Brizzy, BrisVegas, Brislamabad, Brisneyland, Brisbland, The Lethal Brizzle. Brisbane is a town of many names (only some of which we’ve made up) and many facets. As if you can’t tell from the various monikers associated with the city, it can be divisive. Some love it, some hate it.
But, before we delve into the history of our surroundings, time for a little family history of my own.
Way back when, before my feet had dared tread upon non-European soil, my Dad dropped into conversation “Australia eh? I think your cousin’s living out there now”, in the kind of vague non-committal way that only a Dad can muster. Light prodding uncovered that not only was he unsure of said cousin’s location, but also contact details seemed to have mysteriously eluded him. That’s what old age will do to you I suppose! Nonetheless, and to his credit, Dad dusted down his investigatory flat cap (from before hipsters made them cool again) and got to work.
A whole lot of international emailing later, I was forwarded an introduction to Toby, who along with John made the not insubstantial relocation to Queensland some years back. After a brief exchange and some brilliant tips on where to visit all along the East Coast, Toby very graciously offered to put us up when we eventually got to Brisbane and show us around. Too good an offer to turn down! Who’d have thought, we couldn’t be much further from home, but still have the pleasure of staying with family? And a pleasure it was; from delicious home cooking to house guests (Spencer’s Aussie relative Chimlin, a friendly local possum and very confident Lorikeets to name but a few) and sightseeing, we were incredibly grateful for the guys’ hospitality. But more on that as we go…
The Briz is the modern gateway to Australia’s playground, sandwiched between the Sunshine and Gold coasts, renowned for its live music scene and home to the Treasury Casino, ironically located in the Queensland Government’s old Treasury Building. But, it also harbours a bloody history as a colony initially inhabited by convicts who had re-offended since arrival in Oz.
Sweltering in the heat of the summer sun, instead of dwelling on the past, we decided to focus on present-day Brislar and check out the South Bank area as our first jaunt into the city centre. Built on land reclaimed from the 1988 World Expo and the result of a public campaign to prevent the area returning to commercial use, the South Bank Parklands are a beautiful oasis of calm just across the river from the bustling city.
From cafe’s and restaurants, to flowering archways, riverside walks and vegetable gardens, the whole area is vibrant, busy and clearly a massive local asset. The center piece is arguably Streets Beach, billed as ‘Australia’s only inner-city, man-made beach’, when we arrived mid-afternoon it was absolutely packed with Aussie’s doing what Aussie’s do – chilling out and soaking up some sun! Not equipped for beaching, or able to find an inch of sand, we parked up along the river and savoured the atmosphere for a while before making tracks.
After a welcome rest from hostels and a tasty helping of home-cooked Spag Bol the night prior, day two saw us ready and raring to don our walking shoes for a free guided tour around the city courtesy of Jonny of BrisBeat Tours. On our meanderings we learnt heaps, not only about the history of Brisbane but also of Australia as a whole. On top of that, we were treated to street art, grand architecture and beautiful open spaces.
The most notable sight on the tour though, was the Old Windmill. Both Australia’s oldest windmill and oldest surviving convict-built structure, it’s an anecdote lover’s dream! Doomed from the off, it was built in an area that didn’t have particularly strong prevailing winds. Therefore, prisoners were often sent to walk a specially constructed treadmill to keep the cogs turning, for 14-hour days, in blazing heat and wearing 8kg irons. In an even more sombre turn, there are also tales of Aboriginals convicted of murder being hung from the upper windows. In modern times, the city have attempted to find many uses for the mill, including as a timekeeping device, whereby for almost 30 years a gunshot would signal 1pm and for over 50 years prior, a ball dropped, again at 1pm. Great, as long as you only need know the approximate time, and only once a day!
After a busy first couple of days, and not having really stopped for a breather since Bali at least a month prior, it’s fair to say that by this point we were pooped. Revelling in the treat of our own little space, we swallowed our travelling pride and hunkered down for a day of… nothing. Sweet, wonderful nothing! One long lie in, two pastries from the local bakery lunch, three or four hours entertaining Chim, Mel and the Lori’s (who was entertaining who, you be the judge), and by the time five rolled around we’d made plans to go for dinner with Toby. Tasty Chinese food and a visit to the local Rugby club, bliss!
Recuperated, and having scratched the history itch, the next day it was time to get a taste of the city’s modern-day culture over a couple of Brisbeers. We headed out for lunch and to explore Fortitude Valley, which is a the go-to place for indie music venues, bars and whatnot. Imagine Shoreditch, but all the venues are your favourite ‘crap but we love it anyway’-type establishments, and the clientele have changed accordingly. Stopping for a bite to eat at a weird Chinese/Pool Hall/Arcade/Bar, we then headed back out of town…
… to a power station! At least, a decommissioned power station anyway. PowerHouse in the New Farm suburb sits alongside a park of the same name, and was originally constructed in 1928 to power the old tram network. Nowadays, the electric bills are racked up by drum rolls rather than rolling stock*, as the building is home to a multi-use arts and entertainment venue. We’d gotten wind of a free comedy night called Knockoff, where we enjoyed a couple of drinks and an interesting insight into the Australian sense of humour.
Peckish, we headed for the last outstanding item on our to do list for the day. Eat Street Market in Hamilton was just a couple more stops downstream on the CityCat, and was home to a tantalising selection of nibbles from dumplings, to tacos and nitrogen-cooled meringue. Imagine Shoreditch, but… actually, just Shoreditch.
As I scoffed down a Cronut (a part doughnut part croissant frankenstein of a dessert, you have to try one!) all seemed well in the world. Little did I know our well laid plans were soon to come tumbling down. With a phone that had died many hours prior, and a woefully empty wallet due to the cash-only food stalls, and night drawing in, we decided to call it and head to the station that we’d already found relatively close by. I hadn’t had a chance to check train times before the battery hit zero, but “no matter!”, I thought to myself, “this is the third largest city in the country, trains will be running at 9pm on a Friday night”.
On the walk to the station, we were lucky enough to spot a wild Tawny Frogmouth, which was pretty cool. What did not appear however, were any wild trains. Nor would any be appearing any time soon. Aggravated that we had walked half an hour away from the river to no avail, we retraced our steps in the hopes that there would still be a CityCat running. Thankfully we were able to jump on the last one with just enough cash to top up our goCards, and the extremely helpful Customer Service Officer kindly let us use their phone to check we’d make our train connection. A little bit of power walking and a short train ride later we were out for the count. Knackered again, damn!
Luckily, Toby had just the remedy! No more than two hours drive North and we found ourselves strolling along the beautiful, idyllic Sunshine Coast. Rolling surf, miles of golden sand as far as the eye can see, Baywatch in action and cold beers on tap. Now this was what I had in mind when I bounded around the idea of heading to Australia. After a little while exploring Dicky Beach, we headed to its namesake surf club for a very tasty Parmi (please someone tell me how this differs from a Parma in Melbourne?!) before returning back to the city and saying our farewells.
What a gorgeous way to end our time in Brisbane, and what a fair reflection spending some time on the beach is. It’s sun drenched, it’s chilled, it’s got entertainment and it’s got alcohol! The city does seem to get a bit of a bum rap for not having enough to see and do, but I’m of the opinion that people who think that are missing the point. Rather than searching for ‘stuff’ to fill your time, just kick back a little and enjoy the slower pace of life. I know we did, not least thanks to Toby and John, who it was great to finally meet and whose hospitality was nothing short of fantastic. I’m sure Dad will be thrilled his plan came to fruition, if he hasn’t forgotten who I am by the time I get home! Until next time…
* I’m sorry. It was at this point I realised that the puns just had to stop. No more nicknames, no more alliteration. This is a proper blog damn it!