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Cultural Heritage

Summary of the cultural heritage of Brisbane Airport including the indigenous significance and early European settlement.

The area of Brisbane Airport and its surrounds are culturally and spiritually significant to the Turrbal People, an Australian Aboriginal nation who owned and lived in the region of present-day Brisbane Airport before European colonization of the area. Expand the tabs below to learn more.


Turrbal people

The Turrbal or Brisbane tribe owned the country as far north as the North Pine, south to the Logan, and inland to Moggill Creek.


This tribe all spoke the same language, but, of course, was divided up into different clans known as ‘mobs’. The tribe in general owned the animals, birds on the ground, roots and nests, but certain men and women owned different fruit or flower-trees and shrubs.


Daki Yakka, anglicised to ‘Duke of York’ and this mob occupied the area from the Brisbane City to Pine River in the north. Also within the Turrbal country were the Dalaipi mob which occupied the North Pine/Caboolture areas; the Mulrobin mob which occupied the south-side of the Brisbane River/Coorparoo area; the Yerongpan mob which occupied the Yerongpilly/south-west Brisbane area; the Chepara mob which occupied the area south to Logan; and the Ningy Ningy mob which occupied the Redcliffe/Deception Bay and Toorbul Point areas, the Turrbal’s ancestral homeland. Some of these mobs also used Brisbane Airport and its surrounds from time to time for camping, hunting, gathering and Yaa’ar (dispute resolution) purposes.

Brisbane River Dreaming

Dreaming Tracks and Dreaming Sites are an integral part of the Aboriginal people’s connection to country (the land-people relationship). Embedded within the Dreaming Tracks and Dreaming Places is the belief system, which regulates what ought/ought not do. Under Turrbal traditional laws and customs, laws are kept in songs, stories and dances, and are passed down from one generation to the next.


Brisbane Airport and surrounds are largely associated with the Maiwar (Brisbane River) Dreaming Track and the wider Brisbane Riverine catchment (wetland, floodplains and swamps); as well as the Ballum Di Dreaming Song; and Murukutjin (Black Swan) Dreaming Track.


Ballum Di is a Brisbane River song that underlines the significance of the riverine system and its connectivity to other places and sites, in particular, to the Maiwar and Murukutjin Dreaming Tracks. It is a dreaming song that connects particular places and locations along the Brisbane River. This song further connects other places of spiritual significance in south-east Queensland to form Dreaming Tracks – a regionalised network of beliefs and value systems within the wider, regional system.


The significance of Ballum Di to the Brisbane River is analogous to the significance of the Legend of Maroochy/Murukutjin to the Maroochy River and Coolum. In view of the intangible nature of the Dreaming Tracks it is difficult to measure potential impacts on their values. Under Aboriginal laws and customs, places like Brisbane Airport remain culturally and spiritually significant to the Turrbal people irrespective of any developments which may occur on the land.

Bora Rings

A bora ring (ceremonial ground) is reported to have existed at Brisbane Airport, near the suburb of Pinkenba, and would have been used prior to and immediately after European settlement in the 1820s. Another bora ring also existed over 1km away at Pinkenba, in the location of the present Brisbane Portuguese Club. However both sites were later destroyed by European settlers without the consent of the Turrbal People.


Bora rings were often located in the vicinity of creeks or permanent waterholes, where game and other resources were sufficiently plentiful to support people during ceremonies. The existence of these sites suggests that this area would have been used by the Turrbal People for gathering and corroboree due to the existence of freshwater swamps, floodplains and wetlands in the area.


In Turrbal Country, bora rings were earthen. Earthen bora rings were created by digging soil from within the centre of the circle using sticks and stone artefacts and carrying it to the outside, forming a mounded edge.


Transient camps were also known to occur on the beach at the mouth of Serpentine Creek at Cribb Island and another at the rafting yards at Serpentine Creek. Another transient camp existed at Myrtletown on the edge of Boggy Creek (Tumkaiburr). According to an early missionary at the Zion Hill Missionary in Nundah, the Boggy Creek camp site was occupied by the Bribie Island Aboriginies at Easter time each year.


In the 1820s, the area that is now the Brisbane Airport began to be developed for use by the early settlers. The airport underwent several transformations over the years, from its initial use as farmland and a cattle station in the 20s and 30s, a station for female convicts, a popular seaside bathing location, a World War I aerodrome, and its final incarnation as a modern airport.

1829-1841: Eagle Farm Agricultural Reserve

The Eagle Farm Agricultural Reserve was established in the vicinity of the current study area in in 1829 in the vicinity of what is now the airport tower. The farm was created to supply the fledgling Moreton Bay penal colony, which was established in 1824. By 1932, the land was used to farm maize, potatoes, cattle and pigs.


Eagle Farm Agricultural Reserve became the main penal establishment for female convicts by 1837. They helped to build the road to Breakfast Creek, which follows the same route as Sir Kingsford Smith Drive does today. All female convicts were removed from Eagle Farm by July 1839, but the site continued to function as a government cattle station until as late as 1841.


The settlement of ‘Cribb Island’ (which was located in what is now the most northern section of the Brisbane Airport) began on 10 June 1863 when Mr John George Cribb purchased 156 acres of swampy crown land past Eagle Farm for £160. He cultivated bananas, pineapples, watermelons, peanuts and cotton.

1842-1922: Free settlement

Following free settlement in 1842, Eagle Farm was among the first places to be subdivided into lots for agriculture. An 1842 map shows that William Pitt Trevelyan, a former captain in the 93rd Highlanders bought land that contained the former female compound and stockyards. Another section was renamed Hollinorth Farm.


The construction of the Brisbane to Sandgate railway line (1882) and the Pinkenba line (1897) encouraged an influx of people, which stimulated industrial and agricultural growth. In 1905 the Eagle Farm State School (later renamed Hendra State School) reported an enrolment of 156 boys and 116 girls demonstrating that a significant number of residents lived in the area.


Cribb Island became a popular seaside location, being one of the closest sea bathing beaches to Brisbane. The area was popular with retirees, and a number of people built small shacks as ‘weekenders’.

Sea bathing on the foreshore at Cribb Island, Queensland, 1920

(Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 24257,


1922 – 1931: Early flights and the aerodrome

Captain Edgar C. Johnston, Federal Superintendent of Aerodromes, chose a location owned by two farmers (David Wilson and William Lynn) for development as a government Aerodrome in 1922. The 32 ha Eagle Farm aerodrome was set up west of Schneider Rd and Jack Treacy, a World War I pilot, was the first to land there in his Sunbeam Avro in December 1922 (pictured below).


(First aeroplane to St. George, Queensland, October 1921. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 50272,


The Eagle Farm Aerodrome witnessed the arrival of Charles Kingsford-Smith, co-pilot Charles Ulm, navigator Harry Lyon and wireless operator James Warner in the Southern Cross in June 1928. Over 15,000 people waited at Eagle Farm to see Kingsford-Smith complete this epic journey, as the first trans-pacific flight from the United States to Australia. Kingsford Smith later donated the plane to the Brisbane Airport; it can be viewed at the Kingsford Smith Memorial (KSM) on Airport Drive. The KSM was first dedicated on Sunday 17th August 1958. In June 1930, QANTAS airways moved its headquarters to Eagle Farm. The aerodrome was closed in 1931 and was used for grazing land until the onset of World War Two.



(Crowds attracted to the Southern Cross after the triumphant landing at Brisbane, October 1928. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 43115,; Landing the aircraft, Southern Cross in Brisbane, Queensland, ca. 1928. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 139254,


1932-1940s: The Great Depression and World War II

During the Great Depression of the 1930s many of the Cribb Island shack owners abandoned the area, and a number of unemployed families took up residence.


Shortly after the entrance of Australia into World War Two, the grazing lease over the Eagle Farm Aerodrome was terminated by the Commonwealth government. Eagle Farm was then used by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for training purposes until early 1942.


The area housed a number of Military camps. United States military personnel constructed two (and later a third) hard surface runways to replace the former grassed land fields. This site was a part of an extensive series of airports and fields hastily constructed throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory during the War, in order to defend the nation and provide a launching pad for allied military forces back into Asia.


Eagle Farm was intended to act as a service and assembly facility for three to four thousand allied aircraft during the War. With the urgent need for terminal buildings, M.R. Hornibrook and Company were commissioned to erect a number of timber truss igloo structures. The Australian subsidiary of the General Motors Company, General Motors-Holden Limited, was contracted in 1942 in to establish an overhaul and assembly plant in an igloo warehouse at Breakfast Creek.


Eagle Farm Airport during World War II Brisbane

(Eagle Farm airport during World War II, ca. 1939-1945, Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative number: 156869,


The 6 HAA Batteries were decommissioned in August 1945, including the 388th Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) Battery based established at the airport. Remnant sites from World War Two still present include an American built runway at the airport, and heritage-listed Hangar No. 7 and the former Allison Testing Stands in Eagle Farm.



1950s-1980s: Airport development

In the 1950s-1980s, Brisbane Airport occupied an area of around 4,000 acres. Two terminal buildings housed the domestic carriers Ansett and Trans Australia Airlines, while a third catered for all international services. All three of these terminal buildings were wartime igloos erected to house military aircraft assembly and testing plants.


 Ansett at Brisbane Airport


(Ansett Super Convair 340 Metropolitan on the tarmac at Brisbane Airport, Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative number: 112636,


In February 1971 a joint committee comprised of members of the Australian government, the Queensland Government, and the Brisbane City Council recommended the construction of a new airport. This new site 5 kilometres north of the existing site necessitated the resumption of 60 houses in Lander’s Pocket and Lower Nudgee, some land from the Nudgee Golf Brisbane Airport Course and virtually all of the residential settlement at Cribb Island.


The new international terminal, approved in 1974, was designed to service 240 arriving passengers and 240 departing passengers simultaneously at 20-minute intervals.

During this time, Cribb Island became famous as a childhood home of Bee Gees pop stars Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. The airport also had a number of well-known visitors, including the Beatles and Queen Elizabeth on her 1954 tour of Australia.

1988-present: Modern airport

Prime Minister Bob Hawke opened the runway and control tower for the new Domestic Terminal, in time for Expo ’88, while the new International Terminal was opened in 1995.


Changes to Commonwealth legislation in 1996 allowed the privatisation of major Australian airports, and in 1997 BAC purchased the Brisbane Airport for $1.4 billion, which included a 99 year lease of the land from the Australian Federal Government.


In 2004, BAC began plans for major infrastructure upgrades at the airport, including expansions to the Domestic and International Terminals, the new parallel runway, two new multi-level carparks and the new road network. The new parallel runway is expected to be operational in 2020.



Brisbane Airport background