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Brisbane concentration camps and the White City

By JOL Admin | 19 January 2015

The Queensland Times newspaper’s regular correspondent who visited and reported on the Enoggera Army Camp during World War One, referred to it as the Enoggera concentration camps. Why? It did not fit our common definition of such a camp, where prisoners of war were forcibly detained in awful conditions. It was because of the many servicemen concentrated in training camps; more than a small city such as Brisbane was used to. A number around 10,500, which would include some very energetic men tired of the tedium of war preparation, could unleash mayhem on Brisbane’s tiny centre. This led the way to the White City.

The White City was an entertainment precinct, north of Browns Dip Road, established in 1915 at a cost of £10,000, acquired from a previous canteen and recreation centre. Soldiers, their families and friends as well as, at times, the general public, could use it. The term, “white city” has been used in relation to buildings such as those at the Chicago and London world exhibitions, entertainment provided in groups of tents or even a tennis centre. Here it applied to a number of buildings including a boxing stadium, billiard room, bandstand, theatre, restaurant and soda fountain on the camp base. The newspapers regularly reported on, and promoted, events there. Distributed flyers kept everyone aware of its programs. As a result, we get an insight into how the community supported servicemen during the war, as well as the conveniences of life, tastes and treats of another era.

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White City entertainment

Brisbane CourierBrisbane Courier

The Brisbane Players’ Dramatic Club staged comedies. The Battalion Bands played waltzes and sweet English songs as well as marches. The City Ladies Miniature Rifle Club organised concerts that sustained the upbeat tone with numbers such as Cheero and The Bubble Song. In 1916 the Rev Dr Merrington delivered his Anzac Day lecture there. A photoplay, Peg of the Ring, conjurers and other diversions packed the theatre cinema. On 1 July 1916, the Queenslander published a full page of photographs of White City.

A powerhouse was erected on the grounds. The soda fountain, providing a variety of flavours, was run by electricity, which was still a novelty. Alcohol was not on the White City menu.  Evening concerts were enhanced by electric light, with light bulbs draped from the trees to provide a fairy-like ambience. The restaurant, open from 9:30am-9:30pm, served a mixed grill.

Soldiers’ thoughts

Western ChampionQueensland TimesCairns Post

Popularity of the White City

Queensland Times

The heyday of the White City was 1916. It contained and entertained large numbers of soldiers, as well as providing some of the recreational delights resulting from electrical power. It was a welcome relief from the backdrop of war, and demonstrated community support for the soldiers. The Bulletin of 10 August 1916 published a verse by Mabel Forrest about the White City, capturing some of this spirit. It concluded with the lines:

“Twinkling an invitation down the night

A silver call of bells to carnival.”
The White City mirrored sentiment about the war and was closed at the end of it. Facilities were then auctioned.

Stephanie Ryan, Senior Librarian Family History, Information Services


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