Brisbane City Secrets
by Jodi Panayotov
Every city has its secrets, the places few people ever see, with stories that are never told. And Brisbane's CBD has a cache of hidden places and objects that its residents and visitors walk past every day, oblivious to their existence – a cathedral bell with a link to Jack the Ripper, a famed war chamber, a sweet-smelling saint and Brisbane's oldest library to name a few - and all are accessible if you know where to find them.
Behind the GPO and in the grounds of St Stephen's Cathedral is Brisbane's oldest chapel c1850, designed by Gothic revivalist Pugin and still in use. Enter its sacred interior and the smell of camphor laurel fills the air, emanating from an extraordinary life size carving of Australia's first female saint – Mary MacKillop. Carved from camphor laurel and with a face carved from a jacaranda tree this is one of the city's must-sees, regardless of religious inclination.
St Stephen's Bell St Stephen's Cathedral
The original cathedral bell which now sits on its lonesome in the St Stephen's Cathedral grounds hails from the Whitechapel Foundry, the same place and during the same era that Big Ben was constructed. On a darker note the same foundry was situated in the back streets of Whitechapel and it was also happened to be the era when Jack the Ripper stalked victims during his murderous reign of terror and the bell was built behind the foundry's gates while he roamed the streets outside.
Brisbane's oldest collection of books can be found on the top floor of the oldest 1860's wing of Parliament House, designed by Charles Tiffin and can be accessed by the public as part of the visitor's tour. The library itself is an amazing time capsule of the first days of the state of Queensland, with the original shelving, furniture and ladders still in use and the stash of books, which are rotated between the McDonnell and State Library, are a fascinating study in the literature and writings of the time. As well as some of Captain Cook's journals, tomes by the explorers such as Oxley and Leichardt and a Spanish English dictionary from 1599 the library also houses the first edition of the state's original newspaper the Moreton Bay Courier, rare maps of the city and other historical documents.
Few shoppers who pound the pavements of Edward St by its intersection with Queen St would be aware that six stories above in the Macarthur Chambers building the Pacific War Effort was directed by US General Douglas Macarthur. It was here that strategic decisions were made that have ramifications for the Brisbane and Australia of today and not only is there a mini wartime museum on that floor but the office of General MacArthur remains intact as it was the last day he sat on its leather chair.
You don't need a secret handshake to enter the world of the masons and it's a good thing because behind the Corinthian columns of this grand Classic Greek style Masonic Temple lies an extraordinary hall that is worth a trek up the marble stairs to see. Vast in size, its roof is trimmed with gold leaf and its organ is one of the largest in the state.
This neo-Romanesque church squatting a city corner is not just one of the best example of this architectural style in the Southern hemisphere but St Andrew's is also a keeper of two significant historical items. One is a communion set that was used to celebrate communion at Gallipoli and the other a priceless worn collection of communion tokens used as communication by the persecuted during the Braveheart era in Scotland when their religion was banned.
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