Since the early 1990’s, members of Iskcon Brisbane have been working towards building a permanent and suitable home in the city of Brisbane for their Lordships Sri Sri Gaura Nitai under the direction of His Divine grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Founder/Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
It’s been quite a journey since we started and it is clear that the hand of the Lord is behind this project. What follows is a brief history leading up to where we are now.
Devotees have lived in the present Graceville Temple since 1985. We are all aware the house at Graceville is still being rented up to this day. In the early l990’s devotees began collecting funds to purchase land on which to construct a temple. Since that time many devotees have contributed towards the purchase of a property for this purpose.
Tirtharaja Prabhu actually signed a contract to buy land at Windsor (on an island in Breakfast Creek) which was subject to a soil contamination test. The land did in fact have contaminated materials on it, so the contract was void. Soon after in l995, His Holiness Ramai Maharaja (Governing Body Commissioner for Australia) was driving along Seventeen Mile Rocks Road and noticed land (589 Seventeen Mile Rocks Road) was for sale. The devotees investigated and found that there was 13 acres available and the decision was made to try and purchase that land.
A one year contract was signed in 1996 which required us to obtain development approval for the building of a Cultural Centre, a Temple, a hall, a commercial kitchen, residential ashrams, restaurant and parking on the site. From l996 to l997 Town Planners PMM were engaged to prepare an application for development re-zoning and a development application was lodged for a temple and cultural centre on the site. Ajit Manga was our first architect and his plans were submitted and approved by council.
The contract was settled on Janmastami Day in 1997, when the devotees held a Celebration on the land at 589 Seventeen Mile Rocks Road. Many congregational devotees and friends attended that ceremony. We had two big fire sacrifices sponsored by our members where Bhagavad Gita was chanted continuously, and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely.
In 1997 we received a call from devotees in Jaipur, India asking if we would like to have Satish Sharma, a world famous Vastu Sastra expert, come out to Australia for the price of the ticket to make a thorough investigation of the land. (Vastu Shastra is an ancient Indian science of building temples following divine principles of design and architecture as laid down by scripture. It’s the original Feng Shui). The decision was made to accept the offer and Satish Sharma arrived from India.
When Satish first approached the land he immediately remarked that the land at 589 Seventeen Mile Rocks Road was not at all suitable as a temple site. He noted that the land was triangular, sloped down towards the southwest, had a creek running right through the middle at the bottom and sloped away from the road rather than up from the road.
From the perspective of Vastu Sastra this all meant that the land was not very auspicious. However, When Mr. Sharma was on site, he noticed and became very interested in the land directly opposite from our parcel, on the other side of Jennifer St.
He explained that because that area sloped down towards the northwest there would have very positive energy. On top of that, it also had a northerly aspect, was elevated and overlooked the river. It also possessed a north easterly extension (the angle on the north easterly quadrant is less than 90 degrees) which is extremely auspicious.
He remarked that if we constructed on the original land, we would lose money and the progress would be extremely slow. But he said that no matter what problems we had in obtaining the second piece, the Temple would be constructed and would achieve unprecedented success. Satish’s words were “Get that land however you can”.
Mr.Sharma is well renowned as a consultant for the Indian Government and many other major corporations. He is also held in high esteem by many senior devotees in Iskcon. Tirtharaj Prabhu and the other devotees decided to take his advice and endeavor to obtain that land opposite the current site.
This parcel was owned by QCL (Queensland Cement and Lime). Co-incidentally, Queensland Cement and Lime had recently had their permit to dredge the Brisbane River revoked by the Brisbane City Council and they had decided to move their operations to Gladstone. They engaged one of the biggest land developers in Brisbane, Wingate Properties, to try and sell the land for the best price.
What we managed to do was work out a trade with the developer. We would get the section we wanted and they would get our original piece for an entrance to their development. However, the Brisbane City Council neglected to advertise for the application of the new Wingate development and they had to re-advertise.
During that period, a group called The Bushland Lobby made an application objecting to having houses up on the ridge overlooking the river. The Council tried to resist this, but the Bushland Lobby eventually took it to the Planning and Environment Court and the case ended up lasting for more than two and a half years. The Judge in charge retired during the proceedings, requiring the appointment of another judge, and there were further legal delays. As it happened the next appointed judge was an avid bushwalker!
During this time the devotees were prevented from moving forward because the new land at 54-58 Jennifer Street was one part of the overall land title which was the subject of this Court Appeal. Because that Title was included under Appeal in the Court it was not possible for QCL to sell it to the devotees.
Initially it seemed that the Court Case would not take long. The lawyers were always saying “it will just be a few months more”. Eventually it turned out to be two and a half years. When the decision finally came down the courts did not allow the building of houses up on the ridge.
This meant that Wingate Properties no longer wanted the original temple land at 589 Seventeen Miles Rocks Road. Fortunately they were still happy to sell the land to the devotees at 54-58 Jennifer Street, but from July 2001 it took another four months for the Council to change the boundaries of the property, excising the temple block from the greater title.
The Council did not want to sell the entire block to the devotees because the block actually reached right down to the river flat where the Council park was planned, and therefore the Council requested that QCL wait until the Council change the boundaries of that block to give the Temple the top section and make the bottom area a public park. This finally came through in October of 2001 and the contract was formally signed to purchase the land at 54-58 Jennifer Street in October of 2001.
The contract was for six months with a $1000.00 deposit, and was due to be settled on 10 May 2002. This left us with the issue of what to do with the original land at 589 Seventeen Mile Rocks Road.
A large part of this land was paid for in cash from many of our realized pledges and donations, and $200,000 was still owed. On May 10 another $210,000 was required to purchase the new temple site. To fund this the original land at 589 Seventeen Mile Rocks Road needed to be sold as soon as possible.
After two months of quite intensive bargaining with a number of prospective buyers, we sold for $550,000 to Philip Usher Developers. It was a completely unconditional 30 day contract, and the contract was signed and settled on the 10th May simultaneously with the settlement with Wingate.
This meant that after many years of work and prayer the land at 54-58 Jennifer Street was finally signed over to the Temple Deities, and the land at 589 Seventeen Mile Rocks Road was sold. The balance of $200,000.00 was paid out and the new land was paid for outright with no encumbrance. Other debts which had been incurred from Temple accounts to support the building fund were returned, and the land was now owned outright with $30,000 left in the Building Fund to initiate phase one of the temple construction.
The Council was successful in obtaining the river flat land for the park and began construction in September of 2002. They are already well into the construction stages in the regional park development at this time.
This government park land is situated between the Temple site and the Brisbane River, and the temple site is elevated and overlooks the entire park and the river to the north, as well as a prime view of the Brisbane city skyline, which is spectacular at night. The beauty of the land and its ideal location as a temple really has to be experienced firsthand to be understood.
Since the acquisition of the land our focus has shifted to the redevelopment of the master plan. The first master plan for 54-58 Jennifer St was prepared by a devotee architect from Victoria by the name of Virabhadra das. It reflected the advice and feedback we received after meeting many devotees and congregational members in the first phase of fundraising.
Since 1999 we have been refining and developing this master plan while awaiting for the court issue to be settled. We have held Istagosthis (community meetings) which were attended by temple devotees and many donors, with everyone giving their insight on how to proceed with the plan.
Almost all of the suggestions, including those from donors as early as the mid-nineties have been incorporated into the new master plan. Items such as a community hall and temple, facility for cultural functions, children’s facilities, foot washing places and a souvenir gift shop have all been incorporated.
But what also emerged from these consultations were some very practical points concerning planning and logistics that have been of incalculable value. For example, we originally planned intensive development in the low lying part of the site during the first stage, which required construction of large retaining walls before any further development. This plan also meant that we had to install a sewage pumping station to pump waste up to the level of the road before connecting to the main sewage line, a costly and troublesome exercise. Furthermore, the original plan called for the entire road frontage to be curbed and sealed at the temple’s expense before occupation could take place, and all of the relevant council charges for headworks, drainage etc having to be paid up front in full.
Taking all of these factors into account, we began to reformulate the existing council-approved plan, with the help of builder/architect Vince Kaluza. We changed the plan to begin with stage one on the flatland to the left of the site, working in the lower lying areas later on. This meant we no longer required the retaining walls in stage one, and by relocating the toilets strategically on the higher sections of the land we no longer had to provide
a our own sewerage pumping station.
Most importantly, with the new plan we are able to stage the various charges associated with the development such as headworks and roadworks. Because the new plan starts building on the first part of the land as one proceeds up Jennifer St, we are now able to stage the costs of these components as the project proceeds, and pay for expenses incrementally rather than on all associated works for the entire site up front.
Another essential point that came out from discussion with donors, was the feeling that we should not place the temple too late in the staged development. The consensus among the community was that the Vedic style main temple is the real inspiration for everyone, and we should try to build it as soon as possible.
Initially our plan was to include a temporary temple in stage one, then later build a community hall which would serve as a second temporary temple, and then finally construct the main temple in stage three. After this feedback we have now modified the development to build the temple immediately on beginning stage two. The original plan also had quite a concentrated building density over the site area. We have now allowed room for more parks and gardens, by combining the cultural hall and temple together in the same structure.
The most recent development in the project has been the involvement of architect Hemmant Naik. As well as being an established architect in Brisbane for many years, Hemmant has quite a unique connection with the Hare Krishna movement; In 1954 when Srila Prabhupada published his first book “Easy Journey to Other Planets” he invited a physicist friend to write the foreword.
This physicist was none other than Hemmant’s father. Hemmant still has the original correspondence letters between his father and Srila Prabhupada. Both Hemmant and his good wife Kalpana are very enthusiastic about the project and have offered their services at one quarter of the usual fees.
It has been a very productive time working with Hemmant in finalizing the new masterplan (Site Plan.pdf). He has shown a natural affinity for the essence of the project as a devotional offering to the Lord, and his expert use of computer software has enabled us to view three dimensional models of how the project will look when completed which has been very helpful in the development of the plan.
In December we met with council planners, and they have indicated that they have no objection in principle to the modification of our DA (development approval), which is extremely good news. To re-apply would have been a very costly and time-consuming exercise, so provided we can show the new development has less impact on the environment (which it has) then there should be no problem.
We are happy to report that we have now submitted this application for modification of the masterplan to the Brisbane City Council, and we are now waiting for their response before we can proceed further.
Another important recent development has been the formation of a temple construction development board, to not only assist with fundraising and strategy, but to work with the community to develop the social and spiritual infrastructure necessary for a project of this magnitude and significance to flourish. In addition to this we now have a functioning temple working committee which is focused on the activities of the temple and developing these activities further. We have also initiated regular Istagosthis to facilitate the participation of more devotees in the community, as our common vision is that we are not just building a temple here in Brisbane, but we are building a community.
At this point we would like to admit that we would have preferred for the temple construction to have moved along at a much quicker pace. But there been many advantages to the slower pace at which things have developed, and many things that have happened were beyond our control. This extra time has allowed us to be more thoughtful about the project, and has enabled many more Vaisnavas to give their input into the masterplan. It has also helped us preserve and protect the Lord’s precious Laxmi.
As always, we welcome and highly value any suggestions you may have regarding any aspect of the project. Please do not hesitate to contact any member of the temple administration to give us your input.
Remember, this is your temple project!