One of Brisbane’s few remaining interwar tramway substations and one of its most prominent, like most of the others this is the work of tramways architect RR Ogg and chief engineer W Arundell.
It began operation in 1930 - two years after Brisbane City Council seized control of the city’s electricity supply by building the New Farm Powerhouse in conjunction with the tramways department – and at the time served to supplement the substation on Petrie Terrace which had opened in 1928.
Ironically it was a catastrophic fire in 1962 at the nearby tram depot (where Paddo Central now stands) that pre-empted the beginning of the end for the city’s trams.
With nearly one fifth of the city’s tram fleet destroyed despite the proximity to Paddington’s fire station atop the hill behind the substation, the fire provided the unashamedly pro-car Lord Mayor Clem Jones with the perfect excuse to rid the city of its iconic public transport network that, more than any other transport form had been ideally suited to the sultry climate.
His token attempt to come up with an alternative to trams as transport was farcical on a grand scale, beginning with the purchase of non air-conditioned buses with non-opening windows that on summer days became mobile ovens.
And when passengers weren’t being cooked alive they were having near-death experiences at the hands of ex-tram drivers who Clem had appeased for the tram losses by appointing as bus drivers. The problem here, entirely overlooked by Clem, was that the majority didn’t have a car license let alone a bus licence and had no idea how to drive a vehicle that wasn’t confined to rails.
The result of all this was, not surprisingly, that the citizens of Brisbane abandoned public transport in their droves, purchasing cars and teaching themselves to drive and Clem’s vision for the city came true – Brisbane became car dependent (with an underlying reluctance to use public transport), a legacy that remains today.