Many great cities have their “eat streets” where the main focus seems to be on food – although associated enterprises such as diet centres, massage therapy centres and gymnasiums also often abound to take off the kilos added by all the eating places.
Melbourne has its fabulous Southbank where eating is combined with theatre- and concert-going at the nearby arts centres, and where those with a few pennies left over after paying for their baklavas can call in to the Crown Casino and put their savings on 32 red … and hope that the ball does not land, after all, on zero.
In Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai, Nimmanheiman Road, about a hundred metres from my apartment, was – before COVID-19 – lined with restaurants and pubs and bars, clothing boutiques and nail salons, and in the evening additional street food stalls were set up to feed the hungry locals and the even more hungry visitors desperate to try a deep-fried scorpion or two.
Bulimba does not have a casino – as far as I know – and scorpions deep fried or sautéed are not usually on the local menus, but there is just about everything else available.
Brisbane was founded by explorer John Oxley in about 1824, on lands traditionally owned by the Yuggera and Turrubal peoples. Heading downstream along the Brisbane River visitors would have found extensive farmlands, some of which were subdivided in the early 1880s to create residential areas – and Bulimba was born.
The village name comes from a Turrubal word meaning “place of the magpie lark”, which explains why the streetlamps in modern Bulimba are decorated with stylised cut-out magpies, a protected native species.
- I’d much rather see these metallic birds than the real birds during breeding season
Male magpies are known to swoop on passing pedestrians and cyclists to protect their nests. This year such an attach caused the death of a small girl in Brisbane. My own close encounter resulted only in a few drops of blood from my left ear.
Oxford Street was the heart of Bulimba, and offered modest cottages for the fishermen, farmers and labourers who lived in the area. There was a blacksmith there along with a fruiterer and a butcher – forerunners of today’s eat street merchants.
“Bulimba” in my mind’s eye was synonymous with the Bulimba Brewery, fondly but erroneously remembered from university days … When I did some digging I found that the brewery was never in what we now know as Bulimba – it was located on the other side of the river in what is now known as Teneriffe. It did not last long there, either, before being relocated a few kilometres closer to the city – and in 1995 it was relocated to Yatala near Queensland’s Gold Coast.
The Brisbane River – 344 km long and named in 1823, like the city, by Oxley in honour of the then Governor of New South Wales Sir Thomas Brisbane – originally bisected Bulimba, with a sluggish ferry enabling passengers and farmers to get to the eastern side, landing on a simple jetty built in 1890. A beautiful modern jetty was built in 1922 and still proudly serves the modern suburb.
A heritage trail
Starting at the ferry wharf, an interesting walk continues eastwards past Crouch’s 1970s Cottage where I found not only the original cottage (still privately owned) but also a tiny fairy castle nestled in the front garden.
The Avro Picture Drome is long-gone, and replaced today by a modern cinema complex, the Balmoral Cineplex. The eastern end of the walk highlights the 1866 Uniting Church – although I assume in 1866 it was either a Congregationalist or a Methodist or a Presbyterian church before these three branches were joined to make the new “Uniting” church in 1977.
The Uniting Church predates its nearby Anglican Church of St John the Baptist by about twenty years – but both churches are today showing the signs of a general drift away from organised religions and the effects of the pandemic, with the Uniting Church apparently closed forever, and the Anglican Church now offering only two services a week.
The “church”, wherever it is and whatever flavour it is, seems to be a terrible waste of prime real estate. Huge and often historic buildings occupy vast amounts of territory in prestigious areas – yet they are used for just one or two hours per week. I am sure they could be put to a better use.
Perhaps the nicest use of land in this part of Bulimba is the Memorial Park with its superb oval and its wonderful avenue of (mainly) Moreton Bay fig trees (See featured image, LEFT). The park and the avenue were created in honour of the local men and women who fought and died in the First World War. Today the trees provide a spectacular covered walkway and the oval is a great place for summer cricket games and picnics.
Food Glorious Food
Is it worth the waiting for? … asked composer and lyricist Lionel Bart in his exploration of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist:
- Food glorious food, don’t care what it looks like
- Burned, underdone, crude – don’t care what the cooks like …
In Oxford Street Bulimba it is certainly worth waiting for.
This tiny street in this tiny suburb offers fish ‘n’ chips, Thai food, Mexican food, modern Italian food, Vietnamese goodies, Japanese noodles and Asahi beers, and Spanish tapas and vino including their famous Sunday bottomless brunch with a charcuterie board and two hours of “bottomless drinks”.
- I rather suspect that most patrons would not be bottomless but legless after such a splendid lunch
Perhaps after getting bottomless and legless (which one is my elbow again? No – that’s my ankle) diners could stagger a few paces to Riverbend Books – a very tasteful place where you can buy a book or read a and have a couple of double shot coffees to sober up.
I am sorry to say, however, that on my first visit the fish ‘n’ chips shop was closed and its awning signs damaged, reading just FISH HIPS. On a subsequent visit the sign was even more damaged and part of the H in HIPS had flaked away, showing that the shop – were it still open – offered FISH LIPS.
Anchoring the food on offer is an Italian restaurant and bar by the river. I had high hopes of a great meal here. On my first visit to the area it was fully booked so I had instead a very pleasant pub meal at the Oxford 152 hotel (Restaurant, Bar, Pokies, Beergarden) and came away with my wallet intact.
On a more recent visit I booked a table at the Italian place overlooking the river and looked forward to a memorable meal.
My starter was Mooloolaba prawns – considered the best prawns in Queensland and on which we had feasted at Christmas time. This time, however, feast is somewhat too strong a word to use. I was served two and a half prawns split into five halves doused in butter and chili – and charged AU$26.00 – or $10.40 per prawn. The rest of the meal was equally disappointing but judging by the throngs packing the place on each of my visits perhaps I am out of touch with modern restaurant prices in this street … a street that not so long ago had just one fruiterer, one butcher and one blacksmith …
Perhaps I should have gone to the Oxford Tap House instead for a jug of refreshment, or tried the brews offered by the nearby Revel Brewery – Summer Ale (just 4.7 % alcohol), Lager (4.8%), Pale Ale (5.0%) or the knee-wobbling IPA (a huge 7.5%).
Most beers are apparently about 4.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) so while Revel’s IPA is pretty potent, it is mere baby’s mother’s milk by comparison to what www.finedininglovers.com claims is the world’s strongest beer: Scottish brewery Brewmeister’s “Snake Venom” listed at 67.5% ABV.
- One for the road, sir? Sir? What ya doin’ down there, sir …?
The road to recovery
Oxford Street is lined with places to eat and drink, clothing boutiques offering the latest designs in COVID-19 cotton or linen face masks, and there is a good Vintage Cellar offering fine wines, a supermarket and a bakery. When all else fails, perhaps a visit to the Sustain Gym is called for, or some shopping at The Source Bulk Food store for some Dead Sea Mineral bath salts to soak it all off. Stephanies (no apostrophe) Urban Spa could help with a massage or a “Body Ritual” (chanting and clouds of incense optional, perhaps).
And if all else fails after a day of eating and shopping and drinking and eating and massaging and reading, then pop along to see Phil Curr – a specialist therapist located at 57 Oxford Street – who will help you with your trauma or anxiety management … and your depression after having spent $26.00 for 2.5 prawns.
I am looking forward to another visit to Bulimba’s “eat street” as there are still so many enticing menus to tackle and so many mighty trees to snooze under after a day of so many delights.
Text and photographs © Christopher Hall February 2022
Historic photographs (*) photo from Internet
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