Brisbane

14 to 24 August 2019

We couldn’t leave two old people out cold in the Bush, was how Ranny greeted us back in Brisbane as we shivered back into the bed we had vacated only 6 days before and we had never been so grateful. Not only did it give us a chance to properly recover from our lurgy but we got to spend some more time in the city.

We had already spent a few days in the city before we left for Toowoomba. After spending so long in Mediterranean Europe amongst its ancient towns and cities the modernity of Brisbane was strangely refreshing to us. The central business district grows skyward from the banks of the snaking river and on our first day Ranny and Andy had treated us to a wonderful fish lunch beside it.

Amongst the shiny new buildings are reminders of Brisbane’s past, dwarfed church spires and clock towers, the Town Hall and Casino

but there was one more modern Brisbane landmark that everyone seemed very keen to point out to me. On our first few drives into the city Ranny, Andy and Stefan all separately and enthusiastically pointed out the Gabba. Knowing not much more than Australia are filthy cheats at cricket, it meant nothing to me the first time but it soon became a running joke to say “look, the Gabba” every time we passed and that seemed to be every day – all roads it seems go passed the Gabba.

One of the things that surprised me about Brisbane were its beautifully shady green spaces. The palms of the botanic gardens competed with the office blocks, enormous fig trees at intersections and little gardens everywhere.

Close to one of Stefan’s old neighbourhoods we discovered the Sherwood Arboretum, 15 hectares of parkland along the Brisbane river where about 300 of Australia’s native trees grow, from the ubiquitous eucalyptus to rainforest species. Amongst them we found a reminder of Australia’s past with a plaque commemorating the first Sorry Day when in 2008 the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, finally, apologised to the Stolen Generation, the thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly removed from their families, a policy that lasted from 1900 until 1971.

We didn’t need to head to the suburbs to find rainforest. Along the river just opposite the business district on South Bank you can find yourselves amongst figs and ferns and behind it the kilometre long Bourgainvillea Walk which must be spectacular when in full bloom but we appreciated for its dappled shade.

And at the end of the Walk the city centre even has its own beach complete with sand and lifeguards.

We went down to South Bank a few times,

on one occasion to visit some of Brisbane’s museums. In the Queensland museum we found an eclectic collection of exhibits. Some natural history (more dead kangaroos and as close to a great white shark as I want to get) and, incongruously, the only remaining example of a German WWI tank! I even found a banner for the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, the British branch of which I shared an office building with back in London.

In the modern art museum we found some Gilbert and George to remind us of home and a North Korean mosaic which reminded us of the huge socialist realist mosaics we saw in Albania last year. There was also some quirky Australian modern art,

some beautiful examples of traditional art by contemporary artists

with powerfully political statements.

Our travels around Brisbane took us passed places Stefan lived during his time in the city including his beautiful old Queenslander house in Cleveland. The new owners had kept the somewhat West Ham colours of the house but not so at his Graceville house. It had subsequently been painted a rather dull battleship grey!

We were glad to spend some unexpected time in Brisbane, not just to recover but also to explore the city together. I was surprised by how much I loved the place and we’re looking forward to revisiting when we get back from our epic roadtrip…

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