Primary Building (Primac House)
Army Transport Command Headquarters/US Army Brisbane Central Postal Exchange (PX)
- Brisbane City
99 Creek Street, Brisbane 4000
One of Brisbane’s early (1909) motor showrooms, it was enlarged to six-storeys in 1925. It was sold in 1934 and became 'Primac House'. During World War Two, the US Army leased the fifth floor for use as a Postal Exchange (PX) that supplied imported US goods to US service personnel. As the main PX in Brisbane City, it became the centre point of the infamous Battle of Brisbane riots (26–27 November 1942).
Built in 1909 as a motor showroom for the Canada Cycle & Motor Agency (Qld) Ltd, it was sold in 1934 to the Queensland Primary Producers Co-Operative Association Ltd and subsequently became 'Primac House'. In 1942, office spaces throughout its five floors were requisitioned for use by various agencies drawn from the Australian Army, the Commonwealth Government and the US Army.
'Primac House' was the Australian Army’s Transport Command headquarters and its Manpower and Canteen Services. The second floor contained the offices of the Brisbane War Road Transport Pool’s General Cartage Division, the Women’s Land Army, the Women’s Auxiliary Central Bureau plus His Majesty’s Australian Navy (HMAS) victualling yard administration. The third floor had the offices of the Commonwealth’s Deputy Director of Manpower for the Department of Labour and National Service. The fifth floor leased offices to the Commonwealth War Damage Commission.
On the fifth (top) floor was the main US Army Post Exchange (PX) Canteen for Brisbane. Here, American servicemen could obtain liquor, cigarettes, chocolate bars, candy, soda pop and other items supplied direct from the USA. Many of these luxury items were heavily rationed throughout Australia and so were largely unobtainable for both Australian service personnel and civilians in Brisbane. The PX was often the scene of bartering over US cigarettes between US and Australian troops.
Local resentment grew over perceived favourable treatment meted out to 'the Yanks' by taxis or shops, American brazenness with Australian women and Americans flaunting their access to luxuries. Anti-American feelings culminated in riots in Brisbane City of 26–27 November 1942. The 26 November was US Thanksgiving Day and to celebrate the American Red Cross prepared 250 turkeys for US service personnel at the 'Primac House 'PX. Only 50 yards away was the Australian Army’s 'wet' (beer available) canteen.
At 6.45 pm on Thanksgiving evening, a dispute between two US military policemen (MPs) and two Australian soldiers with their US mate resulted in the MPs being chased back towards the Adelaide Street entrance of 'Primac House' by a group of angry Australian soldiers. The two MPs were rescued by MPs guarding the PX, by beating the Australians with batons. This incited more Australians to besiege the Adelaide and Creek Street doorways of 'Primac House'. By 7.15 pm, about 100 soldiers were yelling abuse at the MPs of 814th MP Company. The MPs called their headquarters at the South Brisbane Town Hall for reinforcements.
The crowd grew to 2,000 troops and civilians (one estimate is 4,000 rioters). Some men collected bricks, rocks and sticks to throw at the MPs. Other rioters tore street signs from the road and began to smash the ground-floor windows of 'Primac House'. The intention was to get upstairs to the PX that represented American privilege and arrogance to many rioters. The MPs fought back with their batons. Australian military and civil police did not attempt to aid the MPs. When the Metropolitan Fire Brigade sent a fire engine from its Wharf Street headquarters, it refused to turn a hose on the rioters and returned to base.
At 8 pm, two MPs arrived in a Dodge weapons carrier from South Brisbane. MP Norbert Grant was armed with a shotgun. As the two MPs pushed through the crowd, Private Ed Webster (2/2nd Anti-Tank Regiment) challenged Grant and grabbed the shotgun’s barrel. Grant fired three times, spreading 27 pellets into the crowd. Webster later died while six soldiers and one civilian wounded. The rioters, many from the veteran 2/9th Infantry Battalion, severely beat Grant and about 10 other MPs. Another eight soldiers were taken to the Brisbane General Hospital at Herston with baton injuries.
After the wounded were evacuated, the riot quietened but the next day, groups of Australians ranged Brisbane City and assaulted Americans. On 27 November, 21 US servicemen were injured in the riots. The PX temporarily closed and the 'Primac House' ground floor windows boarded-up. More Australian military police and armed troops on picket duty were brought into the City and the assaults stopped the next day.
The US military sought a new PX site in Brisbane’s main entertainment precinct street of Queen Street. A department store building was requisitioned and given a complete make-over. In July 1943, the new PX was opened in the Woolworth Building that was located in Queen Street. Not only did this give US servicemen easy access to Brisbane’s main tram terminus but it had the added security of being close to the military police (MPs) stationed close by at Lennon’s Hotel and the AMP Building.
Peter Charlton When Brisbane was Base 3 (The Courier Mail or The Sunday Mail)
J.H. Moore, Oversexed Overpaid, & Over Here, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1981
Peter A. Thompson and Robert Macklin, The Battle of Brisbane, Sydney, ABC Books, 2000