Convict Farm, Women's Prison and Allison Engine Testing Stands

Eagle Farm, QLD, Australia; Brisbane, QLD, Australia
Est. 732m / 15 mins / Map

The Eagle Farm Women's Prison and Factory trail starts with the large portal entry about 20 metres from the Interpretive Centre building. The walking trail takes you past display panels and life size replicas of women prisoners going about their daily duties. Underneath your feet are the earthen foundation layers of the original farm and prison site, where half a dozen buildings and a large stockade fence existed in convict times.

Convict Farm, Women's Prison and Allison Engine Testing Stands - Cya On The Road

The main activities for women convicts sentenced to the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement were washing, sewing, picking apart old ropes, cooking and cleaning. They also worked the fields, growing and harvesting the produce for the settlement, milking sheep, goats and cows, feeding the pigs and chickens, and tilling the fields. The missionary James Backhouse observed about 40 women working at the farm in 1836, many of them in chains.

The large palisade or fence surrounding the main area of the prison, about 100 metres by 100 metres, or the size of a football field, was made of tall timber poles over 5 metres high, with sharpened tips. The palisade was intended to keep the women in at night, and to keep the military men out. Many fraternisations, however, were known to occur during the day in the long grass surrounding the fields.

In the centre of the Women's Prison and Convict Farm area there is a viewing plinth where you can see representations of the farm buildings superimposed on the landscape. We know the buildings were located here because archaeological digs in recent years have uncovered their brick foundations about one metre below the current ground level.

As you continue to the north, you pass the location of the Superintendent's cottage, the most substantial of the farm buildings where the Agricultural Superintendent John Scottowe Parker lived with his wife, but not in a perfectly faithful marriage, we hear, as he is known to have fathered a child with one of the women prisoners.

The archaeological digs also uncovered the many layers of the airfield which was originally grass on fairly swampy ground. Then during World War Two a tarmac was laid down over large amounts of fill to lift the level and solve the drainage problems. This work was funded by the United States military and carried out by Queensland's Department of Main Roads. After the war successively higher layers were added as the Brisbane airport was upgraded over the years.

At the northern end of the park the road leading in from Schneider Road is Amy Johnson Place, commemorating her 1930 solo flight from England to Australia, the first for a woman pilot. When she arrived at Eagle Farm she was greeted by thousands of adoring fans. The crowd was stunned into silence when she overshot the runway and crashed into a field of millet near here, but then the cheering resumed when she emerged unhurt.

Where the walking trail meets Amy Johnson Place, past the northern orientation panel, turn to the right towards the Allison Engine Testing Stands. As you follow the path, imagine you are walking along a busy airport runway, planes constantly landing, taking off, taxiing to and fro, emergency vehicles passing and troop vehicles bringing soldiers, pilots, construction workers and top brass. Less than a metre below the present surface where you are now walking was the tarmac of the main Eagle Farm Airfield runway, a surface which saw more airport traffic than any other place in the southern hemisphere during the war.

At the easternmost end of Amy Johnson Place another major orientation portal greets you with information and a map to guide you on the circuit. The path takes a turn to the south, towards the brick buildings of the Allison Engine Testing Stands.

A display panel lists the planes powered by the famous Allison engine, the Curtiss P-40 War Hawk, known as the Kitty Hawk in Australia, with its signature shark-faced nose art, the Allison also powered the Bell P-39 Airacobra, the Lockheed Lightning twin-engine, P-38 and early versions of the P-51 Mustang.

To experience a re-creation of the engineers going through the testing procedures for the Allison engine, press the audio button on the display panel. Following the war, these two brick buildings became the airport fire station.

Further along the path there is another display panel where you can learn how General Motors Holden came to be overhauling the engines at their premises on Breakfast Creek. This is the best vantage point to see the life-size replica of a mounted engine and an engineer attaching its propeller. General Motors Holden were owned by the General Motors parent company which also owned the Allison Engine Company, so it made sense for the Australian firm to take up the challenge. The immense task employed more than 500 civilian staff in two huge igloo-shaped hangars at Sandgate Road Albion.

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