England’s Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York, and his wife Princess Mary, visited Brisbane in May 1901. To celebrate their tour in this year of Federation two large arches were constructed over George Street-the Grand Arch at the intersection of Queen and George Streets and that pictured above, the Aboriginal Arch. It was located on George Street, between the intersections with Charlotte Street and Mary Street.
The Southern Protector of Aboriginals, Archibald Meston, was given the task overseeing the design and erection of the 30 foot (9 metre) structure. Thomas Pye from the Government Architect’s Office designed the final structure using Meston’s ideas. It was approved by the then acting Premier, the Honourable Arthur Rutledge.
The Aboriginal Arch attracted a great deal of attention, more, one local journal suggested, than the Grand Arch at the intersection of Queen and George Streets. Shaped like a pyramid, the arch was supported by two abutments. It was covered with tea-tree bark, stringy bark and an assortment of native ferns. Atop each abutment was an Aboriginal gunyah occupied by women and children, with skins, mats, boomerangs, spears and dilly bags displayed before them. Underneath the arch were strung strings of shells which glinted in the sunlight.
No less that sixty Aboriginals sat or stood on the arch, including Charlie Samuels, a well-known Aboriginal sprinter. Ten of the men were 6 feet (1.82 metres) tall. The Cooper Creek man at the apex was 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 metres). On his right and left were a man from each of the other States-New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and West Australia. Most were decorated with emu feathers, their bodies lined out with red and white ochres. They carried weapons from all parts of Australia. After the passing of the party the Aboriginal women started to sing an old song of welcome for the return of a successful war party, a chorus taken up by the men on the arch.
Brisbane Courier, 21 May 1901, p. 7.
Telegraph, 13 April 1901, p. 2.
Conner J. 2015. Royal visits to Australia. Canberra: National Library of Australia, p. 38.