Potted History of Brisbane

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!

Must-see and do list for Brisbane

You didn’t think I’d finished with Australia, did you? I’ve got a couple more posts this week and then I’m going to cover our Thanksgiving Stateside. I do however reserve the right to return to Australia later in the year.

I consider we were most fortunate to spend two glorious weeks in the Sunshine State’s capital Brisbane but if you weren’t as lucky as us, what should you focus on if you have less time available?

Most of the city’s main attractions lie along its river, so initially head on down to the Brisbane river.

Story Bridge

A monstrous mass of steel, Brisbane’s cantilevered Story Bridge is perhaps the most imposing of the city’s 16 river crossings. The 777metre (approx. 1/2 mile) long structure reaches from the dramatic Kangaroo Point cliffs to the vibrant Fortitude Valley precinct on the edge of the CBD (central business district). Designed in 1934 by Brisbane-born Dr John Bradfield, who was well known for his role as the chief engineer on the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, it was opened on 28 October 1939.

A toll booth was established on one side to recuperate construction costs which were lifted much earlier than authorities expected, largely thanks to the increased traffic from US troops during WWII (the city was the Allied Forces’ headquarters for the South West Pacific campaign). The only reason you’d have to pay to cross the bridge these days is if you decide to do the Story Bridge Climb. I didn’t because I don’t like heights.

City Cat Ride

For only a few dollars, take a magnificent joyride along the Brisbane River to witness the entirety of Brisbane. From ferris wheels, skyscraper buildings, magnificent architectural bridges, historic properties and luscious parks, the City Cat is easily one of the best (and cheapest) ways to see Brisbane.

South Bank

What should probably be one of the first stops for any tourist in Brisbane, the South Bank is located perfectly in the city centre. The parklands here boast a beach, gardens, museums, galleries, library, restaurants, cafes, a movie theater and the Brisbane Eye, which is perfect for viewing the city lights in the evening. What’s more, regular theatre and performance events take place in the area, along with free fitness classes, children’s art workshops and open-air cinema showings. With stunning views across the river and onto Brisbane’s CBD, South Bank offers a selection of activities and some of the city’s best restaurant and bars.

While you’re there, don’t forget to visit:-

a). QAGOMA

The combined Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art is surely the jewel of the South Bank, if not Brisbane itself. Both galleries are housed in a single institution on the riverside, with a shared vision of being the leading institution for the contemporary art of Australia, Asia and the Pacific. Its collection comprises over 16,000 works of historical, modern and contemporary art, along with its supplementary programme of Australian and international exhibitions. The majority of exhibitions are free plus QAGOMA also has enough to entertain younger visitors too such as its permanent Children’s Art Centre which engages children with activities themed to coincide with current exhibits.

b). Nepalese Peace Pagoda

A relic of the World Expo ‘88 and now one of the South Bank’s most esteemed attractions, the Nepalese Pagoda was originally brought to Brisbane as the Kingdom of Nepal’s contribution to the Expo. The structure had been handcrafted over a two year period, using 80 tonnes of hard-carved Terai timber from the southern jungles of Nepal and employing the services of 160 Nepalese families. The Peace Pagoda now resides in the Southern Parklands, inviting quiet reflection and contemplation amidst the bustle of modern Brisbane.

c). The Arbour

The South Bank is an urban rambler’s dream with the Parklands and Cultural Precinct serving up a cornucopia of pleasing architecture and greenery. Both are wonderfully expressed in the Arbour, a kilometre-long pedestrian walkway connecting the Griffith Film School on the corner of Dock and Vulture Streets to the Cultural Forecourt and QPAC. The award-winning structure is comprised of 443 curling, galvanised steel posts, canopied over with eye-catching magenta bougainvillea flowers. A ribbon of yellow steel running through the structure fortunately makes the Arbour all-weather proof for walkers.

City’s Botanic Gardens

Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens are lush and tropical, thanks to the city’s warm climate. Positioned on the edge of the Brisbane River, the heritage-listed City Botanic Gardens, provide tranquillity next to Brisbane’s bustling CBD and include mature gardens with many rare and unusual botanic species. The Queensland Heritage Register describes the Gardens as:

The most significant, non-Aboriginal cultural landscape in Queensland, having a continuous horticultural history since 1828, without any significant loss of land area or change in use over that time. It remains the premier public park and recreational facility for the capital of Queensland, which role it has performed since the early 1840s.

New Farm Park Area

New Farm positively encourages an outdoor lifestyle, with tree-lined streets and unique spaces such as Brisbane Powerhouse and the heart of the suburb, New Farm Park. The park attracts visitors from all over with its perfect riverside picnic spots, cycling loops and tree house-style adventure playground. Nearby Teneriffe, once a farming area and industrial and commercial hub, has undergone an urban resurgence. Around the river’s bend, is greater Newstead, bursting with restaurants, bars and the iconic Newstead House. Now hit up James Street, which sits just a 10 minute stroll away. The veritable nerve centre of Brisbane’s shopping, loaded with outlets and high-street regulars, perfect for picking up Australia’s best in fashion, design and the latest trends. If you’re feeling peckish, the street also has plenty of restaurants and delis.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

We didn’t visit the sanctuary which was a big mistake as I didn’t get to see, let alone meet, any cuddly koalas.  Brisbane’s favourite native animal sanctuary, Lone Pine is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. Here you can meet more than 130 koalas, hand-feed kangaroos and encounter other Australian wildlife.

Brisbane CBD

Between the many heritage buildings, some of which have been repurposed, and sleek glass skyscrapers, Brisbane City is a veritable treasure trove of things to see and do. Plus, it’s so easy to explore everything on foot from busy shopping streets and arcades, through to chic high-end restaurants and laid-back laneway spots for a craft beer or two.

And don’t get me started on Brisbane’s delightful suburbs!

Postcard from Brisbane I

We spent two weeks in Brisbane giving us plenty of opportunity to experience everything the town and surrounding areas have to offer. I have to thank those of you who live in or have recently visited the area for your kind suggestions, they were much appreciated.

We arrived at our hotel in historic Spring Hill on Wednesday afternoon and quickly settled into our spacious studio room, complete with kitchenette. I like having the ability to eat-in for a few meals, particularly breakfast. That said, we ate lunch in the excellent on-site restaurant before checking out the hotel’s pool and gym.

As I plan our holidays, I tend to let my beloved choose how we spend our days. As I’d swerved a visit to the Gold Coast, he decided to head back to the coast on Thursday and Friday (Sandgate and Redlands) just to check out my decision. We found some fabulous beaches and picturesque bayside villages where we easily lowered the average age in each of the towns we visited. These are clearly very popular with the retirement community. I can understand why.

Having spent Thursday and Friday touring  beaches, I suggested we spend the weekend in Brisbane as the fabulous weather would encourage people to visit the coast, leaving the city quieter. The queues of traffic leaving Brisbane on Friday evening appeared to back up my hypothesis.

Saturday morning we enjoyed breakfast at Eagle Street Pier overlooking Brisbane’s sub-tropical Brisbane river before taking a round river trip. I love seeing cities from their riverbanks, it gives them such a different perspective. It also helped identify further areas for us to visit.

We ate lunch at a plentiful seafood buffet in a riverside hotel where we feasted on oysters and a local speciality, Moreton Bay Bugs, which was a first for us. Thereafter, we enjoyed a stroll around the city’s beautiful Botantical Gardens, just one of many parks around the city.

Sunday we strolled into town after an early breakfast to find a coolish wind had subdued the sun’s heat. We popped into the magnificent City Hall to check out the interior and its exhibit, Brisbane Art Design Festival which was very interactive. Having marvelled at the Hall’s architectural details we topped up our caffeine levels in Shingle Inn, a faithful restoration of Brisbane’s oldest cafe, on City Hall’s ground floor.

Sunday lunch was eaten in one of the city’s newer restaurants, Three Blue Ducks. I wanted to see whether the concept we’d so enjoyed outdoors in Byron Bay had translated to an urban environment. It does though the restaurant was tricky to find as it’s in the W Hotel, in North Quay. My beloved plumped for the Sunday roast while I had a nutritious salad. This left us with a little room for dessert. I don’t usually indulge but the vegan dessert sounded delicious while my better half had the popular apple dessert. What is it about men and apples?


Replete we continued our stroll around town before heading back to our hotel and its gym. After a good night’s sleep, on Monday we decided to walk over to Paddington, a nearby suburb of Brisbane built atop one of its many steep ridges with plenty of interesting shops and beautifully restored historic houses. I just love those wrap around porches and gingerbread trims.

There are bars and restaurants housed in former workers’ cottages and plenty of antique shops and art galleries to wander around. We also found a fabulous place for breakast to which we’d return a couple more times during our stay.

The views of Brisbane are stunning from Paddington and yes, those streets are really that steep! On the way back to our hotel we passed the Suncorp Stadium, home of the rugby league side The Brisbane Broncos. Caxton Street and Petrie Terrace looked as if they’d be particularly lively once the sun went down.

We followed this with a walk around nearby Roma Park where my beloved almost trod on this little fellow (approx. 1m/3 ft) sunning himself on the pavement.

 

During our strolls, we’d noticed many advertisements for #EKKA and despite never before having visited an agricultural exhibition, decided this was how we’d spend our Tuesday. After all, you can’t go to Brisbane and not visit the EKKA!