Qld Homesteads: Brooklyn House returned to its former glory

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IF the Fraser Coast Region’s Brooklyn House represents a fabulous slice of the history of Queensland in terms of colonial architecture, its former residents are even more fascinating.

Located in the small historical town of Howard (pop. 1360) north of Maryborough, the majestic home is best known for its association with the region’s historic coal industry, Queensland Member of Parliament Colin Rankin and, in particular, his daughter Australian Senator Annabelle Rankin.

The heritage listed Brooklyn House was built in 1890 for the Rankin family as the headquarters for Queensland Collieries’ then significant coal mining operation.

Brooklyn House was home to the Rankin family until 1969, but like so many iconic Queensland buildings fell into disrepair before being rescued and restored to its former glory.

Brooklyn House has been lovingly restored.

Brooklyn House has been lovingly restored.

The Rankins

Colin Rankin moved to Queensland from Scotland in 1884, when his father William was appointed the manager of Queensland Collieries Company.

Colin was soon put to work joining the coal mining company’s staff and from 1886 the Queensland Defence Force. By 1890 he was assistant company manager, grew sugar at Tigh-na-Bienne near Childers, and became a clerk and valuator on the local council.

But adventure beckoned the 31 year old and he headed off to the Boer War in 1900 and was appointed as the second-in-command of the First Australian Regiment of Mounted Infantry.

After seeing action in southern Africa he was invalided back to England before returning to Queensland in 1901, just over a year after setting sail. In 1903 he was promoted lieutenant colonel of the Wide Bay Infantry Regiment, assuming command in 1906.

Brooklyn House owners James and Robyn House.

Brooklyn House owners James and Robyn House.

If that wasn’t enough, Colin also had deep seated political aspirations, which revealed his determined nature. Although he was unsuccessful at both the 1899 and 1904 elections he secured the seat of Burrum as an independent at a by-election following the death of Labor member George Martin in 1905. He held Burrum through five elections through to his retirement in 1918.

Colin also served in World War 1, heading to the Middle East in 1915 with the Australian Imperial Force in Egypt before being made a temporary brigadier general in 1916. He retired with the honorary rank of colonel in February 1917.

On the death of his brother Charles in 1919, Colin became the managing director of Queensland Collieries. He moved his family from his Childers cane farm to Brooklyn House, where they soon became very active in the local community.

The welcoming entrance to Brooklyn House.

The welcoming entrance to Brooklyn House.

The story goes that such was the standing of the Rankins neither the church service nor the silent movies on Saturday night would start until the family was seated.

Political pioneer

Whereas Colin Rankin appears to have been starch and formality, his daughter Annabelle became a legend. Born in 1908, Dame Annabelle (as she became in 1957) lays claim to being the first woman from Queensland (and only the second woman in Australia) elected to federal parliament, the first woman to become a federal government minister, and the first Australian woman to be appointed head of a foreign mission.

Dame Annabelle Rankin (as she became in 1957) lays claim to being to being the first woman from Queensland elected to federal parliament, the first woman to become a federal government minister, and the first Australian woman to be appointed head of a foreign mission.

To their credit, her parents encouraged their daughter to travel and experience many different parts of the world. After leaving the Glennie school in Toowoomba she went to China and Japan; in 1936 she visited England, Scotland and continental Europe. Online encyclopedia Wikipedia has her down as working in the slums of London and with refugees from the Spanish Civil War. From Gibraltar she witnessed the bombardment of the town of La Linea de la Concepcion.

Annabelle entered parliament as a Liberal senator in 1947 and proved a particularly effective ambassador for women during the difficult postwar years, especially women and children in remote parts of Queensland.

In the Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate she is recorded as notably demanding the sales tax on refrigerators and heating systems be either reduced or abolished. Her speeches in opposition were often vigorous with a precise focus on social issues. She also lobbied the Chifley government to cooperate with the states on improved housing for pensioners. She called for ‘sympathetic administration’ of widows’ pensions, especially in cases where all welfare disappeared when the eldest child reached 16.

In 1966, Prime Minister Harold Holt appointed her Minister for Housing, making her only the second woman to reach ministerial rank in the Federal Parliament. In 1971 she resigned from the Senate to become High Commissioner to New Zealand.

Dame Annabelle Rankin.

Dame Annabelle Rankin.

Throughout her life until her death in 1986 she remained a tireless worker for a large number of community welfare groups including Asthma Foundation, Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Salvation Army Girls’ Home in Toowong, Queensland Spastic Children’s Welfare League, , Multiple Handicapped Children’s Association, Cystic Fibrosis Association, Outward Bound, and the Mental Health Association.

Such is the standing of Annabelle the federal electorate of Rankin – which spans across parts of both Brisbane and Logan City Councils, is named after the pioneering politician.

Glory restored

Current custodians James and Robyn House bought the imposing Queenslander just over a year ago and have set about taking the imposing Queenslander to the next level of restoration.

James, a specialist heritage painter, has put his skills to good use. Every effort is being made to return the home to its highest level of elegance to ensure the home can long be enjoyed and appreciated for generations to come.

In addition to the intricate paintwork, the building has undergone some major work to its 130 year old foundations and had its roof and sweeping verandahs restored.

The 800 square metre house sits on 13,300 square metres of land, taking up three-quarters of an entire block in Howard.

The chamferboard cladded Queenslander features a hip iron roof, encircled by magnificent nine foot wide verandas on three sides.

In keeping with the era, the interior of the building is dressed in red cedar along with English beech woodwork and marble fittings.

There are French doors leading into the rooms with their 14 foot high ceilings, which include six bedrooms, two bathrooms,formal dining room, office, sun room, and kitchen with servants’ eating room.

Brooklyn House has five fireplaces (including two made from marble), a Crown double-oven wood fired stove in the kitchen.The mantle piece is made from 300 year old oak gifted by the family of the famous Pears soap, England.

Robyn said one notable modification the home was the conversion of the massive attic into a liveable space complete with dormer windows.

“The windows are are only visible at the rear of the building, meaning the street view of the structure is unchanged from the original design,” Robyn said.

“It is a privilege to have this opportunity to live here and take Brooklyn House to the next level. It really is a very well designed home and such a wonderful piece of Queensland’s history we can share with others.

“The reward is seeing people enjoying the experience of stepping back into a bygone era.”

Interestingly, it is believed the decorate English beech balustrade surrounding the verandahs was hand made on the ship during the journey from England in about 1886. The home also has a grand front porch extension with double steps leading down to the circular driveway.

Heritage listed Brooklyn House is noted for its Devonshire teas.

Heritage listed Brooklyn House is noted for its Devonshire teas.

The expansive gardens are a work in progress. Previously featuring sub-tropical gardens and both a bowling green and a tennis court, the grounds have required plenty of work to bring them back into order. One surprise has been the discovery of the cement slaps in the back paddock where workshops were once used to repair mine equipment from Queensland Collieries.

The remainder of the block is the site of St Matthews Anglican Church, built on land donated by William Rankin. The church was closed in 2016 and is now being redeveloped as a private residence.

Brooklyn House is open for guided tours and Devonshire teas. The home is also popular for weddings, photos, gatherings for groups including historic car clubs and bus tours.

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