Home - Chermside & District History

Coal Swamps to High Rise

This is not a coal swamp but it helps explain one.

Sometime over a hundred million years ago the area of Chermside district was the site of massive swamps with thick vegetation growing in them. The area probably had a tropical climate which encouraged prolific vegetation growth.

The vegetation fell into the water when it died and sunk to the bottom where it slowly decayed in the almost stagnant water which was low in oxygen.

Gradually the vegetation became peat and was buried by floods washing silt or sand on top of it. The pressure squeezed most of the water out and compressed the peat. This process was repeated for several million years and thick seams of lignite built up. With more pressure the mass developed into black bituminous coal.

The Chermside coal did not get past the lignite stage. And the land was left to itself for the following millions of years.

Not a coal swamp but it helps to explain the process of coal formation
This swamp was at Kelvin Grove in 1892 and is a pale image of a coal swamp. The vegetation is not thick enough and it is too recent to have formed any coal. But the basic environment is there, sort of. Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library.

Then Came the Europeans

While the Indigenous people occupied the land they did not dig deep holes or build large structures. But the Europeans started to try and build another England or Ireland or some other European country here.

Gold was discovered in Gympie in 1867 and a rush followed but when the surface or alluvial gold was worked out the deep shaft mining took over and the small miners had to go and search elsewhere.

David Teague records that in about 1887 such a search was going on in the Downfall Creek area but, instead of finding gold they found small seams of coal at shallow depth. Two localities are mentioned, one in the present Banfield Street where Westfield Shoppingtown is located and the other in nearby Ballantine Street. It seems that the miners soon lost interest and probably moved on.

Jim Hannah, an elderly Chermside resident, recalled that the coal was mixed with wood and used in the boiler at the nearby Alonzo Sparkes' slaughter yard for a time. Teague notes that Sparkes reopened the old mine shaft in a search for water but that was also a failure.

There the story finished until the more digging took place in 2008 but in the meantime Chermside was changing.

Gold miners sunk a few shafts in Chermside in the 1880s
This photo of two miners and their bark shack was not taken at Chermide. However the miners who searched for gold at Chermside could well have operated like these ones did. Miners did not stayed in a location only as long as they had a chance of finding gold, then they moved on. The only thing they left behind was a hole in the ground. Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library.

Then came the Post-World War II Building Boom.

Chermside remained a quiet place on the outer Northside of Brisbane, in the bush and rather isolated; a rural backwater. But from 1947 when the trams reached Chermside so did the people who wanted a block of land and a house; Chermside boomed.

Houses were built by the 100s, streets appeared where only bush tracks existed. The Drive-in Shopping Centre was built, schools appeared and the population rose.

One street in particular was important to our story, Playfield Street which was built, lined with houses and families lived where previously there was only Early's Paddock. And it only took a few years in the early to middle 1950s.

House on corner of Playfield and Way Sts. ready for demolition.
This house' built in the early 1950s, stood on the corner of Playfield and Way Streets. It was one of three that were demolished to make way for the high rise hq Apartment block. This photo was taken on 13-9-07 the day before it was demolished in a few hours.

Then came the Demolition of the Boomtime Houses

In 2007 this part of Playfield Street reverted to what it was in about 1953 and what it had been for millennia. Then the digging began because this was the site of a high rise building, the hq Apartment block which would go down two floors into the undisturbed soil.

The heap of debris which was once the house on the corner of Playfield and Way Streets.
The heap of debris that was a house yesterday. This photo was taken on the 14-9-07 and shows just how swiftly we can change the environment today.

Then came the Coal Seams and Confirmation of the Earlier Reports.

In December 2007 excavation for the basement of the hq Apartments building on the corner of Way and Playfield Streets uncovered a series of small coal seams which are, in all probability part of the Banfield-Ballantine Street seams.
The visible S-W corner sequence shows about 8 thin seams of lignite, low grade or brown coal, interspersed with what looks like clay, some of which shows iron staining. This would be consistent with a coal swamp where the water is still or slowly moving and it would deposit the fine particles of clay as they flocculate in water.
I am not sure what the vertical shaft like features are, they could be some sort of wash-out or potholing set up by currents during periods of flooding when the beds were being deposited.
The seams have about a 10 downward slope from east to west and also from south to north, a general slope down from south east to north-west. Since deposition under water is horizontal, this indicates gentle tilting of the area in geologic time.
Some of the workmen commented that the 'coal' was very wet and water oozed out during excavation which is consistent with Lignite as it has a high moisture content and has to be dried out before it can be burnt.

Coal seams under the hq Apartment block on the corner of Playfield and Way Streets
The gently westward sloping coal seams under Playfield Street, Chermside. These thin seams of Lignite probably underlie a large area of Chermside and extend beyond. The coal is intersperced with clay which is stained with the red of iron oxide. The excavation is about 7 metres deep so the seams are very shallow and could be easily reached by 19th Century miners. This is the first hard evidence of the existence of coal in the local area and confirms the earlier above mentioned accounts.

Then came the New Chermside and the Coal Seams sleep on.

Chermside is going through anothe building boom, but there is no land left so it has to go up.

The hq Apartments is one of the rapidly rising high rise buildings in Playfield Street. Like the others there are two floors below ground, basments used for parking cars of occupants and visitors.