To a passionate traveller, exploring Brisbane, the capital of ‘Sunshine State’ Queensland can be unfolding many interesting stories while digging into the settlement’s 19th century colonial history.
For example, not many know Edinglassie was the city’s first name created by the Scottish settlers as a blend of Edinburgh and Glasgow – the two key cities in Scotland. In fact, many suburbs in the city are named after places in Scotland, or after Scottish family names like Brisbane.
Edinglassie became Brisbane in 1824 when it became a penal colony for British convicts sent from Sydney. It was then attached to New South Wales and the new name was derived from the then Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane.
In 1838 it was transformed into a free settlement considering its suitability for farming, fishing and agriculture.
In 1859, Queensland separated from New South Wales and became an independent British Colony and maintained this status until 1901, when it was included as one of the six founding states of the Commonwealth of Australia, with Brisbane as the state capital.
The city’s present-day CBD is where the historically minded trundle to find among a crowd of gleaming skyscrapers some architecturally astute sandstone buildings that stand as memoirs to the city’s colonial past. Among many, City Hall, Treasury Building, Parliament House, and Old Government House draw attention.
While at Old Government House, another interesting story unfolds. Not many know this venue as the birthplace of Lamington, the nation’s famous cake-dish named after Lord Lamington who was the governor of Queensland between 1896-1901. While there are many stories around the birth of Lamington, the one I was told says that at a dinner party hosted by the Governor, the dessert item fell short and there was no ingredient left in the kitchen to quickly prepare something new, other than some pieces of sponge cake. A quick-thinking maid dipped the pieces of cake into molten chocolate, covered them with desiccated coconut to avoid messy fingers and served them up as another dessert. The guests loved it, and it went on to become a culinary sensation in Australia.
Tucked between the open sea and the greenery of the botanical garden, Brisbane today is a bustling riverfront settlement. Currently, it is going through a massive makeshift to emerge as the continent’s new global city, where cutting edge modernism shakes hands with the land’s rich legacy and culture.
Besides colonial heritage, the city has many more things and experiences to delight visitors. Here are some of the more popular ones.
Cruising the river
Taking a cruise along the winding Brisbane River is a spectacular way of catching a glimpse of the city’s high-rise punctuated waterfront silhouette, particularly in the evenings when the lights on the panorama bestow a fairy-tale appearance.
Spinning on a wheel
Rising to 60m above ground level, a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane offers a breathtaking 360-degree vista of the surrounding cityscape from the safety and comfort of a fully enclosed, air-conditioned gondola.
Hiking to the top of a bridge
A landmark of the city, the Story Bridge is a heritage-listed, steel cantilever, 770m-long road bridge, spanning across the Brisbane River. It reminds me of Kolkata’s landmark – the Howrah Bridge on the Hooghly River. One of only three bridge climbs in the world, an adventurous hike to its top almost 80 metres above the water level not only offers adrenaline rushing thrills but also unmatched 360-degree views spanning Moreton Bay in the east, the Glasshouse Mountains in the north and hinterland views to the west.
Exploring art and culture
Located on the southern banks of the river, the culturally thriving South Bank is famous for world-class museums, galleries, theatres, libraries and centres of performing arts. The 17-hectare area is home to Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Maritime Museum, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, some 90 restaurants, cafes and bars, and a host of other entertainment, recreation and leisure activities all of which are within walking distance of each other. Hundreds of events of different kinds are held here every year.
Sleeping in an art house
Though the city offers several hotels to choose from, staying at the Crystalbrook Vincent (formerly The Fantauzzo) beneath the iconic Story Bridge and overlooking the recently revitalised Howard Smith Wharves offers an extraordinary experience. Inspired by celebrated Australian painter Vincent Fantauzzo, this 166-room luxury property provides guests with an artistic indulgence. The artist’s creations, 500 of them, are splattered throughout the hotel, evoking an impression of sleeping in an art gallery. A portrait of Amitabh Bachchan in the lobby drew my first attention.
Food and wine
Because of its pleasant climate and abundance of fresh produce, food and drink are taken seriously in Brisbane, whether it’s coffee at the Stanton Café & Bar in Queen Street, lunch at the Greek tavern Greca at the new Howard Smith Wharves precinct, a cocktail at Mr Percival’s overwater bar while watching the sunset, or fine dining at the Polpetta for a taste of real Italy
Spending a fun-filled day
World famous for fun-filled theme parks like Sea World and Movie World, Australia’s party town Gold Coast, only an hour away, is also an ideal destination for spending a day with the sun, sea and sand at one of the many beachside locations. Surfers Paradise continues to be the most popular Gold Coast destination.
Check out www.visitbrisbane.com.au for more information.