Captain Burke Park

Official Opening of Captain Burke Park 13 July 1978
Lord Mayor Alderman Sleeman assisted by Mr Jim Burke opening Captain Burke Park on 13 July 1978(Brisbane City Council,

On 13 July 1978 the Lord Mayor, Alderman Sleeman, opened the new park under the Story Bridge and named it Captain Burke Park in honour of John Burke. The young John Burke was a seaman who crewed on the immigrant ship Erin-go-Bragh which arrived in Brisbane in 1862.

Portrait of Captain John Burke. (The Queenslander, 14 June 1919.)

Shortly after arrival he jumped ship to be with his sweetheart Alice Swords, a passenger he’d met and fallen in love with. A year later they married and settled in Kangaroo Point in a home called Kinsale under the bridge and had nine children.

John worked hard and soon established himself, obtained his Master’s Certificate and by 1887 founded the John Burke Shipping Company starting with a single boat and becoming a prominent coastal fleet of 19. He died at his Kangaroo Point home in 1919 aged 78 but the business continued under his sons and their descendants until 1968 when a grandson sold it to the Dillingham Corporation, which eventually closed down in 1990.

Displaying the Burke flag after the opening of Captain Burke Park.
Ms Burke, Jim Burke, Lord Mayor Alderman Sleeman. (Brisbane City Council)

The nautical theme of the children’s playground in the park is a visible reminder of the maritime history of the area.

Article in the Courier Mail of 14 July 1978 about the opening of Captain Burke Park.

Captain Burke Park 2018
Sign in Captain Burke Park detailing the history of John Burke.
Close-up of the left-hand side of the information sign.
Close-up of the right-hand side of the information sign.

Memorial to the Vietnamese Boat People, Captain Burke Park, Kangaroo Point

At the eastern end of Holman Street is a moving memorial statue dedicated to honour the many hundreds of thousands of boat people who lost their lives at sea while fleeing Vietnam during the post-Vietnam war years 1975 – 1995.

Many people fleeing Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s, such as those pictured, had a terrifying voyage out, crammed into small and often unseaworthy vessels. Those rescued from such craft finished their journey to New Zealand and other destinations by plane.

The beautiful bronze sculpture entitled Mother and Son seeking freedom was created by highly regarded Brisbane sculptor Phillip Piperides. It is a moving image of a mother and son expressing the personal struggles of fleeing their home. Its location at the edge of the park facing the Brisbane River and close to historic Yungaba, the former Immigration Depot is appropriately symbolic.

Bronze sculpture entitled Mother and child seeking freedom – by Phillip Piperides.

The term ‘boat people’ was first used in the 1970s when large numbers of boats carrying refugees seeking asylum from the aftermath of the Vietnam War started arriving in Australia. Over half the Vietnamese population was displaced in these years, with over two million seeking to escape South Vietnam in 1975 to escape Communist rule. Most fled to neighbouring Asian countries, but some took to boats to come to Australia.

The memorial was dedicated on 2 December 2012. At the ceremony, Dr Cuong Bui, President of the Australian Vietnamese Society (Queensland Chapter) paid tribute to the struggles of the Vietnamese boat people and the problems they faced, including hunger, storms, pirates, getting lost and capsizing on their journeys.

The memorial statue was unveiled at a special ceremony on 2 December 2012.
The memorial was officially opened jointly by Dr Cuong Bui and Councillor Helen Abrahams on 2 December 2012.

Dr Bui, who left Vietnam in 1975, said it was unclear exactly how many people died while trying to travel to other countries but it was estimated to be as high as 500,000. He said that two of his close friends and their families died on the boat journey and many people present at the ceremony had relatives or friends who had perished. The memorial was a way of acknowledging the ultimate price the boat people had paid and of helping the younger generation understand the conflict.

The memorial is an invitation to visitors to stop and reflect on this important part of Australian-Vietnamese history.

View of Captain Burke Park and Story Bridge from New Farm 1982
Story Bridge and Captain Burke Park as seen from New Farm in 1982. (Brisbane City Council)