Original History Group
The History of the Establishment of Sunnybank District 1860-1950
The town history of Sunnybank is generally dated with the opening of the Yeerongpilly to Loganlea railway extension on April 9, 1885. To date the only published local history is the railway centenary called “Paddocks to Pavements”. Like Coopers Plains, Sunnybank became an outlying suburban township with the railway extension in the mid-1880. Prior to that, the history of the Sunnybank District is linked to Aboriginal land and early isolated farms that spread out, in one direction from the south-west ridges of Mount Gravatt and across to Coopers Plains, originally “Cowper’s Plains”, and in the other direction towards the western side of what became the Brisbane-Logan road to its intersection of Eight Mile Plains as it is today. Originally the area was identified in the 1860s as the Eight Miles Plains Agricultural Reserve.
The story of the Aboriginal land south of Mount Gravatt is one that has to be told elsewhere, and the story of Coopers Plains can be found at the Coopers Plains Local History Group website. The first recorded ‘settlement’ in Sunnybank proper is the Gillespie family 40 acre property first leased in October 1877 and was bounded by today’s Woff Street, Lister Street, Mains and Beenleigh roads. In pre-separation Queensland the only route in the district was the Ipswich-Cleveland bullock trade route along what was called ‘Government Road’ (now McCullough-Boundary roads), and this route crossed the road to Logan in the east and the road to Mount Lindsay in the west, roughly creating the boundaries of the early district. This meant that the Sunnybank district (“Eight Mile Plains”) was first identified with the first non-Aboriginal settlements in Runcorn and Kuraby. The first of these settlers was the Williams family at the Runcorn end in 1868, and the Halloran & Dennis families at the Kuraby end after 1860. Another noted settler was Andrew Ellis who established a 160 acre property in the 1870s, in what is now Robertson. By the time the railway came, the Sunnybank District was enclosed in the north by the Mount Gravatt District, in the east by Eight Miles Plains (as the name became reduced to the area mostly on the eastern-side of the Brisbane-Southport road), in the south-east by Slacks Creek & Logan River properties, in the south-west by Browns Plains, and in the east by Coopers Plains. The pathway of the railway through the district followed the road (bush track) that had been created to provide access into Runcorn & Kuraby and onto the Beenleigh District. It was also a shorter route to Southport from Ipswich and Brisbane’s western areas.
The naming of ‘Sunnybank’ is vague but it has been suggested that the Gillespies’ farm, was called “Sunnybrae”, and the railway station area adopted the name, with the Scottish brae being Englished, when two acres of the Gillespie land were taken over for the railway. The Railways Department changed the name of the Eight Mile Plains railway siding to Sunnybank railway siding within months of the railway line opening in 1885, and the district was so identified. In 1889, Sunnybank was proclaimed a town. The earliest town centre for Sunnybank was the block formed by the streets now known as Turton, Boorman, Lister, and Gager. The surrounding area was made up of native bushland, large acreages and smaller paddocks. For the next three decades, Sunnybank existed as a fairly isolated rural township. It was linked to the railway station down its southern hillside by a small track. There were a few dirt roads, probably no more than tracks in many parts, which linked Sunnybank to the main roads that led to Brisbane Town.
The nearest established townships were at Rocklea, Mount Gravatt, and Loganlea. A small outpost with a hotel, school, and post office also existed at Coopers Plains (what is now Beaudesert Road, Acacia Ridge). Salisbury at the junction of Lillian Avenue and Beaudesert Road, close to its railway station, was no more than a one-shop stop in the middle of the bush. A small housing settlement was emerging around the Coopers Plains railway station, but the Homebush and (first) Orange Grove Estates were secluded allotments and paddocks surrounded by bush; the railway station acted as only service point until 1920s. The Sunnybank township developed much earlier because its became the centre of a prosperous agriculture region with the surrounding properties generating a major source of fruit and vegetables, and Sunnybank railway station provided access to produce markets in Brisbane and the surrounding townships.
Many of the street and road names through Sunnybank, Runcorn, and Kuraby are linked to the early property owners, but two roads marked out the early community, known by the names of two noted farming identities, Mains and McCullough. In the first decades of the twentieth century, tracks, and then unsealed streets, jointed up to these two primitive roads. The roads combined with the Sandy Track (Lister Street) and Station Street to form what was known as “The Square”. When Station Street was formed a small commercial centre developed on the hillside above the station area; a grocery store including the Post Office service, and a butcher. Close-by was the old town centre with a community hall at the bottom of the eastern hillside on Sandy Track, and a Chinese market garden around the swamp on the other of the station area. The railway line cut across Mains Road forming the divide between the northern hub of the fledging town and a southern farming community that centred on the intersection of Mains bush track and the Beenleigh bush track. The formation of this community was the Boorman store in the north-west corner of the intersection (opened around 1916), a bush school that opened in 1901 on the north-east corner, and the United Protestant Church on the south-west corner, built around 1890. The provisional bush school became Runcorn State School in 1909 and provides one of the oldest continuous links in the area. A small wooden bridge was constructed on Mains Road over the railway line and gave easier access between the two parts of the district.
Like many towns in Australia the conclusion of World War I brought major developments to the area. Sunnybank was redesigned with the town housing allotments extended east of the old town centre block to what is now Glendowner Street. The idea was that Sunnybank would be a garden-city suburb for discharged servicemen with a public reserve and radiating avenues. The population of the district grew from 141 (1911) to 670 (1921). Up until the 1950s, the Sunnybank District, however, remained known as the fruit and vegetable region, supplemented with its poultry and dairy produce, for the greater Brisbane region. The district formally merged with the city of Brisbane in 1925, and became a part of Logan Ward of the newly formed Brisbane Municipal Council.
One further significant development happened for the establishment of Sunnybank. It was the development of a famous tourist site in 1938 on the northern end of Station Street. The Oasis was opened by the Pottinger family as a one dug-in swimming pool. In time the tourist facility was created into a large sub-topical garden with a formal event reception centre, several large swimming pools and a mini-zoo. The facility developed a large patronage across Brisbane, with some estimating of it reaching 5000 patrons on a particular day. The northern Station Road area was made even more significant by the fact that the Oasis had, from its very start, a competitor recreational facility right across the road, the Acacia Gardens. It too developed as a tourist site, but it was smaller and didn’t accomplish the reputation of the Oasis. Nevertheless, the Acadia Gardens increased the tourist capacity and importance to the district.
Sunnybank: Paddocks to Pavements. A folk history of the Sunnybank District to honour the centenary of the extension of the railway 1885-1985. Sunnybank State High School Parents’ and Citizen’s Association. 1985.
“Sunnybank”, Queensland Places Website, http://queenslandplaces.com.au/sunnybank, Centre for the Government of Queensland, 2011.
“Sunnybank, Queensland”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Website, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunnybank,_Queensland, last modified on 14 December 2011.
Beryl Roberts, “Sunnybank Hills – Looking Back”, unpublished notes, 2012. (Soon to be published in Stories of the Southside Volume II.)
This historical summary was researched and written by Dr Neville Buch, MPHA (Qld). Neville is a historical consultant and a member of Sunnybank District History Group and the Coopers Plains Local History Group. He is currently contracted to write the history of the Junction Park State School, Annerley. For further information, please visit Dr Buch's website. Many thanks to Beryl Roberts for her editorial work.