World Facts Index > Australia > Brisbane

Cutting dramatically through lush coastal plains, the Brisbane River coils like a snake around the cosmopolitan chic of Queensland's unique sub-tropical capital. Developed as a penal colony in 1824, the city spent years in the shadow of its southern neighbours. However, following the Commonwealth Games and Expo in the 1980s, investment skyrocketed, cementing Brisbane's future as a place of wealth, beauty and excitement.

Brisbane's architecture is a mix of the modern and the old with impressive Renaissance style and timber 'Queenslander' dwellings sharing a berth with the modern giants. Despite being close to the ocean, this is very much a river city, and the footpaths and waterways are a delightful way to explore this majestic metropolis.

Central Business District
Dominated by the impressive City Hall, Brisbane's business centre is a remarkable dichotomy of style. Unlike other Australian cities, the life of the central area does not fade with the sunset, but thrives on the change of shift. Bars and clubs are swollen with numbers, attracting large crowds with entertainment each night. The spectacular Conrad Treasury Casino looms proudly over the river, whilst Queen Street Mall's garnished modern decor greets shoppers, diners and people-watchers with outstretched arms. Built in 1828, the Old
Windmill and Observatory are some of Brisbane's oldest buildings and Parliament House, built to French Renaissance style in 1868, is a classic example of the city's historical prowess.

South Bank Parklands
If you cannot go to the beach, then the beach must come to you. The South Bank is a true wonder of ambitious modern design. With a large swimming area and sandy beach, the city 'escape' is literally only a 30-second ferry ride away! The 16 hectares of parkland include some of Brisbane's finest restaurants and cafes, and contains its own rainforest boardwalk. The popular South Bank Markets are held on Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays. The newly-constructed atrium snakes its way through the Parklands from the Queensland Cultural Centre, which houses the Performing Arts Complex, Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Gallery and State Library.

Riverside Precinct
Mirroring the diversity of the South Bank, this city side complex is dissected by a lazy walkway, curving its way past the City Botanical Gardens and hugging the foreshore with its traditional timber jetties and visiting touring yachts. Eagle Street Pier is the wining and dining centre, whilst the Riverside Centre hosts a huge Sunday Market. Standing proud among its modern neighbours Customs House is a glorious building, providing a timely reminder of the area's vibrant heritage.

Fortitude Valley and Chinatown
Depart the river at the engaging New Farm Park and the walk toward Fortitude Valley could take you an age if you choose to wine, dine and shop your way through the broad spectrum of styles. In Brisbane's vibrant Chinatown a bewildering selection of Asian cuisine swamps the senses, with local shopkeepers contributing to the enchantment of this true Asian hideaway.

'The Valley', proffers similar diversity, but does it with a brash energetic style for funloving, nightlife seekers. Originally tarred with an unfortunate 'bad area' tag, this is now Brisbane's alternative Mecca. For a one-location night out, Dooley's Hotel has become a 'cult' favourite.

Kangaroo Point and Woolloongabba
The elder statesman of Brisbane suburbs, Kangaroo Point is the place to wonder at the city's dramatic views. Cast in the shadow of the imposing Story Bridge, the Point's impressive sandstone cliffs dominate the foreshore. As the area is transformed into a dynamic living area, the demand for cafes and restaurants has grown rapidly, rivalling South Bank for style as it strives to become the south side's new home of fine dining.

'The Gabba', gateway to the Gold Coast and south-east, has earned an international reputation as the location of the Brisbane Cricket Ground, home to the Queensland Bulls Cricket Team and the Brisbane Lions Football Team.

Milton, Paddington and Rosalie
These west side suburbs offer a change of pace from the frenetic energy of 'The Valley'. In Milton, Park Road's mock Eiffel Tower calls the discerning visitor to the city's most fashionable pavement café precinct. Rosalie Village, nestled in the western hills conjures up visions of a small European community, with fine dining or relaxed, inexpensive fare available alfresco throughout the year. For the eccentric or exotic, Paddington's Latrobe Street has a selection of hidden gem restaurants, galleries and boutiques encased in colourful Queenslander cottages.

Around the Bay
Within an hour's drive of Brisbane's centre, the wonders of Moreton Bay provide the day-tripper with unequalled delights. Prior to leaving the mainland, a visit to the charming Manly Harbour is a must. A mix of the new and traditional, this is the East Coast's largest pleasure boat marina, and home to good food and shopping surprises.

A short trip ferry trip to Moreton Island reveals a realm of sand dunes (the world's highest coastal dunes), dolphins and four-wheel drive adventure. Whether you choose to stay at the plush Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort, or just camp along the beach, Moreton Island is a kaleidoscope of natural wonder.

North Stradbrooke Island, or 'Straddie' to the locals, a stone's throw from the mainland, is a Queensland treasure, providing an escape to paradise without the long-haul flight. Within the National Park, Tortoise Lagoon and the 'Window' Blue Lake are spectacular.

With a bridge connecting Bribie Island with the mainland, this is the most accessible destination to see the fauna-rich waters of the Bay without getting your feet wet. Diving, fishing and relaxing are the order of the day on this lively, well-populated island, and a visit to the wonderful Abbey Museum is essential.

Brisbane's self-promotion as Australia's 'most liveable city' may have been used before, but it is absolutely true. Spending time wandering Brisbane's districts will cement the realisation that this city is Australia's true capital of leisure, of jaunty style and of good living.

History of Brisbane

Contrary to common perception, Brisbane is very much a river city, where life developed, and still pivots, on the Brisbane River. Today, Brisbane can lay claim to being 'beautiful one day, perfect the next', however, life was not always so heavenly for the first settlers...

The cat-o-nine-tails ruled and mosquitoes plagued the very first settlers in the Brisbane area. In 1824, the Moreton Bay penal settlement was established on the coast at Redcliffe. But after three months, a new site 20 kilometres up the Brisbane River (now called North Quay) was chosen. It was chosen because of its reliable water supply, the security of being surrounded by a bend in the river and, being upstream, it was ideal to prevent prisoners escaping by sea.

In 1828, with only ten cottages in the settlement, hundreds of convicts started to build the first stone buildings: the Colonial Stores building and a windmill (now known as the Wickham Terrace Observatory Tower).

This convict time ended in 1839 and in 1841 Brisbane began again in three separate settlements - North Brisbane, Kangaroo Point and South Brisbane. Then followed a long battle for funds from the then Governor in Sydney, Sir George Gipps. In 1846, there were less than a thousand people in the three areas.

Eventually a separate colony, Queensland, was declared in 1859 and named in honour of Queen Victoria. The Moreton Bay settlement was made the capital, as it was now a thriving port and commercial centre of six thousand people. There were still financial problems: when the first Governor of the new colony, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, began office he found seven and a halfpence in the Treasury!

Brisbane began to flourish and, by 1888, the main thoroughfare, Queen Street, had large well-designed buildings, many still here today, or the façade kept at least. George Street boasts Parliament House and the Queensland Club, still used by country politicians and public servants as a city base. The City Botanic Gardens is the site of the original gardens that provided food for the convict settlement. Today, many rare native and exotic plants thrive here beside the river in the sub-tropical climate.

In the 1890s, a series of disastrous floods and more financial worries beset the city, but the city fought back and again prospered.

During World War 11, General Douglas MacArthur directed the Pacific campaign from the AMP building (now MacArthur Chambers) in Queen Street. Hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women poured through Brisbane, enhancing development in many ways - in came the 'Swing' and the 'Jitterbug' dance craze - as well as giving the city a welcomed financial injection. For a small city that was still fairly staid, this was a great catalyst to 'move on'.
Migrants, refugees and displaced persons added greatly to the population in the 1950s, with many British migrants receiving assisted passages. Despite less than 25 percent of those from other parts of Europe being financially assisted, migrants from all parts of Europe became central to the cultural, academic and business life of Brisbane very quickly.

Consumer culture started in May 1957 with the opening of Australia's first drive-in shopping centre at Chermside. In August 1959, commercial television began. However, the story of television in Australia really began in Brisbane 25 years earlier with the first experimental television broadcast from the windmill in Wickham Terrace.

Brisbane's wide river was utilised well for the subsequent increase in trade, with produce coming down the river from Ipswich as well as from the islands of Moreton Bay and nearby areas. The fruit and vegetable markets were near the river between Mary and Charlotte Streets, close to the wharves. With a successful shipbuilding industry also in place by this time, Brisbane was thriving.

In 1967, the city saw an important cultural progression, when Australian Aborigines achieved the same democratic rights as all other Australians. Brisbane was also maturing.

However, more troubles were to come. Cyclone Wanda, (cyclones are called male and female names alternatively) wreaked havoc in 1974, when 14,000 houses were flooded and 14 people died. Dams were increased to prevent any more major floods, the upside of which was a steady population increase in the now-safer southeast corner of Queensland. People from both overseas and interstate came from the 'cold' south wanting to live in the sun!

Hosting the Commonwealth Games in 1982 heralded Brisbane's true coming of age. Expo 88 followed on the same site six years later and, a few years after that, the site became South Bank Parklands - a wonderful area for visitors - right across the river from Brisbane's central business district.

Today, you can walk along from South Bank to see the Queensland Performing Arts Complex, opened in 1985, with its three theatres, a concert hall and a conservatorium next door. Although these buildings are all of modern architecture, Brisbane still has many distinctive 19th century buildings, sited to take in prime river views and parkland. Heritage Walks and River trips allow the tourist see all this in beautiful weather (usually!) in all seasons.

Icons of today's Brisbane are the older-style houses on 'stilts', designed for cool breezes to flow underneath in warmer weather. These are called Queenslanders, and the even more grand ones are called 'Grand Colonials'.

Brisbane's lifestyle is still centred on the wide, meandering Brisbane River. Walk along her banks, imagine her in days gone by, and see the smiles of pleasure on the faces of people pleased to be alive and living in this great city today!

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