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Our history

Light bulb moments can change history. But how do you put those ideas into action?

If you look closely, innovation is everywhere – in the buildings we create, in the way we do business and in the programs we develop. Would the Queensland Cultural Centre, Suncorp Stadium and the Kurilpa Bridge be the landmarks they are today if it weren’t for innovative design?

The Department of Housing and Public Works continues to build on its rich history of innovation. See what innovative ideas fuelled our past, and what will shape our future, through our interactive timeline below.

  • 1859

    The newly formed Colony of Queensland embarks on a rapid and extensive building works program. One of the first buildings to be commissioned - a courthouse for Ipswich - is completed.

    Designed by Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin, the stone and brick neo-classical structure becomes the archetype for many of the courthouses built in the colony for the rest of the century.

    Charles Tiffin goes on to design and construct more than 300 public buildings for Queensland.


  • 1862

    The Lands and Works Department is created. In the same year, construction of the Governor's residence in Brisbane, the first major public building in Queensland, is completed.

    Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin, designs the building as both a private residence and official state office for Governor Bowen, Queensland's first governor.

    Today, the heritage-listed building is known as Old Government House and stands in the grounds of the Queensland University of Technology. It is considered one of the state's most significant historical buildings.

  • 1866

    The Lands and Works Department is divided into the Lands Department and the Public Works Department.

  • 1867

    The new Brisbane Hospital opens its doors, the first of two to be built at Herston, replacing the original hospital in George Street. The Women's Hospital follows in 1938.

    Designer and Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin, reports that the site of the hospital at Bowen Bridge Road has been well chosen, despite initial fears the location would be too far from the town centre. The new site is in an elevated position overlooking parkland and its light and well ventilated design is much more suited to patient recovery than the previously located hospital in George Street.

    Today, the amalgamated Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, is the largest and busiest hospital in Queensland, caring for over one million patients each year.

  • 1868

    Queensland's first Parliament moves into a new purpose-built home after eight years of sittings in an old convict barracks. The design wins Colonial Architect, Charles Tiffin, first prize for his French Renaissance style design.

    Today, Parliament House continues to be used for its original purpose and is considered one of Queensland's premier heritage buildings.


  • 1886

    Construction commences on the Queensland Government Treasury Building in Brisbane. The Public Works Department is one of a number of departments whose offices are moved to the new public administration building. The Queensland Government Cabinet continues to meet in the building until 1905.

    Today, the Treasury Building accommodates a casino.

  • 1887

    The Public Works Department merges with the Mines Department.

  • 1889

    Brisbane landmark Customs House opens. The building serves as a collection centre for customs duty on imported products, a particularly important function during a time when the manufacturing sector is only slowly developing.

    With work commencing in 1886 and completing in 1889, this building by the Office of the Colonial Architect takes three years and costs £38,346 ($72,692) to build.

    Known for its distinctive copper dome, the building features a depiction on its facade of a shield between an emu and kangaroo. This is despite there being no government in the country with a coat of arms at this time.

  • 1890

    The Public Works Department is established from the former Mines and Works Department.

  • 1909

    The early 20th century marks the Queensland Government's first involvement in housing when it introduces The Workers' Dwellings Act 1909 to provide subsidised housing for workers.

    The Workers' Dwellings Branch is established shortly after and is responsible for lending money and providing house construction expertise to Queenslanders.

  • 1910

    Queensland's first university, The University of Queensland, is established at Old Government House in George Street, Brisbane. The Public Works Department is tasked with transforming the building into a university. A total of 83 students are enrolled on opening.

    The rapid expansion of the university sees it outgrow its inner-city location and move to the suburb of St Lucia. Construction starts in 1937 under the Bureau of Industry. By 1946, responsibility has moved to the Public Works Department.

    Today, over 46,000 students are enrolled at the university.

  • 1911

    The first worker's cottage is erected under the Queensland Government's Workers' Dwellings Scheme by the Clutterbuck family in Nundah, Brisbane. The cost is £220 ($440) for the house.

    Given that the Harvester equivalent wage for an unskilled labourer with a wife and three children is £2 and 4 shillings ($4.40) per week, many people cannot afford to buy their own home and instead rent through private owners.


  • 1920

    The Workers' Dwellings Branch is transferred to the State Advances Corporation.

  • 1939

    The Department of Public Works' Townsville office becomes the epicentre for the department's work during World War II.

    Between 1939 and 1945, Townsville becomes a significant base for Australia's defence effort during the war. As a result, the department becomes heavily involved in defence projects including the construction of the Garbutt Air Base, large warehouses at depots at Macrossan and Breddan, and a military hospital at Blackwater. Many Public Works staff are sent to Townsville to help with the war effort.


  • 1945

    Queenslanders celebrate the end of World War II on 15 August 1945.

    In November 1945, Queensland Premier Frank Cooper signs the first Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in response to the Commonwealth Housing Commission's recommendation to adapt an integrated national and state plan to address the post-war housing shortage.

    Housing becomes a top priority and on 10 December the State Housing Act 1945 is passed. The Queensland Housing Commission is also established.


  • 1947

    There is a severe shortage of homes in Queensland. An alarming 4,218 Queensland families are living in homes made from calico, canvas or hessian. Basic building materials are in short supply.

    New houses are built to try and meet growing demand. Ex-wartime barracks are converted into temporary accommodation.


  • 1950

    Queensland is the first Australian state to sign contracts to import European pre-fabricated houses made to Queensland designs. Land is cleared throughout Brisbane and regional Queensland. Roads are constructed and services established. The concept of large housing estates is born.

    Eight years later, a European termite is discovered in some of the imported houses. The Queensland Housing Commission fumigates 2,643 houses, relocating thousands of families in the process.

    Eradicating the termite problem takes 17 months to complete and costs around £350,000 ($700,000).


  • 1963

    The Department of Public Works turns its attention to improving the design of public schools in the state - a reflection of the changing attitudes towards education.

    Primary schools move away from barrack-like designs to more varied shaped buildings that include colourful interiors and activity centres.

    Alterations to standard design plans over the years - such as improvements in roof ventilation, window placement and building orientation - reflect a growing awareness of the needs of teachers and students.


  • 1970

    During the next three decades, the Queensland Housing Commission faces a changing Queensland population.

    With alterations to the Family Law Act introducing no-fault divorce, the 1970s sees a movement away from the nuclear family with a growing number of single parent households. An increasing number of households comprise of people living alone, older people or people with a disability, all with special housing needs which has to be considered.

    To meet changing client demand, the Commission branches out from large estate developments to unit blocks and attached houses.

  • 1974

    Floods devastate Brisbane. No Queensland Housing Commission-owned houses are lost, however a significant number in the Ipswich area are water-damaged.

  • 1975

    Design begins on the most significant group of public buildings ever completed by the state - the Queensland Cultural Centre.

    The Queensland Cabinet initially asks the Public Works Department to investigate the feasibility and construction cost of a new art gallery to replace the state's aging gallery in Bowen Bridge Road. The site nominated for the building is on the South Bank of the Brisbane River.

    By January 1975 the project has expanded to include not only the Art Gallery but also a Performing Arts Centre, Museum and State Library. Together these buildings become known as the Queensland Cultural Centre.

  • 1981

    The first house adapted to meet the needs of people with a disability is let to the Independent Living for Physically Handicapped Association.

  • 1982

    The celebrated Robin Gibson-designed Queensland Art Gallery opens in Brisbane at a cost of $28 million. Robin Gibson and Partners were chosen to design the building after a two-stage competition was staged by the Public Works Department. The building is awarded the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Buildings

    Today, it is joined by the Gallery of Modern Art, which stands just 150 metres away and shares a close visual and physical connection.

  • 1983

    The high concentration of people facing social and economic disadvantage as well as the unfavourable aesthetic design of many unit blocks, results in a waning community appeal of public housing.

    In response, the Commonwealth Government provides a funding boost to develop the Community Housing sector in Queensland. The Queensland Government investigates various ways to improve its service and help Queenslanders enter the private rental market.


  • 1984

    The Commonwealth Government initiates the Local Government and Community Housing Program to provide locally managed long-term rental housing for low income earners.

    In the same year, the Crisis Accommodation Program is also established.

  • 1985

    The Queensland Performing Arts Centre opens in Brisbane. The complex houses three theatres, large public areas and restaurants. The two main theatres, the Lyric Theatre and the Concert Hall, each accommodate 2000 people and provide world-class venues for opera, theatre, ballet and concerts. The Performing Arts Centre is linked to the Art Gallery and Museum by a bridge and tunnel across Melbourne Street at South Bank.

  • 1986

    The Queensland Museum opens. One of four buildings which form the Queensland Cultural Centre, the museum's construction is managed by a Public Works Department team. The team also supervises construction of the Queensland State Library.

    The Government Precinct Development is officially opened. It incorporates the State Works Centre and the renovated Harris Terrace and The Mansions.

    The renovation of Harris Terrace and The Mansions is significant as few terrace houses have ever been built in Brisbane and even fewer remain intact.


  • 1988

    Thirteen years after the Queensland Government announces construction of the Queensland Cultural Centre in Brisbane, the final building is completed, the Queensland State Library.


  • 1989

    The Administrative Services Department is established which includes the former Public Works Department.

    In the same year, the Department of Housing and Local Government is formed. This department becomes the face of housing provision in Queensland.

    While the Commission continues to exist as a legal entity for almost another 15 years, the creation of the department sees the emergence of a whole new philosophy of service provision.

  • 1991

    The Boarding House Program is established to address issues related to poor conditions in boarding houses and gradual erosion of boarding house stock.

    The Community Rent Scheme is established. The scheme funds staff and operating costs as well as rental subsidies to enable the establishment of 32 schemes statewide to manage up to 1200 households in medium term accommodation.

    The historic Thomas Dixon Centre in Brisbane's West End is refurbished as a centre for dance and arts. The building was first built as a shoe factory in 1908 and then purchased by the Queensland Government in 1975 for use as a store. Today, it is home to the Queensland Ballet.

  • 1992

    The Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning is formed.

    Responsibility for the Aboriginal Rental Housing program transfers to the Queensland Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning.

  • 1993

    The Australian economy is in recession and unemployment in Queensland peaks at more than 10%. Changes in demographics, the distribution of work and wealth, population growth and lifestyle aspirations put pressure on the supply and demand of housing with adverse impacts on housing affordability.

    Despite this economic slump, the public housing portfolio expands, and in the 10 years until 1997, the portfolio almost doubles from 25,500 to 49,300 dwellings.

    Home Assist Secure is established.

    The Urban Renewal program is established.


  • 1996

    The Public Works and Housing Department is formed.

  • 1998

    The Public Works and Housing Department separates into two portfolios. The Department of Housing is formed as a single entity dedicated to meeting Queensland's housing needs. This reinforces the importance of housing for Queenslanders as the cornerstone for a healthier and more stable life.

    The Smart Housing initiative is introduced.

    The Community Renewal program is established.

  • 1999

    The Queensland Government releases plans to create a new parkland for Brisbane. The $72 million transformation of the old Roma Street rail yards is project managed by the Department of Public Works and includes a 15ha subtropical recreational space. The parkland opens to the public in April 2001.

  • 2001

    The department wins the Royal Australian Institute of Architects' Harry Marks Sustainable Architectural Award for the design of Redcliffe City Council library and gallery. The emphasis on sustainable building design reflects increasing community concern about the environment. The Department of Housing responds to changing public attitudes by working in conjunction with the Central Queensland University to build a Research House in Rockhampton to test sustainable design principles.

    In the same year, construction begins on the Suncorp Stadium redevelopment in Brisbane.


  • 2002

    QFleet wins the Australasian Fleet Managers Association (AFMA) 2002 Fleet Environment Award for its ongoing corporate fleet environment practices.

    QFleet also becomes the first organisation to receive all three of AFMA's major industry awards, also winning the Fleet Safety Award and later the Fleet Manager of the Year award.

    In the same year, the Department of Public Works is recognised for its heritage conservation efforts with a gold award, the John Herbert Heritage Award from the National Trust of Queensland for the restoration of the 173-year-old convict-built Commissariat Store in William Street, Brisbane.


  • 2003

    William McCormack Place, project managed by the department in Cairns, becomes the first commercial office building in Australia to achieve a five-star energy rating under the Australian Building Greenhouse Rating Scheme.

    The Royal Brisbane and Royal Women's Hospitals are amalgamated to become the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. The development includes procurement and contract management by the Department of Public Works.

    On 9 November of the same year, Parliament passes the Housing Act 2003 which repeals the State Housing Act 1945. From this date, the State of Queensland, through the Department of Housing, assumes the work and responsibilities of the Queensland Housing Commission.


  • 2004

    Construction of the $135 million Brisbane Magistrates Court is completed. The building contains a range of environmentally sustainable design initiatives.

    The construction of the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre also reaches completion. It comes in on budget and two months ahead of schedule.

    The year sees the commencement of the Community Memorials Restoration Program, led by the Accommodation Office. The Program is designed to help restore and preserve Queensland's unique and historical community markers.


  • 2005

    Queensland State Archives discovers two founding documents of Queensland that had been undetected for over 100 years in the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

    The department assumes a leadership role for the Queensland Government's four-year Responding to Homelessness initiative after earlier leading work aimed at improving cross-agency responses to homelessness.

    In March 2005, the department reaches a project milestone with the handover of over 2,000 lower tier seats as part of the Brisbane Cricket Ground (Gabba) redevelopment. This comes just in time for the first game of the AFL season featuring the Brisbane Lions.


  • 2006

    Tropical Cyclone Larry strikes the Innisfail region on Monday 20 March 2006. Within hours of the devastating event local Public Works staff members, some of whom have damage to their own homes, launch themselves into the tasks of placing tarpaulins on damaged roofs and removing debris.

    In the days following, the department helps restore vital government infrastructure and services including more than 150 state schools.

    The department also completes work on the $291.3 million Millennium Arts Project at the Queensland Cultural Centre, with the opening of the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and the redevelopment of the State Library of Queensland.


  • 2007

    The Queensland Government introduces a preparatory year of schooling to replace preschool. To facilitate this change, the Department of Public Works oversees a massive construction effort involving new buildings, refurbishments and extensions to schools.

    By 2008, Public Works has managed the delivery of facilities at more than 500 school sites, making it one of the largest educational building programs the department has ever delivered.

    The Department of Housing embarks on the most significant social housing reform seen in Queensland in 60 years with the phased implementation of a new strategic direction to realise one social housing system.

  • 2008

    The department manages a building Capital Works Program in the order of $8.5 billion. Projects completed include the Queensland Tennis Centre in Brisbane and the Townsville Women's Correctional Centre.

    A major element of one social housing system - a new client intake and assessment process, is implemented. An applicant's assessed level and nature of housing need determines when and how they are assisted, moving away from a wait-turn system.

    The department commences RentConnect, and becomes the Queensland conduit for the National Rental Affordability Scheme, a Federal and State Government initiative to stimulate the supply of 50,000 new affordable rental dwellings across Australia.

  • 2009

    The Australian Government introduces a $42 billion Nation Building - Economic Stimulus Plan in response to the Global Financial Crisis.

    A series of stimulus packages designed to boost the Australian economy are delivered. In Queensland this means a cash injection of over $300 million for infrastructure projects.

    It is the same year that the Department of Housing is abolished and the Department of Communities is formed through Machinery-of-Government changes.

    On 4 October 2009 the award winning Kurilpa Bridge, located over the Brisbane River, is officially opened.


  • 2011

    The $144.2 million redevelopment of Carrara Stadium at the Gold Coast into Metricon Stadium is completed. The stadium now caters to crowds of 25,000. A unique feature of the stadium is the solar roof edge which is connected to Energex's power grid. The solar panelling generates around 20 per cent of the stadium's total electricity needs, effectively making this stadium not only a sporting facility but also a registered power station.

    The department also assumes a key role in the disaster response and recovery after statewide flooding devastates Queensland between December 2010 and January 2011.

    A month later severe tropical Cyclone Yasi crosses the North Queensland coast, leaving many families homeless.


  • 2012

    The Department of Housing and Public Works is formed. The period marks the re-opening of Brisbane's heritage-listed Boggo Road Gaol to visitors. First used as a gaol in 1883, the notorious prison is now one of the city's most enduring historical landmarks. The 9.5 hectare site, known as the Boggo Road Urban Village, also includes an Ecosciences Precinct. Project managed by the department, this is Australia's first science centre of excellence.

    The year also sees a continued support by the department of the Commonwealth Games in 2018, playing a key management role in developing sports venues on the Gold Coast.

    The commencement of a five-year procurement reform program led by the department aims to achieve $1 billion in procurement savings.

  • 2013

    Queensland's sustained and rapid population growth, coupled with reduced housing construction since the Global Financial Crisis, leads to an increasing gap between public housing demand and supply.

    Ten cyclone shelters are delivered throughout Central and North Queensland under a $60 million jointly funded program between the Queensland Government and the Government of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.


  • 2014

    The Queensland Heritage Council lists the Cairns Technical College and High School building on the Queensland Heritage Register.

    Designed by architect Nigel Laman Thomas from the Department of Public Works in 1938, the three-storey brick structure reflects the neo-classical style of many public buildings of that period and demonstrates the evolution of state education architecture in Queensland.

    Opened during World War II, the school was also used for wartime operations. A US Army hospital was built on land that in 2014 is the school oval. Air raid slit trenches were dug in the school's playing fields and part of the school site was used as a military prison.


Last updated 26 June 2019    Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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