Cross River Rail – Historical archaeology update 

Client: CBGU JV/Pulse  
Industry sector: Transport infrastructure 

Service: Historical archaeology
Location: Brisbane, QLD 

The project

Hand excavated pits, 2019

A large-scale, State government funded infrastructure project building an underground rail system linking North and South Brisbane. Four underground stations are being constructed – Dutton Park (Boggo Rd), Woolloongabba (old Landcentre and GoPrint site), Albert Street and Roma Street.  

Our role in the project

Since 2018 Niche has provided archaeological services for the project, including the preparation of detailed archaeological assessments, research designs, advice and archaeological investigations within the underground station precincts and associated areas. These works were guided by the Cross River Rail Archaeological Management Plan, prepared by Niche in 2019, and have involved ground investigation and salvage of targeted areas of archaeological potential within the project footprint, artefact analysis and reporting to the client and State agencies. In delivering the project. Niche took a highly collaborative approach, drawing on existing links and expertise from the Queensland Museum and University of Queensland to move the project beyond compliance to one providing opportunities for public education and engagement, academic research and hands-on employment for budding archaeology students. 

Doing our best to preserve a part of Brisbane’s history

The sites investigated by the project were diverse and fascinating, and reflected a range of activities within North and South Brisbane during the late 19th century and into the early 20th century. They included an early railway yard, two metropolitan garbage dumps, Brisbane’s first Chinatown and two hotels dating from the 1860s. One of the great challenges was to document and salvage the material remains of these places in a careful manner that would collect data and artefacts for later historical archaeological research while operating in a high-pressure environment, with tight project deadlines to be met and some very difficult site conditions. 

Recovered ceramics, 2019

But out of challenges come opportunities and we are fortunate to have an excellent team of archaeologists as well as broad networks in industry and academia which allowed us to mobilise skilled archaeological teams to undertake excavations, sometimes at quite short notice, that were on time and within budget. Out of this work have already sprung a range of broader education outcomes, including various seminars and online talks and university Honours and PhD research projects, that have brought benefits to both the client, in terms of positive community engagement, and sparking general community interest in Brisbane’s past.  

The digging is now complete but Niche’s commitment to the project has not ended, for we continue to support the client with advice and encourage researchers and the general public to become involved in post-excavation activities.  

“One of the key legacies of the project has been a collection of several thousand artefacts, including unique and rare items, providing a glimpse of life in Brisbane from the 1860s to early 1900s. This collection is being housed by the Queensland Museum for current and future research.”

Dr Kevin Rains – Senior Heritage Consultant, Brisbane 
Outcome for the community
Pawprints located on the 1880s concrete floor

Despite its status as the capital of Queensland, Brisbane is not particularly well documented archaeologically. This project will provide long-term benefits to the community through the recovery of information and artefacts that contribute significantly to a greater understanding of the city’s early development. The artefacts and structural remains that were revealed reflect past infrastructure, commerce and most compelling, allow for an intimate look at domestic life within an ethnically diverse community once situated within what is now the Brisbane CBD.  

One such example was the discovery of a set of pawprints by Project Manager Dr Kevin Rains. The pawprints belonged to a small dog or puppy that had run over the concrete before it had dried. Located on the 1880s concrete floor beneath what was originally a series of early Chinese shops, this moment of life had been frozen for 140 years and had the team guessing: who owned the little dog, the shopkeeper, or a customer? and did it get into trouble for its misdeed?  

The project along with its exposures provides invaluable insights for the public and works towards telling the stories as well as experiences of past communities that have previously lacked representation.   

The advantages we delivered to this project

  • Locally based and experienced heritage consultants 
  • Excellent collaborative approach with State agencies and the university sector to deliver high quality outcomes on time and within budget. 

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