I love seeing mythical creatures and mystery etched into old maps. I think we should bring a genuine encounter with mystery back into the maps we use to navigate our urban environment.
This simple map of West End, offers a view from the steps of a church. The importance of this view should not be underestimated whenever there is an acknowledgement of the Jaggera as the Traditional Owners of the land now labeled Vulture St, Sussex St, Franklin St and Brighton Rd.
There are often appeals that Boundary St in West End should be re-named. For example, in 2010, Matthew Condon argued that the name of Boundary St in West End reminded us of our racist past, and that it should be replaced. He said its replacement would be a symbolic act of us removing our ‘colonial yoke’.
A number of Boundary Streets in Brisbane have already been re-named. Vulture Street is one of them. Vulture St was formerly Boundary St, South Brisbane. It marked the southern side of a surveyed square of land that was used to enable the first sales of freehold title over land in South Brisbane in 1842. These sales consolidated a forceful and dramatic change in land ownership in the South Brisbane area from the Jaggera as the Traditional Owners to the freeholders streaming in from Europe.
Boundary St, South Brisbane was subsequently re-named Vulture St. The information available to us at the moment asserts that the Vulture was a British warship associated with the Crimean War. Vulture St is part of a corridor from Balaclava St in Woolloongabba through to Paris St, West End, which could be an extensive, but forgotten memorial to the Crimean War. I am looking still to confirm these Crimean War references.
It is worth asking ourselves what we gained in this re-naming of Boundary St. Is replacing a reminder of a racist past with a forgettable reminder of a war over Russian encroachments in Eastern Europe an improvement in our collective consciousness? Did we remove our colonial yoke simply by reducing our awareness of the work of the surveyors who were busy around Brisbane in the 1840s? I don’t think so, though the possible economic implications of a war on the other side of the world on the survival of a fledgling town are very interesting.
There is a lot of mystery associated with this map of the land outside the church. The basic questions about why these streets are named Franklin, Sussex and Brighton are unanswered for me. Who named these streets, which are outside of that definitive survey line of 1842?
The absence of answers to these questions confronts me with a mysterious view of the re-named Boundary Street and the seizing and conversion of the land of the Jaggera to a system of freehold title through the subdivisions of the surveyors and subsequent auctions of freehold titles. There is something else in this map.
The word ‘Sussex’ reminds us of an ancient Kingdom in England – the Kingdom of a people we now call the Southern Saxons. Their land was seized by Norman invaders, following the Battle of Hastings, in 1066. The town of Brighton, in the county of Sussex, was about 60km down the coast from the town of Hastings. Brighton grew following the Norman occupation. A population of ‘Franklins’ also appeared after this Norman invasion of England. The Franklins were freeholders of non-noble birth. That block of land presents a hazy view of a relationship between invasion and the establishment of freeholders on the land.
I do not advocate the re-naming of Boundary St. While this survey line has been used for racist purposes that appall us, I think it is good to be aware of that history. At the same time, it is good to remember that the purpose of that survey leading up to 1842 was to enable the sale of freehold titles. These freehold titles over the land do not appall us, yet they have made the dispossession of the Jaggera sustainable.
Interestingly, the Katter Australia Party have just released their Policy Priorities as they stake their claim in the Government of Queensland. Policy number 12 is ‘Freehold Title Deeds for First Australians’. They say ‘it is essential for any economic development.’