Willards Farm – part of the Redlands heritage

Willards Farm IMGP0394

Willards Farm sign photographed by Robert Weismantel in 2006

Willards Farm played an important role during World War II and it is a direct link to the Redlands’ farming history.  But the battle now being fought is about ensuring future generations are able to see and even feel this history…on the ground.

Redland City Council has received an application for residential subdivision which would result in demolition of a 150 year old homestead.

Meanwhile the Commonwealth Government is planning to divest a large area of land next door.

Colonial history


Old sheds with possible heritage values

Originally owned by the Willard family, the (Willards) Farm, also known as ‘The Pines’, is located on Old Cleveland Road East, Birkdale and dates back to the 1860s.

James Willard, a timber-getter and farmer, was one of the first settlers of the Capalaba-Cleveland area, and he and his family ran the farm from about 1863 to 1938. The property was established as a result of the very earliest decisions of the Queensland Government to allow the lease and sale of land for pastoral and agricultural purposes.

The original Willard family farmhouse and outbuildings, such as the dairy and sheds, were built with slabs of timber which were felled on their farm.  Some buildings still stand on the now adjoining land.

World War II

Facilities in this area played a critical role in the direction of military operations by General Douglas MacArthur when he was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area.  It was a dark time for the Australia and its US ally: we were on the back foot and the Japanese invasion of Australia threatened.

In 1943, the US Army Signal Corps established a Radio Receiving (Telecommunications) site at (the then) Cotton’s Farm, Capalaba.  The farm was bounded by Tingalpa Creek on the west, Old Cleveland Road East on the east and Uhlman Road to the north. Willard’s Farm was owned by Doug and Rosemary Cotton when it was acquired by the Americans.

Heritage value to be assessed

Miles Brown Willards Farm

Don Brown MP with Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Dr Steven Miles

Following representations from local MP Don Brown, the Member for Capalaba and support from local councillor Paul Bishop, the State Government has intervened to ensure that heritage issues are considered.

“I have now taken action, using the powers provided by the Heritage Act 1992, to allow time for the independent umpire to make a measured and informed decision about the site’s heritage status,” Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Dr Miles said in a media release. The Minister has issued a Stop Order upon the site.

Dr Miles said the farm deserved further research and inspection to determine if it is of State level heritage significance.

“This process will give the community, the owner and the local government the opportunity to have their say about the heritage value of Willards Farm,” Dr Miles said.

Member for Capalaba Don Brown said he was pleased that the site was protected to allow the heritage evaluation to occur.

“The Willards Farm site is a well-known local landmark with a lot of history attached to it, being over 150 years old.” Local Councillor, Paul Bishop, said that he feels the pastoral homestead has immense historic value and that a formal assessment is essential.

“I hope we can all enable an exemplary outcome in the best interest of civic, commercial and community values as we honour the work and living conditions of our pioneering European ancestors to whom we owe so much.

Willards Farm

Cr Paul Bishop at Willards Farm

“Thanks to the Minister’s intervention, community volunteers and officer support, we can now be assured the assessment process will help to reveal any secrets from our past that might otherwise have been lost,” Cr Bishop said.

The Minister has also asked Queensland Heritage Council to consider this matter as expeditiously as possible and it is anticipated that this will occur by mid-September.

The Queensland Heritage Council, which is the independent peak advisor on heritage matters in the state, will then make the ultimate decision about whether Willards Farm is entered in the State Heritage register.

Timely community action

Paul Bishop 22522_687857428026717_8952296791051831331_n

Old homestead known as “The “Pines”

Members of the Birkdale Progress Association became very concerned when a 12 lot residential subdivision application was lodged with Redland City Council.  The applicant’s report stated that “The site contains an existing house which will be demolished as part of development”.

Unfortunately, Willards Farm was not recorded in the Redlands Heritage Places Register.  Because Council had given no heritage recognition to the site, heritage provisions of the planning scheme could not be invoked.  There was a risk that the owners and developers had almost “as-of-right” ability to demolish the buildings.

In the face of another failure of the Redlands Planning Scheme the Association approached the Minister for Heritage for a “Stop Order” under Section 154,  Queensland Heritage Act 1992.  The Stop Order is a blunt tool and one that poorly serves the needs of the community and landowners.

This Minister’s Stop Order” buys time by protecting the property for 40 days (Section 155).  While the Association welcomed the Minister’s decision its members know too well that this decision is only a holding operation and it does not guarantee protection (or even a proper assessment) of the site.  This tasks are matters for the Queensland Heritage Council.

The Heritage Council gives some measure of the issues it will consider in is guide Assessing cultural heritage significance: Using the cultural heritage criteria.

Is this enough time enough to further assess the heritage values of the property and the possible listing on the Queensland Heritage Register?

World War II heritage next door

A broader concern of the Birkdale Progress Association is that the much larger adjoining properties contain the World War II communication buildings and ‘antenna farm’ and evidence of an aircraft landing strip.  The site is clearly no Bletchley Park, but in its own way it was an important part of Australia’s War effort.

While many of the structures are still largely intact the land is up for sale. The community representatives are currently lobbying our State and Local Governments to make community use of the land and also retain the historic buildings and artifacts.

It is likely some artifacts may been removed while others could remain buried or hidden.

So the Government should act with due caution and conduct a proper heritage and possibly archeological survey of the site.

Questions for the Commonwealth and the Council

Why is the Commonwealth not gifting the land?

It seems that the Council has some interest in buying the land adjoining Willards Farm.  But does the Federal Government expect the Council to purchase the land even if it is to be used for public purposes?  There are good precedents to suggest that a nil value transfer would be a fair deal.

In Sydney the Commonwealth Government initially tried to adopt a commercially focused approach to surplus defence lands around Sydney Harbour and the ANZAV rifle range.  Under the weight of public opinion various Federal Governments have “folded” and much of this land, worth millions and earmarked for sale has been set aside for National Parks and public use.

If it is good enough for people in Sydney to be “gifted” Federal property why not the people of Redlands.  Action by our Federal Member to secure publicly owned land for a public purpose is long overdue!

What protection did the Redlands Planning Scheme afford Willards Farm?

There is scant regard for heritage and historical values of Willards Farm  in the Redlands Planning Scheme.  The site is not listed in the Heritage Places Register of the existing Planning Scheme.

On this basis what might be the protection given to Willards Farm and other sites of like value? It is likely the answer is “NIL”.  Why can this be predicted? Because it is inconceivable Council’s planners would know or could accurately assess or record heritage sites and values without the expertise and input of the local community!

Perhaps the actions surrounding Willards Farm will help to focus community attention on the way that City Plan 2015 will deal with protection of historical and heritage places in the Redlands.

A planning scheme that does not look to identify and protect places like Willards Farm cannot lay claim to protecting community values, lifestyle or livability.

Redlands2030 – 23 July 2015

Please note: Offensive or off-topic comments will be deleted. If offended by any published comment please email thereporter@redlands2030.net

11 thoughts on “Willards Farm – part of the Redlands heritage

  1. This is our heritage, my great, great grandfather James Willard lived, owned and worked this land for some 75 years. I do not have the history behind how it changed hands and why it was bought by the Americans in the war but I would like the opportunity to understand my heritage and early family settlers of Australia. I have only recently discovered the property and a painting done in the 1980’s by artist friend as well as portraits of James and Margaret Willard’s daughter, Essy who is my great grandmother. I would appreciate very much any information on this property, it’s change of hands from the Willard family to ending up being owned by America and now the Local Council and how we can save this for future generations.

  2. I agree with Me Too as the History and Heritage of The Redlands is very important to me.
    How many people would be asking this same question which was raised by Redlands 2030.
    What protection did the Redland Planning Scheme afford Willards Farm?
    Even though that letter about the need to buffer an historic farm was written fifteen years ago, the new Willard Farm episode shows Council has been sadly lacking in its care of our history and heritage. We should be asking more questions. Do they know what to do? Do they care?
    Are they so wrapped up in promoting development that they don’t see the value and economic opportunities in the richness of Redlands’ story?
    Our koalas are also part of our heritage. It doesn’t seem to me that Council cares at all.

    However I do not wish to include those councillors who have been standing up for Willard Farm in my remarks. So far I haven’t read anything from Council about how they intend to manage Heritage in the new City Plan.

  3. What protection did the Redlands Planning Scheme afford Willards Farm?
    A good question raised by Redlands2030. We wait to hear any response from Council via the Mayor.

    I would like to quote from a letter written by a Wellington Point resident way back in May 2000, yes year 2000. I will scan the clipping and send to Redlands2030 so their editorial staff can verify etc.
    Edgarange PTY Ltd has applied for permission to wrap another of its housing estates around the historic property “The Palms”. Redland Shire Council has been sitting on a commissioned heritage study of the Shire for
    five years now, a fact which is in itself an outrage. It must surely know, therefore, that “The Palms” is very important historically on more than one count.
    The property, originally of 39 acres or more, was first owned and laid out by Mr James Pink in the 1870s.
    Mr Pink, a horticulturist of high standing, worked in London’s Kew Gardens before coming to Australia. He was Curator of the Brisbane Botanical Gardens from March 1881 to June 1886, and was also a member of the Acclimatisation Society.
    The land now owned by Edgarange was once part of Mr Pink’s beautiful grounds, and nurtured new and outstanding strains of mangoes and other fruits and vegetables. Mr Pink is credited with introducing the custard apple into Queensland.
    Some years later, “The Palms” became the birthplace of the famous Palms Chutney, a Queensland icon still going strong, for which farmers from all over the Shire provided fruit. This site of so much horticultural history should have been preserved as a memorial to the efforts of pioneers such as Mr Pink and kept productive.
    It is at present zoned “Rural Non-urban” and should stay that way.
    As is the case with Whepstead, so too does ‘The Palms” need a horticultural buffer. We are supposed to be proud of our history and wishing to show it off to tourists!
    Steps are in train to have ‘The Palms” Heritage listed.
    (Name) Wellington Point
    30 May 2000

  4. I agree with Jan that the Homestead, heritage listed, could be restored with native trees planted in grounds to provide homes for koalas, extinct in many areas, no longer seen on Coolnwynpin Ck, Capalaba, plus other wildlife, and a place for carers to release rehabilitated animals.
    Further, Peter says (23-07-2015) and I quote: “the location borders Cr Alan Beard’s Div 8, & Cr Paul Gleeson’s Div 9, yet neither have had anything to say to support saving this important part of Redlands heritage. One would ask, why…as both form an important alliance with this pro-development council”. In this case, their voices need to be heard.
    Cr Gleeson in March 2015 Report spoke of $30,000 Council grant taken from our environmental levy to help our koalas and support koala protection within the Redlands through Professor Peter Timms from University Sunshine Coast providing for PhD student to trial a new vaccine for chlamydia. Was the vaccination trial successful?
    The environmental levy was set up 20+ years ago, to buy land for wildlife and it was upsetting to learn that the first two budgets of the present Council administration ‘decreased’ the levy and now hear it is in general revenue to be used…for what purpose? The Commonwealth land may in the end, if allowed, be the only safe haven left in Redlands to conserve vulnerable species..

  5. Council has been sitting on its hands for twenty years on this. Back in 1995 the (then) Redland Shire Heritage Study Inventory of Items clearly ticked both State and Local significance for the Willard Farm. So why has it come to this? There were four pages on the farm, one written and three photographs. Time to bite the bullet and do the right thing by all parties. Yep, election issue and close scrutiny of the City Plan coming up fast.

  6. It would be wonderful to have the homestead restored to something similar to Ormiston house with the grounds planted up with enough native food trees for koalas, possums and bats to serve as a release site and a breeding site for repopulating the Redlands with our urban wildlife and a place for our wildlife carers to release rehabilitated wildlife if the original habitats are destroyed.

    • I was a wildlife carer for many years and I know just how difficult it was to find native habitat in which to release orphaned wildlife. I agree with Jan that it would be wonderful to have this old homestead and the area surrounding it planted up with the native trees that our wildlife are so desperately in need of. Perhaps our koalas that are sliding on the way to extinction might find a home where they could be safe. I would love to see the Redlands Council acknowledge the importance of the Heritage area of Willards Farm and surrounding land and appoint a group run by a Council officer to oversee all Heritage areas. Surely the Council can see how this would benefit the Redlands. There is so much information on heritage available.

  7. The location of this site borders Cr Alan Beards Division 8 and Paul Gleesons Division 9 yet we have heard nothing from these two councillors by way of positive support for saving this important part of the Redlands heritage. One should ask why this is the case as they both form an important alliance with this pro-development council

  8. Pick up your socks Redland City Council, and immediately list Willards Farm and its adjacent areas in the Redlands Heritage Places Register.
    It’s astonishing that this heritage place was not previously listed. Of course it must be given utmost protection from development/oblivion.
    This lapse of public responsibility entrusted to Council raises questions: How many other important places are vulnerable because they are not on the Redlands Heritage Places Register?
    What are the defined heritage criteria in Redlands?
    Who assesses places of heritage and includes them on the Register?
    How often is this Register audited and evaluated?

  9. I’m so pleased that someone has acted to stop this development – at least long enough to see if there is any value to keeping it as heritage listed. Unfortunately it’s become common place to get rid of anything too old and replace it with loads and loads of housing. As a community member, I know that I’d prefer to have the farm there and keep the history of the area. There are too many housing estates stampeding through our community and ruining what we all came to enjoy – the space, the natural beauty of the area and the wildlife. I hope this has a positive outcome.

Comments are closed.