This street sign for Fleurs St is brand new. It is part of a Brisbane City Council’s Streets of Remembrance Project.
“Brisbane City Council is proud to commemorate the spirit of the Anzacs through the Streets of Remembrance project. As part of the unique project, Council has placed the Australian Defence Force ‘Rising Sun’ badge on streets which share the same names as people, places or events of historical significance to the Anzac campaign from 1915.”
I appreciate the Council for providing the population of Brisbane with information about the origins of the city’s vocabulary of place. However, I have written to the Council, suggesting that the association of Fleurs St, Woolloongabba and ‘the spirit of the Anzacs’, may be mis-placed. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I’m happy to be corrected.
Council has presented the significance of Fleurs St as follows…
Flers is a village in the Somme Valley in France. In 1916 as the Somme battlefield was turning into a quagmire, 1 ANZAC launched a series of attacks but was forced to withdraw when they failed to keep pace with the creeping artillery barrage. Innovative new weapons, (tanks), were used here for the first time. Australian medical units, posted in neighbouring caves, began Flers cemetery in 1916. It was enlarged after the Armistice and contains 3,475 graves of Commonwealth servicemen with 2,263 of them unidentified. The town of Flers was also spelt ‘Fleurs’ in newspaper reports at the time, thus explaining the spelling of the streets.
Until reading the above, I had understood that Fleurs St was a memorial to Peterson’s “Fleurs” Estate, as identified in my previous post, which featured a portion of a map of the ‘Ballan Estate’ from the John Oxley Library. This map is uncertainly dated ‘1880?’ In the bottom left hand corner of that map is the acknowledgement of Peterson’s “Fleurs” Estate on the southern side of what was then Government Road, but is now Hawthorne St (scribbled onto the map).
I skeptically, yet openly wonder if there is a relationship between Peterson’s “Fleurs” and the town of Flers in the Somme Valley. For now, I doubt the relevance of Council’s inclusion of Fleurs St in the Streets of Remembrance project. My more urgent question is “how do we effectively negotiate with each other on our differing narratives on such delicate and solemn subjects as ANZAC in Europe, and, more locally, the transition of traditional custody into freehold title?”
My approach to learning the language of Brisbane’s street map is to recognize that information is not the same as knowledge, and that everyone can bring new insights into understanding the memorials that have become street names, sometimes regardless of whether the information is correct or not. What is important is the development of relationships through the ongoing conversation. My goals are to improve my questions and to stay engaged in difficult and fragile conversations that threaten to polarize populations. For this purpose, street names offer a robust and non-sectarian vocabulary, because we all use them regardless of our ideology, mother tongue, etc.
I have a sense that Brisbane’s entire street map is a war memorial. It details the military and economic processes of the dispossession of the Traditional Custodians of this land. The detail is provided by a vocabulary of street names, which now overlay and hide the ancient pathways and the local language. This war memorial, which dates back to the 18th century, enables us to locate the ANZAC narrative in a broader narrative of war and memorial.