Nudgee

When I was a child Nudgee was known for a few things. 

There was Nudgee College, a prestigious Catholic boys’ school.  It’s actually at Boondall, a fair distance from where we lived.  It has been there since 1891 and has beautiful old buildings. Peter won a scholarship to attend Nudgee as a ‘day boy’ when he attained the highest pass in Queensland by a child attending a Catholic school in the Scholarship exam which all school kids sat in Grade 8.  (We started in Grade 1, so were around 13, and in our last year of primary school, when we got to Grade 8.)  To get there by public transport would have involved a train and then a bus ride but there was a track through the bush and Peter rode his bike that way.


Nudgee Cemetery has been a Catholic Cemetery since 1867 and is still operating.  It’s just a few streets from where we grew up.  My mother and father, Dad's mother, three of his brothers and three of his sisters are all buried there.  The cemetery website has a search function where you can search for grave locations.  When I was a child the only person I knew of who was buried there was my Uncle Barney’s first wife, Clare.  My girlfriend, Marie and I would go to visit her grandmother and my aunt.  We’d always make sure we were dressed neatly (and not wearing shorts, that would be disrespectful), our hair was done and that we were even wearing shoes.  Wearing shoes was definitely not something we did in our leisure time.  Don’t ask me why we did this; it’s just something we liked to do occasionally.  I guess we played imaginary games about visiting with our relatives.  The contradiction is that we’d go to all this trouble to show our respect, then we would nick any fresh ribbons we found on graves.   Until we got caught by the caretaker and he reported us to the nuns at school and they helped us see the error of our sinful ways with the help of the cane.

Nudgee also had an orphanage.  It is one of the oldest establishments in the district and its early history is documented in the extensive archives of the Sisters of Mercy.

The first orphanage buildings, some of which still remain, were constructed of timber felled on the property.  These were slab huts that had been erected for the men who were felling the timber on the property.  The huts were quickly vacated to make a home for very ill children, who were moved to "Nudgee by the Sea" in 1867.  Mangroves to the east of Nudgee Creek, along the Nudgee Beach foreshore had been felled to allow ocean breezes to reach the home.

 The front entrace looks the same today as it does in my memory

Forty-seven children were admitted on the opening day, and during its first one hundred years, 10,500 children found a home in the orphanage. Sad to think that today there are so many adults who must have awful memories of that place. 

The orphanage (or the home as it was known locally) was used by our parents to help keep us in line.  For me it was the major threat, the most frightening and I’d know I’d done a major wrong if my parents wanted to send me to The Home.  We knew that very few children in the orphanage were actually orphans and thought that the children had been sent there because they were so naughty their parents didn’t want them any more.  Being raised a good Catholic child was confusing at times.  On the one hand we weren’t encouraged to play with protestant children in the area or other children who misbehaved (we honestly believed that protestant children were always likely to misbehave), on the other hand we were carted off up to The Home to perform kind deeds for the unfortunate inmates (who, we thought, if they knew how to behave themselves wouldn’t be there in the first place).  We were encouraged to spend time in the nursery with the babies and toddlers, who needed our attention the most.  I think I was about 12 when I started visiting (or being sent to visit) the home on Saturday afternoons to help out.  My Aunty Eva was a nun there at the time.  I can clearly remember how upset I’d get sometimes when I arrived to see little ones laying in cots, not even expecting to be picked up or cuddled.  Sometimes the little ones would be far too big to be in cots but that’s where they were kept because it kept them in one place (there was no-one to keep an eye on them or chase after them if they ran off).  They often didn’t like to be cuddled or played with; it was too strange for them.   I would be quite conflicted about these visits, I wanted to help the little ones but hated it when I was there, used to get quite upset about the sad plight of those poor little kids.  

This could well be the very building where I visited the babies.  I clearly recall the two or three steps up to the door, standing there about to knock waiting to be invited to enter, taking a deep breath, trying to put a smile on my face.



Our family didn’t have much money.  As Tricia once commented we were poor but no-one told us, so we didn’t know.  But I knew we lived in luxury compared with those kids in the home.  Strange the things you remember.  At the forefront of my memories is that we had hot water at our place.  I don’t think I ever saw a bathroom with baths but the row of sinks and cold water taps in this photo is exactly what their wash room looked like. 


I still get quite upset remembering it all.  I couldn't find a photo of the babies in their cots.  This one of the beds for the older children jammed in together is bad enough.


One of my first teenage social activities was attending dances that the parish held at the home to raise money.   My girlfriends and I would get all excited about going to a dance but we didn’t really enjoy them very much.  There were always a bunch of nuns sitting around (probably strategically placed) watching us like hawks.  The girls our age from the home didn’t like us and we didn’t know how to interact with them.  The nuns would, of course, be wanting to make sure their charges didn’t get into any mischief but they kept sharp eyes on us, too.  Any hint that we were enjoying ourselves would be frowned upon. 

There was a lot of land at the home (3,500 acres) and it had its own herd of dairy cattle.  In "The Dairy", butter for the children was made and the cream kept cool between meal times.  All milk and cream came from their own herd and provided work for young teenage occupants of the home. 
The Orphanage closed in 1971.  Today, the former St Vincent’s Home is still owned and run by the Catholic Church.   However its purpose has changed from being a place for children to one for aged residents.  Emmaus, a multistory building constructed beside the chapel is used to house and care for the residents.  It's very modern, a stark contrast to the buildings when I was young.



In Nudgee there was also a seminary, where catholic priests were trained.  Like Nudgee College is in Boondall, the Banyo Seminary in actually in Nudgee.  We never had any contact with the seminary but always admired the beautiful pale brick buildings and the fabulous grounds.  When the numbers of men entering the priesthood dropped the buildings were taken over by Australian Catholic Universities and opened as a catholic uni in 2002.  I think it was first built in the early 40s.  The catholic church still has a seminary as part of the complex but I think there are only half a dozen or so men a year entering to be priests.  


The Bora Ring and Waterholes
The first residents at Nudgee were, of course, the aborigines and we grew up knowing where their bora ring and water holes were.  The waterhole was a haven for birds and it was fringed with tall gum trees until it became overgrown and choked with weeds. In recent years it has received care and it has once again become a popular picnic spot.

Adjoining the waterhole is an Aboriginal Bora Ring, which was used before white occupation for ceremonial and religious purposes. It is extremely important, as it is one of the few remaining in the Brisbane metropolitan area.   Usually, two nearby rings were used - one for the males and another, used as a communal ring.  It’s believed that the mens' bora rings were sacred aboriginal ritual sites for adult initiation.  It’s thought aborigines from surrounding districts would congregate at Nudgee to participate in ritual ceremonies, corroborees and tribal dances.  When there was wind howling we would imagine we could hear them still. 

The aboriginal management of the water hole was a credit to them.  The water was very clean, free of weed growth, full of fish, turtles, water fowl, and other plant food sources.   

The aborigines of Nudgee and the early Europeans had a wonderful relationship.  The settlers would share food with them and aborigines, in return, would provide mud crabs and fish which had been caught in the nearby salt water creeks.  According to aboriginal folklore, Nudgee waterhole had never run dry and always had good, clean water. European settlers used the waterhole for permanent clean drinking water for themselves and their stock.

In 1887 a Government appointed 'Protector of Aboriginals', rounded-up most of the remaining Aboriginal people and transported them to Fraser Island.  Sadly, much of the history of the Nudgee Bora Ring was lost at that time.
Between Nudgee Road and the Gateway Arterial, adjacent to the Nudgee Waterholes Reserve is a small section of well established vegetation.  This is the remnants of what was once known as Child’s Scrub.  The Childs Family used to have a wine bar and small zoo there until the early 1960s.  I can vaguely recall what it looked like but because we believed the wine bar was frequented by deadbeats we averted our eyes as we headed to the zoo.  It wasn’t much of a zoo, a few kangaroos and snakes is all I can remember.  Mrs Childs lived diagonally over the road from our home in Forrest Street but I don’t recall a Mr Childs.  But we knew he started the Nudgee Golf Club. (And I recently discovered that Child’s home has now been pulled down and replaced by a super sleek, modern house.)
When we were kids the bora ring was well defined, with no grass growing on the (foot) hardened earth.  There was a large gum tree on one side, which acted as a cockatoo tree (lookout) during ceremonies.  Grooves cut into the trunk to help with climbing and could still clearly be seen right up until it was destroyed by a bushfire in 1972.

These days the Bora Ring is easy to find, being signposted from the carpark.  New walking trails with interpretive signage have been provided around the Bora Ring.  We didn’t have any of that information, just a lot of imagination.

In the late 1990’s a number of Aboriginal groups made land claims under the Native Title Act, as the traditional owners of this land.  It’s expected that over the next few years the current owner, the Brisbane City Council, will be negotiating with the traditional owners for better protection and enhancement of the Bora ring site.

Nudgee Golf Club
As I mentioned, Mr Childs started the club in the 1930s.  It grew over the years and there are now two championship courses.
Growing up we thought there wasn’t anything much at Nudgee.  It wasn’t on a road to anywhere, just a stop along the Shorncliffe railway line.  Nudgee Beach and Cribb Island (which wasn’t an island) weren’t far away but didn’t hold much appeal for us.  We would ride our bikes to one or the other occasionally, they were only about 5 kms away.  If we arrived when the tide was in it wasn’t too bad but the rest of the time there were just mudflats and mangroves.
Nudgee Beach is quite a desirable suburb these days and a popular picnic spot.



Cribb Island is gone, the land resumed by the Federal Government to expand Brisbane Airport.  We didn’t believe what we’d been told about it once being a seaside resort because of its close proximity to the city. It was a very poor suburb and Cribby kids were never well-off.  We weren’t either, but by comparison with what we saw at Cribby we thought we were rich.  This was where the Gibbs (the Bee Gees) family lived.   The family moved on to Redcliffe and sold soft drinks at the Redcliffe speedway between races, and promoted sales by a singing act. They were well received, and went on to become the Bee Gees: Barry Gibb graduated from the Cribb Island class of 1961.
The best part of Nudgee for my girlfriends and me was the creek.  It was a bit of a walk but that was of no consideration.  We’d cross the railway lines, cut through the bush and there it was.  It was a muddy, tidal creek.  There were heaps of mangroves in most places but we found a few really good deep swimming holes with big trees hanging out over the water.  I could write a whole chapter about the fun we had in that creek and maybe I will later on.  




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