Thomas Coar Dixon arrives in Australia
An ambitious leather tanner, Thomas Coar Dixon, arrives from Yorkshire to live in Australia. In 1869, he moves from the south coast of New South Wales to Queensland in search of a place to establish his tannery.
A West End tannery evolves
Dixon establishes a small tannery in Hill End (West End), which he later recalls as a “beautiful place with hills covered in bush and with only seven houses nearby”. He builds his tannery about 40 metres from where the Thomas Dixon Centre stands today, bordered by Ferry Road, Forbes Street, Montague Road, and the Brisbane River.
Here, according to Dixon family records, he digs his own tanning pits and rows his whaleboat down the river to the hide stores at Bulimba, making the long return journey when the tide turns. During this time, the region begins to change from a farming community to a residential area.
The land is purchased for £300
Dixon travels back to England to ask his family for financial assistance to purchase five acres of land where his tannery resides. Fortunately, they come through and in 1875 he pays £300 for the Title Deed. He expands operations to include a boot and shoe manufacturing business on Russell St. and brings machinery and equipment up from Sydney.
South Brisbane Boot Factory open for trade
An advertisement in ‘The Queensland’, 6 July 1878 announces the factory open for trade.
“South Brisbane Boot Factory….equal to any boot manufactured.”
T.C. Dixon has the pleasure of informing the trade generally that he has just opened his new factory in Russell Street, South Brisbane and will be happy to execute all orders entrusted to him, with despatch to the satisfaction of his customers, and at prices which defy competition. The machines employed being of the latest and most approved construction, and the best materials only being used, he can confidently guarantee his TCD brand as equal to any boot manufactured.
Fire ravages, yet the business thrives
Dixon builds two factories including a large two-storey factory facing Montague Road. Both are destroyed by fire in 1878. Despite this setback, the business itself thrives and in 1882 he opens a retail store on George Street.
By 1888, T.C. Dixon has 60 employees and is selling 200 sides of leather and 800 pairs of boots each week.
Disaster strikes again in 1893 when a flood damages £1,500 worth of boots, destroys the equipment, and sweeps the tannery shed away, requiring a fresh start.
Dixon engages architect Richard Gailey
Dixon purchases the land bounded by Montague Road, Raven and Drake Streets for a new factory, at the urging of his sons. He engages architect Richard Gailey to design the stunning red brick building we know today as the Thomas Dixon Centre.
Described as the ‘doyen of Brisbane’s architects’, Richard Gailey had designed several of Brisbane’s grand buildings, including the Regatta at Toowong and the Metro Building in Edward Street.
The building opens
At a cost of £3,700, the two-storey brick warehouse is Georgian Revival in style. It features red brick work, large windows with arched glazing bars, and king trusses that run across the expansive ceiling – sophisticated and uncommon materials and designs for factory buildings of this period. Above the front entrance a slab reads ‘Established 1873’, a reminder of where Thomas Dixon started and where he journeyed to, through hard work and tenacity.
It officially opens on April 11, 1908, and Dixon dies the following year at the age of 62. The business continues under the management of his sons, and in 1910 it is registered as Thomas C. Dixon
Thomas C. Dixon
The business is relocated to a new factory at Wacol in 1973 where it operates until closure in 1980 (it was unable to compete with cheap vinyl imports after tariffs were lifted in the early 1970s).
Site under new ownership
In 1975, the Queensland Government purchases the Thomas Dixon Centre and uses it as a storage facility.
Queensland arts companies move in
After a $1.8million refurbishment, Thomas Dixon Centre becomes the home of Queensland Ballet, Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Queensland Dance School of Excellence in 1991.
In 1998 the building enters the Heritage Register Act (1992) to ensure its preservation as a rare surviving example of an early 20th century industrial factory.
During this time, the building undergoes a period of greater refurbishment to preserve original elements, and to enhance the building for its artistic residents. Sprung flooring for Queensland Ballet is installed, as well as lighting, curtains and other stage equipment to enhance the performance space.
These works are undertaken by Department of Public Works as the landlord of the building with many of these refurbishments also funded via grants and fundraising initiatives by Queensland Ballet.
The home of dance
The Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra leaves the building in 2000, creating an opportunity for a dedicated dance centre. Four large studios and more office and storage space are created.
Further repairs and renovations over the following decade include more sprung flooring, repainting, a new heritage red Colorbond® roof, wheelchair ramp, a lift, and floor coverings.
A Brisbane icon, redeveloped
The Queensland Government and Queensland Ballet begin a $62 million renovation to transform the Thomas Dixon Centre into a world-class arts and cultural destination for Brisbane. The vision features a theatre, café, rooftop terrace, bar, dance studios and office spaces. Queensland Ballet temporarily relocates to another West End building, and construction work begins in August 2019.
Thomas Dixon Centre: a cultural and community hub for the city
“The redevelopment of this historic building is a truly transformational moment for the arts in Brisbane. More than an incredible home for Queensland Ballet, the new Thomas Dixon Centre – as a centre for culture and community – will impact the Brisbane artistic landscape for years to come.”
– Li Cunxin AO, Queensland Ballet Artistic Director
Some of this vital history was adapted from the booklet published to mark the centenary of the Thomas Dixon Centre in April 2008, From Boots to Ballet Shoes. Produced with the kind assistance of Queensland Government Public Works. Research by Marilyn England, BA MA, Toowong History Group with input from Kerry Viksne and Jocelyn Dixon, great granddaughters of Thomas Coar Dixon.