Even though I lived here for four years, and even though I have a family connection with Brisbane that goes back to the 1960s, the truth be told: I really don’t know that much about the history of Brisbane, and am even a little vague on contemporary Brisbane. Since I left Brisbane at the beginning of 1988 (27 years years ago!) I’ve been back many times. But every time I come back, there’s always been something less familiar about the place; and there’s always something new to discover. And so that’s why I booked myself an an historical walk around the centre of Brisbane tonight. “Brisbane Brews, ANZAC and Colonial Grit” by Insider Tours.
As I waited for the tour to commence at King George Square, I had a look around the city. The Queen Street Mall is still there (still occupied by today’s equivalent of the 1980s goths I remember) though much larger than when I lived here. Major buildings on the city landscape of the 1980s, like the Uniting Church on Ann Street, have been swamped by medium heigh city sky-scrapers. But there’s still something very “Brissie” about the place. I exchanged text messages with a friend in Sydney who also lived here during the 1980s, saying “Brisbane people look different to people in Sydney” to which she agreed. Although partly it’s the clothing, there’s also something about the “traditional Queensland face” that’s instantly recognisable.
Though of course, Brisbane in 2015 is vastly culturally different from the city I left all those years ago. There was no “Chinatown” to the best of my knowledge, Southbank’s cultural area was still many years away (Expo 88 was about to occur), and the gentrified area in which I’m staying (West End) was fairly dodgy, to say the least.
So I joined the tour which concentrated on the European history of Brisbane, as an outpost of the Sydney penal settlement right up until the Second World War. I learned a few things: I hadn’t realised the Moreton Bay penal settlement was initially settled as a place for conflict re-settlement, and I hadn’t realised how many American soldiers (hundreds of thousands) were here during the Second World War. I’d also never previously looked closely at Anzac Square, and some of the statues and symbolism evident there. The tour was quite good, though I passed on some feedback that it would be good if they could acknowledge the pre-European/Aboriginal history of Brisbane by explaining more about some of the known history of the Indigenous people who lived here, and who continue to live here.
The tour was book ended with a couple of beers. We started at John Mills Himself, a craft beer bar down a city lane-way that likes to source locally made beers. The two beers we tasted were the Green Beacon Windjammer IPA an India Pale Ale (IPA) beer by Green Beacon Brewing Company, and the Wolf Scratch Pale Ale, an American Pale Ale beer, by Croft Brewing Company. Both were very tasty. We ended the night at another bar which I can’t remember the name of with another American style beer which was fermented with oranges and cinnamon, hence the addition of a slice of orange in our glasses. The truth be told, I think a lot of people on the tour (including myself) were expecting more beer and less history, and so I think it would be great if the tour included a half-way visit to another craft beer bar.
Along the way I got chatting with a bloke and his dad who love this kind of stuff. The son told me how he and his wife love travel, and she, in particular likes to find tours to go on to learn more about cities. He has promised to text me details of a food tour they did in Rome a couple of years ago. I also got chatting with a couple who have lived in Brisbane for about twelve years, having previously lived in Sydney. “Where do you live in Sydney”, I was asked (as the only NSW’er on the tour, everyone else was from Queensland). “Oh we miss Sydney”, I was told. “We moved here when we started to have children, as we couldn’t afford to live there anymore”, the woman added, telling me her husband was now commuting between Brisbane and Sydney on a fortnightly basis.