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Jews of Australia - Queensland

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  • Gabriele Scott (1911 - 1998)
    Gabriele Neuhäuser collected mammals for the American Museum of Natural History in northern Australia from the late 1930s. She was a remarkable woman who spent much of her time collecting alone in remo...

Welcome to Brisbane

Brisbane Hebrew Congregation

Jewish Life in Brisbane

Brisbane is the capital of Queensland, Australia’s fastest growing state. This growth is also reflected within the Jewish community, with a constant flow of new families moving to Brisbane from interstate and overseas.

Background

The first record of Jewish settlement in Queensland was around the same time as the colony of Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859. Several Jewish families left Sydney to settle in Queensland and on Sunday 5 March 1865 the first communal meeting was held to start the establishment of a formal congregation and place of Jewish worship in Brisbane. At that time, Reverend Joseph E Myers was the first Minister and he established the first Hebrew school at Mrs Jewell’s residence in Tank Street in central Brisbane.

The Jewish population of the State spread rapidly throughout Queensland in the late 1800s, settling in some of the most remote locations. A significant number of families lived in Toowoomba (north-west of Brisbane) for many years and formed a congregation with a synagogue. However, the community was not stable and families tended to leave as soon as they could afford to settle elsewhere.

  • 1891-1895 were years of depression for Queensland and this severely affected the Jewish community with many members suffering financial difficulties.
  • Kosher meat was first supplied to the Jewish community in 1896 and when an outbreak of illness at the Brisbane
  • General Hospital was attributed to non-kosher meat, the hospital board turned to the Jewish community for assistance.
  • 23 Russian immigrant families arrived in Brisbane, many of whom were tradespeople. This was one of the many waves of Jewish migrants to the State. A community of Russian and Yiddish speaking migrants settled in South Brisbane, later forming the South Brisbane Hebrew Congregation (also known as Deshon Street.
  • Most of the migrants came from China and Russia. Their passage was often subsidised by the Australian Defence Department.

Just as Perth was the first Australian port-of-call for ships arriving from England, Palestine and Egypt, so too was Brisbane the first port for ships arriving from Asia. These ships brought Russian Jewish immigrants who had lived in Chinese towns such as Harbin, as well as those from Eastern European countries who made the journey via China. Many of the original families from these countries are still part of the community. Their arrival accounts for the Jewish population of Queensland doubling between 1911 and 1921.

Effect of WWll

The rise to power of Hitler’s Nazi Party in 1931 was viewed with great concern, and in March of that year a resolution protesting against attacks on Jewish people was publicised, followed by protest meetings.

- Those Jewish people able to leave Germany, started arriving in Brisbane, first a few, then in their hundreds. These migrants were given housing or cash assistance, or employment in the community.

- Japan’s entry into World War II (1939 – 1945) threw a grave shadow over the population of Queensland. In a series of lightening strikes, the Japanese were suddenly within a few minutes flying time of Queensland cities.

- The Government urged the evacuation of all children from the cities, particularly Brisbane, which, it was feared, could soon be attacked from the air. Thousands of children were sent south or to the comparative safety of country towns.

- The Brisbane Jewish community too heeded this warning and evacuated most of its children. A large group was sent to Oakey, outside of Toowoomba, where two adjoining houses served as a hostel.

- Local arrangements were made for the supply of kosher meat and other food was sent from Brisbane, until an out-break of scarlet fever prompted parents to withdraw their children and bring them back to Brisbane.

Transforming Brisbane

This war transformed Brisbane. The formerly quiet community now found itself in the path of American Pacific war efforts. About one million US servicemen passed through Brisbane and many were Jewish. Almost all the Jewish servicemen contacted the community, some married local girls, and took them back to the United States, while some settled here.

Following Word War II, the Migrants’ Welfare Society carried out important work welcoming migrants and helping them to settle, a large home was used to house them until suitable accommodation could be found. Various other Jewish organisations were established from the 1950s onwards.

In August 1961, the synagogue of the Gold Coast Hebrew Congregation was established. This provided services for the residents of Surfers Paradise and the hundreds of Jewish people who visited the area on their holidays.

In 1976, the South Brisbane Synagogue (building featured in photo above) was mysteriously destroyed by fire and being made of wood burned easily. A new synagogue was later built of brick on a hill, where it is safe from flood and fire.

A great flood on Australia Day 1974 covered all the low-lying areas of Brisbane, Ipswich and the Gold Coast, destroying or damaging homes or businesses owned by many Jewish families. Water reached a point 30 yards from the Brisbane Synagogue, while the sefer torah had to be rescued from the South Brisbane synagogue using a rowing boat.

An ambitious step forward in 1976 saw the launch of the Jewish Communal Centre project at Burbank on Brisbane’s south-side. The Communal Centre comprises more than twelve acres of land with swimming pools and various facilities and amenities. In 1989, Queensland’s first Jewish day school, Sinai College, was established on the Centre’s grounds. The school has classes from pre-school to Year 7. The college also set up a campus on the Gold Coast. This was later taken over by King Solomon College which operated until 2007/8 when its closed and its children started attending Sinai College in Brisbane.

1988 saw the establishment of Gan Gani Jewish Kindergarten at Fig Tree Pocket in Brisbane’s western suburbs providing valuable Jewish education to the young.

Since the late 1980s, Queensland Jewry, in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, was bolstered by migrants from Sydney and Melbourne, many of them middle aged or elderly who retired from the southern States. A number also arrived from the United Kingdom, Israel, the USA, and South Africa, many of these professionals, academics or tradespeople.

References:

  • Ochert, Morris S. ‘A history of the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation 1865–1965’
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 9, 6, 7, 1984; and
  • Further History of the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation’,
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 10, 1986

NOTES:

Location===

If people resided in other states, please add them to the relevant project :

Location

  • Profile bio's
  • Add a link to the profile of prominent persons in the Jewish Community plus a short bio on them. Examples (not meant to limit profiles)

- First Jewish settlers

- Significant member of Jewish society

Any queries, contact Leanne Minny (Volunteer Curator)