Cross River Rail uncovers secrets of Frog’s Hollow

Fascinating artefacts from a historic neighbourhood considered to be colonial Brisbane’s first red light district and the city’s first Chinatown have been uncovered at Cross River Rail’s Albert Street site.

Cross River Rail Delivery Authority CEO Graeme Newton said the finds, including a Chinese coin believed to date back to around 1660, opium and tobacco pipe fragments, game pieces and ceramics all helped to paint a picture of what life was like in the notorious neighbourhood of Frog’s Hollow in the late 19th century.

“While Cross River Rail will transform the way we travel to, from and through Brisbane in the future, during construction we’re also uncovering remarkable insights into our past,” Mr Newton said.

“It’s fascinating to think the new Albert Street station is now being built where Frog’s Hollow once stood, one of the more notorious and colourful neighbourhoods of colonial Brisbane.

“The neighbourhood was home to an ethnically diverse population including Chinese immigrants and became known as Brisbane’s first unofficial Chinatown, while some of its more seedier elements also gave it a reputation as the city’s first red light district.”

Mr Newton said while opium pipe fragments gave an idea of the vices enjoyed in the area at the time, one of the more interesting finds was a coin thought to have been minted in the late 1600s.

“The coin would have been brought over by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century and then spent another 100 years or so below the surface of our CBD waiting to be uncovered,” he said.

Archaeologist Kevin Rains said it was unclear what the coin – one of several of Chinese origin found on site – would have been used for.

“There are theories they might have been used for an internal currency among the local Chinese population, but it’s more likely they were used as gambling tokens, or offerings for festivals and special occasions,” Dr Rains said.

Several artefacts uncovered at Albert Street, including the coin, and at other sites are on display until October at the Cross River Rail Experience Centre as part of an exciting new exhibit on archaeology and history.

The Cross River Rail Experience Centre is open during the week, except Tuesdays and public holidays, between 10am to 4pm, and on the weekend from 10am to 2pm.

Some of the 19th century items found on Cross River Rail’s Albert Street site:

  • Old Chinese coins, including one thought to date back to around 1660;
  • Hand-made opium pipe fragments;
  • Fragments of clay tobacco pipes;
  • Small white buttons, likely used as game pieces in Wei Qi (also called Go);
  • A range of ceramics, including celadon and some hand-painted with a four seasons pattern – both very popular with overseas Chinese communities;
  • A large skeleton key, thought to be used for a large padlock, door lock or safe.