Marking the end of an era in Brisbane’s golfing history, Victoria Park Golf Course officially closed on 30 June, 2021.
Complementing Jonzun’s post, ‘Major Catalyst for Growth – Inner City Suburbs Brisbane Qld’, the golf course is part of the Victoria Park Vision. This exciting initiative by the Brisbane City Council will see 64 hectares of land transformed into the city’s biggest new park in 50 years.
It’s timely to take a look at the Victoria Park Golf Course and the former Victoria Park Golf Clubhouse, to gain insight of these significant landmarks woven into our local history.
Listed on Brisbane City Local Heritage Places, Victoria Park Golf Course was the first municipal golf course in Brisbane. It remained so until St Lucia Golf Course was established in the late 1980s.
Spurred on by the 1920s movement that affordable sport and recreation facilities should be provided for people, Alderman D.B. McCullough and members of Brisbane’s golfing community lobbied for a public golf course.
Referring to an article in the Daily Mail, Friday 22 December, titled ‘Artisan Golfers – Links Wanted – Victoria Park Site’, the following is a snippet of what was proposed:
Representatives of the Queensland Golf Association, Royal Queensland Golf Club, Sandgate Golf Club, Brisbane Golf Club and the Seamen’s Institute, met with the Mayor of the City of Brisbane.
They put forward the suggestion to the Mayor, Alderman H.J. Diddams, to open a nine hole golf course at Victoria Park.
Mr H. J. Craig, President of the Queensland Golf Association, stated that the links would meet the requirements of the man who was termed ‘the artisan golfer’ of the old country. According to the write up, there were a great many individuals in Brisbane who could not afford the fee to play, and as such were being deprived of participating in a game they loved and enjoyed. Citing Moore Park in Sydney as an exemplar, Mr H.J. Craig had no reason to believe that a similar club in Brisbane would not be as successful.
Mr J.A. Walsh, Captain of the Royal Queensland Golf Club, declared that every city in Great Britain and the United States the same size as Brisbane had its municipal golf course.
The President of the Royal Queensland Golf Club remarked that golf would provide healthy recreation for many people, who now had to get amusement and recreation by means of racecourses and other unhealthy pastimes.
Not met with the enthusiasm the gentlemen had anticipated, The Mayor expressed his concern of the cost for council and the appropriateness of the site.
A new Mayor in office
Interest in the golf course re-emerged when a section of Victoria Park set aside to build the University of Queensland was no longer required. After receiving a donation of land in St Lucia from the Mayne Family, in 1926 the university decided to utilise that site instead.
A serendipitous turn of events for the Queensland Golf Association, our determined advocates approached the Greater Brisbane Council again regarding the prospect of a golf course.
By this time, William Alfred Jolly was the Lord Mayor of Brisbane (1925 –1931). A man passionate about planning for the future, he was instrumental in instigating major infrastructure throughout the city.
William Jolly and the Council’s Town Clerk, S.E. Travill were avid golfers. They strongly supported the establishment of a municipal golf course, and the idea became a reality.
Respected for his contribution to the club, William was appointed Victoria Park Golf Club’s first president and later in 1935 was made a life member.
Course designer – Stan Francis
Another keen golf player, surveyor Stan Francis had the dream job of designing the course. In his blueprint presented to Council in 1930, the layout followed the natural contours of the land. Possibly one of the hilliest sites for a course in Queensland, the fairways crossed undulating terrain, though the elevated aspect afforded panoramic views of the city.
Shovel ready workers
The project commenced at the beginning of The Great Depression (1930 to 1939). Unemployment was high, however Brisbane City Council engaged more than 6,000 labourers as relief workers under the Intermittent Relief Scheme. This Scheme provided work opportunities for men, along with a wage calculated on whether they were single or had children. Many were assigned to build the course, while other groups planted trees and cleared land to make community parks and sports grounds across Brisbane.
Creating further employment, Brisbane City Council called for applications for the position of a professional, at a retaining fee of £52 per annum. (Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 10 February, 1931.)
With construction of the golf course underway, attention was turned to providing a clubhouse for members and casual players. The club was designed at the office of the City Architect A.H. Foster and the plans were prepared by Assistant Architect Reyburn Jameson.
The double storey clubhouse reflected Spanish Mission architecture, which was a style often adopted for recreational buildings. Its rendered rough cast façade, gabled entry porch, arches, square columns and Marseille tiled roof added to its classic Mediterranean inspired character.
Constructed in two stages, the first part was completed in September, 1931. At a combined cost of construction of £13,919, the course and the club officially opened in November that year.
A hit with golfers
Whilst other clubs were losing memberships during the Great Depression years, Victoria Park Golf Club was flourishing. The modern amenities, proximity to the city and reputation as one of Australia’s finest municipal courses contributed to the club’s popularity.
Many players were women, known as ‘associates’, while men were referred to as ‘members’. A sign of the times, gender segregation was still a part of everyday life. Females were required to use a separate entrance to access the club and had their own designated lounge area away from the males.
Bar less and beer less
The club didn’t have a bar, as Council officials were against promoting the sale of alcohol. Due to consistent complaints about the lack of a ‘nineteenth watering hole’, and the potential revenue that was not being generated, the Council succumbed. Heralding in the new year, the bar opened on 1 January, 1935.
By 1940 the liquor trading hours were strictly enforced. Sending a ripple through the club, this meant closing at 8:00pm and no sale of alcohol on Sundays.
As covered in the Telegraph, Monday 21 October 1940, it was a concern for all.
There were many long faces at sports clubs around Brisbane on Sunday when people could not partake in a cool beverage after their game. Soft drinks and milk replaced hard liquor. The bar at Victoria Park Golf Course sold 80 bottles of milk instead of the usual 60. A price rise in milk was announced to help cover the decrease in takings.
In retaliation to the restrictions, a few days later on 25 October the Brisbane Beer Riot took place. An angry mob of civilians and soldiers stormed Queen Street, chanting “We want beer”. Trouble escalated, windows were smashed, tram poles and wires were brought down, plus fights erupted. A10 gallon keg of beer was stolen from the Grand Central Hotel and rolled down the road, with those around singing ‘Roll out the Barrel.’
The outburst was brought under control six hours later at 12:30am. To give an indication of the size of the incident, there were 5,000 rioters still in the CBD on Sunday morning.
Back to the health benefits of sport
People from far and wide extolled the perfection of the Victoria Park Golf Course. The contents of a letter submitted to the Courier-Mail from a visitor from New South Wales, reveals their words of praise.
Not so rave reviews
Victoria Park was commonly referred to by locals as the ‘Goat’s Course’. As detailed in the Courier Mail, Friday 24 July, 1936, “Although Victoria Park has been described as the best municipal course in Australia, the terrain makes an unduly long round tiring.”
Stan Francis was called upon to modify the course to make it more user-friendly for regulars and beginners. With 50 relief workers at his disposal, Stan brought the rough under control to reduce the loss of balls and the time wasted searching for them. He also added pathways down some of the steeper hills. Overall, his improvements led to a quicker and less gruelling round of golf. Stan took the opportunity to further beautify the course by planting more trees. Today, many majestic jacarandas, flame trees, palms, hoop and bunya pines can be found along the fairways.
Fraught with danger
Sharing a space with beginners, balls flying around at high speed and congested fairways crammed with hundreds of weekend players, was a concern for golfers. Then there was the wildlife to contend with. Vicious attacking magpies and a fox sighting were newsworthy events covered by the Courier-Mail during 1935.
Can’t get enough of chasing the little white ball
The rise in memberships and the desire to keep the figures increasing led to the club’s expansion in 1939. Remodelled by City Architect, Harold Erwood, the design included wings on both sides of the building. Adhering to the rules of social gender separation, the women were delegated to the west wing, while the men were accommodated in the east wing. New features comprised a lounge, dining room, modern kitchen, extra locker room amenities and a dance floor. The dance floor was one of the largest in Brisbane and the club was a popular venue for grand balls, monthly dances and social events for decades. In 1948 the lounge area was extended and in 1963 the ground floor was renovated.
World War II
During the Second World War, the original 17th and 18th fairways were used as a military encampment. ‘Camp Victoria Park’ was the headquarters for the United States Army Service of Supply, who provided logistical support for the American forces stationed in Brisbane.
Along with the war came a decline in players. As mentioned in the Courier-Mail, Wednesday 10 September 1941, 25 percent of Victoria Park members were overseas with the navy, army and air force. With 75 members away, this represented nearly a quarter of the membership.
At the beginning of the 1950s, people in Brisbane were well and truly hooked on golf. Once considered a game only for the wealthy, it was now the ‘working man’s sport.’ Not only were the number of golfers mounting, but the city’s population was also growing rapidly. Long waiting lists to become a member of a club, and troublesome overcrowding on courses, was frustrating everyone. Victoria Park was still the only public course and was clocking up an average of 1,000 players per week.
As reported in the Sunday Mail, 15 October, 1950 by journalist Keith Brown.
“On Saturdays and Sundays, the links are so crowded with club members and other players that regulars are quite blasé about dodging the balls which frequently whistle past their heads.”
The push was on for more facilities to be built to service Brisbane’s inner city suburbs. Although it wasn’t until the 1980s that St Lucia Golf Course was formed as Brisbane’s second municipal golf course, on the site of the original Indooroopilly Golf Club.
In 1975 a new clubhouse was built on the former 17th hole at Victoria Park. The original club was vacated and tenanted by the Lone Parents Club of Queensland. In the 1980s it became a night club. Boasting a bright pink façade, it was dubbed ‘The Pink Palace.’
Later abandoned, it was a haunt for squatters and fell into disrepair. Over time, many of the original features were damaged by water, fire and graffiti.
In 2010 it was leased to the Mental Illness Fellowship Queensland and refurbished, whilst retaining the building’s unique character where possible.
It’s now occupied by Herston Health, who in their own words say, “They are very proud and thankful to be a custodian of the building.”
Purpose-built by the Brisbane City Council, it stands as a reminder of civic architecture between World War I and II, along with the Council’s commitment to provide public recreation facilities.
The former clubhouse at 309 Herston Road, Herston was entered on the Queensland Heritage Register on 17 December, 1999. A fine example of Interwar period architecture (1919-1930s), it’s an important example of aesthetic significance.
Despite having lost much of its park setting, the building retains an aesthetic value: the exotic suggestion of the Spanish Mission references, tempered by the neo-Georgian restraint, combine to create a robust, elegant sports pavilion.
(Queensland Heritage Register)
Queensland Government – Queensland Heritage Register
Brisbane City – Local Heritage Places
Australian Dictionary of Biography
State Library of Queensland
Queensland Historical Atlas
Victoria Park Golf Club
St Lucia Golf Links
Herston Health History
ON PAR WITH THE WORLD’S BEST CITY PARKS by Terie-Lea Tobin, writer and local resident.