Dr Kevin Rains shares insights into QLD’s past at ASHA conference 2023
Historical archaeology specialist Dr. Kevin Rains shared two intriguing presentations at the ASHA (Australian Society for Historical Archaeology) Conference in September 2023 in Mackay. Dr. Rains’ insights shed new light on Brisbane’s rich historical tapestry and the legacy of South Sea Islanders in Queensland.
Old Frog’s Hollow and the “Nine Holes”: Unearthing Brisbane’s early Chinese Quarter
Dr Rains transported conference attendees to a fascinating period in Brisbane’s history. His research dived into the results of archaeological excavations carried out between 2019 and 2020 in Albert Street, Brisbane CBD, as part of the Brisbane Cross River Rail project.
Albert Street, now bustling with modernity, was once home to Old Frog’s Hollow, a bustling commercial and working-class district. From the 1880s onward, it also evolved into a Chinese quarter as Chinese immigrants flocked to Brisbane from the waning Queensland gold fields. This influx of Chinese residents stirred anti-Chinese sentiments among certain segments of the population. Police raids, sensationalised accounts of opium addiction, prostitution, and subpar living conditions became the norm.
By the 1910s, as discriminatory State and Federal laws against Chinese immigrants took hold, only a few businesses and families remained, and Old Frog’s Hollow underwent a gradual demolition under a slum clearance program. Dr. Kevin’s paper unveiled some of the pivotal discoveries made during the archaeological program, focusing on a terrace row of Chinese shops known as the “Nine Holes.”
However, what sets this research apart is its commitment to moving beyond early stereotypes and instead revealing the everyday life and struggles of the Old Frog’s Hollow Chinese community. Furthermore, Dr Rain’s work served as a shining example of how archaeology can be seamlessly integrated into infrastructure developments, offering education, sustainability, and public engagement opportunities that benefit our community.
Journeys to Sugaropolis: A Retrospective
Dr. Kevin Rains’ second presentation, “Journeys to Sugaropolis: A Retrospective,” offered a journey back in time to 2013, commemorating 150 years since the arrival of the first indentured South Sea Islanders in Queensland. These individuals came to work on Robert Towns’ cotton plantation at Townsvale (now Veresdale), located near Beaudesert.
Soon, other local plantation owners followed suit, importing South Sea Islander labourers, and shifting their focus to the cultivation of sugarcane. “Journeys to Sugaropolis” represents a research project and exhibition developed as part of Southeast Queensland’s commemoration of this event, known as ASSI 150.
The research explores the lives and contributions of Australian South Sea Islanders, both the early indentured labourers and their descendants, to the Gold Coast and neighbouring regions. Of particular interest is an archaeological investigation into the Ageston Sugar Plantation on the Logan River and the formation of ASSI families involved in the banana industry across the southern Gold Coast and northern New South Wales.
As we reflect on this project ten years later, Dr. Rains’ paper shed light on its outcomes and its potential contributions to the ongoing ASSI Lived Identities project. It is a poignant reminder of the enduring legacies and invaluable contributions of the South Sea Islander community to Queensland’s history.
Dr. Kevin Rains’ contributions to the ASHA conference showed a captivating exploration of Queensland’s past, serving as a testament to the power of historical archaeology to unearth hidden narratives and honour the diverse communities that have shaped the region’s identity.