Postcard from Brisbane V

Much as I love my better half, it’s sometimes nice to have time on my own. Friday morning I decided that my poor benighted feet deserved some pampering and booked a luxury pedicure and foot massage. It was sheer bliss – money well spent!

Afterwards I pottered around the CBD doing a spot of window shopping, door and building spotting before enjoying lunch at a restaurant in Queen’s Plaza, an upmarket shopping mall in the CBD. I strolled back up the hill to our hotel, admiring the historic properties littering Spring Hill.

It’s one of the oldest residential neighbourhoods in Brisbane, with many houses dating from 19th century, including quaint workers cottages and terrace houses, along with beautifully restored heritage-listed buildings. The Windmill in Wickham Park was built by convicts in 1827 and was one of Queensland’s first stone buildings. Of equal historical significance are the Spring Hill Baths, built in 1886, much updated and still in operation today.

While I enjoyed a quiet night in, my beloved went to a Gala Dinner over near the river in some renovated and repurposed buildings in Howard Smith Wharves, by Story Bridge. He managed to miss the speeches, though not the dinner, by inadvertantly gatecrashing a lawyers’ champagne reception in another part of the building!

Saturday was a day of total relaxation spent sunning myself around the pool in the hotel until my beloved returned, worn out from a hectic but successful exhibition – early night!

Sunday we enjoyed brunch at a restaurant over in Paddington, before heading out to view Mt Tamborine in what’s known as The Scenic Rim. Tamborine comes from the local Yugambeh language and may refer to the native fruit, finger lime. It’s a volcanic plateau about 550 metres (344 feet) above sea level and you can see for miles, even as far as the Gold Coast!

Narrow, verdant country roads meander around the mountains which are home to some lovely property porn and quaint villages with boutique wineries and an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. We drove around the area but could equally have visited the Tamborine National Park with its spectacular Falls probably best viewed from the elevated Tambourine Rainforest Skywalk – not for those of us who dislike heights – and the Botanical Gardens.

On Monday we enjoyed an early breakfast in the same restaurant I’d eaten lunch in on Friday before ambling along the Broadwalk which runs on the city side of the Brisbane River, walking all the way to New Farm, Newstead and Teneriffe: three adjacent areas fronting the Brisbane River, northeast of the CBD, that have been subject to significant, successful urban renewal.

These areas formerly played significant roles in the industrial life of Brisbane from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, with much of the activity clustered around the river which was an important transport corridor. Brisbane Gas Company’s gasworks opened in 1887 with the Colonial Sugar Refinery constructed in 1893. These were followed by timber yards, coal yards and wool stores which were disused and neglected 100 years’ later.

Many of these industrial buildings are now listed and have been beautifully renovated to “create sustainable livework communities in the inner city, revive local economies, deliver affordable housing and reverse the exodus of residents and businesses.”

Tuesday lunchtime I had arranged to meet with fellow blogger Lyn Douglas not far from where she works as a volunteer, over in New Farm. Lyn had just returned from what sounded like a really fabulous trip to North America, don’t forget to check out her blog for details. It was so lovely to meet with her and thank her for all the useful tips she’d provided me with while planning our stay in Brisbane.

Meeting Lyn in New Farm gave me an opportunity to further explore Fortitude Valley, particularly the shops over in James St, a tree covered promenade studded with jewel-like, largely upscale boutiques.

It’s just a two minute stroll from the heart of Fortitude Valley where we spent Wednesday morning and is without a doubt the place to be seen at one of the chic bars and cafes that line the street. In addition, the James Street Market has a fabulous selection of edible goodies.

James St is also home to an array of fashion and homeware retailers that has earned it a reputation as one of Brisbane’s most stylish strips. I was so taken with the area that I dragged my beloved back there that evening for dinner in a wonderful Middle Eastern restaurant.

Wednesday and what do you know it’s time to move on to Mooloolaba. But before we said good bye to Brisbane we ate a leisurely lunch in nearby Paddington again. We’d had a wondeful time in Brisbane and if you want to know more about this city don’t forget to check out Brisbane resident Lyn’s blog (link above) and that of Sam, who spent time working in Brisbane. It’s a fabulous place and well worth an extended stay.

 

Postcard from Brisbane III

Our first week in Brisbane had been great fun and it fully justified us spending two weeks here to better appreciate the city and all it has to offer. The start of our second week (Wednesday) was a Bank Holiday in the CBD giving everyone an opportunity, like us, to visit EKKA. We decided to stroll down to the start of Fortitude Valley in the morning which was when we realised how close we were to EKKA’s showgrounds in the Bowen Hills – we could’ve walked there!

Fortitude Valley is Brisbane’s evening entertainment capital, yet we were going to visit it during the day when most of its shops and restaurants were closed. Why?  – because the area has an interesting history and some of those historical buildings are still standing.

Early European Settlement

In the mid-1840s a Presbyterian clergyman, John Dunmore Lang, promoted assisted immigration as a means of relieving Britain’s impoverished classes. Acting in the belief that the government had agreed to grant the emigrants free land, Lang arranged the first of three shiploads to come to Moreton Bay. The first vessel, the Fortitude, arrived at Brisbane in January 1849. The free land was refused, but the new arrivals were given permission to set up a temporary village which beacme known as ‘Fortitude Valley’.

Religion and Retailing

During the 1870s and 1880s a number of churches of different denominations were built, an extensive drainage scheme constructed and schools opened, though Brisbane’s first railway line (1882) skirted the Valley.

Horse-drawn trams offered the main means of access to the Valley from 1885. Fortitude Valley’s rising commercial importance was best signified by the Renaissance style post office built in Ann Street in 1887 and the growing number of significant retail establishments, all department stores. The new shopping area was above the 1890 flood level, in contrast to central and South Brisbane.

Fortitude Valley had churches, chapels, State and Catholic schools, Oddfellows’ and Foresters’ halls, a public swimming baths in Wickham Street, numerous villa residences on the suburb’s outskirts toward the river and, in the other direction, the elegant new headquarters for the Exhibition (1891).

Electric trams were introduced in the 1890s while the group of department stores maintained the Valley’s retail importance for decades. Importantly, beyond the retail centre, there were substantial factories and warehouses.

Dark Deeds in the Valley

In the 1950s major retail chains from Melbourne and Sydney began to take over Brisbane and Valley department stores. The Valley’s retail strength dissipated as the retail anchors were closed, exacerbated by the rise of drive-in shopping centres. The industrial sites were now too small for modern industrial and warehousing methods, though some premises became affordable as galleries and for semi-retail occupations. Local employment dried up as people were attracted to the outer suburbs. In the 1980s Fortitude Valley was caught between a faded past and an uncertain future.

Recovery

A number of Malls, including the Chinatown Mall (1987) capitalised on aspects of the Valley’s cultural tradition and it became a middle-ranking retail area, known for Asian cuisine, entertainment and a fading history of illegal casinos and unlicensed night clubs. There are now 25 registered heritage sites in Fortitude Valley spelling out a brighter future for the area.

We discovered a neighbourhood of careworn character buildings that are home to a sprinkling of top art galleries, funky eateries, cafes and bars and some of the best indie shopping in Brisbane. The following week I had an opportunity to further explore the area, from James St down to New Farm, this time while the shops and eateries were open.