Bowen Hills, an industrial and residential inner suburb and a railway hub, is 3 km north of central Brisbane. It was named after Sir George Bowen, the first Governor of Queensland (1859-68).
The earliest recorded house in Bowen Hills was built in the late 1850s, but in the next decade Montpellier Hill, east of the present railway station, was a sought after location. Known also as Bowen Hills Crest, the hill had Cintra House (1865), Folkstone (1860s) and Miegunyah (1884); the first and last-mentioned are on the Australian heritage register.
On a lower lying part to the west the Queensland Acclimatisation Society obtained occupancy of Bowen Park in 1862. Later the area came under the (Royal) Queensland National Agricultural and Industrial Society, (now known as the RNA Exhibition Grounds or the 'Ekka'). In 1866 Bowen Hills was defined as a postal district and settlement generally spread there in the 1870s. A post office was opened in 1878.
In 1882 the Brisbane to Sandgate railway was opened, with a route from Roma Street which proceeded through Petrie Terrace, Victoria Park and the Exhibition Grounds. Cheaper than the more direct railway through Brisbane Central (constructed 1890), the line provided a stopping-off point for the Exhibition. The route from Brisbane Central involved tunnelling under Bowen Hills and provided the Brunswick Street station in Fortitude Valley. Residents of Bowen Hills then had the options of shopping in the Valley or the City.
Residents also had ready access to the Exhibition building (1891) which became the Queensland Museum in 1899. A richly decorated polychrome brick building constructed in 23 weeks, the Exhibition is Bowen Hills' third important building on the Australian heritage register.
Settlement in Newstead Park and over Breakfast Creek in Albion led to a tramline in 1897 along Breakfast Creek Road, the eastern boundary of Bowen Hills. On the western boundary, Bowen Bridge Road, a tramline was opened in 1914.
By 1890 there were two railway lines from Brisbane to Bowen Hills: the line from Roma Street through Victoria Park and Exhibition; and the line from Central Station through Fortitude Valley. They came to a junction at the Mayne Station (1890) at the western end of Edmonstone Road. When a branch line to Enoggera was opened in 1899 Mayne Station was renamed Mayne Junction. (The origin of the name is unrecorded, but it presumably came from Patrick Mayne.)
Street-directory maps from the 1920s to the 1970s show Mayne as a suburb bounded by Enoggera/Breakfast Creek, and on its east and south by Wickham Grove and Folkstone Street prolonged to Enoggera Creek. The north-east side had waterside industries, houses and Perry Park.
The Exhibition grounds had been part of a swampy area needing drainage and filling, and the area northwards to Breakfast Creek was no better. In 1911 the Government acquired 20 ha of the low lying land, adjacent to the Mayne Junction railway station for new engine sheds, coaling and for staff amenities. Land fill was transported from excavations at Roma Street and by the end of the 1920s most of the facilities were completed. Mayne Junction had lines to Roma Street, Central, Sandgate and Ferny Grove. Bowen Hills station had a line (1897-1990) to the Teneriffe and New Farm Wharves.
The Bowen Hills station was just south of the tunnel and Campbell Street. In 1971, when the Mayne marshalling yards were enlarged, both Mayne Junction and Bowen Hills stations were closed and a new station (named Bowen Hills) built between them. It opened in 1973.
With such an array of transport facilities Bowen Hills was an ideal location for industry. There were timber yards, soap factories, oil depots and, of course, the Mayne loco yards. The main contrast to the industrial trend was Our Lady of Victories Catholic church and convent in Roche Street, Montpellier Hill. Built in 1925 in a Spanish Mission style, it is listed on the Queensland heritage register and has become a church for the Polish community. Cloudland ballroom (1940-82) also on Montpellier Hill was a rendezvous for US service personnel, postwar romances and grand occasions. It disappeared in an overnight demolition and has been replaced by the Mew apartments with tennis and swimming facilities.
Industrialisation went on apace, Queensland Newspapers building its headquarters near the loco yards. Montpellier Hill held out, with Cintra House becoming a gallery in 1958 and Miegunyah being purchased by the Queensland Women's Historical Association in 1967. By the 1990s the era of inner-urban Australian-made goods and chemical and paint factories was coming to a close. Bowen Hills was nominated as a site for urban (residential) renewal, and the real estate industry identified it as hot property. The RNA showground was included as a site for improvement. Road traffic congestion was relieved by the inner-city bypass, with a tunnel under the Exhibition grounds.
The Clem 7 tunnel, opened in 2010 and named after Brisbane's longest serving Lord Mayor, Clem Jones, takes vehicles from Woolloongabba (entrances from Ipswich Road and the Pacific Motorway) and Kangaroo Point (entrance from Shafston Avenue) to Bowen Hills, connecting to Lutwyche Road and the inner city bypass. At the Bowen Hills end, the pollution extractor tower, disguised in red and white panelling, is disconcertingly close to the Royal Brisbane Hospital. The tunnel’s operator forecasted 60,000 vehicles a day. Despite reducing the tolls, the traffic was closer to 20,000, and the operator collapsed financially in February 2011. Further below ground infrastructure – the Airport Link tunnel connecting Bowen Hills with Brisbane airport – was opened in 2012.
Bowen Hills, as its name suggests, avoided flooding in January 2011, although Perry Park was invaded by Breakfast Creek (Newstead). Mayne at Abbotsford Road was also flooded from Breakfast Creek.
The RNA showgrounds were transformed in 2012 as part of a major redevelopment project. The showgrounds were reduced by a fifth to free up space for commercial redevelopment.
Bowen Hills' census populations have been:
Booroodabin: a sesquicentenary history of Breakfast Creek, Bowen Hills, Newstead and Teneriffe, 1823-2009, Bowen Hills, Qld Women's Historical Assoc. Inc, 2009
Joanne Scott and Ross Laurie, Showtime: a history of the Brisbane Exhibition, St Lucia, University of Queensland, 2008