Museum of Brisbane

The Bellevue’s passing – look on me and despair

Museum of Brisbane welcomed its first Artist-in-Residence for 2019, Dr Janet Lee. Janet is a local writer who uses a phenomenological approach to examine objects and explore their ability to evoke emotion. In her writing practice, Janet often responds to ‘things’ – objects, places, buildings, clothes, letters, documents, photographs and artworks.

During her residency, Janet created new written narratives that responded to the artworks and objects in our exhibition, Micro Histories. The result was a series of short fiction works that imagine characters and plots inspired by the exhibition.


 

The Bellevue’s passing – look on me and despair by Dr Janet Lee

As though I met a traveller from an antique land, a fragment is all that is left of that colossal wreck.

She snatched something as best she could. Dived into the rubble. Took masonry, plaster and paint.

Wanting to save a memory. To note the moment of passing. To honour history. To show how the mighty had fallen.

Our own Ozymandias laid low in the city.

 

That dozer which aimed to leave only memories. Those brothers who marketed themselves with that motto.

They did their work.

I am the Bellevue Hotel, the relic says, look on me and despair at my shattered visage.

 

I didn’t go myself. Too young, back then.

But others remembered weddings and dinners, the beautiful wrought iron, the balustrades, the elegance of the place.

Then there were the white ants, they said, the ones wearing white shoes, the ones who came in the dead of night.

A brigade to knock a building over.

It sacrificed itself, that Bellevue Hotel c.1885, that we might now have a heritage recorded.

It did not know it would be a martyr. Just became one while it slept.

 

Martyred too late for Cloudland.

They took that too. Those white-shoed robbers in the night. They stole up with their balls and chains.

And they knocked down the land where you danced on clouds.

 

I saw that place, danced on that bouncing floor. My first concert – Cold Chisel, February 1982. I had just turned 16. I think it was then. Or maybe it was ‘81. I will just pick a date, if they ever call from RocKwiz. Either way, I was underage.

I balanced on the shoulders of a friend, listened to Barnsey scream, watched him swig straight from the bottle. Another after intermission. (I saw Barnsey recently. He’s still got it, still screams the same, no bottles these days, none that I saw, anyhow.)

I get street cred from my kids when I talk of that concert.

 

My sister, older, sat exams in the clouds.

I don’t know how you would concentrate. All those memories soaked into the spring-loaded floorboards. The floor still slippery with pops. The ghosts of bands and dances and weddings and army camps and big bands. The funicular railway, but it was long gone by then.

 

Now? All gone.

And the Bellevue?

But for this relic, nothing beside remains.

 

Writer’s note:

Museum visitors who remembered the Bellevue spoke so fondly of the hotel, and often also lamented the loss of Cloudland.

The Bellevue Hotel relic, c.1885, and the photographs with the exhibit, prompted me to think of the poem Ozymandias by Percy Shelley, (first published 1818 under the pen name of Glirastes.) Ozymandias quotes are in italics.

Bellevue Hotel Relic (c1885). Masonry, plaster and paint.