Blown Away in Brisbane

March 7, 2020
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Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city. It’s the hub of Queensland culture, offering glimpses of the past and the future.

You can view the old historic windmill built by convict labour in 1828. Or you can go to the new Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. Or take an inexpensive river ferry cruise on the Brisbane River to South Bank and its market, and and even all the way upriver to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. River ferries— CityCat, SpeedyCat and CityHopper — are regular public transport in Brisbane, along with the Brisbane Busways and an incredible 689 km of mostly electrified suburban commuter railway lines.

Up several bends in the river from downtown, the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. Established in 1927, it now shelters about seventy species of Australian native animals in a beautiful natural bush setting. Along with the koalas you can meet a marsupial cat, hand-feed kangaroos and look at the amazing platypus.

Nearer to town there’s the funky West End and South Bank, saved from the motorways in the 1970s. You can cross over to them via the Kurilpa pedestrian Bridge, opened in 2009.

There are pedestrian walks along the river, and two pedestrian / cycle bridges across the river in the downtown area. One of these is the Kurilpa Bridge and the other is the Goodwill Bridge, opened in 2001, which runs between the Brisbane Botanic Gardens on one side of the river and the Maritime Museum on the other side.

The Goodwill Bridge and the Maritime Museum

I walked over the Goodwill Bridge to the Maritime Museum and HMAS Diamantina, the preserved World War II frigate permanently tied up on the river.

That was really enjoyable. I love the Brisbane River and all its attractions!

Looking north from the Goodwill Bridge

Downriver, there’s the equally funky New Farm district.

And you can breakfast to the sound of raucous birds, in the warm subtropical morning.

Though its city centre is well inland from the sea, Brisbane’s got some coastal suburbs. It’s also the gateway to the Miami-like Gold Coast some way to the south and the less overdeveloped Sunshine Coast to the north.

The Gold Coast in 2014. It’s probably even more built-up now! Photo by ‘Petra’, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I stayed with my friends in Bald Hill, which was about an hour and a quarter’s bus ride north from downtown. I went into the city centre several times to visit the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and I went on the Brisbane River in the CityCat. And, I also visited the Queen Street Mall, a pedestrianised downtown main street, which I really enjoyed.

I had a look at the Story Bridge, which is probably downtown Brisbane’s single most distinctive downtown landmark. It’s a no-nonsense, thoroughly industrial-era structure that opened for traffic in 1940. You can sign up for an adventure climb on the bridge and its innumerable girders. Next time I visit Brisbane I’ll be sure to do the climb!

The Story Bridge and downtown Brisbane, from Kangaroo Point. Photo by ‘Nickwallen’, original title ‘ Brisbane City Skyline and bridge’, 29 July 2014, CC-BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

And I went to the extraordinary old City Hall. I really enjoyed City Hall.

There’s lots of other old heritage.

And new heritage too.

There certainly is a lot to see. And to do!

I visited Chinatown and went to the beach around the corner for dinner with my friend Michael, who came from a famous English family. I’m not quite sure how his branch of it ended up in the colonies.

I read a book by one of his great-aunts named Missy, who was one of those great female travellers of bygone days.

Now that was interesting, a woman travelling the world in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Her journals were amazing. Many of the places that I’d been to, she’d been to as well. Before me, of course!

Anyway, we went hiking on the Glass House Mountains, which was about half an hour from Michael’s. The glass house mountains are a group of thirteen extinct volcanoes that rise abruptly from the coastal plain.

The Glass House Mountains, viewed from Mary Cairncross Reserve. Photo by ‘Bidgee’, (2005), CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The name was bestowed by Captain Cook, who wrote that they reminded him of the conical brick furnaces in which sand was fused into glass in his day (‘glass houses’). He wasn’t referring to glasshouses in the modern sense of the word.

The highest of the Glass House Mountains is Mount Beerwah at 556 metres above sea level, but the most identifiable was Mount Tibrogargan, which looks like a face staring straight towards the ocean. The Glasshouse Mountains are located near Beerburrum State Forest and along a highway known as the Steve Irwin Way.

The volcanic activity occurred quite some time ago, 26 or 27 million years ago. Millions of years of erosion has exposed the central volcanic plugs of some of the mountains, most obviously in the case of Mount Coonowrin.

(Extinct volcanoes generally contain a central core or ‘plug’ of once-molten but now-solidified lava along with slopes made of looser erupted material. As the slopes erode away the plug is exposed. The sides of the plug are generally much steeper than the ash-slopes.)

The mountains are protected within the Glass House Mountains National Park. The traditional owners are the Gubbi Gubbi people, a tribe that was almost exterminated as a result of being poisoned and shot by early settlers (yes that sort of thing did go on).

In Gubbi Gubbi lore the father of the Glass Houses Mountains was Mount Tibrogargan and the mother, Mount Beerwah. All the other mountains are sons and daughters with the eldest being Mount Coonowrin.

Access to some of the peaks is restricted now, mainly for safety reasons. The lava plugs are so steep and slippery as to constitute dangerous technical climbs. Yet the mountains are so close to a big city that lots of daytrippers have got into difficulties. There are still places where you are allowed to climb, however.

We did a walk up Mount Tibrogargan, one of the more accessible mountains. We didn’t get up all the way, and Michael said that he’d been petrified coming down.

Michael liked to shop at the Salvation Army and Neighours Aid opportunity shops and so we went shopping there and certainly got some good deals.

I bought an Australian SIM card at a shopping centre in the Queen Street mall and it turned out that I needed my passport. It was really draconian. I bough the SIM card but then they wouldn’t activate it for me, I almost lost the plot.

I got into conversation with a tattooed guy who was from New Zealand, just looking after his daughter. And I thought to myself that same guy would have been a gang member in New Zealand. As it turned out, he was from Wellington. He was had a good job in Australia and he said that back in New Zealand, most of his family didn’t have work. And I thought, well, you know, that’s really interesting.

He gave me a free-calling number which I could call to activate my SIM card with the passport details. And then I walked around Queen Street some more. I really enjoyed City Hall and those birds.

Michael and I also went out to dinner and did a lot of biking during the day — there are loads of bike trails in Brisbane — and walking at night.

And such is Brisbane, the big, warm, easy city in subtropical South-East Queensland.


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