Brisbane’s oldest building has many facets to its sometimes dark and brutal history - built by convicts in the late 1820s, it is not just the longest surviving convict building but also the oldest windmill in existence in Australia.
At first seen as a folly due its ill-conceived often windless location, it morphed into a symbol of dread and torture as penal Commandant Patrick Logan used convicts to work a treadmill he had constructed to keep the arms turning in lieu of wind. As a punishment they would be set to work in 8kg leg irons for fourteen hours straight and in the burning sun to keep the maize grinding. Wearing only rough leather hats for protection they had to grasp an overhead rail using both hands and walk the 23cm wide steps continuously and if they missed a beat they’d be hit on the shins with the next step as it rose. The only way of getting off early was to collapse.
Andrew Petrie, the notable early settler and builder described how he would be disturbed by the constant ‘click click’ sound of the convicts’ irons as they tried to keep in step.
During that era two Aboriginal prisoners were hanged from a high window for the general public and their fellow tribesmen to see. The crime was the killing of a surveyor Granville Stapylton and his convict assistant William Tuck in 1840 in the coastal area south of Brisbane. Tuck was buried on the spot and Stapylton was buried in Brisbane’s first burial ground (now the park E McCormick Place) adjacent to William Jolly Bridge.
The mill continued to operate in the early days of free settlement and in 1861 became a signal station. From 1866 to 1894 a time gun went off at 1pm every day to announce the time and from 1894 to the 1950s a copper time ball (which still sits on the roof) was dropped at 1pm every day.
Significantly it was here in 1934 that the first television signals in the southern hemisphere were transmitted and this pioneering TV broadcasting continued up until World War II.
From the outside the windmill tower gives little indication that inside there are five floors, with a hexagonal staircase winding around an inner pole and up to the observation deck. The tiny windows just below the deck are a unique feature designed to let light into the top floor.
The Old Windmill Tower will be open to the public for a pre-booked tour at this year's Open House,