Exploring Brisvegas

Brisbane at Night
Well, it has been about seven years since I was last in Brisbane, and since I have been to Sydney quite a number of times in the past couple of years I decided that I would go somewhere a little different. Mind you, I’ve never seen my football team (Port Power) play at the Gabba – in fact I have never seen a sporting match at the Gabba, so I decided to time my trip for that one particular event. Mind you, there generally isn’t all that much about Brisbane that captures my attention, except for it being in Queensland and having some wonderful beaches, but beyond that there hasn’t been anything that has caused me to jump onto the internet and book some plane tickets (and even then wonderful beaches generally isn’t an excuse for me to go on a holiday).
For some reason the city seems to have earned the name Brisvegas, which I was also somewhat curious about because, well, from what I can remember, Brisbane and Las Vegas have almost nothing in common. When I think of Las Vegas what usually comes to mind are casinos, fountains, and a place where you can get married in a wedding chapel with Elvis conduction the ceremony. As far as I am aware there is nothing like that in Brisbane, so I guess that was another reason to go (as well as to visit some pubs and restaurants for my job as a reviewer, since most of my reviews, to date, focus on Melbourne and Adelaide, with a couple of places in Sydney).
My arrival
Well, being the sucker for punishment that I am (or should I say attempting to squeeze as much time into my trip as possible), I headed for Melbourne airport after work and jumped on one of the evening flights. I must say that plane travel is starting to get quite annoying. For one thing these flights are becoming a little cramped and stuffy, and sitting in a crowded plane for a two and a half hour trip is starting to lose its shine. Even though I have my trusty laptop and an entertaining book, a part of me has reached the point that I simply want to get off of that plane as soon as possible (which is not at all feasible when you are flying at 30000 feet). Mind you, despite the length of time soon enough those magic words ‘we are now preparing to land’ came over the speaker meaning that my time trapped inside the flying coffin was about to end.
Brisbane Airport has a train that connects it with the city, though there are a couple of problems: they charge a premium for the service (no doubt because the Brisbane Airport Corporation slaps a tariff on all train journeys, just as it does on every other trip to the airport) and it stops at 9:30 pm. That meant that poor old me had to catch a cab. Mind you, catching a cab can be an interesting experience at times because you find all sorts of people driving taxis. Once I have a former video editor, and another time a biology major who knew all about marijuana (not that he was a drug dealer). This time I had a automotive engineer from India whose wife happened to be a medical doctor. I am always amazed at some of these immigrants because they are all hard workers and are willing to do all sorts of jobs. I used to wonder why I never saw a white person serving at a 7-11, driving a cab, or cleaning an office. Now I know – we are job snobs. Hey, I have even seen people move through my office pretty quickly because it was just not the type of job they want.
The other thing about taxi drivers is that you can learn some interesting things from them. For instance this fellow from India explained that as a medical doctor you can earn a lot more in India than you can in Australia because not only are all of the hospitals private, but medical doctors can command much higher wages. He also told me that going to a dentist in India is a lot cheaper, not because their dentists are bad, but because there are so many dentists around that the market has pushed the prices down. I was curious as to why he was driving a cab, and he explained that it was because he was saving up to open his own motor mechanic. Gee times have changed. It used to be that if you wanted to fix cars you would take up an apprenticeship, however these days you have to go and get an engineering degree.
Ghost Town

This is why I am baffled as to why people refer to Brisbane as Brisvegas. Okay, from what I gathered Angela Merkal had a lot of fun when she visited the city for the G20 (and you can see that Brisbane is still trumpeting that by claiming to be Australia’s new World City), however once I settled into my hotel I decided to do what I always do: look for a place to have a beer. Anyway, I suspect that I took a wrong turn because I headed up to Spring Hill which, honestly, is not a place to go for a late night beer, and the pub that I was going to visit happened to be closed. Well, I could have simply walked across the road from my hotel because there was a pub there, but the huge words proclaiming ‘Cold Beer, Hot Girls’ and ‘Brisbane’s only Topless Bar’ sort of suggested that it wasn’t a place for a good little Christian like me.

Spring Hill Hotel
it was shut

Anyway, after hitting a couple of blanks up in Spring Hill (though there was a pub just down the road that was open, however as it turned out that pub was one of Brisbane’s gay nightspots) I headed back to the city on my quest for a cold beer. I did find a place called the ‘Down Under Bar‘ however there was a line snaking down Edward Street from the door, yet through the window the bar looked open, and empty. I went to politely speak to one of the bouncers who rudely told me to get in line (as it turns out the bar is out the back). Anyway, when I see a line of young people that you suspect are all underage, it is generally a good indicator (at least to me) that it isn’t a place to have a cold beer.

So, I ended up, once again, taking a wrong turn (because if I had continued down Edward Street I would have discovered another three pubs, though knowing Brisbane I suspect that they would have been closed as well) and walked through the Queen Street Mall towards the river (though that could be either direction because the Brisbane River curves around the CBD). Once again the place was pretty empty and all of the shops, cafes, and restaurants were closed. My quest finally came to a successful conclusion when I arrived at the Treasury Casino.

Treasury Casino
That is a bit of a long shot

Now, I must admit that I am really not a big fan of casinos because I have never been interested in gambling, or at least gambling which involves little to no thinking. Sure, investing in the stock market is gambling while betting on the horses involves research and educated guessing, but when it comes to casinos the ability to win money is based entirely on luck. Okay, there is an entire mathematical discipline involved in determining the odds of winning, but in the end it doesn’t matter how mathematically inclined you are, or how good you are at determining the chance of whether you will win or lose, in the end it all comes down to the roll of the dice.

Anyway, the Treasury Casino is in the old Queensland Government Treasury Building so as you wander around the rooms and corridors you discover that it is a rather interesting set up. Unlike other casinos that are usually just a huge hall with a number of bars, the Treasury has lots of little rooms and alcoves, no doubt the former offices of the staff that used to work here. The main hall was once the courtyard, though I suspect that there are a lot more doors in here than there where when it was run by the Treasury Department (I doubt the offices were throughfares). Also, like many of the other casinos that I have been to in Australia (though the only non-Australian casino I’ve been to is Wynns in Macau – well there was another one but I forget its name) there are a number of bars with all assortments of cocktails and beers available, as well as the increasingly popular craft beers (though I have read that some people are slamming craft beers of late as being too hip and trendy).

Back to the Airport

The first thing I decided to do that morning was to go and find a place to have some breakfast, which wasn’t all that hard since the deadness of the previous night had been replaced with the hustle and bustle of you average CBD, and there were plenty of places open for breakfast. Since I was going to be here for around seven days I decided to go for a bit of a wander and chose a nice cafe opposite the Treasury Casino. What was interesting was the guy that took my order was using what looked like a smart phone as opposed to the standard pad that every other waiter uses. I thought that it was a little strange that cafes here in Brisbane had taken up smartphones to record orders while back in Melbourne everybody still uses a pencil and pad. It could also be the case that I don’t actually go to places that have table service, meaning that I end up ordering my meals at the counter.

Cafe Brisbane
A nice place to have a spot of breakfast

Anyway, I had to go and pick my brother up from the airport, so after finishing off my delicious pancakes (and taking a few photos), I then headed down to the railway station to get myself a ticket. Like most of the other cities around the world, Brisbane has dispensed with the need for paper tickets and reverted over to using a card, which the call a Go-Card. What I thought was cool was as a visitor I could get my card, pay a deposit, and once I had finished with it I would get the deposit, and any extra credit, refunded. That was very handy, particularly since I didn’t end up having unused credit on the card after I returned home. Mind you, if you pay by credit card they can only refund you back onto the credit card (though I preferred to use the term ‘cash out’).

As I mentioned you pay a premium to travel to the airport on the Airtrain, though I only caught it there because my brother doesn’t like dragging his bags on public transport. I also wanted to go for another ride through the tunnel connecting the airport with the city. That tunnel has an interesting story because when it was being built it was listed on the Australian stock-exchange as Brisconnect. The thing was that the company didn’t issue your normal share, but rather you would pay a third when you initially invested and then at certain points during the project they would ask you to contribute the next third and then at a later point the final third. However, during the global financial crisis the value of these shares plummeted and a bunch of unsophisticated investors, seeing a heap of shares worth two cents a pop decided to pump a heap of money into them. There was a catch – when the project reached a certain point they had to cough up an amount of money equal to a third of the original value, which meant that these unsophisticated sods found themselves with debts of over a million dollars. I guess the moral of that story is: if a share looks cheap then there is probably a very good reason why it is that cheap, nobody is buying them.

I had to take a video of our journey through the tunnel

Once again our taxi driver was a rather interesting person: he was from Ethiopia. He had come to Australia in the early nineties, namely because Ethiopia was basically a basket case country and he could make a much better life for himself over here. I guess he was one of the really fortunate ones as Australia as since closed its doors to pretty much everybody in the intervening years. The days of packing your bags in a third world country and coming over here are long gone. He was quite lucky in more ways than one because he had the good fortune of actually having an education, which meant that he could both read and write in English. The education system in Ethiopia is pretty much non-existent meaning that to actually be able to go to school and learn is a real luxury.

A walk through the city

As my brother and I generally do when we arrive in a new city we go out for a walk to have a look around. As well as visiting a few pubs, we made our way to Central Station to where the eternal flame is located. It is located at the top of ANZAC Square, opposite the railway station, where there are numerous monuments to Queenslanders who fought in World War One. Opposite ANZAC Square is Post Office Square, named as such because it faces the old GPO. The thing about Post Office Square is that it is built on top of a shopping arcade and you can actually walk from the GPO to the railway station without having to wait to cross any of the roads. Mind you, like most cities, driving in the city centre is a nightmare. Our taxi driver decided that he would take the route through the city to get to our hotel as opposed to going around the other way. We ended up spending more time crawling along Ann Street than we did getting there from the airport.

The Eternal Flame
Artists have written songs about this place

I always have a chuckle when I walk past the Eternal Flamebecause I wonder whether people, late at night, jump the fence just so they can light their cigarette. I’m sure people have done that, especially if they are young, and drunk, since many of the younger people don’t hold the same reverence towards ANZAC Day as the older generations. Hey, we didn’t even have a public holiday this year, which kinda sucked.

There was a guy standing near the Eternal Flame wearing a UNHCR uniform, and I decided that I would go and have a chat with him. I should have listened to my brother because it turned out to be a big mistake. The thing is that this guy was a charity collector, and they aren’t like the charity collectors of old that stand on street corners with tins. These days they try to get you to sign up to a direct debit arrangement on the spot. In a way it is better for the charity because they get an income stream as opposed to a one off donation, but I have spoken to these types of people before and what they do is that they give you a hard sell, but don’t let you go away to think about it. In fact they won’t even give you any information to read, unless of course you sign up on the spot. Charity collecting has changed a lot since I was younger, and these days the collectors give you high powered sales pitches, particularly since they also get commissions from these sales.

Anzac Square Statue
Some Queensland General

So, after managing to extricate myself from these sales people disguised as agents of mercy, we crossed ANZAC Square and over to Post Office Square where there were a number of people lying in the sun. We also saw what would become an ubiquitous sight in Queensland – the ibis, a long beaked bird that seems to be everywhere. In fact in Queensland the ibis seems to be a prolific as seagulls and pigeons are in other cities. Once again, I am sure they are what you consider ‘flying rats’ especially since you will see signs telling you not to feed them (though they generally are able to feed themselves without any help from us humans).

Don’t see these things lurking around other cities

City Gardens

I would call this place by its proper name, the City Botanic Gardens, however, unlike other Botanic Gardens that I have visited, there are no signs underneath the trees with Latin names scrawled on them. So, making our way south from Post Office Square, we passed the Catholic Cathedral (after sticking our heads inside, but since people were doing Catholicy things in there we felt that maybe wandering around inside looking at the place was not all that appropriate), visited a couple of more pubs, and then headed to the gardens. The gardens are located on the southern tip of the CBD, where the river curves around to head towards the sea. I sort of want to call it a peninsula, because it looks like a peninsula, but since it is a river, and not a lake, it is probably not an appropriate term.

So, we walked around the gardens and I must say that it wasn’t all that impressive, as a botanic garden that is. In fact it is more like a park than a botanic garden (or should I say a standard garden as opposed to a special garden). On one side is a university campus, and at the far end is a stage where I am sure a number of high profile bands have played in front of a crowd of adoring fans (while others sit outside in the park to listen to the music for free – but then they don’t get to see the stage act). Well, we wandered around the gardens for a bit, but in the end there was nothing much to see, so we made our way down to one of the wharves to catch the ferry across the river.

City Botanic Gardens
One of the many photos I took

There was probably a time where the only way to cross the river was by ferry, and on this side of the city there is only one bridge – the Story Bridge (though if you go further down you will get to the Gateway Bridge). Unfortunately you can’t realistically walk around and cross the Story Bridge because that will take ages, and unlike the Western Side of the city, there aren’t any footbridges, so you have the little ferry that takes you from one side to the other. I do wonder whether any ships still come this far up the river – they must do since the Story Bridge and the Gateway Bridge are high enough for a decent sized ship to pass underneath. Mind you, with the size of some of the cruise ships these days I doubt they would even be able to fit down the Brisbane River, let alone turn around, without doing significant damage to the waterfront properties.

Story Bridge
Built by the same guy as the one in Sydney

Anyway, on the other side of the river there was this pub that I wanted to check out – the Story Bridge Hotel. The reason I wanted to check it out was because it is built under the bridge. Actually it is next to the bridge, but since they have added parts to it the hotel now extends under the bridge. It was around this time that I discovered Queensland’s really strict smoking laws. Basically you cannot smoke where people are eating, which means that pretty much all of the outdoor areas have magically transformed into outdoor eating venues. Many of these beer gardens where built when smoking was banned inside pubs and clubs, but now Queensland has extended that to push all of the smokers to a corner of the beer garden where they can smoke without having to upset any of the diners.

Tilt Train to Caboolture

As it turns out the entire route from Brisbane to Rockhampton has been electrified and they run a ‘tilt-train‘ between the two cities once every two days. Since my brother likes trains (and I don’t think they’re all that bad either – why else would I be uploading videos of trains to Youtube?) we decided to jump onto the Tilt Train and catch it to the next station – Caboolture. When we went to purchase the tickets we were told that the closest stop we could get the ticket to was Nambour (the town where Kevin Rudd grew up – you do remember Kevin don’t you?). So we spent an extra bit of money but since I didn’t want to go all the way to Nambour, we just got off the train, much to the surprise of the staff, at Caboolture (I’m not sure if we were actually supposed to do that, but hey, I paid my fare and anyway the lady who sold us the ticket said that there was nothing stopping us from getting off at Caboolture). Anyway, if you don’t know what a tilt-train is, you can always check it out on Wikipedia.

I had to throw in a bit of train porn

Anyway, here we were, standing outside the Caboolture train station wondering what to do, so we did what every normal person does in a situation like this – go across the road and buy some lunch. I must say that we ended up walking into this wonderful bakery namely because the staff were just really, really friendly. She even made sure that the tea that I ordered was perfect (though I wasn’t going to be so picky as to complain if it wasn’t). We then walked around Caboolture for a bit, discovered that there was absolutely nothing here (with the exception of this nice old school building), so we decided to walk to the park and eat our lunch.

Caboolture Primary
Probably the best looking building in the entire suburb

Anyway, I’m sad to say that for the average tourist (of which I am not) there actually isn’t all that much in Caboolture that is going to hold your attention. Okay, there is a nice park with some fancy sculptures, some fountains, and a few strange birds hobbling about, but other than that it is your basic, everyday, outer suburb. It’s not like those outer suburbs that used to be farming communities that have been absorbed into the city due to population growth and uncontrolled sprawl – no, it’s just an outer suburb where the land is cheap and main road is littered with huge stores selling this that and everything else (as well as an accountancy firm called Isis and partners – which I found a bit odd considering the current events, until I realised that they were referring to the Egyptian goddess as opposed to the extremist group).

Caboolture Sculpture
At least that have some nice artwork

So, after concluding that there was nothing all that much in Caboolture we jumped onto the train and returned towards the city, but we didn’t go all of the way because being a train geek I wanted to get a video of the Sunlander (or is it the Spirit of Queensland) passing one of the inner city stations. However I had to try to time it correctly so I would be at the station when it passed. It turned out that I wasn’t and ended up hanging around for fifteen minutes before I concluded that I had missed it. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the pub for a beer, and then went and got a cup of tea at a nearby coffee shop. Oh well, at least I got to see Albion (which is a pretty nice looking inner city suburb) as well as getting a cup of tea at a really cool coffee shop.

The Valley of Fortitude

Well, we had returned to the hotel reasonably early, so after tea my brother decided to stay behind and play on my laptop (actually, he ended up doing some research on Supercells he likes storms) so I decided to do something that I have, for some reason, never done the previous times that I have been in Brisbane – visit Fortitude Valley. I sort of wondered why they actually called the place Fortitude Valley (Wikipedia tells you it was named after the Scottish ship the SS Fortitude)? Was it because when it was established only the strong could hope to survive here, or was it a more modern name, suggesting that those who come here need a lot of fortitude to last the night? Well, in the days of Wikipedia many of these myths come to naught simply because with the tap of the keyboard you can find the answer that you seek (which makes running a quiz night especially difficult these days).

Fortitude Valley
This is where it’s all happening

Anyway, I should mention that Fortitude Valley is the centre of Brisbane nightlife and is a complete contrast to the CBD, which usually dies at around 9:00 pm. As soon as you step off the train you enter a shopping centre, and a short trip outside onto Brunswick Street you are suddenly assaulted with all manner of entertainment with signs proclaiming ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and establishments bearing the name ‘Eye-Candy’ (with a bikini clad girl plastered prominently on the window). As I walked towards the mall I then had to run a gauntlet of spruikers all trying you entice me into their establishment (with some of them handing out cards for free entry, but then again these establishments don’t make money out of their entry fees, they make money out of drunken guys paying obscene amounts of money for naked girls to gyrate over their bodies).

A part of me was hoping that there was going to be more to the Valley than this and fortunately, once I had crossed Wickham Terrace, I was rewarded for my troubles. This is where you step onto Brunswick Street Mall, which is lined with bars and pubs. Mind you, a number of these bars have bouncers out the front with machines that are designed to determine whether an ID is fake or not, and I must admit, these guys are nowhere nears as friendly as the security guards at the airport. At least at the airport if you ask them why you have to take your laptop out of your bag, or why they check umbrellas, they will give you an answer (the metal detectors have difficulties checking laptops in bags, and the spokes in umbrellas make it easy to hide detonators – and you can also check out the screens on the metal detectors while your bags pass through the detectors) where as these bouncers seem to be gruff and unfriendly, even if you don’t look like an immature teenager.

Fortitude Valley Nightlife
A night on the town

Anyway, I found myself, after checking out a few other places (and discovering later that Fortitude Valley is actually much more than just Brunswick Street Mall) I found myself sitting outside a wonderful bar called Brunswick and Ann. Okay, it wasn’t as crowded as the Royal George on the other side of the mall, but I had checked that place out earlier and really didn’t like it. This place seemed to be quite relaxed, played some decent tunes, and even had a really, really cool cellar bar. Oh, it was also a craft beer bar (which is my sort of bar) and had a Vodka Bar attached to it. Anyway, as I was sitting outside drinking my beer a friendly chap came and sat at my table and began to tell me all about Brisbane.

Brunswick & Ann
Probably the coolest bar in the valley

Basically, as I have learnt from other people who have lived here, it all happens in the Valley. As I suspected, the city dies at around 9:00 pm, and after 11:00 you can pretty much expect the place to be empty, with the exception of the handful of homeless people that are sleeping rough. Okay, I also noticed that there were some young homeless people sleeping rough in the Valley, and on the mall nonetheless (though if I was sleeping rough I would probably not pick the mall since it is not the easiest of places to sleep, however it is probably safer than elsewhere). Once again my suspicions were confirmed that people in Brisbane prefer the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast. Basically the Gold Coast is simply a tourist haven that really doesn’t have any soul beyond the high rise hotels and the tourist glamour. If you want a peaceful and relaxing holiday (or even a good place to go fishing) then the Sunshine Coast is the place to be.

Cultural Immersion

The next morning I discovered another problem with Brisbane. Good luck finding a place open on Saturday or Sunday morning that serves breakfast. I walked around for about fifteen minutes and all of the places that I had seen bustling on Friday morning were closed. Its as if after 11:00 pm on Friday night the city literally dies, only to be resurrected the first train on Monday morning. Okay, that is probably being a little harsh, particularly since people do begin to emerge from their hives at around 9:00 am, which is when the shops open, however looking for a place to have breakfast was nigh impossible.

Which is why I ended up jumping on the train and headed out to Nundah. Why Nundah? I really don’t know because to be honest with you there is nothing at Nundah that is worth seeing. Hey, it doesn’t even have that hip inner-city feeling that Albion has (though it is a couple of stations north). In fact, the only thing that really stood out about Nundah were the holes in the ground. The reason I bring that up is because it looks like there is a bit of development going on here with the construction of not one, not two, but three apartment complexes. That is in addition to the others that have already been built turning this place into a modern, cement covered, residential area dotted with numerous cafes. Sure there are a couple of pubs, including one that is basically your stereotypical suburban pub crowded with old men moaning to the bartender while drinking their beers. However the other one has quickly transformed into a more middle class establishment, competing with the numerous cafes that dot the landscape.

That pretty much says it all

Well, after mentioning this residential development I find it interesting how housing has begun to change. These are probably better described as high density dwellings with retail outlets on the first floor, carparks on the next couple of levels, and a bunch of apartments occupying the remaining floors. Unlike the old blocks of flats you see everywhere, these places have security, staff, as well as nice places to eat on the ground floor. However owning such a place does have its drawbacks because you have to contribute a lot more to the cost of maintaining such a building than you traditionally would with other places.

By the way, I did end up finding a place to have some breakfast, as well as a really geeky shop that sells lots of geeky products.

Dancing with Dinosaurs

It was really fortuitous that we ended up in Brisbane this year because there was a dinosaur exhibition on at the Museum and my brother simply loves dinosaurs. The Queensland Museum does have a room full of fossils and skeletons (as well as a number of other exhibits, particularly one for bike geeks – though this is not a permanent display), but the Dinosaur Discovery was basically a bunch of robotic dinosaurs which would roar, gnash their teeth, and move their heads, set up in what could have been their habitat. To be honest, I found it entertaining, but I have been taking my brother to dinosaur exhibitions for years, so there wasn’t anything much different that many of the other exhibitions that I have seen, with the exception that the dinosaurs would move their heads, gnash their teeth, and roar.

There were a few other interesting things in the museum, including a large collection of stuffed and preserved animals, and a stack of drawers containing insects of all varieties. There was also an aboriginal display, and it was interesting to view the stories of the original people, particularly when the colony passed the Aboriginal Protection Act, which was a thinly disguised attempt to turn them into carbon copies of the colonists. Mind you, this process has being going on since colonisation, and is still going on today with the Prime Minister’s infamous statement that he sees no reason why we should be subsidising Aboriginals for what amounts to little more than a lifestyle choice. Obviously this is a controversial topic, but I tend to fall onto the side that we should allow the original inhabitants to live the lifestyle that they choose, either the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, or the modern Australian lifestyle. Of course, their traditional lifestyle doesn’t involve sitting around drinking alcohol, so if that is the ‘lifestyle choice’ that Tony Abbott spoke about, then I can understand his comments, but then again I suspect that there is more to this comment than meets the eye.

A World of Art

The Queensland Cultural Centre composes of a number of institutions, including the Centre of Performing Arts, the Queensland Theatre Company, the Queensland Museum, The Queensland Art Gallery, the State Library of Queensland, and QAGOMA (the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art). After wandering around the museum (and having lunch at the museum cafe) we then went and checked out the art gallery. To be honest there wasn’t all that much there that really caught my attention. Well, it was quite interesting, but I had a lot of difficulty determining whether it was a modern art gallery or just a normal art gallery. In fact there wasn’t even much in the way of an international collection. When I first walked into the doors all I could see were modern art sculptures, but after ascending a small flight of stairs I then entered into a room full of paintings.

Queensland Art Gallery
Balloon art

There were a couple of rooms which comprised the international collection down the back, which included a handful of European items (including a few medieval paintings) and a number of Indian and Chinese artifacts. What was interesting was that there were some exhibits from Communist China, which reminded me of the left wing revolutionary art that you see floating around. However, this was more an exhibition of Queensland art, which is probably what you would expect from an art gallery in Queensland. Mind you, I am probably more used to the NGV in Victoria, which has an extensive international collection, but then again it is actually dedicated to international art (the Ian Potter Centre, which I haven’t visited yet, is where the local art can be found, or so I believe).

The State Library of Queensland is pretty much just that – a State Library, so after wandering around the media room, and looking at a collection of modern aboriginal art, we made our way towards QAGOMA. Unfortunately it was getting late so we were only able to check out a couple of the exhibits, namely Michael Parkowhai’s The Promised Land, and a collection of visual art from the film maker David Lynch. I must say that both were quite impressive, however I will discuss these two exhibitions in a later post (since they probably both deserve a post of themselves). What I will say is that I never realised that David Lynch was an artist beyond his filmmaking career, and as it turned out his film making is an extension of his work as a visual artist. The collection of matchbook drawings on display were really impressive.

Headbutting Elephant
This is what I call Modern Art

A lazy Sunday

Okay Sunday wasn’t all that lazy since we did go to church, wandered around Woolloongabba for a bit and then went to the football, but other than that we didn’t go and visit any eye popping amazing places like we did on Saturday (unless you consider The Gabba an eye popping amazing place, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a football stadium). However, getting to church was a little tricky as all of the trains heading south (the church was in South Brisbane on Vulture Street, which by the way I have always though was a really cool name for a major thoroughfare) weren’t running due to track refurbishment. This meant that we had to catch a bus, which is a tricky proposition most of the time. However, when we realised that we had jumped on the wrong bus, the bus driver was kind enough to let us off at an unscheduled stop.
Okay, maybe I’m a bit of a public transport geek, but I do find it quite interesting. The trains in Brisbane run north-south (sort of, or more like from the northern suburbs to the southern and western suburbs) through the city. I would suggest that Roma Street Station is the major railway station, though from my experience Central Station in Brisbane is the busiest, namely because that is where everybody gets off to go to work. However if I needed to change trains I would do it at Roma Street because all of the trains pass through there (as well as a few other inner-city stations). Roma Street also provides access to the XPT to Sydney and the regional trains. There is also a major bus depot here where all of the buses from the Northern Busway pass through to the city.

Brisbane Central Station
For those train station geeks

The Brisbane Busways are pretty cool, and work almost like trains in and off themselves. The provide a relatively quick way to get into the city since the busways avoid all of the traffic lights (though there is a section of the Northern Busway that runs along Lutwyche Road which slows the bus down a lot, however the express buses also use the freeway to avoid that awkward section). However, the thing that I think is really cool about the Brisbane busway network are the underground bus stations at King George Square and the Myer Centre. In fact you can get off of the bus at the Myer Centre and walk straight into the shopping centre (or at least one of the food courts). It also works to get an awful lot of buses off of the city roads. It would be really cool to see busways like that in some of the other cities, but somehow I don’t think that is going to happen.

Anyway, enough of public transport because I did manage to get to St Andrews Anglican in South Brisbane, which I have always liked attending when I am in Brisbane. Pastor Alan Moore has always been very welcoming, and he even remembered me despite not having been here for the past eight years. The preacher spoke on Psalm 4, which was a psalm written by David when all of his enemies (and he did have quite a few) were slandering him, and the speaker was discussing about how we should respond to such situations Mind you, while it is tempting to fight evil with evil I always remember something that CS Lewis wrote somewhere that if we do this we only work to increase the evil and animosity in the world, but by responding with love, or even simply ignoring it, we put a stop to which, which helps to make the world a better place.

St Andrew's Church
A great place to spend a Sunday Morning

So, after morning tea we then wandered down to the Gabba to buy out tickets, and on the way we passed the Chalk Hotel, which turns out to be the pub where all the Brisbane Lions supporters go before and after the game. Fortunately the game was still four hours away, so I stepped in to have a look around, and have a beer. However, we went to another pub, The Pineapple Hotel (that is so Queensland) for lunch before making our way back to the Gabba the long way (namely by wandering through the back streets and looking at a lot of the houses). I noticed that a lot of the houses around here are on stilts, which is probably due to flooding. What was interesting was that there were some houses being raised even further by a company that specialises in lifting houses. That would be an interesting task, lifting a house without it falling to pieces, particularly since most of the houses that are being lifted are made of wood.

So, we arrived at the Gabba about forty-five minutes before the siren so I decided to have a pre-game drink and we walked into the hotel on the other side of the road only to discover that it was packed to the brim with people. It seems as if everybody else had the same idea. The thing was that this hotel really exists in only two states – packed and empty. When there is a game on the hotel is packed, when there isn’t it’s empty. Which means most of the time the pub is empty, expect for a couple of hours before, and after, a game. Even the pokies room was full of people. However, I did get a pre-game drink, and then went back over the road to watch the football.

The Gabba
Just another football stadium (or is it a cricket ground?)

Well, all I can say was that it was a very disappointing game, but at least I got around to watching a football match at the Gabba. I’m not sure why I really wanted to go to the Gabba, but then it probably has something to do with having never been there before and wanting to check it out at least once. One of the guys at church told me that during the cricket people come from all over Australia to watch a test match here, apparently because they don’t play tests at the WACA (in Perth) anymore, so the Gabba has become the go to ground for the cricket. I suspect getting into the MCG or the SCG for a test match is going to be really problematic, but who knows, Adelaide may also draw a huge crowd in that regards.

The Golden Beaches

I’m not sure why I always go for a day trip to the Gold Coast when I visit Brisbane because I really don’t like the place. In fact the first time I came here I pretty quickly reached the conclusion that I didn’t like the place. It is completely artificial and packed full of bars, restaurants, and beachware shops. There are also the three big amusement parks: Movie World, Seaworld, and Dreamworld. The main reason I originally came here was to first of all check it out, and to also take my brother to Movie World and Sea World. After doing those two things there wasn’t really all that much to keep me coming back, yet for some reason a trip to Brisbane isn’t a trip to Brisbane without visiting the Gold Coast.

It is a two hour trek by train and bus from the centre of Brisbane, so while it can be done as a daytrip, you may be pretty pressed for time. Anyway, the main strip is Surfers Paradise, though you will find that it is always full of people who go to the Gold Coast for the one thing that the Gold Coast offers – a chance to party. I don’t mind my parties, and during the high season (which I have never experienced, and probably don’t really want to experience) it would get a lot more crowded than it was when I have been here, but there are still enough people around even in winter to suggest that there is always something happening down here.

Gold Coast Beach
Not the most natural of settings

We took the bus to Broadbeach, which is a quieter part just south of Surfer’s Paradise, and this was where my brother had his obligatory paddle in the ocean (he always goes for a paddle when we go to the beach, except for when it is really, really cold – or we are at Bondi, for some reason he has never gone for a paddle at Bondi). We wandered around for a bit before catching the new Gold Coast Tram to head up to Southport.

Southport really doesn’t have all that much to offer, though it is the commercial centre for the Gold Coast region. What it did have was this absolutely awesome secondhand bookshop that had so many books that I could have spent the entire day wandering around and looking at what was available. I ended up spending quite a bit of money here and landed up with a number of books that weighed by backpack down considerably (especially since it already had antique laptop inside). There was even this old record shop, though since I don’t own an antique (or even a modern) turntable I saw no need to go inside an have a look around.

Return to Southbank

The next morning I decided to once again go out and look for a place to have some breakfast, and as it turned out there was this heaps cool cafe across the road (the Java Coast Cafe). After the previous morning’s disappointment this was a huge turn-around. From the outside it doesn’t look like much – just your typical take-away stall, but when you step inside not only do you discover a dinning hall down the back, but behind the building there is this huge garden where you can sit in peace, away from the bustle of the city, and have some breakfast (or even a morning coffee). It is one of those organic fair trade cafes with a unique menu. Anyway, it turned out to be a really pleasant start to the morning.

Java Coast Coffee
The breakfast garden

So after breakfast we decided to spend a peaceful day in the city – no big adventures out in the suburbs. We have noticed that there was this tent located in King George Square, and we had been told at church on Sunday that one of their regulars had some artwork on display inside. I’m always happy to go and check out artwork and simply waste some time looking at pretty pictures. Also, King George Square was just around the corner, so it wasn’t too far out of my way (but then again art never is). Anyway, it was run by the Mental Illness Fellowship of Queensland which provided a means for them to be able to put their art on display and hopefully make a little money from their talents. It was a gold coin donation and you could purchase the art if you wished. I was interested, but was not willing to purchase any on the spot. However, as it turned out, once the tent disappeared Wednesday night so did the ability to purchase any art.

Mental Health Artwork
Giving Warhol a run for his money

As I was wandering around the tent (or should I say gallery) I was impressed at how good many of these paintings were and that people with a mental disability were about to produce such quality artwork. However it then struck me that a number of the artists that we all know and love, such as Vincent Van Gogh, actually suffered from mental illness. Once again it didn’t take me long to find a post outlining a number of famous artists who, alongside Van Gogh, also suffered from mental illness (though Van Gogh is probably the most well known). Actually, I was surprised to learn that Picasso suffered from manic depression, while Michaelangelo suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (though sometimes I suspect that having a mental illness adds to your ability as an artist – normal people are just plain boring).

More Mental Health Art
Renoir would be proud

A history of Brisbane

So, after a rather pleasant journey, once again, through the world of art, we decided to check out the Brisbane Museum. I had no idea that it actually existed until I discovered it one day while exploring Google Maps. Anyway, it is located on the forth floor of the Brisbane Town Hall, though while I was at it I wanted to go and explore the town hall itself – you know, go and see the office where Campbell Newman plotted to become Premier of Queensland (and the proceeded to get dumped after just one term). However, like most government institutions you simply cannot wander around looking in every nook and cranny (especially since the days of accidentally driving onto a military base trying to get to your local Westfield shopping centre are long gone). So, we simply made our way to the elevators (where a horde of grey nomads on a tour were congregating) and went to the museum.

Brisbane Town Hall
Not the easiest building to get a photo

Actually, we stopped off at the third floor where there was a sister city display. Basically it was showcasing all of the sister cities with which Brisbane had an agreement. These cities included Abu Dhabi, Auckland, Chongqing, and Kobe among others. While the city displays were somewhat interesting, in the end it was all about economic co-operation and development which is not something that impresses me all that much, especially since I don’t get anything out of it. Still, as I said, looking at the displays were cool. Anyway, if you are really interested in knowing about Sister Cities, you can always check out Wikipedia.

So, on to the forth floor and the Museum of Brisbane (though we had to skip one lift considering it was packed full of grey nomads). Well, as I should have known it is a museum about Brisbane as opposed to a museum in Brisbane (and only I could have been a little surprised that a place called The Museum of Brisbane was actually about Brisbane). Anyway, as I mentioned, it is basically a museum that showcases everything that is Brisbane and has a lot of its history from a harsh penal colony to the modern metropolis. There is also a huge section on the river and if you are really into rivers you can learn an awful lot about the history of the waterway that happens to be the Brisbane River.

They even has exhibitions showcasing things that are uniquely Brisbane (and it seems that they have an exhibition of paintings by William Bustard, who happens to be a painter that painted Brisbane). When we were there they had an exhibition of costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood. While they admitted that this had nothing to do with Brisbane (with the exception that Warner Brothers does have a film studio on the Gold Coast, but then again that is not Brisbane – it is a completely different city) the collection is actually owned by somebody who lives in Brisbane and was kind enough to put it on display (I think its cool when rich people kindly put their collections on display for everybody to see). Mind you, it was fashion, and I’m not all that interested in fashion, but it was interesting to see what he actually had in his collection (though apparently when Hollywood started getting rid of these costumes, namely because they were made for one particular actor for one particular movie, they were going at fire sale prices).

Museum of Brisbane
He doesn’t seem all that impressed

A stroll through the Southbank

After our exploration of the Town Hall we then caught a bus across to Brisbane’s Southbank where there is this huge park. For anybody familiar with Melbourne’s Southbank it is completely different. Where Melbourne has a wide pedestrian walkway with cafes and the casino, Brisbane’s is basically one long park stretching from the Cultural Centre down to where the river curves around and turns back north (though the park does continue around there, it just becomes a different precinct). The first part is just lawn outside the Centre of Performing Arts, however once you pass that building it suddenly becomes a tropical forest, though before the forest there are some interesting ‘fake hills’ where you can lie in the sun and read a book.

Fake Hills
An interesting way to relax

I guess these strange things do serve a purpose, particularly since lying on a gentle slope is actually a lot better (as far as I’m concerned) than flat grass. However I’ve never been a big fan of fake grass, though since my landlord did lay some of that stuff out the back I have discovered that it is quite easy to clean and you don’t have to mow it. Still, being a naturalist myself I do prefer the real stuff.

So, we wandered down to the riverbank where the parklands suddenly become a tropical rainforest, and nestled in the forest is a Nepalese Pagoda. At first I didn’t realise that it was Nepalese because I never realised that the Nepalese built pagodas – I thought it was Chinese. Anyway, we went and checked it out and I was baffled that I saw it covered in Hindu gods. It simply did not seem to work for me considering I never thought that Hinduism really penetrated China. It wasn’t until much later when I was perusing the internet that I discovered that it was Nepalese. All of the sudden it made sense.

Anyway, just before the pagoda, on the riverbank, we found this blue combi-van selling coffee. Now that I thought was really, really cool, so I made my way up to the owner and asked if she did tea (expecting it to be a coffee only establishment, as I have discovered some places in Melbourne are). She did, and in fact she had some rather exotic teas, and I am not talking about herbal teas, I’m mean proper leaf tea that has an exotic flavour. I was most impressed, and when I got back to my hotel I immediately wrote a review about it.

Lost Bean Cafe
I’ve discovered one of these in Melbourne

Another thing that I must mention about this place, other than the cafes that are scattered about the area (though if you move further inland towards the convention centre you will find a lot more) is that there is a beach. Okay, you may not be all that surprised since it is on the banks of a river and it is not uncommon for there to be beaches on rivers, however this isn’t on the river, this is an artificial beach. Okay, I didn’t go for a swim (since it was too cold) and I’m not sure if it is deep enough for a swim. It seems to be more of a paddling beach, though it seems to stretch for quite a distance. Actually, it isn’t just a beach but rather a collection of shallow pools and other watery things (though I couldn’t see a waterslide). They even have a life guard, and while a part of me thought that it was rather amusing seeing a life guard watching over what is effectively a paddling pool, people can still get in trouble.

City Beach
The life guard watching over an empty beach
City Beach Pools
All sorts of watery fun

I even found a vegetable garden down the far end of the park, which I thought was pretty cool. Okay, it isn’t the first time that I have seen a vegetable garden in a public place (there was one in the Fletcher Jones Gardens in Warrnambool) but still I thought it was really cool. They even encouraged you to pick little pieces off of the plants to give them a try. A little research has revealed that this is called the Epicurious Garden and is tended by volunteers. Produce that is ripe is harvested and placed into a cart and you can take it home if you wish – free of charge (meaning that it is a first come, best dressed basis). I’m sure the lure of free food ends up bringing all sorts.

The Last Destroyer

At the far end of the parklands you will come to the Queensland Maritime Museum. The museum is located at the old dry dock where ships where built, however the dock was closed after they built a freeway bridge across the river and the ships that were built there were unable to fit under it (which explains why the Story Bridge was built so high). The museum isn’t hard to find because there is a destroyer sitting in the dry dock with is really, really easy to see.

River destroyer
Definitely worth the price of admission

The Diamantia is a River Class Destroyer, and the last remaining such ship in the world, and the museum claims that it is a Queensland icon (which doesn’t surprise me because it is quite noticeable). Anyway, you can pretty much crawl into almost every nook and cranny of the ship, and it is an experience seeing what the living conditions on such a ship was like. Oh, and despite its name (which confused me a bit), a River Class Destroyer is actually an ocean going vessel – though until I checked up the museum’s website I was under the impression that it only cruised rivers.

There are a number of other boats as well (though the Diamantia would be the star attraction), including a coal powered steam tug called The Forceful, and Ella’s Pink Lady, the yacht that Jessica Watson used to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world (isn’t it funny that there is this push to become the youngest to do something – not that it is bad, but I guess it is just another way to grasp our fifteen minutes of fame). Well, she did get a medal for her efforts.

Last Day at Ipswich

I’m not sure why I always end up going to Ipswich (or Ippy as the locals call it) whenever I visit Brisbane. Well, there was one time that I didn’t go, but for some reason my Brother seems to like the place. Knowing people from Brisbane I have discovered that Ipswich is hardly a destination for tourists (though I sure the people of Ipswich would be more that happy for you to go and spend your money there), and in a way it reminded me more of where I grew up in Adelaide than some pleasant town on the Brisbane City fringe. I guess the reason that I ended up here, once again, is because I have this urge to catch a train to the end of the line just to see what is there.

Probably the same as every other Australian suburb

Anyway Ipswich is what you would call a satellite town at the end of the aptly named Ipswich line. Actually, the line continues on to the town of Rosewood, but if you want to go there you have to jump off of one train and onto another. I have this suspicion that the line was originally supposed to go to Toowoomba but the government ended up canning the project when it reached Rosewood (though a good government would find the money to extend it all the way to Toowoomba). As I was wandering around the town I noticed that there were quite a few pubs (which is probably a hallmark of a major town) though it seems as if a number of them have closed down. They also had a store for geeks as well as its very own comic book store (though I don’t imagine Ipswich as being a destination for geeks of any persuasion – except maybe me). Oh, it also has an art gallery with an interesting local collection – including a mash of motorcyles.

Motorcycle Mash
What I call Bogan art

The Train Museum

Actually, there was a very good reason why we came all the way down to Ipswich, and that was to visit the Workshops Rail Museum. My brother loves trains so I thought it was something that he would enjoy: I certainly wasn’t wrong. The museum is actually where the Queensland Rail Workshops are located, though these days the workshop only works on steam trains and old diesel trains mostly for tourist purposes (we don’t use steam trains in Australia anymore, except for tourist trains). The actual rail workshops, as our tour guide explained, are located elsewhere.

Workshops Rail Museum
You can only get here by bus

Anyway the museum is what you would expect from a train museum in Queensland – it is a catalogue of the history of rail transport, in Queensland. They did have some interesting displays, however it was clear that it was geared mainly for children. In fact when we were there a school had come here for one of their excursions, so there were uniformed children running around everywhere. We were in luck because we arrived just in time for one of the backstage tours. Basically they take you for a tour through a couple of the workshops and show you all of the trains that are being restored. Actually only one of the workshops because there are quite a few, and we only got to see the steam train workshop. Still it was quite interesting, and I also discovered where welders got the name boilermaker – they originally made the boilers for steam trains (though boilers are used in a lot of other places than just trains).

Rail Workshop
Looks like the workers are having a smoko

Time to go home

Well, all good things must come to an end, as so did this holiday. On our final day we once again wandered around the city and visited the Anglican Cathedral, and finished it off with another movie, the third that we saw here – Age of Ultron, Fury Road, and Spy. While Spy was really entertaining, I’m going to have to say that the best film that we saw would have to be Mad Max:Fury Road, the film that in all intents and purposes should never have been made. As I was sitting in the cinemas watching the adds for all of the upcoming releases I realised that we have now entered the summer season of film releases with quite a few movies suddenly jumping onto my ‘too see’ list. As for Fury Road, well I have to agree that as far as action movies are concerned, this is indeed a work of art. Mind you, I really was not sure of what I was going to get, basically expecting more of the same for the previous films made more than thirty years ago, and it took me a bit to come to appreciate what George Miller ended up producing. In the end, if these is one thing that came out of that film it would have to be the Doof Warror, and here is a video tribute to this remarkably insane character.

So I will finish off with a couple of other things. First of all I still am unsure as to why they call this place Brisvegas. Sure, Fortitude Valley is a hive of activity, by in my travels I only found one casino and no wedding chapels. Also the place literally dies at 9:00 pm (though there was an adult bar across the road from my hotel, but then again one adult bar a Las Vegas it does not make. The other thing is that I really did feel like I was in another country. A friend of mine once said that upon moving to Melbourne from Sydney he felt as if he had travelled to a completely different world. The same was the case in my trip to Queensland. However I guess it has something to do with the vast distances that lie between the major cities in Australia.

Creative Commons License
Exploring Brisvegas by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

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