I enter the next phase of my PhD.

Uncovering Langsville Creek — Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about Langsville Creek, which was Western Creek’s upstream neighbour on the Toowong/Milton Reach. I do not intend to research Langsville Creek fully at this stage, as I have too much still to learn about Western Creek. But I couldn’t resist tracing the path of this (mostly) lost creek and seeing what can be learned by looking at the some of the old maps and aerial photographs. Each post will look at a different part of Langsville Creek. This one focuses on the lowest reaches of the creek, near where it met the Brisbane River. You can also now read Part 2 and Part 3 of the series.

The meanders of Moorlands

Toowong Cemetery … Anzac Park … the Mount Coot-tha Botanical Gardens … Quinn Park … the McIlwraith Croquet Club … Toowong Memorial Park … Moorlands Park.

What do all of these places have in common? The answer is a creek. Not a creek you are likely to have seen or heard of, for there are few traces of it left today. But there once was a creek that flowed through all of these locations.

The creek uniting these locations was known to early Brisbanites as Langsville Creek, though I imagine that it also had names given to it by the Turrbal people long before Europeans arrived. I’ve not read up on how and when it came to be known as Langsville Creek, but given that just about everything else in this part of Brisbane is named after John Dunmore Lang, I’m going to take a punt and guess that this creek was as well.

Langsville Bridge at Auchenflower, ca.1910. (State Library of Queensland, Negative no. 118279)

Langsville Bridge at Auchenflower, ca.1910. (State Library of Queensland, Negative no. 118279)

You can see Langsville Creek — or at least part of it — on the early maps of Brisbane. It’s depicted most clearly on McKellar’s 1895 map, the relevant portion of which is reproduced below. The creek itself is unnamed on this map, except by way of the bridge that crosses it where Patrick Lane meets the River Road (now Coronation Drive). The creek looks rather like an outgrowth of the river, as if the river has put out tentacles or feelers, each one meandering through the landscape much as the river winds its way to the bay. The land surrounding it appears to be mostly undeveloped, presumably because it was damp and flood-prone.

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Brisbane,1946… on Google Earth!

As a certain amply-sized entrepreneur of self-branded cleaning products used to say, “I’m excited!”

I’m excited because I’ve just made a new gallery featuring aerial imagery from 1946 (the earliest of Brisbane, as far as I know) as you’ve never1 seen it before: in Google Earth!

Even better, you can see the difference between then and now just by hovering your cursor over the images — try it on the example below, which shows Norman Buchan Park and the Government House grounds. (If you are using a smartphone or tablet, try tapping the image and then tapping a blank space around it.)

With just the wave of your mouse you can see where the trees have grown, where the bush has been cleared, where the drains have been covered, and much more. All in all, I think this is pretty nifty. Don’t forget to visit the gallery for more images like this one.

One thing these images don’t convey is the experience of actually navigating through 1946 Brisbane in Google Earth. I can tell you that it’s bloody marvellous. And when you see it, you realise that this is where these images belong: on a publicly accessible platform that enables them to be explored from any angle and in conjunction with other spatial information.

But it’s not my business to host these images, and if I did so I would probably be breaching some piece of fine print or another. That is the business of the custodian of this imagery, which I presume is the Brisbane City Council. They have the full dataset already geo-aligned, ready to go. (I, on the other hand, had to stitch together dozens of separate screengrabs from PDOnline, and align them myself using GIS software before converting them into Google Earth’s native format.)

There is a precedent for doing this. The State Government’s Queensland Globe initiative has created a framework that would readily accommodate the 1946 imagery. Queensland Globe (and the open data strategy of which it is a part) is a giant leap in the right direction for making the state’s spatial data publicly accessible. By downloading a single file that opens in Google Earth, you can access various additional layers of information including property and suburb boundaries, land tenure, and an alternative set of aerial images. More layers will — I hope — be added soon.

Queensland Globe would be a natural home for historical aerial imagery such as the 1946 series of Brisbane. Or perhaps the council can create a similar initiative of their own. I don’t really care how it is done. I just hope that before long, you’ll be able to see images like these somewhere other than my humble website.


  1. If you have already seen it like this, I want to know where!

Fun with maps

Western Creek as depicted on a map from 1859 (Queensland State Archives Item ID620656) overlaid on an aerial photograph of the January 2011 flood (Department of Natural Resouces & Mines)

Western Creek as depicted on a map from 1859 overlaid on an aerial photograph of the January 2011 flood

The banner at the top of this page features a depiction of Western Creek from A.R. McKellar’s 1895 map of Brisbane overlaid onto the modern suburban landscape. For me this captured the essence of what the site is about: gaining a deeper understanding the modern landscape though an exploration of its past. This graphic served its purpose, but I always knew that it was just a prototype for what could be achieved on a grander scale.

Now that I’ve collected a few more old maps, and discovered the free aerial photos taken during the 2011 flood (available from the Queensland Government Information Service), I have started to put the two together, and you can see the results on this hastily assembled new page: The lost creeks rise again. That page looks at how the floodzones from January 2011 in Milton and Auchenflower coincided with the location of old creeks, swamps and lagoons that have long been drained and buried. The image to the right (click to enlarge), which shows Western Creek between the river and Gregory Park, is one example.

What you won’t find on that page is the image below, which shows the CBD area overlaid with a plan of Brisbane from 1843. There wasn’t much to Brisbane at that stage (it had only just ceased being a penal colony), but in addition to the few buildings and roads marked, there are some fascinating natural features on this map. For example, notice the creek that begins up in Spring Hill and flows down towards a small dam which is right on top of where the new law courts are today. This was Brisbane’s first water supply. The stream continues through a small pool at King George Square and flows to the river near Creek Street. Click here to see this part of the map in a bit more detail.

A plan of the town limits from 1843 overlaiad on an aerial photo from January 2011.

A plan of the town limits from 1843 overlaid on an aerial photo (Dept of Natural Resources and Mines) from January 2011.

Across the river, nothing is marked in South Brisbane except for a creek that winds through the Convention Centre and Southbank Parklands (where there are now artificial streams). This enlargement shows the area in more detail.

I plan to use images like this wherever I can in future pages on this site, so stay tuned for more in the near future. What I’d really love to see is this done for as many old maps as possible, and the results made publicly available as files that can be imported into GIS software, or even via platforms like Google Maps or NearMap. Combined with historical aerial photographs as well, it would be an absolute treasure trove for professional and armchair researchers alike. So, anyone got some funds?