On 15th July 1841 the sun rose over the wilderness of the upper reaches of the Brisbane River to a most unusual sight.

Protruding from a whitefeller swag (piccaninny dawn being the coldest part of a Queensland mid-winter’s day) was a shock of red hair cresting a red-bearded white face. A strange animal was tethered and grazing nearby. A ring of curious locals, naked, spears at the ready, stood silently observing the alien visitors, ready to fight or flee as soon as the ghost moved.

Move it did, and 20-year old Englishman David McConnel leapt to his feet in alarm and grabbed his horse’s bridle when his eyes opened to the realisation that he was not alone.

Fast forward 175 years and that young man’s great great great grandson Christopher McConnel wakes every morning very close to that exact same spot, in the same house that David commenced building that year.

Using the only building materials available ¬ slabs hewn from ancient gum trees set on huge foundation logs, and lined with the red cedar that was plentiful at the time ¬ McConnel built the linchpin of his 120,000 acre dynasty on a rise overlooking the Brisbane River and his domain, which he named Cressbrook.

McConnel’s was a dynasty that contributed hugely to the creation of the new order of civilisation in what was to become Queensland some 18 years later. The family history is littered with firsts; the first public school in Queensland, established by his wife Mary McConnel. The Montessori education system was introduced into Australia by his son David. Mary McConnel established the first children’s hospital in Queensland (now the Lady Cilento Hospital).

The Queensland National Bank, the Toogoolawah Show Society, the release of red deer in the Brisbane Valley, the introduction of hereford cattle ¬ all these elements of our current society have their genesis in a Cressbrook McConnel initiative.

Recently a gathering some 160 strong with connections to this heritage elebrated David McConnel’s legacy, and that of his descendants, in the making of Queensland.

At a service of thanksgiving in the beautiful little Victoria Chapel at Cressbrook (built in 1901) Fr Ian Bailey praised the present incumbents of Cressbrook ¬ Christopher and Susan McConnel and their daughter Caitlin ¬ for their tenacity in preserving and protecting the legacy of their forefathers.

“At a time in our history when everything is so fleeting, so quickly overtaken by something new and different, it is so encouraging to find an enclave where the values of continuity hold sway,” he said.

A prime example was the choice of hymn included in the service ¬ the same hymn was sung at the Service of Thanksgiving for the centenary of Cressbrook in 1941.

Today, Cressbrook Homestead is a landmark. The oldest home in Queensland, possibly Australia, that has been continuously lived in by the same family, it is also a unique example of pioneering architecture. While it is a heritage-listed private residence, the family has made it and the chapel available by appointment for weddings.
www.cressbrook.com.au

 

 

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