Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Tower in My Grandparents' Garden - Places in our Lives

The Heritage Listed Paddington Water Tower, Brisbane

Paddington Water Tower,  Sharn White 2015 ©

When I was growing up in Brisbane, I thought nothing extraordinary about my grandparents having a 70 foot high water tower in their garden at 16 Garfield Drive, Paddington Heights, Brisbane. Many years later, looking back on my childhood, I realised that I had not understood the significance of the tower as a city landmark or as a fragment of the city of Brisbane's history.  knew as a child, that my grandfather was employed by the Brisbane Water Board and that his job was connected to the Brisbane water supply. On many occasions, he took me with him to show me how to check the  water levels in the various city water reservoirs. 

Perhaps I have misplaced a childish awareness of the water tower's purpose over the years. Although the Paddington Water Tower is interwoven in the fabric of my childhood memories, I don't recall knowing anything about its history. What I do remember clearly is that the tower presented a significant personal challenge to me, since I was determined to climb to the top! When I was found scaling the ladder, my grandfather cleverly clad the lower section of the ladder in slippery sheet metal. As I grew older (and even more determined to climb the tower), the metal cladding was added to, higher up the ladder. My grandfather must have had the patience of Job! He never once scolded me, as he repeatedly placed and removed that metal covering in order to climb the tower for his work. I see now the depth of my grandparent's love.

 Sharn White 2015 ©

The concrete water tower stood to the side of, and overlooked the Queenslander house in which my grandparents lived in. I know now, that the house was provided by the City Metropolitan Water Board for my grandfather to live in because my grandfather had the responsibility of taking care of the water tower. In my childhood, the house at 16 Garfield Drive, with a huge mango tree magisterial in the back garden, a  panoramic view of much of the city and the water tower beside it, was simply my grandparents' home. I was close my paternal grandparents and I spent many school holidays staying with them. For a year, when I turned 6, we lived beside the water tower at number 16 Garfield Drive with my grandparents, while we built a new home at The Gap.  

The Paddington Tower, sits affectionately among my childhood memories - sometimes it was an imagined fort, other times a castle. Its strong concrete columns were perfect to hide a child playing hide and seek. The tower was an integral element of the garden, beneath which and around the columns of, my sisters and myself, cousins and neighbourhood children played.

As a young child, I was unaware that the Paddington Water Tower was a prominent Brisbane landmark. Its wonderment to me was that it simply existed my grandparents' garden, monumental among the fruit trees and frangipanis. I never thought to ask why it was there.

 Sharn White ©

In 2015, I returned on a brief visit to Brisbane and I took a drive to 16 Garfield Drive to revisit the house and garden which had afforded me many pleasant childhood memories. The tower and the land on which it stands had been fenced off from the house. The house, now numbered 14 Garfield Drive, was undergoing significant renovations. Places of the past are significant to me as a family historian, and on this visit, as  I looked at the water tower, I saw it with a different perpective to my childish view. While it had always existed as an important part of my own life and identity, I suddenly realised the tower as a significance  element of the history and identity of  Brisbane City.

Google Earth Pro view of the Paddington Water Tower
Sitting in my hire car, parked beside the water tower, with time to spare before my flight back to Sydney, I wondered why I had not thought to research the water tower before this. I googled the Paddington Water Tower on my iphone and  discovered that the tower had been State Heritage Listed on June 23, 2000. Obviously, it had long been regarded as a significant Brisbane landmark. Reading government websites and blogs, it occurred to me that while I remembered the the water tower as a place of significance in my childhood, I had overlooked its valid place in the city of Brisbane's history.

The Queensland Heritage Register informed me that the Paddington Water Tower was constructed in 1927, (the important interwar period) and was State Listed on June 23 2000, based on the following criteria: [1]

Criterion A

The place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland's history. 

Paddington Water Tower is important in demonstrating a phase in the history of Brisbane's water supply and the technological difficulties of providing reticulated water to elevate sites.

Criterion B

The place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland's cultural heritage,

The Paddington Water Tower is a rare example of an elevated reinforced concrete water tank. It is probably the only one of its type in Queensland being a reinforced concrete tank elevated on concrete columns.

Criterion E

The place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The Paddington Water Tower is important for its aesthetic qualities as a readily recognisable landmark. It is one of Brisbane's most prominent landmarks.

The Telegraph, 26 January 1929, Trove [1]

If you are interested in Brisbane City's history, you may read a charming account of the Brisbane suburb of Paddington, "Paddington - Its Charms and Contrasts", from the Sunday Mail, 6 January 1929, [2] from the National Library of Australia's digitised newspaper website, Trove. This article declared that 'Even the Paddington Water Tower, perched on a hill near the tram terminus, is a rather handsome structure, as reservoirs go, giving the impression that the Water Board and the Sewerage Board felt the attractiveness of this portion of the district, and took exceptional care not to disfigure it by erecting the usual ugly structure that makes an artificial water basin an eyesore instead of an attractive acquisition to a district.'

Image Sunday Mail 6 January 1929, Trove

My grandparents moved from the Paddington house in the late 1960's and my grandfather passed away in 1969. I left Brisbane in the mid 1970's and the water tower was no longer a part of my life. When I returned to visit in 2015, with the intrigue and curiousity of a family historian, I realised that as much as the Paddington Water Tower had been a part of my childhood, it must have occupied a much significant role in my grandfather's life. As an adult returning to this place of my childhood, I felt remiss, that I lived with this fragment of Brisbane City's heritage right beside me, and I knew so little of its history. 

The Paddington Water Tower from Macgregor Terrace, Brisbane 1929.
 Image Unknown - Macgregor Terrace in Bardon, ca. 1929[3],
 John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, 1929, Wikipedia Public Domain.

Newspapers are filled with a wealth of historical information, so I turned to the National Library of Australia's website, Trove [4] to find information about the Paddington Water Tower. In my search, I came across a construction drawing, (pictured below), that appeared in the Brisbane Telegraph, 7 July 1927, in which is shown a small pumphouse below the tower. Memories flooded back from my childhood, of a small building that sat below the water tower, and from which I recall a persistant humming noise resonating. I do not remember understanding that little building encircled by my grandmother's cumquat trees was a pumphouse. Perhaps I was told and I have since forgotten, for as children we are apt to take much for granted. The little pumphouse, perched among the spreading cumquat trees, was simply the place where I helped my grandmother pick fruit for making jam.

"Water Tower for Padington", Telegraph, 7 July 1927, Trove

The news article accompanying the plans for the tower's construction provided the following  information about the water tower itself:

'In a few months the skyline of Brisbane's Western Range of hills will be broken by a huge water storage tank, which the Water Supply and Sewerage Board intends placing on top of a tower over 70 feet high, now being erected on the crest of Rutledge's Hill, Paddington. It is expected that the work, which commenced in January, will be finished in September. The top of the tank will be 342 feet above sea level. The object of the tower is to give an adequate supply of water to residents living on and around Paddington Heights. At the present time the pressure in the mains is too weak. Consequently, if water is being freely used in the lowlands, a supply cannot reach the higher levels. The cost of the tower and tank, which will have a capacity of 100,000 gallons, also alterations to the mains will be about 12.000 pounds. The water will be pumped into the tower from the ordinary mains, the machinery for this being installed in a building at the foot of the tower. The tank, which will be constructed of reinforced concrete, will rest on 12 pillars of the same material. The highest structure of the kind hitherto constructed by the Board is only 202 feet above sea level.'[5]

The Paddington Water Tower was clearly unique as a water tower, in its design and height.

 Sharn White 2015 ©

The Queensland Government website where I found the Water Tower's Heritage Listing provided me with a comprehensive history of the tower,[3]  I discovered that the house my grandparents had lived in was especially built beside the water tower, for the Water Board's turncock to live in. The turncock was the person who had the responsibility of maintaining the water level in the tank. The Oxford Dictionary definition of a turncock is - 'A waterworks official responsible for turning on water at the mains.' [6]  

This job description brought to mind a story that my grandmother had told me many years ago when she explained to me why my grandfather had not fought in World War II. According to my grandmother, he was prevented from  enlisting in the army, although he had attempted to, because he was needed in Brisbane for the important role of keeping the city supplied with water. My grandfather was accordingly unhappy that this was his only contribution to the war effort, particularly as he had brothers overseas fighting. Consequently, he arrived home regularly, with American soldiers, having met them over an after work beer, and having invited them to enjoy my grandmother's home cooking. My grandmother never minded, and somehow managed to make the meals extend to the unexpected guests. I began to see that there were layers of significance that the Paddington Water Tower had for my grandparents as well as for Paddington and the city of Brisbane. 

The Paddington Water Tower, Sharn White 2015 ©

Newspaper reports covering many years, tell the story of a continuing problem of water supply to Paddington in Brisbane. The earliest account I found was in the  Brisbane Telegraph, which published a letter written by Arthur Rutledge, a resident of Garfield Drive, in which he complained about the lack of water supply to Paddington. This letter, of 16 January 1882,  provides some insight into the problems that existed with getting a water supply to the elevated suburb of Paddington Heights. Sir Arthur Rutledge, a Queensland barrister and politician who lived in Garfield Drive, (alternatively known as Rutledge's Hill and Archibald's Hill) was the author of the letter below, addressed to 'The Board of Waterworks'. [7]

The Telegraph, 26 January 1882, Trove

Below, is the reply to Mr Rutledge  from Lewis A Bernays, Secretary of the Board of Waterworks, detailing the intended solution to the problem of extending the water supply to  Paddington Heights. The intention was to replace an existing 3 inch main with a 6 inch one on Petrie Terrace. 

Reply to Mr Rutledge, The Telegraph, 26 January 1882, Trove [7]

It appears from further news reports, that little success was achieved by the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Board to improve the supply of water to the affluent elevated Brisbane suburb of Paddington Heights after Mr Rutledge's public complaint in 1882. In 1911, 29 years later, another notable resident of Paddington Heights, Sir Arthur Morgan, also corresponded with the Board concerning the same issue. [8] The Brisbane Courier published an article pictured below, in which it was explained that 'A communication was received from Sir Arthur Morgan [9] complaining of the board's failure to supply water to his residence at Upper Paddington.'[10]

The Brisbane Courier, 19 April 1911, Trove [10]

Just how severe the water shortage in Paddington and surrounding elevated areas of Brisbane was, can be seen in a news article which the Maryborough Chronicle carried on February 17, 1912. Here it was stated, with regard to the residents of Paddington and Red Hill in Brisbane, that 'Those people of Brisbane have no hope of water through the day. Only at night is there any possibility of supply, and even then the actuality often ends in expectation.'[11] 

Maryborough Chronicle 17 February 1912, Trove[12]

More than 40 years later, the article below, the Brisbane Water Board was still responding to complaints to the water crisis in Paddington Heights. The following report which appeared in the Daily Standard, on 3 June 1925, shows that water supply problems to Paddington had still not been resolved and that Paddington Heights 'residents could not get enough water for a showerbath'.[9] Residents of Paddington had been fighting for an adequate water supply to their homes for over 40 years.

Daily Standard, 3 June 1925, Trove [11]

 "PADDINGTON WATER SUPPLY, The Engineer stated that the question of an improved water supply to Paddington was a very complicated one. He had not been able to get on with this work, but he anticipated that full plans and particulars would be ready by the end of August."

Telegraph, 15 July 1925, Trove [13]

If the residents of Paddington, who were unable to take a warm 'showerbath' in the middle of the July winter were happy to read the above news, their joy was to be short lived. In December of 1925, the Brisbane Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board was still making promises with regard to the 'urgency' of improving the water supply to Paddington. [10]  The news items I have presented here are just a few of the numerous articles which appeared regularly in Brisbane and other Queensland newspapers year after year, all filled with complaints about the difficulties of supplying water to Paddington. These and other news reports found on Trove, have provided me with a timeline of events leading to the construction of the water tower at 16 Garfield Drive.

The Telegraph, 9 December 1925, Trove [14]

It must have been with considerable relief that Paddington residents finally witnessed the commencement of construction of the Water Tower on the top of Rutledge's Hill at 16 Garfield Drive in 1926. "The New Water Tank at Rutledge's Hill, Paddington Heights" promised to "increase the water supply of Paddington and adjacent areas." [15] The Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board had been promising this service for over 40 years while residents endured little or no water supply to homes in an otherwise affluent suburb of Brisbane. The Brisbane newspaper, The Telegraph, [15] proudly displayed the water tower under construction in September 1926 (pictured below). The article further below, in March 1927, from the Daily Standard, proclaimed the tower to be a  'new landmark' for Brisbane city.

The Telegraph, 4 September 1926, Trove [15]

Daily Standard, 5 March 1927, Trove [16]

My grandfather, Colin Hamilton McDade, arrived in Brisbane, Queensland, from Glasgow in mid 1923 on the ship Largs Bay. Along with his father and brothers, the 21 year old had left behind a hard life as a Scottish coal miner. He settled in Brisbane finding work with the Metropolitan Water Board as a labourer.  I found my grandfather in the Australian Electoral Rolls on  and discovered that while the water tower at Paddington was being constructed, he was living in Bellevue Street, Milton only 2.3 km down the hill from Garfield Drive, via Fernberg Road. It is very likely that my grandfather watched the water tower being built. Working for the Metropolitan Water Board, in 1927, he would surely have understood the the tower's significance to the Brisbane city water supply, although in all likelihood he would not have known that he three decades later, would be living beside it, and responsible for it as well as a number of Brisbane's other water reservoirs.

Garfield Drive to Milton.  Google Maps

Paddington Water Tower from Fernberg Road, Google Maps

To learn more about my grandfather's career with the Brisbane Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board I am planning to visit the Queensland State Archives where the Board's records are held [17]  and so that story awaits a future blog post.

  Queensland State Archives Website [17]

The Paddington Water Tower was officially opened in March of 1927 with a "ceremony of importance to the residents of Paddington".[18] 
"A marquee had been erected on the gounds upon which refreshments were provided and a number of toasts honoured." [18]

Finally, after a struggle spanning almost 50 years, by residents of Paddington to have a water supply to their homes, "the power for the motor which hoists the water into the tank was then switched on by Mr. J.J. Roberts, who referred to Paddington Heights as the dress circle of Brisbane,"[18]

The president of the Metropolitan Water Board, Mr. E.J.T. Manchester declared that 
"it had always been the aim of the Water Board to afford facilities to the residents on elevated land to be given a full water supply,"[18]

The following news report which appeared in the Brisbane Telegraph on 5 March 1927, dates the construction of the house in which my grandparents lived, to after the opening of the tower itself.[19] 

The Telegraph, 5 March 1927, Trove [19]

"It is proposed to erect a caretaker's cottage beside the tank, a tender for this work having been accepted. The surroundings will be beautified by gardens."[19]

 My grandparents moved into the house, numbered 16 Garfield Drive, Paddington Heights between 1954 and 1958 when they appear on the Australian Electoral Roll residing there. Prior to the move to Garfield Drive, and after their marriage in 1930, my grandparents lived at 49 Lewin Street, Bardon. Google Maps calculates the walk from Lewin Street to the nearest shops and the tram stop, in Macgregor Terrace as 12 minutes. I know from my grandmother's anecdotes that she regularly caught the tram from Macgregor Terrace to the city to do her shopping, so the water tower in Garfield Drive would have been a familiar sight to her long before she lived in the house beside it. Each time she caught a tram to the city and back she would have seen the water tower at the top of Garfield Drive. I can only assume that she never once imagined that she would one day live in the 'dress circle' [18] of Paddington Heights, Brisbane right next to the tower.

View of the Paddington Water Tower from Macgregor terrace heading towards Brisbane CBD, Image Google Maps.

A closer view of the Paddington Water Tower travelling along Macgregor Terrace towards the City

The places where we and our ancestors have lived and belonged to are an inherent part of our own identity - of who we are. Understanding the history of the places we relate to, helps us to have a better sense of belonging, and some understanding of our own place in history. When I visited the Paddington Water Tower in 2015, I was visiting a place I had belonged to in the past. By researching the water tower I have been able to place myself, my family and my grandparents within an historical context of the the city of Brisbane where I grew up.

Extra Reading

The Rockhampton, Morning Bulletin published  An Historical View of Brisbane's water supply on 8 March 1828.


1. The Telegraph, "Water Towers", 26 January 1929, p 4., Trove, National Library
    accesed 19 September 2017.

2.. Sunday Mail, "Do you know your Brisbane - Paddington its Charm and Contrasts", 6 January
    1929, p. 4., Trove, National Library of Australia,  
   accessed 19 September 2017.

3. Photograph, "The Paddington Water Tower from Macgregor Terrace, Brisbane ,1929"
    Image Unknown Macgregor Terrace in Bardon,  ca. 1929[3], John Oxley Library, State Library 
    of Queensland, 1929, Wikipedia Public Domain.

4. Brisbane Telegraph, "Water Tower for Paddington", 7 July 1927, p. 16., Trove, National Library 
    of  Australia,

5. Queensland Government Website, Heritage Register, "Paddington Water Tower," History,
     register/detail/?id=601831# / accessed 20 September 2017.

6. English Living Oxford Dictionaries, "Turncock",
     accessed 29 September 2017.

7. Telegraph, "Paddington Water Supply", 16 January 1882, p 2., Trove, National Library
    followup=8fe039342cad2ae9bc05e21baae3caf3&print=true / accessed 30 September 2017.

8. Brisbane Courier, "Water and Sewerage Board, Upper Paddington Water Supply", 19 April
    1911,  Trove, National Library of Australia,
    searchTerm=paddington%20water%20supply&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland# accessed
    18 September 2017.

9. Australian Dictionary of Biography, "Morgan, Sir Arthur", (1856-1916) / accessed 2 October 2017.

10. The Brisbane Courier, "Water and Sewerage Board, Paddington Water Supply", 19
    April 1911, p. 3., Trove, National Library of Australia,
    searchTerm=paddington%20water%20supply&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland# /
    acessed 17 September 2017.

11. Maryborough Chronicle, "Water Supply," 17 February 1912, p. 5., Trove, National Library of 
    2 October 2017.
12. Daily Standard, "Paddington Heights, Water Supply Problems", 3 June 1925, p. 1., Trove, 
    National Library of Australia,  
    searchTerm=paddington%20water&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland# / accessed 1 October 2017.

13. The Telegraph, "Paddington Water Supply", 15 July 1925, p. 16., Trove, National Library of
    earchTerm=paddington%20water&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland# / accessed 3 October 2017.

14. The Telegraph, "Paddington Heights, Water Supply Urgency", p. 15., Trove, National Library of
    searchTerm=paddington%20water&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland# accessed 30 September

15. The Telegraph,"Improving Paddington Water Supply", 4 September 1926, p. 14., Trove, National    Library of Australia,      
    followup=e33ab58d7d2dbaa28aff2477c13f1014&print=true / accessed 1 October 2017.

16. Daily Standard, "New Landmark, Water Tower on Paddington Heights", p. 6., Trove,
    National Library of Australia,
    searchTerm=paddington%20water%20tower&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland# /
    accessed 17 September 2017.

17. Queensland State Archives, Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board, Agency ID 1385,
    accessed 1 October 2017. 

18. Brisbane Courier, "NEW WATER TOWER, Paddington to Benefit", 5 March 1927, p. 7.,
    Trove, National Library of Australia,
    searchTerm=Paddington%20water%20tower&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland# /
    accessed 1 October 2017.

19. The Telegraph, "New Tower at Paddington, The Official Opening", 5 March 1927, p. 9.,
    Trove, National Library of Australia,
    searchTerm=Paddington%20water%20tower&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland /
    accessed 4 October 2017.

Other Sources 

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Bernays, Lewis Adolphus (1831-1908),  / accessed
    1 October 2017.

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Morgan, Sir Arthur (1856-1916), / accessed 2 October 2017.

Morning Bulletin, City of Brisbane, "The Water Supply, An Historical Review", 8 March 1928,
    p.4., Trove, National Library of Australia, 
    searchTerm=Paddington%20water%20tower&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland# / accessed 1
    October 2017.

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Rutledge, Sir Arthur (1843-1917), / accesed 2 October 2017.

Queensland Government Website, Queensland Heritage Register, Significance, "Paddington Water Tower"
  register/detail/?id=601831# / accessed 20 September 2017.

Your Brisbane: Past and Present,  Paddington Water Tower, / accesssed 25
    September 2017.

Wikipedia, Paddington Water Tower, ,
    accessed 19 September 2017.

Wikipedia, Sir Arthur Morgan, Queensland Politician, / accessed 29 September


  1. As always, well researched and a great story o go with it...

    1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGs in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

      Thank you, Chris

    2. Apologies, incorrect link...

      I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

      Thank you, Chris

  2. What a wonderful article. However noticed the the Morning Bulletin was around in 1828 - perhaps not - how about 1928 for that article. (I maintain a website, and proofreading is the bane of my life.) Again, what a wonderful article

    1. Many thanks John. There’s always at least one typo!

  3. Loved reading this story. A great research effort.

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  5. Thought I would let you know that I was adopted son of James Lawrie who was the turncock before Colin McDade who I knew as a kid - even went "first footing" there one New Year's eve! I lived there at the Drive as we called it, from just after I was born until early 50's when my Dad (actually Grandad) moved to Chiswick Road in Bardon when he retired.
    When I get some time, I could digitally copy & send you some photos from when almost the whole Lawrie family lived there right through WW2. I had many childhood friends on the drive & walked to school each day at Ithaca Creek State School. Jim Lawrie never drove a car & supervised area jobs by riding his push bike everywhere. I have some photos of the old house (1990's) before they shut it down due to white ants in my old bedroom!
    My aunt May climbed the tower when she was 5 & that was when the bottom part of the old steel ladder was changed to a drop down section :-) I never made it to the top - 10 rungs short when I was sprung & in real trouble when I heard that Scottish voice say "Dinna move - I'll cum & get yee"
    Feel free to communicate via email.

    1. Hi Ron, I would love to see photos of the tower and 'The Drive'. I was living at Jindalee during the 1974 Brisbane flood and lost quite a few photos. Many thanks.I will email you, regards, Sharn

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