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Cattle Dip to Parkland

Once there was a Cattle Dip to kill Cattle Ticks.

While interviewing Hedley Barker about his activities as a pig farmer he told me how he went with his father to the Chermside Cattle Dip in 1934 to dip their cattle which they were required by law to do before they could sell them. I tucked that bit of information away for further reference while I wrote up the interview.

Some time later I was talking to a visitor at the History Society's rooms and he mentioned that he knew where the cattle dip was located. The next day I rode my bicycle, not horse, to the site and found the posts shown in the photo.

The site is located on the western side of Gympie Road almost opposite the Australian Tax Office. It is about 50 metres from the street between the Kerry Fein Pathway and Downfall Creek.

The six posts that comprise the remains of the Chermside Public Dip, along with Vellnagel's blacksmith forge on the other side of the creek, are the only visible reminders of an era that ended with the huge building boom that followed World War II. Houses rolled over the entire available landscape and completely obliterated the farms, tanneries and remains of the slaughter yards that once provided employment for much of the local population over a period of a hundred years.

All that remained of the Kedron Shire Cattle Dip in Chermside when this photo was taken in 2007 were five posts standing and one fallen. Not much to show for the thousands of cattle that swam through its poisoned waters to rid them of ticks.

The Location of the Cattle Dip

This aerial photo was taken in 1946 and shows the cattle dip roof in the centre at right angles to Gympie Road which is running north-south. The two small white patches to the right of the dip could be drying yards where the cattle dripped the fluid which was then run back into the dip. The buildings at the top of the photo are Vellnagel's Blacksmith Forge on the north side of Downfall Creek. (Courtesy of Brisbane City Council Heritage Unit.)

The cattle dip lies on the west side of Gympie Road with its easternmost standing post 20.9m from the western kerb of the road. The address is 860 Gympie Road.

The same post lies 21.2m north of the Kerry Fein bike path measured from the northern side of the patn.

The photo shows the roof of the dip as being at right angles to Gympie Road so that it lies in an east-west direction.

Les Doherty dipped cattle there in 1947 when he worked for Harry Ryan, a cattle dealer at one pound per week.

He used to take mobs of 20-30 head of cattle to the dip where they entered at the west end - there would be about three men and one woman to put them through the dip - once the first beast went in the others followed.

There was no need to push their heads under as the plunge was sufficient to make sure the whole animal was immersed. The small mob would be put through in about 30 minutes (Newspaper report of opening in 1908 estimated - a beast a minute) When the last beast was dipped the mob was drafted back across Gympie Road to Early's Paddock which is the present site of Westfield Shoppingtown.

They simply drafted the cattle across Gympie Road from Early's paddock, put them through the dip and then back to the paddock. There was no trouble crossing the road as the traffic was light and the vehicles gave way to the cattle.

He thinks that the dip closed in the late 1950s (Hedley Barker estimated that when the small dairy farms finally closed down the dip would have been closed also - i.e. 1950s!)

History of the Chermside Dip

According to the following report in the Brisbane Courier of 7th October 1908 p.4 the dip was built in 1908.

Fighting the Tick Pest

Yesterday a cattle dip was formally opened at Chermside; the site selected being the old school reserve below Early's Hill, on the Gympie road.

The function was made the occasion of a social gathering. At 3.30 p.m. a goodly number of persons had gathered there, and Mr. R. Sumner, M.L.A., at the request of the Chairman of the Kedron Shire Council, performed the opening ceremony. In doing so he complimented the Council on having constructed such a creditable dip, with its own employees. He declared the dip open, and at the given signal, some half-dozen head of cattle were induced to take a plunge into the mysterious looking liquid, the proceedings proving immensely interesting to the onlookers.

An adjournment was then made to the Council office, where light refreshments had been laid. There were present : Mr. R. Sumner, M.L.A. (in the chair), Councillor M. J. Gallagher (Chairman of Kedron), Alderman W. H. Bowser (Mayor of Windsor), Councillor D. Wdldermuth (Chairman of Toombul), Councillor T. Gardiner (Chairman of Pine), Councillors Cock, Krumner, Day, Ridley, King. MacPherson, Flemming and Hackett, Messrs. J.Orr, and Cheeseman (of the Department of Stock), Ridley, A. Adsett. G. Early, J. Packer, and Knox. A pleasant couple of hours were spent, a short toast list being gone through.

The dip is a substantial structure, built on lines suggested by the department (Qld Gov). It provides the necessary entering yards, a long rain-proof plunge, and a draining yard which carries the liquid back to a well, to be returned to the plunge. It is estimated that a small mob of cattle can he effectively dipped at the rate of about one per minute.

Carried out under the supervision of the Council's engineer, Mr. C. Wallis, and by the Council's ordinary hands, the total cost of the dip has been about one hundred pounds. ($10,423 in 2005 values).

(Ed Note: There is a concrete slab in the area of the posts around the draining yard to allow the liquid to drain into the 'well' and back into the plunge bath.)

The Brisbane City Council inserted the following notice in the Tenders column of the Courier Mail 4-10-1933:

TENDERS are invited and will be received by the undersigned at the Town Hall, Brisbane, until Noon on FRIDAY, 13th October, 1933, for the LEASE for a period of Three Years of the Land known as "DIP RESERVE" Chermside, containing an area of 2 acres.

Thus the dip was managed by a private individual and this process probably operated from 1908 and continued at least until the 1940s when the Vellnagels operated it.

The Brisbane Courier 5-10-1910 p.6 reported at a meeting of the Kedron Shire Council "Mr. Mann was appointed impounder to the shire, and the dip at Chermside was constituted a pound yard."

The dip yard now served a dual role from 1910 with a private individual serving as Impounder who may also have been the contracted operator of the dip.

Hedley Barker thinks that it was probably used as long as there were dairy farms in the area which would take it into the 1950s.

The Public Dip at Peachester used to charge two pence per beast to be dipped so a similar charge may have been levied in Chermside.

Operation and Maintenance of the Dip

Norm Steers provided the following information which he learned talking to the Vellnagel Brothers. Audrey (nee Vellnagel) Twining supplemented it.

For some time in the 1940s Charlie Vellnagel ran the dip he would come, supervise the dipping and collect the fees.

Alf and Harold Vellnagel used to spend half a day every 3 months cleaning the dip, when the dip was being used at least twice a week. They used a hand pump and hose to pump out the dip contents, taking turns to lever the pump, the liquid was just pumped on to the ground around the dip where it soaked in.

To refill the dip with water they used to dam Downfall Creek a little way upstream with corrugated iron and syphon the water into the dip. This was possible before the Brisbane City Council changed the course of the creek in the 2000s to allow Wheller on the Park to be built.

The chemicals, which were kept at the Vellnagel forge, were probably then added.

The dip was filled in around the early 1980s when the new bridge was built over Downfall Creek on Gympie Road, the fill coming from excavations for the Chermside Shoppingtown. Part of the reason for the filling was to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the water as there was no drain in the dip.

The Council decides to develop the site into a park.

On the 6-8-09 I went to the dip site to find that the Brisbane City Council was developing the area into a park. Some clearing of bush and planting of shrubs had been done. A blanket of woodchips had also been spread over much of the site.

However when the council discovered that this was the site of the old cattle dip all work was halted till soil testing was carried out to determine if the chemicals used in the dip had contaminated the soil.

Arsenic was commonly used in cattle dips and could contaminate the soil for many years after use of the dip ceased.

2009 photo of the remains of Chermside Cattle Dip.
The 2009 photo shows the blanket of woodchips in the back part of the dip site. The three posts on the right are in a line and would have had four wooden rails on them. The post on the left has a blacksmith's pin hinge still attached which indicates that it was a gate post. The gate would have closed off the race from the right angle turn to the left. The back left post would have carried four wooden rails somewhere to the left.

A Traditional Plunge Cattle Dip.

Cattle dip lg
Cattle Dipping in 1935 at Camooweal. The dip is a long bath or trough with metal sides to hold the water and deep enough to immerse the animals. Another beast can be seen at the far end of the dip preparing to make the plunge. Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library.

The cattle dip was basically a deep trench excavated in the ground and lined with some waterproof material, probably of galvanised flat iron. In the bush rough timbers would be used with the ends of the rails adzed to fit in the post notches. In the photo some of them seem to be held on with fencing wire which could be twitched to form a tight binding.

The dip would have had a set of holding yards to organise the cattle before and after dipping. Sometimes there was a roof over the dip.

A Roofed Plunge Dip

A well designed plunge dip is basically a large bath tub with 2 metres depth of liquid. The animal plunges directly into the dip at the entrance, swims about 5 metres and scrambles out on steps or a ramp to reach the exit which is about 10 metres from the entrance.

The animal is completely immersed in the chemical mix and the ticks are killed.

The Chermside Dip is similar to the one in the photo even having a swinging gate where the cattle could be directed to different yards after they were dipped.

Photo taken in 1914 of the dip at Barambah Station. This is the exit end of the dip and the pole used to swing the gate can be clearly seen. The gate is used to direct the exiting beasts into either of two yards for various purposes. Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library.

Description of Chermside Dip from the Visible Remains

Exit of Cattle Dip Bath Chermside
The exit from the bath shows both walls of the bath on either side and the ramp up which the cattle scrambled. The top step in the foreground is part of the concrete paving of the drying yard/s. There is one more step below it which merges with the ramp. The little trench in the middle clearly shows the toe/hoof holds made by the low 25mm (one inch) high ridges in the concrete of the ramp. The bath was filled with clay, possibly in the 1970s, as a mosquito control measure.

The exit from the bath of the Cattle Dip is at the eastern end where the cattle emerged into the drying yards which are marked by the existing posts.

The post with the hinge held a gate which controlled the entrance to two yards similar to the previous photo of the Barambha dip above.

The two concrete walls of the bath were 230mm (9 inches) thick and were 1130mm (3ft 9inches) apart.

The ramp sloped down into the bath at a ratio which enabled the animals to walk up and out.

Exposed wall of Cattle Dip bath
Exposed section of the northern concrete wall of the Cattle Dip bath. This clearly shows the aggregate used in the concrete, the sharp edged rocks indicate that it had been crushed. They were not just using river gravel.

The Bath Walls

The bath extended westward from the exit in the above photo (away from Gympie Road) for at least 13m (34 feet). At present we are unable to find the entrance to the bath, the plunge pool end, as it is covered with soil, growing vegetation and fallen logs.

The walls were probably poured in sections but, so far, no joints have been found.

Circular shape in northern wall of Cattle Dip bath
This circular shape is in the northern wall of the Cattle Dip bath. Its purpose is not known but it could be a post hole as it is on the outside of the bath.

Possible Entrance to Bath

If this is a post hole the post would have been about 400mm (1ft 6.25 inches) in diameter. It may mark the entrance of the plunge bath

Eastern edge of concrete at Cattle Dip
The eastern (Gympie Road) end of the concreted yard. The post shown is an end post for the northern fence so the east may have had a gate closing on the standing post. There was at least one post hole along this edge.

Eastern End of Dip Yard

This concrete simply stops in the grass - there must have been some sort of fence here but, so far, only one standing post and a post hole have been found.

There may have been a gate but there is no sign of it at present.

The Decline of the Plunge Dip

Cattle tick was probably imported from Indonesia in the 1870s and spread south by the 1890s. Shire Councils built Public Dips in the early 20th Century and the Peachester Public Dip was built in 1915 replacing an earlier one. A caretaker operated the dip and charged a small fee of two pence per head of cattle dipped. As farmers built their own dips the public dips fell into disuse.

From 1935 tick resistance to arsenic led to the use of other chemicals leading up to an anti-tick vaccine in the 1990s. Today a combination of spray dipping and inoculation is used and the old Public Dips have gone the way of the dinosaur.

The Peachester Public Dip has long since fallen into disuse and the bush is slowly taking over. The same fate befell the Chermside Dip but the decline here has been more rapid because it is in a suburban environment which speeds up the natural process. Photo supplied by Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland.

New Fence 30-7-2014

Cattle Dip New Fence 30-7-2014
While the new fence is not quite traditional it closely resembles the old style. The gate is definitely not traditional but it is practical.

The remaining old fence posts which stood sentinel marking the location of the Cattle Dip have been left in place. Currently they have stood there for the last 107 years; they should be good for another decade or two.

Cattle Dip New Fence 30-7-2014 2
This image shows the old posts very clearly as well as the orange webbing which was erected to keep people off the contaminated ground.

Traditional Post and Rail Fence

Post and Rail Traditional Fence Toowoomba 1986
These posts have mortised holes and the rails have tenon shafts to fit in the mortises. The rails have adze marks on them which probably cut out the saw marks.

The traditional Post and Rail fence had rails split with steel wedges driven in with wooden mauls. An extremely hard task which was done by very fit men who were used to very hard work. Today the rails are cut on a circular saw bench, the machine does the really hard work and does it much more quickly.

Maul and Wedge Staib 1-4-2007

The wooden maul and steel wedge belong to Lindsay Staib one of our foundation members. The maul is made of very hard wood, about 280 mm long and about 9 mm in diameter, weighing about 3 kg. It has heavy steel rings around each end to stop the maul from being split by the blunt end of the steel wedge. Since steel is harder than wood the maul does not damage the end of the wedge, but the wooden maul gradually wears out. Replacing a wooden maul was cheap, there was plenty of hardwood around the farm.

The splitter would drive a series of wedges along the log to be split and drive them in systematically until the log split.