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state library of queensland

Tracing the history of a central Brisbane building

By Katy Roberts, Library Technician | 17 December 2014

Recently I was asked to research the history of buildings at the corner of Adelaide and Wharf Streets in Brisbane, where the Christie Centre is currently located.

Fortunately, I knew this corner well as I used to work opposite the site. I remembered that the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) was located there, and that they moved out in the mid 1990s.  Armed with this knowledge, I searched the Brisbane Telephone Directories from 1994 -1995 and discovered an entry for the ATO, which included information that they would be moving addresses between March and June in 1995.  But when had the ATO moved in?

I searched State Library of Queensland’s catalogue, One Search, hoping to find some annual reports from the period, but instead found “Working for all Australians 1910-2010: A brief history of the Australian Taxation Office”. This online history of the department includes information about the various buildings that housed staff around the country. I was very pleased to find information about the opening of the new Brisbane building on 15 February 1962, down to the details of changes to the tea ladies’ routine as the cafeteria was being used for the official guests.  Using this date, I was able to search The Courier-Mail on microfilm and find a photograph and article about this opening, with the title “Buffet in a tax ‘temple’”.

But what was on the site before 1962?  Maps and directories were my next information source. Post Office Directories (POD) provided listings of businesses and residents, by street as well as by name.  These directories are a valuable tool when tracing the history of a building, particularly if you have no names of previous occupants.

I began with the 1949 POD, as this is the last year held at State Library.  My original brief had me looking for 340 Adelaide Street, but searching the POD along Adelaide St, on the left hand side, at the corner with Wharf St I found the street numbers had changed slightly, with 336 at the corner. There was no number 320, but 318 was the Signs Building, with tenants including professional offices. 322 to 336 housed the Adelaide Café, Adelaide House private hotel, a milking-machine supplier and a tailor.

Accommodation was a feature of the site, with POD entries revealing that Adelaide House was there in 1925, Mrs Ethel Manson had a boarding house in 1914 and John Low had a boarding house in 1896. The proximity to the wharves at the bottom of Wharf Street, combined with the location high on the hill, obviously made this a successful site for such businesses.

Searching for photographs in the John Oxley Library collections revealed the changing face of the site through the 1950s, as the early buildings were torn down and the ATO building was constructed.

Corner of Adelaide and Wharf Streets, Brisbane, c.1950s

Copy print collection, Subject heading: Brisbane - Streets - Adelaide Street; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Construction site of the new Taxation Building Adelaide Street, Brisbane, 1959.

Construction site of the new Taxation Building, Adelaide Street, Brisbane, 1959; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, neg. no. 202838.

Tracing the past of this building provides a good example of how State Library’s resources enable us to trace the history of buildings, learn about previous occupants and interesting events at an address, and find images to bring that history to life.

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