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Brisbane General Post Office, 261-285 Queen St, Brisbane City, QLD, Australia

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List Commonwealth Heritage List
Class Historic
Legal Status Listed place (22/06/2004)
Place ID 105521
Place File No 4/01/001/0015
Summary Statement of Significance
The Brisbane General Post Office complex was established in 1872 to service the communications requirements of the colony of Queensland, a reflection of Queensland's increasing population and prosperity. Subsequent additions and extensions to the complex, including the telegraph office and the telephone exchange reflect the development of Queensland's post and telecommunications services, both as a colony and as part of the Commonwealth of Australia. The history of the complex mirrors that of the communications industry in Australia, including changes in technology and administration from 1872 to the present. (Criterion A.4. Australian Historic Themes 3.7 Establishing communications; 7.6 Administering Australia; 7.4 Federating Australia).

The Brisbane General Post Office, incorporating its twin building, the former Telegraph Office, is an important example of a large Nineteenth Century public building in the Italianate style, the work of former Queensland Colonial Architect F D G Stanley, who was responsible for a number of Brisbane's prominent early public buildings in Brisbane and regional Queensland. Its design features, including arcaded verandah and fine Italianate detailing, are complemented by the use of local sandstone and porphyry. Much of the original decor also remains, although some is concealed above false ceilings. The later Elizabeth Street building in the complex was designed in 1908 by another prominent Queensland architect, Thomas Pye, on behalf of the Commonwealth Postmaster General. It is a good example of a public building in the late Federation Free Classical style, with strong utilitarian elements (Criteria D.2, H.1).

The Brisbane General Post Office is important as a prominent historic public building complex in central Brisbane, a key meeting place and civic focus for Brisbane residents since 1872. It also sits within an important historic precinct in the city, combining with the early Twentieth Century Shrine of Remembrance and Anzac Square to form a prominent and central public space. The General Post Office contributes strongly to the aesthetic impact of this precinct and the wider Brisbane streetscape, as it has done since the 1870s. (Criteria A.4, E.1. Australian Historic Themes 4.14 Creating capital cities; 4.15 Developing city centres).

The Queensland Postal Honour Board is a significant fixture within the Brisbane General Post Office, although it is currently not affixed. It is important as a symbol of recognition of the wartime service of Queensland postal workers by their colleagues and families. The relief map of the Gallipoli Peninsula illustrates the profound impact that the Gallipoli campaign especially had for Australians, that people from all walks of life were affected by the loss of Australian lives. It is also significant for its excellent craftsmanship and design as a focus for the grief and remembrance of Queensland postal staff. (Criteria A.4, D.2, E.1; Australian Historic Themes 7.7 Defending Australia, 9.7.3 Remembering the dead).
Official Values
Criterion A Processes
The Brisbane General Post Office complex was established in 1872 to service the communications requirements of the colony of Queensland, a reflection of Queensland's increasing population and prosperity.  Subsequent additions and extensions to the complex, including the telegraph office and the telephone exchange reflect the development of Queensland's post and telecommunications services, both as a colony and as part of the Commonwealth of Australia.  The history of the complex mirrors that of the communications industry in Australia, including changes in technology and administration from 1872 to the present.
 
The Brisbane General Post Office is important as a prominent historic public building complex in central Brisbane, a key meeting place and civic focus for Brisbane residents since 1872.  It also sits within an important historic precinct in the city, combining with the early twentieth century Shrine of Remembrance and Anzac Square to form a prominent and central public space.  The General Post Office contributes strongly to the aesthetic impact of this precinct and the wider Brisbane streetscape, as it has done since the 1870s.
 
The Queensland Postal Honour Board is a significant object within the Brisbane General Post Office, although it is currently not affixed.  It is important as a symbol of recognition of the wartime services of Queensland postal workers by their colleagues and families.  The relief map of the Gallipoli Peninsula illustrates the profound impact that the Gallipoli campaign especially had for Australians, that people from all walks of life were affected by the loss of Australian lives.  It is also significant for its excellent craftsmanship and design as a focus for the grief and remembrance of Queensland postal staff.
 
Criterion B Rarity
The Brisbane GPO complex represents a rare grouping, within Brisbane, of historic public buildings of note and scale, arranged around a lane which connects two streets. It is an important example of formal urban open space design which resulted in the linking of a number of significant buildings to form a central city nucleus.

Criterion C Research
The Brisbane GPO site contains a potential archaeological resource which may explain aspects of the Female Factory/Police Court complex dating from 1828, demolished in 1876. Although disturbance of part of the site may have occurred during the 1870s construction of the GPO complex, any remains relating to this phase of occupation of the site are of sufficient age to be of importance in explaining Brisbane’s early history. Map overlays suggest that archaeological features relating to the 1828 Female Factory include a well, a kitchen, part of the outer boundary wall, and the single storey building which originally housed the female convicts.

Criterion D Characteristic values
The Brisbane GPO is among the most important works of civic architecture in Brisbane. The Brisbane GPO is the foremost representative of, and possibly a progenitor for, the major post offices of the period in Queensland, setting the standard for incorporation of such features as the tower, arcade and verandahs, all of which are found in other post offices in the state.
 
The Brisbane General Post Office, incorporating its twin building, the former Telegraph Office, is an important example of a large nineteenth century public building in the Italianate style, the work of former Queensland Colonial Architect FDG Stanley, who was responsible for a number of Brisbane's prominent early public buildings in Brisbane and regional Queensland.  Its design features, including arcaded verandah and fine Italianate detailing, are complemented by the use of local sandstone and porphyry.  Much of the original decor also remains, although some is concealed above false ceilings. 
 
The later Elizabeth Street building in the complex is a good example of a public building in the late Federation Free Classical style, with strong utilitarian elements. Brisbane General Post Office is an example of a Post office and telegraph office with quarters (second generation typology 1870–1929) and Italianate Style.
 
In terms of its original typology and planning, Brisbane GPO has undergone successive phases of expansion and development, including the original GPO of 1872; later 1870s works for the Telegraph Stores Building, clock tower base and Electric Telegraph Office; 1908–1910 works for enlargement of the building complex including a parcel post office fronting Elizabeth Street and a dead letter office to the northwest of it; ground floor additions between the GPO and parcel post building constructed between 1910 and 1949.  Internally, the GPO public space is completely remodelled; and a large new parcel-post building in 1927–9 which was constructed on the adjoining site to the northeast of the 1908 building.  Subsequent works and development have also occurred throughout the site, moving further away from the early configuration and program, but in response to the administrative and operational needs of the complex.

Criterion E Aesthetic characteristics
The Brisbane General Post Office is important as a prominent historic public building complex in central Brisbane, a key meeting place and civic focus for Brisbane residents since 1872.  It also sits within an important historic precinct in the city, combining with the early twentieth century Shrine of Remembrance and Anzac Square to form a prominent and central public space.  The General Post Office contributes strongly to the aesthetic impact of this precinct and the wider Brisbane streetscape, as it has done since the 1870s.

Criterion F Technical achievement
The Brisbane GPO, Queen Street building, constitutes a major work of civic architecture within Brisbane.  The development of the site up to 1911 also demonstrates a remarkable sophistication and a high level of creative and architectural merit. The Queen Street building (including the original General Post Office, Electric Telegraph Office, and the clock tower) comprise the major work of civic architecture in Brisbane and is a major work in the career of FDG Stanley, the most important 19th century architect to practice in Queensland. The significance of the GPO complex as an important civic establishment is demonstrated by the efforts put into creating a public square in front of it.
 
The Elizabeth Street building, although not a major public building, is a substantial work of city architecture. The development of the site up to 1911 under Thomas Pye, a prominent Queensland architect, demonstrates a remarkable sophistication for the relationship of the early 20th century components to the Victorian buildings.

Criterion G Social value
The Brisbane GPO has a high level of social significance due to its long running association with postal services and communication in the centre of Brisbane; its development and evolution reflecting changing requirements for the Brisbane community; and its prominence as a significant historic public building complex and key meeting place and civic focus for Brisbane residents since 1872.

Criterion H Significant people
The Brisbane General Post Office is an important example of the work of former Queensland Colonial Architect, FDG Stanley. The later Elizabeth Street building in the complex was designed in 1908 by another prominent Queensland (Government) architect, Thomas Pye, on behalf of the Commonwealth Postmaster General.
Description
Construction date:           1872-1908
Style:                                Victorian Italianate with free treatment of Baroque Revival (in details
                                         and Elizabeth Street composition)
Period:                             Federation c.1890 – c.1915
 
Structure and materials:
Original fabric
Refer also CMP, 2007
Levels:  Basement + 2 levels (1870s Queen Street buildings); 2 + 1 level (1878 Telegraph Stores); basement + 4 levels (1908 Elizabeth Street building).
Structural frame:  Load-bearing solid brick, porphyry and Brisbane freestone wall construction, masonry footings, timber-framed floor and king post truss roof framing, cast iron and timber-framed first floor verandahs (1870s);  Load-bearing brick walling on a freestone base, timber-framed floor and roof framing (1908 and 1910).
External walls:  Rendered ruled ashlar finish to main inner wall body with arched door and window openings with rendered hood and label mouldings, voussoirs (wedge-shaped part of arches) and keystones; coursed dressed Brisbane freestone to colonnade structure with rusticated vermiculated banding to piers (irregular shallow channels over the surface), freestone pediment to main entrance; pediment and six Corinthian columns in Murphy’s Creek stone (1870s);  polychrome face brickwork on rusticated freestone plinth with freestone dressings (1908 and 1910).
Internal walls:  Generally hard plastered brickwork or timber-framed cross partitions. 
Floor:  Concrete to colonnade and public spaces in GPO and Electric Telegraph Office (ETO) with timber-framed and boarded elsewhere; boards are variously beech or pine; moulded timber skirting boards.
Ceiling: Lathe and plaster with coffered bays to GPO and ETO public spaces; timber lining boards to arcade soffits
Roof:  Hipped form with slate cladding and ogee (S-shaped double curve) profile cast iron rainwater goods; rendered brick chimneys with moulded caps.
Other:  Panelled cedar doors, timber-framed double-hung sash windows, moulded polished cedar architraves and skirting boards, panelled cedar fireplace surrounds, polished cedar staircase opens to first floor hall with polished cedar panelled lantern dome.  Cast iron Corinthian columns to first floor verandahs with cast iron balustrade panels.  Services included water, gas, bells and speaking tubes.  Fitments included private boxes. 
 
The following is largely taken from the 2007 CMP:

The Brisbane GPO is a large complex of five interconnected buildings, located between Queen and Elizabeth Streets in the Brisbane Central Business District.  Primarily built over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the complex includes the General Post Office, the Electric Telegraph Office, the Parcel Post Building, the Operations Building and the Telegraph Stores.  The main frontage of the Brisbane GPO faces Queen Street, and is marked by a central clock tower base (the tower was never completed) with a sandstone arched opening flanked by twin Italianate buildings, the GPO and the ETO.  Below the two-storey clock tower, the arched entrance provides access to Post Office Lane, a pedestrian route linking Queen and Elizabeth Streets.  The site is further accessed by a network of lanes, Edison Lane from the north, Arcade Lane from the south, and Bank Lane and a right of way for delivery vehicle access from Elizabeth Street.  The complex is an imposing element in the surrounding precinct with clearly defined visual and physical links to other historic elements in the city including Central Station and St Stephen’s Cathedral.
 
The old General Post Office, constructed in 1872, was the first building of the GPO complex.  The building is a two-storey Italianate style brick, porphyry and sandstone construction located in the north-west corner of the site, with a sandstone colonnade arcade at ground level, on the north, south and west sides of the building.  A first floor verandah has a cast iron balustrade and Corinthian columns supported on sandstone plinths.  All window and door openings to the building are arched and elaborately decorated with plaster hood and label mouldings, as well as voussoirs and keystones.  The main entrance to the building is the central door of a triple projecting bay surmounted by a sandstone pediment with a central clock.
 
The old Electric Telegraph Office, built in 1879, mirrors the original old General Post Office building, and is located in the south-west corner of the site, facing Queen Street.
 
The original Parcel Post Building, constructed in 1908, is located in the north-east corner of the site, behind the old General Post Office building, facing Elizabeth Street.  Built in the Federation Free style, the building is constructed of polychrome brickwork set on a sandstone rusticated base with sandstone detailing to the main Elizabeth Street façade.  It was originally a two-storey building (excluding basement) with a third storey added at a later date.
 
The original Parcel Post Building is symmetrically arranged in line with the old General Post Office.  This is expressed by a sandstone segmental pediment over the central windows and two brick pilasters featuring Arts and Crafts sandstone panel reliefs depicting stylised paw paw and mango trees.  The fenestration to the building differs in size and shape for each level, containing a combination of square and arched windows.  The sandstone detailing to the building consists of large Helidon sandstone archways with keystones at the ground floor, three sandstone horizontal bands, sandstone hood mouldings with elongated keystones at the first floor level and sandstone architraves to window openings on the second floor.  A continuous sandstone cornice runs below the pediment line.  The front section of the building is covered by a transverse gable roof expressed in the parapet with a tall metal ventilator located centrally on the ridge of this roof.
 
The Operations Building, built in 1910, is located between the old Electric Telegraph Office and Telegraph Stores building. This is a two-storey building with similar architectural details to the Original Parcels Building, constructed of polychrome brickwork in the Federation Free style.
 
The old Telegraph Stores, facing Elizabeth Street, was built in 1878.  Constructed of rendered and painted brick on a sandstone base, it was originally a two-storey building, with a third floor added c.1889.  A central arched opening is located on the ground floor, providing vehicular access to the rear.  The building is separated into three portions with a central recessed bay. A clerestory with a central ventilator is located on the galvanised iron roof.
 
History
In 1829 the convict settlement of Moreton Bay was serviced by a dedicated post office located in the Commissariat Stores near Queen’s Wharf on the Brisbane River.  Following the official closure of the settlement in 1839, the Commandant’s postmaster, William White transferred the post office to his house and carried out the postal duties until 1842.  Following free settlement and land sales, the Post Office was located in the former Superintendent of Convicts’ quarters in Queen Street [further south from the present site].  By 1852, demand necessitated the establishment of a full-time postmaster, a role first undertaken by Captain JE Barney.
 
In 1859, the northern districts of New South Wales separated to form the Crown colony of Queensland; in 1860 Brisbane Post Office was upgraded to ‘General Post Office’.  Despite this, the postal service was operated according to the New South Wales Acts until the first act relating to postage was passed in Queensland in 1870.
 
Plans were prepared for a new GPO in 1871 and the site chosen formed part of the former Moreton Bay Female Factory, constructed as a women’s prison in 1828.  Francis Drummond Greville Stanley, Colonial Architect from 1873-1881, designed the building while employed as the Lands Department’s Chief Clerk of Works under Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin.  The tender for construction was awarded to local builder, John Petrie in December 1871 and the GPO was officially opened for business on the 28th September 1872.  This first stage of building included the two-storey section at the northeast corner of the complex; the original design, including a central linking clock tower element and matching Telegraph Department building was completed in 1876 and 1879 respectively.  The clock tower base was never extended to its proposed full height. 
 
As postal delivery modes and technologies changed over the next three decades, a number of alterations and additions took place and ancillary buildings were erected to the southeast of the original GPO and ETO buildings.  These included stables, stores, toilets, change rooms and workshops. By the mid 1890s, the need for enlarged facilities for the combined Post and Telegraph Department was pressing, particularly the need for more parcel post area.  Colonial Architect, AB Brady prepared sketches and estimates however no action was taken.  The Elizabeth Street offices and the two attached buildings behind it were ultimately a flow-on from a 1900 design competition to extend FDG Stanley’s original GPO of 1871.  The competition designs tended toward duplicating the original building and extending it upward, but the winning design, by John Barr of Sydney, proved too expensive and with the institution of Federation no action was undertaken.  
 
At least one Queensland Government architect, George D Payne, submitted an entry in this competition, and Payne gained third place.  Watson and McKay (1994, p. 140) note that Payne had worked in close collaboration with Thomas Pye previously, as in the Customs Houses at Rockhampton and Townsville.  But though appointed Pye’s chief design assistant in the Queensland southern district, Payne formally left the Government architect’s office in late 1902 to complete his notable St Andrew’s Church (Freeland, 1968, Johnson, 1980, Hamann, 1985, v. 3, Watson and McKay, 1994, p. 141), so at most he would have had an indirect role in the Elizabeth Street building. 
 
In 1908 a new four storey building was finally constructed facing Elizabeth Street for the Parcels Post Office.  Separated by a narrow open yard, a new two-storey Operations Building was constructed behind the original Electric Telegraph Office building in 1910.  These arrangements stayed in place until 1922, when an adjoining site was acquired and remodelled to house the Parcel Post Office; this provided space in the original Parcel Post Building for private letter boxes.  A new Central Telephone Exchange was constructed on the adjacent site to the east.  With the exception of some alterations and additions and internal relocations, no further major work was carried out until a conservation program was commenced in the 1970s.
 
Architect                          FDG Stanley; AB Brady and Thomas Pye, Government Architects.
Summary of use               General Post Office; Electric Telegraph Office; Telephone Exchange
 
The development of the Brisbane GPO is well documented in both Roderick’s 1987 Conservation Analysis and the 2008 Management Plan and can be summarised thus:
1872:  Original GPO building completed.
By 1878:  Single-storey rear additions had been made to the GPO building and the internal configuration of the ground floor areas had been altered, including relocation of the private boxes from the front corner of the building to the eastern side and reorientation of the public space.  The first floor areas remained intact in plan form.  The western half of the Telegraph Stores Building had been constructed at the southwest corner of the site and the adjoining clock tower base and Electric Telegraph Office building were under construction, as were various stores, workshops and amenities in the rear yard. 
1879:  Electric Telegraph Office (Queen Street building) was opened including a single-storey telegraph operating room behind, and a two-storey frontage to the Elizabeth Street Telegraph Stores Building was constructed.
By 1885:  Various ancillary facilities built in the rear yard including stables, electric power station, harness room, residence, yards, stalls, toilets, fodder store and fitting shop.
1908-1910:  Extensive phase of enlargement of the building complex including a basement + 3-level parcel post office fronting Elizabeth Street, a basement + 4-level dead letter office to the northwest of it and a 2-level addition to the rear of the GPO.  The former Telegraph Stores building was also altered to provide additional toilet facilities and a battery room.  An enlarged two-storey operations building was constructed at the rear of the ETO in place of the 1879 operating room.  The ground floor areas of additions between the GPO and parcel post building were constructed between 1910 and 1949.  Internally, the GPO public space was completely remodelled; this work included relocation of the main stair, enlargement of the counter area and public space, and enlargement and reorganisation of the mail receiving and sorting room into the new rear addition. 
1927-9:  A large new Parcel Post building was constructed on the adjoining site to the northeast of the 1908 building which allows the original to be refurbished to accommodate the private letter boxes.  The colonnades and stairs were demolished from the southwest side of the ETO, in association with construction of the neighbouring Commonwealth Bank, and Bank Lane was developed along the southwest boundary of the old telegraph stores building.  The 1910 Operations Building was converted for use as a money order office and public space and the open yard between this and the original ETO was enclosed as a light well.  A Central Automatic Telephone Exchange building was constructed on an adjoining site to the southwest of the Telegraph Stores, facing Elizabeth Street.
1943-4:  A second floor addition was constructed above the Telegraph Operations building and the southern end of Post Office Lane was ‘roofed’ with a second floor level link. 
By 1956:  Further alterations were made including a first floor infill area directly behind the clock tower, linking the two first floor verandah areas, a mail truck yard and receiving lane to the northwest of the original parcel post building and various changes to the internal planning and use of the former Telegraph Stores building.  Interior alterations and refurbishment to the GPO included incorporating the eastern colonnade into the ground floor public space as part of reorganisation of the mail handling areas.  The money order office was enlarged across the former lightwell and into the rear of the original ETO to incorporate space for pensions, accounts and stamp sales.  The remaining lightwell area was incorporated into an enlarged public telephone room in the ETO.  The Parcel Post Office is relocated from the site to the northeast of the 1908 Parcels Office to an off-site location in Roma Street. 
1965:  The adjoining site housing and the 1929 Parcel Post Office was redeveloped and the Edison Telephone Exchange was constructed on the site. 
1970s:  Internally, the ground floor GPO area was completely reconfigured, reorienting the counter area in a north-south direction into the 1908 GPO addition and relocating the money order and pensions into this space from the 1910 operations building.  The former operations building and ETO ground floor area was adapted and refurbished for clerical use and machinists.  The private letter box area in the former Parcel Post office was reconfigured and refurbished and the telegraph Stores building was again reorganised.  An extensive program of conservation works was carried out.
1980s:  General refurbishment
2005:  External revenue tenancies established in original ETO ground floor area.
Condition and Integrity
Externally, Brisbane GPO’s ability to demonstrate its original design and subsequent significant development is exceptionally good with regard to the architectural conception, principal materials and detail.  The interrelationship between individual components of the complex, however, has been blurred by the extensive program of infill building and alterations.  With reference to the CMP, the exterior has been well-maintained and reflects well its aesthetic and stylistic attributes.  Cumulative works have resulted in the loss of some architectural detail, such as removal of the southern colonnade, timber window shutters and slate roofing, cement rendering of the ground floor level and painted wall surfaces of the old Telegraph Stores building in Elizabeth Street. 
 
Internally, cumulative works throughout the building, particularly with regard to the ever-changing program and planning of the place have diminished the legibility of the operations of the place and integrity of original finishes.  Similarly, works in relation to use and technology such as installation of floor linings, partition walls, suspended ceilings, mechanical ducting, joinery and other details have resulted in the loss of original fabric and fittings.  Nevertheless, large areas of the interior of the buildings are still able to demonstrate the GPO’s original design and subsequent significant development.
 
Notwithstanding the above, internally and externally the building appears to be in sound condition with no major defects visible. (2008)
Location
261-285 Queen Street through to Elizabeth Street, Brisbane City.
Bibliography
Queensland Heritage Register Citation 600148

Roderick, D. 1987. Brisbane General Post Office: conservation analysis and guidelines.

Walker, M.,(1983). Historic Post Offices in Queensland – National Estate Study. Department of Architecture, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Pearson, M, J Lennon, D Marshall and B O'Keefe, 1999. National Federation Heritage Project: Identification and Assessment consultancy. NEGP report for Heritage Victoria.

Mackay, J, 1985. Lest We Forget. NEGP Study Report.
 
City of Brisbane Heritage Register planning scheme: policy. Warmington and Ward, 1989, vol. 1
 
EJM Weller, ‘General Post Office, Brisbane’, in Australian Council of National Trusts, Historic Public Buildings of Australia.
 
Clive Lucas, Stapleton and Partners Pty. Ltd, 2008, Brisbane General Post Office, Queen and Elizabeth Streets, Brisbane, Management Plan.

Report Produced  Sat Apr 19 12:48:50 2014