In the mortar between the bricks lays the sweat of a Gallipoli veteran who was caught in a union fight. It should have been called Victory House for the triumph it achieved over bad feeling. That’s what the mayor of South Brisbane said at its official opening in 1923. Today Invicta House is one of several heritage-listed buildings in Brisbane’s Edward Street, but it’s the only one with such a turbulent birth.
Alderman Alfred Faulkner was close because Invicta means undefeated. He was in his fourth term as mayor and knew the 15 months it had taken to build was an inordinate time. He was a leading advocate who secured the iconic Brisbane Cricket Ground site known today as the Gabba.
The controversy was splashed across the newspapers. The contractor had stopped work on another building from Christmas to the New Year to avoid paying penalty rates. After the holidays the Bricklayers’ Union walked off the job. The contractor then employed a returned soldier and non-union member. The union walked off another job. Agreement was reached by arbitration. The union walked off the Invicta House site wanting the returned solder sacked. The man had subsequently applied for membership with the support of co-workers, but was refused by union management.
The contractor was Walter Taylor. He was a genuine visionary and builder of many landmarks such as Brisbane Boys’ College, Graceville Methodist church, and the Indooroopilly Toll Bridge, today named the Walter Taylor Bridge in his honour.
The unfortunate returned soldier was 38 year old John Gilbert Ashton. He’d been apprenticed to his father from the age of 13. When the war broke out, the recruiting office had barely opened its doors when he enlisted. Ashton spent 5 months at Gallipoli during the worst of the fighting. While in England recuperating, he visited his family in Lincolnshire and married. The artillery had taken its toll because he was returned to Australia in early 1918 with deafness in both ears. When the war ended he got free passage for his wife to Australia.
Today Invicta House is admired as a superior example of warehousing of the period. Perhaps the clothing merchant Hooper and Harrison Limited for which it was built is recalled. But few know the name John Ashton. Look between the bricks and there might even be a bit of Gallipoli dust in there too.