History of the Australian Model Railway Association Queensland Incorporated
History of AMRA Queensland Incorporated,
By Bob Mawson – Member 2225
When I was asked to do a history of the clubrooms in celebration of the upcoming 25th anniversary of the official opening of our clubrooms (Sunday 4th December 1994) I thought were do you start and to be honest the only place to start was with the early editions of Journal, The Green Board, and some surviving correspondence.
Looking back through all the bits and pieces to do this brief history I came across a report printed in The Green Board during the second quarter of 1951. AMRA, “An association is being formed down South in order to bring standards to the modeler of Australian prototype, contact Mr. K.N. Lowry at 3 Caroline Street, Hawthorne, Victoria”. This was the start of the Australian Model Railway Association.
Little was done to stimulate membership here in Queensland but some members of the Brisbane Model Railway Club did join AMRA and as such on the 16th May 1954 eleven AMRA members met in Brisbane and inaugurated the Queensland State Branch with Edgar Snowden as organizing chairman and Stephen Suggit as secretary treasurer. With the formation of the Queensland Branch we were the second branch of the Association but I’ve gone a little too far, to fast, time to take a step back.
On the 8th of September 1947 members of the Queensland Society of Model & Experimental Engineers formed the Model Railway section of the organization. At sometime during 1951 the Model Railway section of the QSMEE became the Brisbane Model Railway Club. Now as mentioned previously on the 16th May 1954 AMRA Queensland Branch was formed and in September of 1955 members of the Brisbane Model Railway Club joined AMRA. On the 7th November1957 the Brisbane Model Railway Club was formally incorporated into the AMRA Queensland Branch.
At the start of this “Brief History” I mentioned that I used articles from The Green Board to help with the completion of the article and some of you may be wondering what is The Green Board. It was a monthly newsletter created in 1977 by Ken Edge Williams much the same as our Weekly News is today but the name The Green Board goes back a little further than that. The Green Board was the name of the newsletter put out by the Brisbane Model Railway Club from 1951 until September 1955 so The Green Board has had a long association with AMRA Queensland. The resurrected 1977 The Green Board continued in print under the guidance of Ken Edge Williams. These only lasted until 1979 due to his work commitments. When Steve Malone became President and Bob Mawson became Secretary in May 1980 a new monthly newsletter by Management sometimes called The Green Board was produced to try to revitalize the club as the BiMonthly reports in Journal was not enough, and ran until the July August issue 1985 when our newsletter, The Green Board became incorporated into the AMRA Journal.
With the formation of the Brisbane Model Railway Club and then AMRA Queensland the members would hold meetings at each other’s homes as club rooms weren’t available. Looking back through those early publications certain names seemed to appear quite regularly, Doctor Stephen Suggit, Doctor Garth May, Edgar Snowden and Eric Lyon. Steve and Garth were prolific QR modelers building from scratch many models, many of Steve’s models are on display at the clubrooms today.Garth continued scratch building until 1960 when he sold all his models and took up photography. Eric an English modeler was probably better known for his auction skills rather than his modeling skills when a few years later AMRA Queensland started their model railway equipment auctions.There’s not much information on Edgar except to say he was the club chairman for many years being elected year after year unopposed.
During those early years we had less than 30 members state wide and with the introduction of television our membership fell even further but for those members that remained and continued to attend the monthly meetings continued to enjoy each other’s company and more so the modeling.
In 1956 the first reference appears in The Green Board of our “Bomb” or“The Infernal Machine”. Apparently it was a Doctor Suggit invention which allowed beer from a keg to pass through a copper coil placed in ice and a few other mechanical b In its and pieces which in turn cooled the beer allowing it to be served to the members at just the right temperature. Although first mentioned in 1956 the “Infernal Machine” may have been around earlier than this date. Looking at the reports from 1959 “The Infernal Machine” had a god like status; it was treated with great respect and reverence but more on this a little later.
During 1959 discussion arose on the need for clubrooms so a letter was written to Queensland Railways and Commissioner Moriarty seeking a meeting with the view to obtaining by lease of a Department building. On receiving a favorable reply deputations of Queensland members lead by Stephen Suggit met with Commissioner Moriarty and were fortunate to be granted a lease of the old Railways Stores Branch building in Countess Street at a peppercorn rental. There was no time frame on the lease except it could be terminated with a month’s notice if Queensland Railways required the building. The first working bee was held at the building to start cleaning up the interior on the 19th February 1959 with the first formal meeting being held on the 4th of June 1959. As like today all facets of the hobby were modeled with a strong Queensland Railways modeling group lead by Doc Suggit. One of the highlights of being at Countess Street was watching the Sunlander leave Roma Street Station on meeting evenings around 9.30pm for its journey north to Cairns. Apparently “The Infernal Machine” found a permanent home at our new clubrooms and there’s a note about one meeting finishing at 2.30am next morning as the keg needed to be emptied before being returned to the publican and I quote “you can’t tip good beer down the drain, it must be drunk”!
It was during the 1950’s Steve Suggit was sponsor for one of the first ARHS trips, a 2000 class rail motor to Nambour and then onto one of the cane lines of the Moreton Sugar Mill, the “Infernal Machine” went with them. It seems the machine was set up in a vacant area of the rail motor and then on arrival at Nambour was transferred to a special wagon behind the locomotive for itself and one attendant, apparently a good time was had by all!
March 1964 and the Branch had to vacate the Countess Street site as the building was to be demolished but due to the efforts once again of Stephen Suggit the Branch negotiated another lease for the old Trocedero building in Melbourne Street just across the road from South Brisbane Railway Station and like the Countess Street building at peppercorn rental. The Trocedero was a popular dance venue during the 40’s and 50’s with a row of shops along the front of the building and the dance venue in a separate area out the back. We were given an area approximately 20 feet by 40 feet which was just a small part of the dance floor, I believe the area for our use was defined by a row of cupboard across the dance floor but it was quite easy to move into the other area by walking between the cupboards.
The Trocodero was resumed by the railway department for the Merivale bridge connection to the northside and was vacant and was also shared with the Queensland Division of the ARHS and between the two groups we were the only tenants. Both organizations were to stay at the Trocadero until the Queensland Government was ready for demolition for future expansion of the Southside railway system direct into Roma Street and the building of the Merivale Street Bridge and its approaches.
In amongst the old notes from 1959 there’s a delightful description and a plea from a visiting southern member on behalf of the “Infernal Machine” and I quote,
“Infernal Machine” seems a singularly unflattering title for a feminine robot that dispenses so much good cheer to the boys and I must admit during my brief visit to the branch recently I fell completely under her spell. Might I respectfully suggest that the Queensland Branch hold a christening ceremony in the near future at which the Chairman officially dignifies the lady with a suitable name? Branch minutes could then read, attendance was 10 members and Lulu, who fizzed away beautifully during the meeting.”
At all meetings the “Infernal Machine” was present, ex officio and probably did as much as anything or anyone to cement good relations amongst the membership and visitors.
During this time one of our members Clive McTaggart started Austral Model Craft and over the years became very successful. He operated his shop from his home located at Laura Street Ekibin and I still remember walking into his shop for the first time, it was an Aladdin’s Cave, if he didn’t have what you wanted on display it was certainly under the counter or out the back. Clive continued to operate Austral Model Craft until his death in July 1989 when his wife Joyce continued to run the business until September 1989 when Eileen and Ray Nunn purchased the business and moved it to Mount Gravatt. Like Clive and Joyce Eileen and Ray continue (Nov. 2019) to operate Austral Model Craft and like Clive and Joyce if you can’t see what you want on display just ask and in all probability Ray and Eileen will have it under the counter or next door in the store room. Preparing this article I found a tribute to Clive and in part it said, “Clive had a few customers and many friends” and the same can be said of Eileen and Ray.
As well as modeling and Branch activities our members also took part in the Brisbane Hobby Show, Model Railway Week and the Queensland Industries Fair.
Our first official meeting at the Trocodero was held on the 2nd of August 1964, we stayed there until December 1970 when our lease once again was terminated and we had to vacate the building and unfortunately no other building was offered to us although we were aware the Railway Refreshment Rooms at South Brisbane Railway Station was vacant at the time and had been since 1965 and was to remain so until we signed a lease for the rooms in 1981 but a bit more on that a little later.
From early 1971 meetings of the Branch went back to being held in member’s homes. In my own case on joining the branch in 1974 I remember travelling out to Riverview for meetings at Jean and Cec Wall, Arthur and Kerrie Hayes at Coopers Plains, Arthur and Trish Robinson at Northgate, Marjorie and Jim Fainges at Everton Park, Marie and John Hill at McGregor, John McDicken at Jimboomba, Heather and Warring Geddes at Wavell Heights, Keith (The Judge) Anderson at Stafford Heights plus many other members homes around the city. Meetings were held once a month and the supper provided by the ladies made the travel worthwhile. I’ve always felt that a meeting or get together at another modelers home is one of those special times, it’s always nice to see what other modelers are doing modeling wise, gives you inspiration or a sprit on to finish a project before everyone arrives..
Whilst we were still meeting at member’s homes the search for clubrooms went on. Sometime during 1978 the club did approach the Brisbane City Council regarding the lease of a building at the Victoria Park Golf Course but if I remember correctly the conditions were pretty stringent and lease fees financially out of our reach so the lease was declined.
At Jim Fainges home he provided a small workshop in the early 70’s for our members use. Arthur and Kerri Hayes did the same at their home at Coopers Plains with an area set aside for the clubs small library in the late 70’s. Our members would also visit other clubs around the city including the Union Pacific Club which was set up in an old butcher shop at Keats Street Moorooka.
In those early days our Branch members as mentioned earlier were involved in the annual Hobby Show at City Hall, National Model Railway Week also at City Hall, Queensland Industry Fairs and participated in the ARHS Field Days at Redbank, built models for several QR projects including the opening of the Merivale Street bridge, and also conducted an annual auction for those members or any other modeler wishing to sell their unwanted equipment.
During those early days our auctions would be held at Eric Lyon’s home with Eric being one of our first auctioneers. He was known on several occasions to sell an item put up for auction back to the gentleman who put it up for sale. On several occasions our auctions were held in Steve Suggits back garden and on one occasion we held our auction in conjunction with the Union Pacific Club at their clubrooms out at Moorooka. During the early 80’s we moved our auction to the Church of England hall located at Wavell Heights, always a success and always very lively.
Auction Days were always a great day, at the UP club the UP members would do the catering and our members would run clinics and the auction. At Wavell Heights it was just the auction starting around 1.00pm and on one occasion finishing after 6.00pm that evening. A team of four auctioneers (our members) would do the business, probably illegal by today’s standards but an enjoyable day except when an item was up for bid and the bids rose by 5 cents a bid, there was a lot of brinkmanship back then but also a lot of laughter. Our wives would provide a canteen selling soft drinks, tea, coffee and snacks. The auctions continued into the 90’s
With the Brisbane City Hall Hobby Show our members along with other model railway groups would have their displays operating from midmorning until 9.00pm each evening.Dissatisfaction with The Hobby Show amongst the model railway groups and a suggestion by Ray Nunn of the Union Pacific club “why doesn’t AMRA run a model railway show”led us to start planning to present our own model railwayshow.
Our branch committee booked the Lang Park PCYC for the Labor Day long weekendof 1978 with the rental costing us the grand sum of $500.00. At the time we didn’t have much money in the bank, would you believe just $320.00 so three AMRA Branch members lent the Branchthe $500.00 needed to hire the hall. 1978 the average wage was just on $100.00 a week and interest rates at 17%. The show was a success with twenty exhibits on display. Although not much of a profit was made after meeting all expenses we felt it had been financially successful so arranged to present another show the same weekend the following year which once again was very successful with over three thousand visitors over the three day weekend and once again after all expenses were met we made a modest profit. One of the expense items was the payment of $10.00 to each of the noncommercial exhibitors to help towards their travelling expenses and at the end of the year we had $1982.72 cents in the bank but it was time to look for another venue.
Early 1980 we approached the RNA and hired the old Science Pavilion at the Exhibition Grounds for the Labor Day long weekend, today the Exhibition Building stands on the site. A week before the model railway show we found out that the hire of the Science Pavilion didn’t include toilets and if we wanted toilets we’d have to hire RNA staff to man and clean the toilet block and it was quite a walk from the Science Pavilion, what to do? One of our members Warring Geddes was friends with one of the RNA management so at church Warring had a word with him, next thing we knew the hire of the Science Pavilion was cancelled and we hired the Horticultural Pavilion along with a toilet block attached to the building. Because of the change of venue on the Saturday morning of the show we made up large cardboard signs redirecting our patrons to the new venue, nobody seemed to mind about the change, everyone it appeared was just looking forward to seeing the show.
Backin those days as it is today we had to hire the hall for seven days but it gave us the time to mark the hall out during Thursday, the exhibitors would move in Friday, the show operated Saturday, Sunday, Monday and although we always tried to have the hall clean and ready to hand back to the RNA Tuesday morning there was always that last minute job to do before the RNA inspection so the extra day was always appreciated. Those early shows at the Horticultural Pavilion were supervised by the RNA Superintendent a dour Scotsman named Douglas, I think it took us ten years to get a smile out of him but we nicknamed him “Dugout Doug” but not to his face. He would come in twice a day and inspect that everything was in order and look out if it wasn’t.
The 1980 show was a huge success with just over 9000 paid visitors. Leading up to the show we contacted all the radio stations and 4BC & 4KQ gave us free advertising. Three TV station crews turned up Saturday and each featured our show during the news that evening so the crowds on Sunday and Monday surprised us all. We had crowds four and five deep stretching back from the Horticultural Pavilion entrance to Gregory Terrace. In future years it never ceased to amaze us if a television crew turned up on Saturday morning or early afternoon just how their coverage swelled our visitor numbers. Admission that year was $1.00 adults and 50 cents pensioners and children and remained so until 1984 when admission for adults went up to $1.50 but children and pensioners remained at 50cents.
After AMRA moved to the Horticultural Pavilion the Hobby Show followed but folded around 1984. With the closing of the Hobby Show AMRA purchased their fencing, in the past we’d hire it from them. The fencing was stored out at Riverview so Thursday evening before our show we’d have an RT Edwards truck pick it up for us and deliver it to the Horticultural Pavilion and then do the return journey Monday evening.
As the years went on we knew if we could get a television crew to cover the show on Saturday and make the news Saturday night it’d be a good show. One year we made the Monday evening news on Channel 9 in Sydney. As well as television as mentioned previously we would contact the radio stations and local newspapers and try and get as much coverage as we could, surprising what a few family passes could do. Jim Christie our Exhibition Manager put in untold hours organizing the show, it’s surprising just how much work is involved. Many a time Jim would say “this is my last show, this is my last show” but once the show was over he’d put his hand up to do it all over again the following year.
Hiring the Horticultural Pavilion gave us the opportunity to do our own catering with Marie Hill and then Kerri Hayes filled the roll of Canteen Convener leading the team of ladies. Not only did we supply take away food for the general public visiting but we supplied lunches for our exhibitors and after a couple of shows we started providing a Saturday evening sit down meal along with a desert for our exhibitors and volunteer workers as a welcome and a thank you for everyone’s support and all this done by the ladies, our wives, daughters, granddaughters, girlfriends and even the fellas got in and helpedwith everyone involved doing a splendid job. Many a time the general public would commend us on the quality of the food provided and the reasonable prices charged. Our catering activities continued until I believe 2012 when the RNA took over the catering.
I’ve long thought the Saturday evening meal and the payment system to our noncommercial exhibitors went a long way to building up the good will and friendship our members developed with all our exhibitors.
Providing the catering facilities was a lot of hard work but everyone involved just got in and did it. Those first couple of years was a real learning experience, the ladies doing the ordering weren’t too sure just how many pies, sausage rolls or hot dogs etc to order so we would always run out of stock so any member not having a job inside the hall at the time would shoot out in their cars and hit every bakery and buy whatever pies, sausage rolls and bread rolls they could and then move on to the local corner stores and clear them out of frankfurters for the hot dogs, they were crazy days but after a couple of shows everything started to fall into place.
Long after our visitors and exhibitors had left the hall for the day our members would be emptying garbage bins, sweeping floors or cleaning toilets. One member on the toilet cleaning crew worked out it was quicker to use the fire hose to clean the toilets than a mop and bucket as long as you removed the toilet paper first and when Tuesday morning came around and the RNA staff inspected the hall and toilets they always complimented us on the cleanliness of the Pavilion and toilets.
Many a member would bring their young children into the show and when not looking at the exhibits the boys would go “bin diving” for aluminum cans in the 44 gallon rubbish bins, I remember on one occasion one young lad had to be rescued as he’d fallen right into the bin and couldn’t get out. Several of our members would take a part of their annual leave or long service leave to work for the show leading up to, during and after the show but the hard work was done and done willingly with a smile.
Working bees would be held at member’s homes to build fencing, display signs or paneling, no job was too much including the building of a portable kitchen, it was always a very busy time those few months leading up to a show. Towards the end of us having to provide fencing for our exhibitors (it was a condition of insurance) we had over ten tons of cyclone fencing to load and unload by hand, it was pretty hard work but it was surprising on the Monday night after closing how many members and their sons came in to help pull down the fencing, load it onto the truck we’d hired or in later years pack it in the containers.
Over those early years when we didn’t have our own clubrooms the subject of clubrooms would be raised from time to time but prior to 1980 we didn’t have the financial resources to do anything. I believe we may have approached the railways on several occasions prior to 1980 hoping they would offer us a building and lease but nothing came of it.
The 1980 model railway show and its success really started the ball rolling as far as clubrooms were concerned. That show was our first really successful one with a large profit left over after all expenses had been paid including a much improved financial contribution to all our noncommercial model railway exhibitors. During the Monday afternoon of the 1980 show I remember a discussion amongst several COM members as to what to do with the profits and one committee member casually said “why not put it towards a club building of our own”, it was a sort of off the cuff remark but it had us thinking. Although we now had a sizable bank account after the success of the show it wasn’t enough to purchase a building and besides although this show was successful we didn’t know if future shows would also be as successful so the money was left in the bank.
It was late 1980 when Steve Malone as president suggested to the committee we contact the railways once again in the hope of obtaining a railway building to use as clubrooms so with the blessing of our COM Steve wrote a letter to Jim Goldston the then Commissioner of Queensland Railways. To our surprise we received a reply inviting several members of our committee to meet with the Commissioner.
The meeting took place on the 6th November 1980 with Cec Wall, Arthur Robinson and Steve Malone representing the Branch. From that meeting came an offer of the old Refreshment Rooms at South Brisbane Railway Station and at a peppercorn rental and so after 10 years once again we had a home although obtaining that home was about to become a very slow process. 1980 was also the year we adopted our first Branch constitution. We obtained a “model” constitution from the Justice Department and modified it to suit the club. Our resident legal expert Keith (The Judge) Andersonwho was a magistrate with the Justice Department did a lot of the work on that constitution, Keith being a magistrate decided to add a little bit of his own flair to the constitution and added where he could the words “ipso facto” to the constitution, it left us non legal eagles scratching our heads but I think it also left the Justice Department scratching theirs because when we got our approved constitution back from the department every ipso facto had been taken out. Keith saw the funny side of it and took the changes in good grace.
May 1981 we had another very successful model railway show, entry was still $1.00 Adults and 50 cents for Children and Pensioners and like our 1980 show after expenses had a sizable sum left over, we more than doubled our bank balance and once again the subject of club rooms came up when discussing what to do with the profit from the show.At this stage our lease of the Refreshment Rooms still hadn’t been finalized and so still waiting to move in so once again we discussed purchasing our own clubrooms.
In the Courier Mail we saw advertised an old church building for sale at Bardon so we inspected it. It was very run down and financially really out of our reach and as such would have needed a large bank loan to purchase it at the time plus the residents of the street when they saw us looking at the building came out in force and let us know in no uncertain terms their displeasure that a club was looking at purchasing the property. Today that building is a child care centre.
It was not long after the Bardon episode that the lease for the Refreshment Rooms came through and we took possession on the 1st July 1981. Over the next couple of months many working bees were held to remove rubbish and to bring the rooms up to an acceptable standard. Work also commenced at this time to design a club layout. On a lighter note there was a public telephone box just outside the Refreshment Rooms entrance and Cec Wall our president at the time and worked for Telstra (I think it was the PMG back in those days) found out the boxes official phone number and that phone would become AMRA Queensland Branch official phone, many a time at meetings we would hear the telephone ring and one of us would run outside to pick up the receiver and take a message. On one occasion a member of the public came knocking on our door, he’d been walking past the phone box when the phone started to ring and so picked up the receiver only to be asked to get one of us to come to the phone, he seemed a little surprised when we opened the door to answer his knock.
Over the following years the club went from strength to strength, the shows were very successful, (would you believe we operated the Model Railway Show over three days, Saturday 9.00am to 9.00pm the first couple of years, Sunday 9.00am to 6.00pm and Monday 9.00am to 6.00pm) our membership continued to grow and the use of the clubrooms continued much to the enjoyment of those attending.
1983 saw the announcement of Queensland’s successful bid to host EXPO 88 along the river front at South Brisbane with South Brisbane Railway Station becoming a major transport hub. Although nothing was said officially to us we believed it was only a matter of time before we would have to vacate the refreshment rooms so once again the subject of our own clubrooms came up but no action taken.
Just before our 1984 model railway show we invited to the show Sir Lew Edwards chairman of EXPO 88, Doug Mendoza Queensland Railways Commissioner and Don Lane Queensland Government Minister of Transport and all accepted their invitations. All three gentlemen enjoyed their visits spending several hours each at the show. I still remember that Saturday very well with a large crowd and what struck me about it was how freely our official guests moved about the show mingling with the general public, no policemen, no body guards, how times have changed.
At the time Central Queensland was undergoing massive development both in the mining industry and the railways. QR was planning the electrification of the Central Queensland system and during June 1984 the Publicity Officer of Queensland Railways approachedAMRA Queensland with the view to the club members building a display layout depicting the Central Queensland coal lines and the electrification of those lines.
After several meetings with QR officials one of our members John Hill built a small concept layout and presented it to QR for consideration. To say the QR officials were impressed would be an understatement and within a couple of weeks we had the go ahead. Work commenced late November 1984 with much of the construction and scenery work carried out on the footpath in front of the Refreshment Rooms (clubrooms) at South Brisbane every Saturday afternoon. Work was completed April 1985 including the construction of locomotives and rolling stock.
(Commissioner Mendoza was so impressed with the quality of the layout that he wanted a list of AMRA members who were Railway employees and only they were to operate the layout. Arthur Robinson and Ted Ward and Neville Mann were among those who manned it in the Brisbane area.)
To learn more of the layouts go to the 1984-1985 Journals available in our club library. The layout was built to N scale standards and was approximately 13 metres long and 2 metres wide and built to fit into a specially prepared QLX wagon. The first public display of the layout was at our 1985 model railway show and was very well received. After our show the layout was displayed at the RNA Exhibition. The QLX was placed in the siding at the rear of platform 1. After the Exhibition it then went to Ascot for the “Ascot Careers Exhibition” and then to the Ipswich Railway Workshops for the “Ipswich Railway Workshop Centenary Celebrations”. Once the workshop celebrations were over the layout started its journey to Central Queensland
It was fortunate that Queensland Railways had members and friends of the branch who were QR employees. Arthur Hayes an Assistant Station Officer at Coopers Plains and Don Warn Assistant Station Officer at Landsborough were chosen to accompany the layout on these journeys.
With the Central Queensland layout on display at the 1985 Model Railway Show we had QR Commissioner Doug Mendoza pay us two visits, the first visit was the official visit and the second with his grandchildren, he was intrigued with the displays and enjoyed his time at the show. During the same period Queensland Transport Minister Don Lane paid a visit, he was only going to stay a short time because of other commitments but ended up staying over two hours talking to the exhibitors and mingling with the visitors.
Late 1987 QR told us that we would have to vacate the old Refreshment Rooms as they needed the area for office space during Expo 88 but it wasn’t all bad. Queensland Railways offered us the building at the top of the ramp at the southern end of South Brisbane Railway Station once they had finished refurbishing; to be honest the building was palatial, very grand.
This building was a railway enthusiast’s dream come true as it fronted onto the South Brisbane Railway Station platforms and we had a door to the south bound platform. Once again there was a small price to pay in the form of several large QR models for EXPO 88, Tony Weber, Jim Fainges and Jim Bilby led the team to complete the models. The building was two levels so we had our library, meeting area and workshop on the lower level and our layout area on the upper. Many a time our members would sit or stand on the platform and watch the specials go through including 3801 during September 1988 and the Flying Scotsman March 1989
The 1988 show was a challenge for us as our opening day coincided with the opening day of Expo 88 but we decided to go ahead with the show as if we didn’t we may have lost our continuous booking for the Horticultural Pavilion. As you can imagine with competition like Expo 88 our numbers were down, way down and we ran the show at a loss but it was a good show with lots of space for our visitors to view the exhibits.
December 8th 1988 we celebrated what we thought was the 35thanniversary since the formation of AMRA Queensland, it was actually the 34th anniversary and because many of our early members came from the Brisbane Model Railway Club the 40thanniversary since their formation but half way through the evening we suddenly realized it was actually the 41st anniversary but not to worry it was an enjoyable evening just the same.
We were fortunate enough to have attending some of those early members of the Brisbane Model Railway Club and AMRA Queensland.
Along came 1989 and another successful show but we heard a whisper that as we were taking money from the public in the form of entry fees and canteen sales we should be paying tax. Because we were a group of enthusiasts and volunteers we’d always thought we were a charity and tax never entered our heads nor our auditor’s for that matter, as he never mentioned the subject so we made some enquiries and sure enough we had to pay tax. The Taxation Department to their credit were very good with us, we were hit with I think seven years back tax, approximately thirty two thousand dollars but fortunately we had the money to pay the tax. Under the legislation we could have been fined or maybe worse.
Also during those early months of 1989 we reviewed our constitution and on the23rd May we became incorporated, we were officially “The Australian Model Railway Association Queensland Branch Incorporated”, quite a title.
During October 1989 the subject of our own clubrooms was raised once again but not much done. We did approach the Brisbane City Council with the view of leasing some council land and building clubrooms of our own or buying a house to use as clubrooms neither suggestion progressed past the meeting stage with the council officers. Some of us started looking at industrial property and houses featured in Saturdays Courier Mail real estate section as we felt even though we stayed at South Brisbane and we owned or were paying of a property for future use by the club we would have legitimate expenses we could legally off set against our tax liabilities. It was a nice thought but financially industrial buildings were way beyond our resources so what to do next?
We continued to look for a suitable property and inspected a large Queenslander type house at Yeronga, and then an old church in Boyd Street Nundah and even the old signal box at Mayne which was way to small but nothing came of these.
Early November 1989 the COM called a Special General Meeting with the view of getting an agreement amongst the membership as to what was specifically required to meet our clubroom needs and directions if a property was found to purchase the property. The following requirements were needed and voted on,
1..Large building or block of land,
2. Within walking distance to a railway station or bus stop
3. Be within a 15 Kilometre radius from the City Centre.
It didn’t matter what suburb the land or building was in, east, west, south or north as long as whatever we found met the above criteria. To be honest there was some angst within the membership that we would leave South Brisbane but the object was to be prepared in case we had to. If we found a building we would stay at South Brisbane for as long as we could holding a meeting or gathering there at least once a week and with the new building if we found one hold a meeting or gathering there also once a week.
The committee was also given permission if a property was found to enter into negotiations and sign a contract for the purchase of a property and to arrange a bank loan to purchase the property.
The search continued, looking at real estate advertisements or just keeping your eyes open when driving around the city. Late in the afternoon of Wednesday the 12th January 1990 I was driving my bus out to Brackenridge. I’d seen 20 Murphy Road Zillmere many times before, not so much the property but the railway line behind it. I couldn’t help but look across the property as in the bus I was high up and as I crossed the bridge could look back down the railway line towards Geebung and watch the trains heading north or back into town.
I was stopped at the traffic lights approaching Dunsford St and looking across I could see a gentleman hanging a sign on the fence in front of the house, it was a For Sale sign. As I drove past I had a quick look. After getting out to Brackenridge I had to drive back into the city empty,what we’d call “Blank Signs”, no passengers and as quick as you could safely for your next trip out so I went back past 20 Murphy Road and stopped for a quick look and sure enough it was for sale, the block was huge or so it seemed and by the look of it would meet our requirements as stipulated at the Special General Meeting.
In those days there were no mobile phones so I had to wait until next morning to ring the agent, find out the size of the block and price, 3379 sqmetres, the price was $110,000, it was within our reach with a bank loan. Next ring Tony Weber our secretary and Jim Bilby our Vice President. We inspected the property Friday the 14th January 1991, Jim Bilby and I signed a contract to purchase Saturday 15th January 1990. Number 20 Murphy Road Zillmere was everything we wanted and it had a house on it that was rented so it would generate income.
At the time one of our members, Geoff Bowring was a loans officer with the Commonwealth Bank and so Geoff handled our loan application which was approved. We borrowed $30,000 which included $5000 to build a 6metre by 6metre shed on site to store our exhibition equipment but in 1990 with interest rates very high our Real Estate Property Investment Loan attracted an interest rate of 18.75% variable over 20 years, monthly repayments at the time were $504.00 per month. AMRA Queensland Branch Inc. (as we were then) took possession 16th February 1990. Once the property was ours we arranged a member’s inspection of the grounds the Saturday afternoon after settlement. 60 members turned up, many surprised at the size of the block and the proximity to the railway.
During March 1990 QR approached us once again to build another layout. This time it would be a Driver Training Layout 10mts x 9mts emphasizing safe working practices, it was to built at Redbank Workshops and then moved to the new Driver Training Centre located at Rockhampton. AMRA would be responsible for the track laying and scenery, QR staff would build the layout and supports plus do the electronics; we had to have it finished by Oct 1990. Once again the question was raised “what if we had said no to QR regarding the layout, would they let us stay at South Brisbane?” It was a very plausible question and one we couldn’t answer but as in the past it showed that we needed our own clubrooms for the long term security of the club. In all honesty I don’t think QR would have asked us to leave at that time,we as a club would never have said no to any QR request, I think we all enjoyed the challenge that QR presented to us. In fact work on the new QR layout started on the 18th August (a little late) and was finished by the 22ndSeptember; we had an extra 2 months to finish the buildings. Tony Weber was the team leader for this project and did an incredible job.If you’d like to see a photo or read the article about the Training Layout go to the March/April 1991 issue of Journal or photos in recent “Weekly News”. The layout is still in existence today October 2019 although no longer in use.
In the meantime we arranged for the building of a 6m x 6m shed at Zillmere to store our exhibition equipment, our first working bee at Zillmere occurred Saturday the 2nd June with several more throughout the year refurbishing exhibition equipment and doing ground improvements, one Saturday afternoon we moved 26 tons of decomposed granite by hand and wheel barrow so that we could park without getting bogged. To say that 1990 was a busy year for the club might be a bit of an understatement but it was a wonderful year as we owned our own property which in turn meant the clubs future was pretty bright…
During 1991 we started talks again with council about rezoning, at times it was very frustrating but we made some progress regarding the process. Life for AMRA Qld continued as normal at South Brisbane, there was still talk of building our own clubrooms but nothing really concrete as we were just enjoying our time at South Brisbane.
During early 1992 we heard rumors once again that we would have to move out of South Brisbane as the building was pretty valuable rent wise for QR and being just a few hundredmetres from the centre of the city we could understand why but nothing official came of these rumors but once again the need for our own clubrooms was raised.
November 1992, the 28th to be exact one of our members passed away.This gentleman was Keith Wilcox, Keith had moved to Brisbane with his friend Harry Crossingham a couple of years before. Before moving to Brisbane Keith would occasionallyvisit us and help out at our model railway show. Keith’s generosity allowed the early construction to begin on our clubrooms.We never meet Harry, we were to find out later he had passed away not long after arriving in Brisbane.
Keith Wilcox had served on the Federal Committee of AMRA in various positions since 1968 finally stepping down as Federal President at the 1988 Federal AGM. Keith would attend our meetings occasionally at South Brisbane and enjoyed his time with the rest of our members; he was a very quiet man. Unfortunately Keith went into hospital late November ’92 but sadly he passed away quite quickly having been diagnosed with Liver Cancer.
When Keith’s will was read it was found he had left his entire estate to AMRA Queensland, the estate included a house at Woodridge and a small amount of investments, it was a surprise to us all.
In April 1993 Keith’s estate was finalized and the proceeds from it including the sale of the house were deposited in our bank account. What this enabled us to do was to pay out the loan from the Commonwealth Bank for our property at Zillmere and have a reasonable amount still in the bank.
It’s funny how things fall into place but on the 21st June 1993 we received notice from QR that we would have to vacate our clubrooms at South Brisbane, no date was given but it would be in the next 18 months, we weren’t surprised. July 1993 we’d held another Special General Meeting and a motion was carried that we formally establish clubrooms at Zillmere. In a second motion the committee was given permission to investigate and plan the move to Zillmere and raise a bank loan for the purpose of building a suitable building.
It was during the 1993 RNA Exhibition (Ekka) one of our members, Don Warn who had volunteered to work at the Queensland Railways display during a break wandered through the EKKA grounds and found a builder displaying lightweight buildings, steel framed, fibro cladding on the exterior and a sheet metal roof, they were very basic that could be put up quickly and at reasonable cost. Don spoke to the builder and then contacted our committee members. We as a committee had a look at the buildings and then arranged to meet the builder at Zillmere for an inspection and a quote.
The builders quote was accepted, a deposit paid and plans drawn up and so I set off with plans and application in hand to the Brisbane City Council. It was a learning experience for me and I’m sure also for the council officers who it seemed couldn’t work out what we were about, they’d never dealt with a Model Railway Club before applying for a rezoning and building approval. They were used to dealing with builders, developers, service and sporting clubs but never a model railway club. Whilst I was dealing with the city council Geoff Bowring arranged another loan for the club through the Commonwealth Bank as although we had a reasonable amount in the bank it wasn’t enough to pay for the project so the loan was required.
I believe it was February 1994 we received notice from Queensland Rail that our lease was to be officially terminated, we had to be out by 30th April but were given a three week extension so the race was on to pack up South Brisbane and store as much as we could, the last layout run was the 29th January 1994.
There were no meetings as such after we vacated South Brisbane, COM meetings were held at committee member’s homes. On a lighter note John Lees a member living at Kallangur opened up his home and layout for the Daylighters on I believe a Wednesday afternoon. One of our student members, Michael Bertucci, I think he was 13 or 14 at the time would “wag” school Wednesday afternoons and travel up to Johns to enjoy an afternoon of running trains, this went on until the clubrooms were finished. Michael’s still a member and I think deserves a “WELL DONE MATE” award for initiative.
We were confident that eventually we would get approval so we did some preliminary work at the site. This involved the removal of several trees. The first tree came down ok, the second came down much as the first but that’s when the problems started. The trees were right in the middle of where the slab was to go so we not only had to remove the trees but had to take the roots out. The roots of the second tree were a monster; they went so deep we had to get a backhoe in to dig the roots out. The hole became so large that the ground under the backhoe gave way and next thing we had to get a tow truck in to get the back hoe out, it’s funny now but I wasn’t laughing at the time. Eventually the backhoe and roots were out of the ground, the two holes filled in and a $200 job ended up costing us $1600.
Early August 1994 we finally received building approval to go ahead and the slab for the building was laid. Saturday the 20thAugust we had an inspection day at the building site, I think about 70 members turned up and the general comment was “isn’t it big” and to be honest it was.
Work continued and before we knew it the frame was up followed by the roof and lining. Steve Malone supervised the electrical installation. The shell of the building was finished early November, next our members moved in to do the painting, drainage and landscaping, the walls were done pretty quickly, the ceiling was another story, it took nearly a week to paint it during the evenings. The drainage was an adventure in itself. To save money we decided we’d do it ourselves so we went out and hired a trench digger. Steve Malone and I were the operators and the first couple of trenches went very well and then it was time for the trenches near the back fence to be done, a very tight space at the rear of the two bay shed.
Everything was going well, the trencher doing a wonderful job,so easy or so we thought when suddenly the trencher decided that it’d had enough and it was off, out of control trying to climb the back fence, we thought we’d got it under control but then it was off again trying to go through the fence this time, to this day I still don’t know how it happened but the trencher wasn’t finished with us yet. After we’d finished with it I took it to my trailer to load and return it to the hire company. I had to start it again and run it up two planks onto the trailer somehow one of us knocked or brushed the digging control and it was off again trying to cut the trailer in half with sparks flying everywhere, the noise was horrendous. I think it was Steve that reached in and turned it off, I was just hanging on for dear life. The misadventure with the trencher caused a lot of laughter but to be honest we were glad to see the back of it.
By early December the building was basically finished, and had council approval after passing all the council inspections although we still had to finish of the car park and landscaping but we decided we would have our official opening at our Christmas gathering on Sunday the 4th December 1994. A big roll up of members and their families were present for the official opening, a “string pulling” ceremony was held so everyone present could take part in the official unveiling of the commemorative plaque, a plaque was also unveiled in memory of Harry Crossingham and Keith Wilcox and their generosity. Have a look at the March April 1995 issue of Journal, pages 38,39 and 40 for some wonderful photos of the official opening ceremony.
At this point a lot of work had been done by a lot of members to get the building to this stage, our first official Thursday evening meeting was held during the evening of Thursday 8th December 1994.
Work continued over the next couple of months with the landscaping completed, Arthur and Kerri Hayes donated a sprinkler system and Warring Geddes installed it and with that finished a working bee was held to plant almost 100 plants and shrubs under the supervision of Don Warn and his right hand man Shane Yore. As Don handed out each plant he would pronounce the Latin name of the plant, still don’t know if Don had done a crash course in Latin or he was just pulling our leg but he did impress us. I have a lovely memory of a very earnest looking Kerri Hayes standing there holding a large pot with both hand, I think she was trying to work out how to get the plant out of the pot without letting go with both hands.
Finally the car park was finished, but it had held us up from final approval by Council as they wanted 25 car parking bays but in our plans we’d allowed for only 9, the cost of putting in 25 was just prohibitive, almost as much as building the clubrooms but eventually Council agreed to 9 and we had our final inspection and approval April 1995.
What we saw during construction of the clubrooms was a very dedicated membership, members giving what time they could when they could and it’s to all those members we owe a vote of thanks. In my own case as Project Manager I don’t think I could have got through the project without the understanding of my wife Colleen, the help of Tony Weber, Jim Bilby and our Treasurer Arthur Hayes, I was asking Arthur for so many bills to pay the various tradesmen and suppliers he ended up giving me a book of signed blank Checks. There are not too many treasurers that would do that but it made the job so much easier. It’s hard to believe that we’re approaching our 25th anniversary of the completion and official opening of our clubrooms but here we are and I’m sure we’ll have many more years of enjoyment from these wonderful facilities.
In Conclusion I wish to thank the following Arthur Hayes, Arthur Robinson, Steve Malone, Ian Renshaw and Tim Braby for their help and support.
Bob Mawson 2225