History of “Corbett Chambers”

This building was erected in 1906-07 as the headquarters and club rooms for the Commercial Travellers Association (CTA) of Queensland.

The CTA of Queensland was formed in 1884. It was the fourth such organisation started in Australia, the first being in Adelaide in the 1870s. Commercial travellers were an integral part of the retailing process in early Queensland. Most businesses employed them. They travelled all over the colony, showing samples of goods to retailers in isolated towns and conveying orders to the suppliers. They saw themselves as ‘advance agents’, spreading ‘the blessings and decencies of civilization’.

Since its inception, the CTA had met in hotels; but between 1904 and 1906 the association acquired property in Elizabeth Street for purpose-built headquarters and club rooms. The building was designed by prominent Brisbane architect, Claude William Chambers, who had established a respected commercial practice in Brisbane (which was extended to Sydney in 1915). His known commercial buildings from this period include the “Finney Isles Building” (QHR 600142) (‘The Big Block”) and “Perry House” (QHR 600103) in Brisbane’s central business district and the first “Winchcombe Carsons Woolstore” (QHR 600326) at Teneriffe. Between 1901 and 1915, he was twice president of the Queensland Institute of Architects (1916 to 1918). He resided mainly in Sydney from 1915, but remained in partnership in Brisbane with Lange L Powell (1911-20) and EM Ford (1920-35).

The CTA Building was completed in mid -1907 and was opened officially by Chief Justice of Queensland in August that year. It contained a ‘handsome dining hall’ and bar on the ground floor, bedrooms for the accommodation of members and a roof garden. A mansard roof and tower were removed at a later date, possibly when increased accommodation was being constructed c1914.

The CTA ranked amongst the most prominent of Brisbane’s special interest associations; although membership was not confined to commercial travellers. With permanent headquarters, the club became a focal point for member interests and business. The association provided a variety of services to its members, including (in 1914-15) the provision of a purpose-built “Sample Rooms Building” (now demolished) on an adjacent site fronting Charlotte Street (acquired in 1913). The CTA negotiated discounts for commercial travellers at hotels throughout the state and was affiliated with the United Travellers Association of Australasia. It also provided services such as mortuary funds, accident & sickness insurance for members’ children, saving funds, allowances for needy members and an employment register for out-of-work commercial travellers.

The Charlotte Street sample rooms did not prove to be as revenue-producing as anticipated. In consequence, in 1926, the CTA decided to erect (as a leasing venture) a four-storey building (QHR 600109) on the Elizabeth Street section of the site they had acquired in 1913, which ran through to Charlotte Street between the CTA club rooms and the St Stephen’s Cathedral complex (QHR 600106-108). The new building (formerly known as “Hesketh House” and now demolished) replaced a winter garden (which was established by the CTA c1914, when the sample rooms fronting Charlotte Street were erected) and was connected with the 1906-07 building at each level. The dining room and associated facilities were moved to the basement of the new building, leaving room in the old one for additional bedrooms.

Changing retail practice, prompted by improvements in transport and communications, led to a decline in CTA membership after the Second World War. In 1949, the CTA sold the 1914-15 sample rooms block and the 1927-28 building to the Commonwealth of Australia, which used them to house the Engineering Branch of the Post Master General’s Department. In 1963, the CTA also sold the 1906-17 building to the Commonwealth. This was renamed “Telecommunications House” and occupied as offices of the PMG’s marketing and commercial section. The PMG (Telecom after 1975) was located there until 1991.

Telecommunications House was located on Elizabeth Street, adjacent to the grounds of the St Stephens complex. It was a four storey building with a basement, constructed of red face brick, with contrasting cream rendered features on its facade.

The street facade is five arched bays wide, organised around a central bay and emphasised by a ground floor entry portico, second floor balcony and parapet level Classical pediment. The ground floor portico, consisting of a central triangular pediment and flanked by scroll-like brackets, is supported by paired Tuscan columns and the balcony above is supported on paired, unfluted Composite columns. Paired brick pilasters, followed by paired, rendered Corinthian ones, continue the vertical emphasis to the arch below parapet level.

On each side of the central bay, the openings are all arched with keystones; and, although they house windows at the ground floor level, form arcaded verandahs on the upper three levels. The arcaded upper levels have wrought iron balustrades with the initials CTA located centrally (apart form the second floor central balcony, which has balustrading similar to that on the parapet).

The pediment at parapet level has an ornate central molding of the CTA crest. Behind the facade, the levels above the ground floor are recessed, previously providing a light well, adjoining “Hesketh House” (now demolished). The norther face of the building is plainly rendered and has predominantly square openings (apart form a couple of arched ones).

Internally, the building was linked with neighbouring Hesketh House when it was constructed. These links remained at the front of the building, on the ground floor and two of the upper levels, until Hesketh House was demolished. Some sections of ornate plaster ceiling and a pilaster capital remain towards the rear of the ground floor. Timber beams and columns are still evident on the level below the top floor. The interior is currently divided into a number of private offices.