Everyone in West End knows Boundary Street. It is the heart and soul of the suburb, a thriving strip of boutique bars and bohemian bistros. Happy hippies, bellowing buskers and vegged out vegans populate these iconic joints, creating an atmosphere of happy-go-lucky bliss throughout the neighborhood. To a traveller this would certainly appear one of the least imposing or bureaucratic places he could find himself.
Little does he, or many of the locals, know of the streets’ less embracing past. The very name Boundary Street echoes of distrust and racial divides.
Originally, Boundary Street signified the outer city limit to which Aboriginal people were allowed after dark. Although they were allowed to enter the city during the day, they had to exit it by 4pm Monday to Saturday, and were barred entry entirely on Sundays.
This rule was first put into effect in the early 1850’s, after a fight broke out between two indigenous groups at Kangaroo Point, according to historian W. Ross Johnston in his book Brisbane: The Fist Thirty Years (notes sourced by D. Bellingham, 2000). Called the Police Towns Act of 1839, it was formed due to the idea that “such exhibitions (such as the Kangaroo Point fight) may in future be prevented from taking place in the township”. Apparently, the “blacks needed to be ‘checked’”. The word then went out that “such gatherings should be stopped by the military, with bayonets at the ready”.
However due to the outnumbering of the police instructed to physically drive out the indigenous people, the curfew was not entirely enacted until 1877. An article by Rod Fisher in the Moreton Bay Courier in 1857 (notes sourced by D. Bellingham, 2000) quoted “these savages have been within the suburbs, if not within the town boundary at night. It is impossible for our small police force to maintain the regulation and drive them out…”
A recounting traveller of this time describes how ‘the mounted troopers used to ride about cracking stock whips to notify the Aboriginals to get out’ according to historian Dr. Ros Kidd in his report Aboriginal History at the Princess Alexandra Hospital Site. Often this was on parts of Aboriginal owned land.
The Act is a stark reminder of our harrowing “White Australia” past, with the point of the law described as being ‘aimed at the removal and prevention of nuisances and obstacles”, according to W. Ross Johnston (notes sourced by D. Bellingham, 2000).
According to Matthew Condon of the Courier Mail, the Boundary Street in Spring Hill and Boundary Roads in Camp Hill, Indooroopilly, Thorlands, Bardon and Rocklea all share this unfortunate history.
Thankfully, the remainders of West End’s main streets have less haunting pasts.
Aside from being the name of Powderfinger’s fifth album (they could see the sign from their first ever recording studio), Vulture Street has a rather ordinary story. According to The Street Walkers Guide to West End by the “West End Making History” group, the namesake of this street is unknown. However, it is likely that is was named after the Royal Navy warship, the HMS Vulture that was deployed during the Crimean War in 1854.
Whynot Street, off the southern end of Boundary Street, obviously has an interesting namesake. Again the historians behind The Street Walkers Guide to West End have unearthed it: apparently it can be accredited to an unnamed auctioneer in 1881. When selling a block of land called Barron’s Hill, he wrote up a list of potential selling points, as every good auctioneer does. To the end of each of these selling points he went on to add the words “why not?”. Apparently the stereotypical Australian happy-go-lucky attitude was obvious enough to tap into even 150 years ago! The new owners obviously found the marketing a good talking point, and went on to name the land Why Not Estate and the street Why Not street, eventually joining it to the simpler “Whynot”.
From good- natured salesmen to racist lawmakers to modern day rock stars, the streets of West End catalogue the best and worst people and perspectives of not only the area, but of the era’s it’s seen. For it’s either the best or the worst that history seems to remember, and for better or for worse, they tend to also be the most fascinating. Even if it’s just through the name of a street.