Brisbane City Hall
King George Square
- Brisbane City
64 Adelaide Street, Brisbane 4000
By the start of the war in 1939, City Hall was Brisbane’s tallest building. It saw the first war voluntary organisations meeting. During 1940–41, it was Brisbane’s civil defence headquarters. It opened a childcare facility for war workers in 1942. From 1941–45, it was the venue for meetings in support of Australia’s allies, war bond rallies and receptions for dignitaries visiting Brisbane. During the same period, Albert Square i.e. King George Square) was a reception point for salvage drives, the scene of military parades and as a quiet relaxation and reflection spot. To signify the end of the wartime 'black-out', City Hall was specially decked out in Christmas lights to mark the end of the war on VJ Day.
Completed in 1930, Brisbane City Hall dominated the city skyline with its clock tower. It was the headquarters of the Greater Brisbane Council formed in 1925 by the amalgamation of the Brisbane Municipal Council with its surrounding town and shire councils. Albert Square, (later King George Square) featuring a statue of reigning British monarch King George VI, was a small public space in front of City Hall. Albert Street continued through to the intersection of Ann and Roma Streets with buildings such as the Tivoli Theatre fronting Albert Street and the Square.
In April 1939, just five months before the outbreak of war, the Brisbane City Council hosted a meeting at City Hall to organise a women’s volunteer organisation to aid the coming war effort. Thereafter, City Hall often provided temporary office space for war organisations such as Women’s Volunteer National Register until they found permanent accommodation. Pre-war services such as the children’s Immunisation Clinic were maintained. In 1940, City Hall was the headquarters for Brisbane’s civil defence, with Council staff mapping out suburban evacuation campsites and the location of water mains as part of Brisbane’s Air Raid Precautions (ARP) planning.
After the Pacific War began in December 1941, Council’s records were moved from City Hall to suburban depots for fear of Japanese air attack. A concrete blast wall was added to the Supper Room to provide some protection during an air raid. Behind City Hall, in Council Lane, a large colonnaded public air raid shelter was constructed for the use of Council staff and customers.
By 1942, the employment of women as civilian war workers and city-based women’s war volunteer organisations saw City Hall open a Mother’s Room. In 1944, the demand for child care by these war workers led to the establishment of a Child Minding Centre on the roof. This became the City Hall Kindercraft in 1945. A basement refreshment room, the Troops, Welfare Club, serving anyone service personnel or civilian, man or woman was established. This was different to many of Brisbane’s refreshment rooms that often only operated for military customers and were sometimes exclusively for the use of one sex. City Hall was a popular tourist attraction for US service personnel who paid six pence to ride the 'lift' up the clock tower to see the view and to experience the chiming of the clock bells.
Throughout the war, City Hall was the venue for patriotic functions, war bonds drives and receptions for visiting dignitaries such as Prime Minister John Curtin and his wife Elsie in 1942 and US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in September 1943. It hosted a variety of events to show support for Australia’s Allies. Germany invaded the USSR on 22 June 1941. The Australia-Russia Association held a British/Russian Unity Against Fascism rally in the City Hall auditorium in October. On 18 July 1945, the Dutch held an Indonesian Night at the City Hall Brisbane fundraiser for the Red Cross. Dances, balls and concerts were held in the Auditorium with its impressive 1891 Willis organ, orchestra section and stage. Among the performers in the Auditorium were violinist and conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra Eugene Ormandy and US bandleader Artie Shaw with his US Navy Big Band. From 28 February to 16 March 1945, City Hall hosted an 'Exhibition of Civil Construction in Australia” art display featuring works by painters William Dobell, Herbert McClintock and others plus 500 photographs. The display was sponsored by the Allied Works Council and featured Australia’s wartime construction programme (1939–44), particularly the works of the Civil Construction Corps (CCC).
Albert Square was a central receiving point for salvage drives. Scrap metal, aluminium cooking utensils, old tyres and paper would be deposited. Aluminium reused for aircraft manufacture was displayed in a fenced enclosure or pen in the Square. Aluminium items could be left at any post office or selected department stores where the items were retrieved by Council’s garbage collectors who took the material for recycling at Council’s Milton depot. Morale-boosting parades were held in the Square with the steps at the front of City Hall temporarily converted into a saluting base. In 1943, US Army servicemen wearing their dress uniforms marched in a public parade through the Square. The Australian 7th Division marched through the Square on 8 August 1944. Military equipment, such as 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns, was displayed to generate public interest in Commonwealth War Loans.
In preparation for post-war conditions, City Hall ran an Accommodation Bureau to assist residents to cope with Brisbane’s housing shortage. In 1944, the front of City Hall was adorned with a V for Victory banner. US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died unexpectedly on 12 April 1945. All the US forces based in Brisbane attended a Memorial Service in City Hall where flags were flown at half-mast. On 15 August 1945, City Hall was decorated with festive lights to celebrate VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.
Brisbane—The War Years 1939–1945; BCC Works Dept planBruce Buchanan (Architects), The Brisbane City Hall—a Conservation Plan for Brisbane City Council, (Brisbane: Bruce Buchanan Architects Pty Ltd, 1992).Jonathan (Jack) Ford, Allies in a Bind, (Loganholme: NESWA, 1996).US Army Special Intelligence Service, S.I.S. Record 1942–1946, (?; SIS record Association, 1946).
Brisbane City Council, Brisbane Images website, John Oxley Library photographic collection.