Brisbane Southbank

Following heavy rains in the hinterland in January 2011, the Brisbane River flooded, causing massive damage to many parts of the city and to the area that had become known as Southbank, where plaques today show how high the flood waters reached before slowly subsiding.

The Southbank area in the mid 1980s was a largely derelict semi-industrial area on the southern banks of the Brisbane River overlooking the city centre on the other shore.  In 1983 the Bureau International des Expositions granted Brisbane the right to hold a World Expo, and redevelopment soon commenced, with the Expo in 1988 welcoming almost nineteen million visitors and single-handedly transforming Brisbane from the sleepy country town I had known during my childhood and my time at the University of Queensland to a dynamic exciting and welcoming vibrant modern city of 2.5 million people today.

Thirty years later the site of the World Expo is still a buzzing and fizzing and exciting part of Brisbane, with walkways, gardens, a huge Ferris wheel, restaurants and pubs, playgrounds and the delightful Epicurious garden, planted with black sapotas, cassavas, chives, curry leaves and so many more aromatic and delicious plants – all of which are regularly harvested and sold to local restaurants … and all overlooked by a huge statue of Qiu Zhong Ni – better known as Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher.

Confucius overlooking the Epicurious Gardens
  • I am not sure whether Confucius was a great chef … or if he used to wander herb gardens while thinking philosophically … but he is very much present in the Epicurious Gardens.

Getting there

Because Southbank is right in the heart of the modern Brisbane city, it is very easy to reach.  Suburban railways deliver passengers to the Southbank station built around a lovely old pub now known as The Big House.  You can also hop on a ferry just about anywhere on the river.  There are the large City Cats – catamarans – or the somewhat smaller Kitty Cats – running up and down the length of the river through the city.  If you are adventurous you can hop on a jet ski and zoom along the river to Southbank.

Brisbane is sometimes called “The River City” as its rivers and creeks are so important to its welfare and transport and modern living.

Jetskis anyone?
The City Cats’ little sister, the Kitty Cats

Coming into Southbank from the nearby railway station, visitors go past – or through – the delightful Arbour, an avenue of over four hundred curved arches and trellises covered by bougainvillea and other flowering shrubs, following the path of an old stream that used to flow through the area.

River Quay Green

The Arbour

I had lunch (two entrées: yummo octopus followed by some coconut prawns) at the River Quay Fish restaurant at the eastern end of Southbank,\ before setting out on my voyage of discovery of the forty-hectare recreational park.  While nibbling on a prawn or two, people zipped by my table – riding bicycles, aboard motorised scooters or skateboards, pushing child-laden perambulators or just jogging bare-chested with heart-beat monitors strapped across their bodies.  One small boy, sadly, was pushed in a special wheelchair by his parents past my table.

In front of my restaurant was River Quay Green – a luscious area of grass and trees leading down to the river where families and couples and singles enjoyed their “déjeuner sur l’herbe” (sorry Monsieur Monet) and where live music is offered every Sunday afternoon.  I will have to go back there soon, with a glass of chilled pinot grigio and a pillow and enjoy some laid-back, chilled-out tunes.

River Quay Green

A short stroll from the Green is the Streets Beach (featured image, left), named for an ice cream manufacturer, but despite the commercialism – or perhaps because of it – the area is delightful.

There is a pebbled stream leading from the main beach, featuring tonnes of ocean sand from Moreton Bay to create very real-looking beaches with sunbathers, swimmers and kids of many ages jumping and shrieking and enjoying a seaside experience just a couple of hundred metres from the city centre, the Treasury casino and the Houses of Parliament.  I rather wanted to see a shark or two slipping through the waterways, but found that all the water in the various pools and streams was chlorinated. 

  • So good for humans … so bad for marine life

I took a small detour from the waterways to go through a food court – there is no danger of going hungry in this area  – across Stanley Street to have a look at an old pub that was established in 1885 for the workers who used to load and unload ships in the area.  It used to be known as The Plough Hotel but is for some reason now known as the Hotel Diablo.  Perhaps they now serve devilish pizzas.

And near the lovely Nepalese Peace Pavilion – the only national pavilion retained from 1988 is the Southbank Piazza. 

I was not sure if it was also a pizza place with a spelling mistake or something rather more grand … but peeking through the gates I saw a huge auditorium or theatre and then realised it was part of the Griffith University’s Conservatorium of Music.

Whaddaya mean … Kulcha?

The Southbank area is really a cultural centre – almost more than a beach and eating and drinking and roller-blading area.

Nearby is the Queensland College of Art, the Con, Opera Queensland, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre where the existing four theatres are soon to be joined by a fifth theatre to make this the largest performing arts complex in the nation, the Qld Art Gallery, the Qld Museum … and GOMA.

Mr Trump slithered his way to power in the USA in 2016 with MAGA – “Make America Great Again”, and I have two problems with that.  The USA is not “America”, since the continent includes Canada, Mexico and many other nations.  Secondly, Trump’s ambitions and policies seem to have decreased USA’s powers internationally, economically and medically … there is nothing “great” about the USA at the moment.

However – GOMA (not MAGA) is Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art and it is a great space with several excellent  exhibitions.  I did not pay to visit the huge exhibition of motor bikes – not sure why they have a place in GOMA at all – but I did enjoy the large Andy Warhol exhibition and the huge retrospective of Gordon Bennett’s work.

Peter Tyndall: A Person Looks at a Work of Art

Bennett (1955 – 2014) was a Queensland aborigine of mixed ancestry and was a rather reluctant spokesman against racism in Australia.  He is no relation to the multi-millionaire son of the New York Herald’s founder, whose name is occasionally used to suggest incredulity:  Queensland’s Gordon Bennet was a gifted artist who drew – and who draws – people’s attention to the relative roles of blacks and whites in this country.  With Australia Day just around the corner at the end of January, his works may well reflect the First Nation’s view that “Australia Day” should be renamed “Invasion Day”.

Perhaps Bennett would be happy that the newest bridge to be built in Brisbane, and to be opened later this year, linking Southbank with Queen’s Wharf on the other side of the Brisbane River, is the Neville Bonner Bridge, named for Australia’s first indigenous Member of Parliament.

Gordon Bennet work

And so …

Sydney has its Circular Quay, Melbourne has its Dockside, London has a Canary Wharf and Paris and Barcelona and New York have all sorts of delicious local areas … but Brisbane’s Southbank is a safe, a pretty, a fun and a cultural centre where you can have great meals, a pinot grigio or two, a stroll by the river or a swoop above the city in the Channel 7 Brisbane Ferris Wheel, and where you can see Shrek or Thornton Wilder’s Our Town or enjoy a great concert … or hop on a paddle board and go home.

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Text and photographs © Christopher Hall January 2021

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In my blogs I try to present a snapshot of the places I have discovered during a brief visit.  I am not trying to present a detailed picture of the whole city or the whole region or the whole country.

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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight

  • Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship

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