Bugs and Beaches
Brisbane’s famous for a host of reasons but two curiosities seem to leap off the page. First, bugs. There’s something called a Moreton Bay bug that resembles a crayfish and the locals love it. So, too, their Southbank Parklands that feature Australia’s only inner city beach. This keeps her 1.7 million residents particularly happy on those steamy sub-tropical days where a whisper of wind just can’t be found.
Brisbane is vibrant and historic, draped lovingly along the banks of the Brisbane River upstream from Moreton Bay. Her grid-pattern streets are ideal for out-of-towners as the east/west streets are named for kings, and north/south streets for queens. You just gotta know your royalty.
King Of The Explorers
Our beloved Captain James Cook first sighted nearby Moreton Bay while charting these waters aboard H.M.S. Endeavor during his first "voyage of discovery." Cook searched but failed to find the mouth of this freshwater river, known today as the Brisbane River. Two decades later Matthew Flinders retraced Cook's route but also failed to locate the outlet to the bay. Eventually, in 1823, it was discovered by John Oxley. He was the surveyor sent by the Governor of New South Wales to locate a suitable site for a penal colony to house incorrigible convicts who committed crimes after being banished to Australia for earlier convictions. One year later, those prisoners arrived to build a settlement at a spot known as Redcliffe Peninsula. Unfortunately, the combination of hostile Aborigines and little fresh water forced many convicts from Redcliffe to present-day Brisbane, 14 miles upriver from Moreton Bay. Anthropologists report that Jagera, Ngundadnbi and Turrbal Aboriginal clans had lived in the Brisbane River area for a considerable time prior to these Europeans.
By 1839 Patrick Logan, the Garrison Commander, completed plans for this new town called Brisbane. Logan ordered the Redcliffe penal settlement abandoned in 1842 then opened up the area to settlers. Brisbane prospered, then declared her independence from New South Wales in 1859. Statehood was granted in 1901.
The city was named after the Scottish soldier and astronomer Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825. Today, Brisbane is the capital of Queensland and is Australia's third largest city.
Squares and Obelisks
Sadly, a disastrous fire destroyed most historic buildings constructed before 1864. Later, dozers made short shrift of rundown buildings making way for gleaming highrises. Even so, there’s plenty to admire. Visitors must make their way to ANZAC Square, (between Ann and Adelaide Streets) dedicated to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The Shrine of Remembrance, Eternal Flame and WWII Shrine of Memories are worthy of a pause. The John Oxley Memorial obelisk (between Victoria and William Jolly Bridges) marks the spot where Oxley landed in 1823. A “must-see” is the collection of Corinthian columns at City Hall. Built of Queensland sandstone, this is Brisbane's showplace. Parliament House, (George Street) with its sandstone French Renaissance-style from 1865, is also worth a stop. It’s still used today by the Queensland Parliament.
The Old Windmill, the city's oldest structure, was built on Wickham Terrace in 1828 by a gang of convicts. It was originally designed to crush corn but never worked properly so Captain Logan ordered it turned into a treadmill. Then, in the 1920s, the treadmill was removed and the base became a meteorological post and signal tower. Newstead Park features the city’s oldest house (1846) as well as a memorial to Lyndon B. Johnson.
Along The Waterfront
Brisbane is actually built along a peninsula with the sea on one side, the lazy Brisbane River on the other. It’s ideal for an endless parade of rowing sculls and kayaks, yachts and sailboats, tugboats and ferries, cruise ships and paddle wheelers. Lining the riverbank is a rainbow of flame trees, jacarandas, tulip trees, frangipani, and bougainvillea--all nurtured by the subtropical climate.
Local people, and visitors alike, take time for a cool respite in the Botanic Gardens that front the riverbank next to the Parliament House. During the days of the penal colony, this was officially a 50-acre government garden. In 1865, it was converted to a Botanic Garden, Queensland’s cradle of horticulture. The government built new botanic gardens at Mount Coot-tha following eight floods between 1870 and 1974 that washed away important plant specimens. From there, you can see the surrounding seven national parks plus everything between the Great Dividing Range and Moreton Bay.
Another important sight along the river is The Queensland Cultural Center -- the new, slick complex housing the Queensland Art Gallery, Concert Hall, Lyric Theatre and Queensland Museum. Residents are aptly proud of this impressive salute to the arts.
Those venturing outside Brisbane often visit the Australia Zoo, home to the nation’s famous “crocodile hunter”, the late Steve Irwin. This 60-acre facility features over 1,000 native and exotic animals. But before you go, don’t forget a plate of “bugs”, an order of Queensland mudcrab, and a chilled Australian wine to wash it all down.