My beloved and I find the history of Australia fascinating, largely because it’s so recent yet so impressive. We’re always amused by the names of places. I love the Aboriginal names which I think are so evocative, onomatopoeic even. But, of course, many places are named from whence the settlers came and we noted many Scottish and Irish names along the east coast.
Before European settlement in 1824, Aboriginal clans, namely Jagera and Turrbal, lived along the Brisbane River. It is not known how long they resided in this area but it is believed Aboriginal tenure in Australia dates back about 40,000 years.
A river curving and curling its way around the landscape makes Brisbane one of the more unique regional capital cities in Australia. Brisbane came into being long before the state of Queensland was established, when intrepid Surveyor General John Oxley named the river he discovered after the Governor of New South Wales – Thomas Brisbane – in 1823.
On Governor Brisbane’s instrictions, Oxley was looking for a suitable site for a penal colony, initially selecting one in 1824, called the Moreton Bay Settlement, with a further site finally selected by Captain Miller a year later. This was a triangle of land bounded on two sides by the Brisbane River and the escarpment (now Wickham Terrace), considered defendable as well as providing a natural barrier against convict escape.
The colony was originally established as a “prison within a prison” – a settlement, deliberately distant from Sydney, to which recidivist convicts could be sent as punishment. It soon garnered a reputation as one of the harshest penal settlements. In 1828 work began on the construction of the Commissariat Store, still intact today which, with The Old Windmill on Wickham Terrace, are the only remaining convict era buildings still standing in Queensland.
Civilian occupation of the area began in 1842, and by the late 1880s Brisbane had become a busy commercial hub, and the capital-to-be began to develop distinct architectural features and culture.
One of my favourite buildings from this era is Wynberg in New Farm. Named after the South African town, this grand residence was built in the 1880s and acquired by stonemason G.C Willcocks who had made his fortune in diamond mining in South Africa. He transformed Wynberg into the stately house it is today which is now occupied by the Archbishop of Brisbane.
With an abundance of sunshine and a laid-back lifestyle, Brisbane quickly drew people eager to settle in its environs. The city grew steadily over the years and a turning point in its advancement was during World War II when it housed the main allied headquarters in the South Pacific for Australian and American service personnel.
The post-war population boom brought a spurt in industry and Brisbane staked a claim as the third-largest city in Australia. Despite its rapid progress, Brisbane was often seen as lagging culturally behind Sydney and Melbourne. But two landmark events in the 1980s brought about major change and accelerated Brisbane towards Australia’s new world city it is today.
The Commonwealth Games came to Brisbane in 1982, and this resulted in a massive injection of new infrastructure and sporting facilities. Then the eyes of the world turned to Brisbane again in 1988 when thousands of visitors flocked to Expo 88. The subsequent birth of the South Bank on the Expo site has resulted in a thriving cultural hub and Brisbane is more than matching it with its southern counterparts.
We were surprised that Brisbane was so hilly but once we learned about the frequent flooding of the river, we appreciated why one might wish to live atop a hill. Floods over the past couple of hundred years (1841, 1893, 1931, 1974, 2011 and 2013) have caused havoc for Brisbane’s population but also resulted in the depth of the river both decreasing and deepening with the creation of new shoals and sandbanks.
Today, Brisbane is an energetic and exciting city jam-packed with cultural experiences, adventurous outdoor activities, entertainment and shopping precincts and a distinct laid-back vibe. Furthermore, its rapidly growing global reputation as a city of opportunity was affirmed by its selection as the host of the G20 Leaders Summit in November 2014. Make sure it’s on your itinerary for any visit Down Under!