Brisbane routes and Brisbane roots
With more than a month having passed since I arrived in Sydney it was high time I headed up the coast to Brisbane – a city I have visited many times in the past.
My Australian father was one of 12 children, meaning that I have a ridiculous amount of family in Queensland. Trying to remember the names of my cousins (I have at least 40) is like a brain training exercise.
Unfortunately, despite their quantity, most of my family are at work during the week of my stay but I manage to catch my cousin’s girlfriend, Katie, on a rare week off work.
Katie, striking with dark hair, porcelain skin and a cool Rockabilly style, comes from a great line of storytellers. She speaks softly and is unassuming yet she recently made quite the impression on a big American band at a music festival. While other fans might have gushed about the music, Katie imparted something more useful - a brief but passionate history of the Sydney Opera House and its troubled architect Jorn Utzon. That’s Katie all over. A wealth of knowledge and historical facts.
Katie’s whirlwind tour begins near her home with a stroll up Highgate Hill to check out the view. We put my camera on delay and perform star jumps on the grass in front of the city skyline.
Next we head to the West End (with Katie pointing out the traditional Greek influence en route) to peruse the quant and diverse mix of shops and eateries. The last time I was here in January I watched a man paddling in a canoe to his house to salvage belongings after the Brisbane River burst its banks. It’s lovely to see it thriving once more and we pop in and out of cute boutique stores and gift shops - favourites including Dandelyon Gifts, Bang Doll Vintage and Don’t Tell Fannie.
Katie’s housemate Dahlia also has her own ‘ideation’ café in the area called The Rabbit Hole where she invites laptop workers to type at desks at the back of the café for a small fee. As far as I can tell the ‘laptop workers’ appear to largely be cute indie boys. Lucky Dahlia.
Heading back towards the city we cross over the Goodwill Bridge as Katie leads me on our very own walking tour of the city talking with passion about her great, great, great grandfather Joshua Jeays who in 1864 was the fourth mayor of Brisbane. Leicestershire-born Jeays arrived in Moreton Bay in 1853 with his wife and four children where he soon received critical acclaim for his work as a builder, architect and stonemason.
His landmark project was building the new colony of Queensland its original Government House in 1862 – now one of Queensland’s most significant heritage buildings. Luckily for us it was opened to the public as a museum two years ago after a $15 million restoration.
Guiding me through grand rooms Katie beckons me over to look at a black and white photo of her famous ancestor. Joshua Jeays stares back with a steely expression and a rather magnificent beard.
Next Katie skips up the stairs (enthusing about the design and structure of the building) where we find a wonderful exhibition of the work of artist William Robinson, one of Australia’s greatest living landscape painters. His paintings depict farming, countryside scenes and quirky self-portraits.
A quick walk across the grass and we are at the edge of the City botanical gardens sadly still largely fenced off while work continues to clear up after the damage left by the January flood. The high rises of the city sparkle in the afternoon sun, towering magnificently over the blooms and trees and casting shimmering reflections in the lake.
Taking the river path we stroll past the city to board the Brisbane ferry motoring under the Goodwill bridge to the South Bank where we jump straight on The Wheel of Brisbane, a wee version of the London Eye which carries you on a 360 degree panoramic ride above the river in gondolas complete with a recorded commentary.
Disembarking as the sun continues to shine we wander through the South Bank, a hub of activity with shops, markets, restaurants, theatres, museums and art galleries. All the while Katie points out buildings and observations and facts continually trip off her tongue.
I wonder what her great, great, great grandfather would make of his pretty descendent as she smiles in the sunshine enthusing about her home city. I imagine he’d be very proud.