The area that is now called Roma Street Parkland has a long and varied history; from a meeting place for local Aboriginal people prior to European settlement, a gazetted park in the 1870s to a railway goods yard the area that is now called Roma Street Parkland has been a focal point for the people and commerce of Brisbane.
The Turrbal people used the area around Roma Street Parkland for a variety of purposes prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, uses which included recreation, hunting and camping. On at least occasion in the 1840s it is recorded that the Roma Street area was used for a major gathering of Aboriginal groups from south-east Queensland and was probably the last of such gatherings in the Brisbane area.
A plan for two public squares
In 1840, Robert Dixon completed the first plan of Brisbane Town. The proposed streets were laid out in a grid pattern based on square blocks. In 1844, Henry Wade modified Dixon’s early plans, with Wades plans based on a rectangular grid pattern. His plan included two public squares to mirror each other at the end of what is now known as George Street. The eastern square became public space as part of the City Botanic Gardens, but the western square, where Roma Street Parkland is now located did not eventuate. The area immediately to the north and west of the township, had been reserved for public recreation and was eventually used for this purpose in the form of Albert Park and Recreation Ground (gazetted in 1877), which today forms the upper part of Roma Street Parkland.
Other significant uses of the land included an Orphanage, Brisbane Grammar School, a municipal Sales Yard for the buying and selling of stock and when the Roma Street Rail Station was opened in 1875, alongside it stood the municipal market trading garden, orchard and farm produce. The markets closed in 1964.
The arrival of the western railway
The belated arrival of the main western railway to Brisbane in 1875 was heralded by construction of a terminal station in Roma Street on land resumed from the Brisbane Grammar School. It was built to handle people and goods traveling between Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba.
As the major goods yard for Brisbane, Roma Street was extensively redeveloped between 1911 and 1934. The steep terrain required extensive excavation to provide a level area for the goods yard and was not completed until 1920. A total of 554,300 cubic meters of rock and earth were removed – the equivalent of 110 football fields one metre high – leaving an artificial escarpment at the boundary of Albert Park, which is still apparent today in the dramatic change of level between the Lake Precinct and the Upper Parkland.
Despite further development in the 1960s and 1970s, the limitations of the site and the increasing mechanisation of freight handling and use of containers eventually led to the relocation of the rail freight facility to Acacia Ridge in 1991.
Roma Street Station was redeveloped to service a metropolitan and long-distance train network, vacating a significant portion of the Roma Street yards.
In 1999, the Queensland Government decided to integrate the former rail land with the existing Albert Park, and released plans to redevelop the area as a new parkland for Brisbane.
Development commenced in January 2000, and the new Roma Street Parkland opened in April 2001. Over 100,000 shrubs, 1,200 mature trees, 1,800 unique specimens and 250 ferns were planted creating Brisbane’s largest area of green space, a place for local residents and visitors to gather and as a highlight of visitors to the city.