United Service Club 70th Anniversary at Wickham Terrace
Our President, Major Paul Doyle; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen. It is Kaye’s and my very great pleasure to be with you tonight to celebrate the United Service Club’s, “our” Club’s, seventy-year association with these two iconic Brisbane buildings It will be an honour for me to unveil two plaques as a visible and tangible historical record of the occasion.
Unveiling the name plaques has particular present resonance for Kaye and me. That is because the original ‘Montpelier’, built on this site in 1864, was designed by Benjamin Backhouse. Benjamin Backhouse was the architect who designed the hill-top home which, today, is Queensland’s Government House and is, flor these few years, our home.
The client who engaged Backhouse in the eighteen-sixties was a successful German immigrant, Johann Heussler, who named his home ‘Fernberg’ – ‘distant mountain’ in German.
I think the perspective would have been from the principal settlement, a small town in the 1860s.
What would Fernberg be? – all of 5 kilometres or so from our present CBD; but then it would, in 1865, have been perceived as quite distant, a knoll to be reached via long and relatively deserted dusty tracks.
That name “Fernberg” was proudly perpetuated by the next owner of the house, the businessman and Member of the Legislative Assembly, John Stevenson. As the resident even as long ago as 140 years down the track, I still presume, I suppose, to use the word ‘perpetuated’, but I’ll do so nonetheless!
Stevenson even had the name ‘Fernberg’ displayed in relief above the grand entrance which he added to the house in the 1890s. And it was Stevenson who commissioned the wonderful stained glass rendition of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, above the central staircase.
‘Fernberg’ became Government House in 1910, upon government acquisition, and the name remained above the entry until 1920. It was in 1920 that anti-German sentiment in the aftermath of World War One led to the decision to remove all traces of it from the entrance. It was never restored.
And that of course brings up the whole vexed question of the re-writing of history – but you will be relieved to hear I won’t be going down that path tonight; though I as Governor refer to the place as Fernberg whenever I relevantly can.
The story of ‘Fernberg’ makes me doubly pleased that the United Service Club, of which Kaye and I are so fond, has decided to honour the long history of ‘Montpelier’ by displaying the name at the entry and renaming the former ‘Montpelier Room’ in honour of the Club’s founding President, Major General John F. Owen.
How refreshing, how reassuring, that our Club Committee maintains a close and vigilant eye on the history and heritage of the place.
I have been a member now, with Kaye’s support, for I think 48 of my 68 years. It has been a wonderful Club, thanks to its proud members led by successive dedicated committees, committees marked by their progressiveness, and also by their respect for the traditions of the Club – markedly evident tonight.
As Patron, now over many years, I always relish with Kaye attendance at United Service Club events. They are occasions invariably memorable for the wonderful Queenslanders we meet and the spirit of service and friendliness which denotes them – so plain very recently at the Anzac Day luncheon.
And so tonight our recognition encompasses both the proud military service of many of our members, yet extends beyond that into the service the members of this fine club render to our State in many areas, including, importantly as we recognise tonight, through the preservation of our heritage.
Our history is so important. On behalf of all Queenslanders, I thank the President, life members, current and past committee members, and all members of this great Queensland club, for their commitment to the preservation of these historic buildings. I very much look forward to hearing more about that during Brigadier McNab’s presentation following tonight’s toast.
Finally, and more broadly, may I thank you all for honouring the contribution of the many men and women who have been part of this quintessential Queensland club, a club characterised by enterprise, opportunity and foresight – a heritage spanning more than one hundred and fifty years. Thank you.