River City/Brizvegas/New World City/Mini-Manhattan?

14 Jan

Astute French writer Marcel Proust said, ‘The only real discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes’. I decided to try looking at my home town of Brisbane with the eyes of a newly arrived immigrant with English as a second language and a family in tow. For our month of living in a rented inner city apartment I kept most activities in Brisbane to budget level rather than five star to see how the city measures up for lower cost leisure and living options.

If you’ve never visited Brisbane allow me to set the scene: this is a river city close to coastal beaches with 1.7 million registered residents plus thousands of tourists stopping over on their way south to the larger Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne or north to the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s the sprawling sub-tropical south-eastern capital of the state of Queensland in the Commonwealth of Australia. More than a quarter of Brisbane’s population speak a language other than English at home and internal migration from Australia’s southern states has been a feature of recent years. Most come for jobs plus lifestyle. The resources boom is providing an economic boost to many sectors, but not all, which is why Australia has been dubbed ‘the two speed economy’.

The image Brisbane presents is of a welcoming, relaxed, inclusive, but industrious metropolis that affords residents the chance to balance work and leisure and have a healthy family life. Happily for the most part I found this to be true. Queensland was battered by ruinous floods and frightening cyclones in January 2011 which left the state with a huge cleanup and repair bill but one year on you have to go looking for the pockets of properties and infrastructure that still need work. Never underestimate the civic benefits of living in a first world economy.

Language is the most obvious aspect of migrant life in Brisbane that needs attention. I saw almost no information, notices or official communications in languages other than English. In the CBD and some suburbs several small businesses and publications cater to particular language and ethnic groups but that’s all. Had I truly been a newly arrived non-English speaking parent looking for information about free and low cost activities for my kids in the holidays it would have been a struggle.

My Top Ten Picks:

1) Best value coffee with free wifi and free holiday activities for kids: The State Library of Queensland is part of the Southbank arts and culture complex. Its self service cafe has $3.50 mugs of delicious Merlo coffee and unlimited, no password wifi. Most days I saw library staff running art and literature workshops for children that seemed so much fun I wished I could join them. There were also free art activities at QPAC in the walkway and at the Gallery of Modern Art.

2) Best BBQ and beach spot: Again the Southbank Parklands comes up trumps. Clean, free gas BBQs, grassy picnic areas with a patrolled clean beach and lagoon swimming pool are perfect for a family day or evening out. Post flood the gardens have been completely cleaned up, replanted and they’ve relandscaped the eastern section near the Goodwill footbridge.

3) Best picnic place with a view: The Kangaroo Point Cliffs give you a superb view of the city. Go to the Story Bridge end of the cliffs – there’s a cafe and large grassy area with BBQs, tables and a small playground. Just beautiful at sunset.

4) Best low cost cinema: The Imax multiplex on Grey Street, South Brisbane, has new movie releases at $8.50 for adults. The seating is comfortable and picture quality excellent.

5) Best cheap eats: Jackpot Noodles in Albert Street do a large portion of a wicked meat or veg laksa for $6.80 take away or eat in.

6) Best value family restaurant: The Modern Lebanese restaurant – Rouj – on Ellena Street in Rosalie Village has a clean, friendly vibe with smart decor and tasty meals. All dishes are meant to be shared. It’s BYO alcohol – there is a bottle shop right next door.

7) Best cheap city tour: Jump on the city cat ferry at dusk at any jetty and do a river loop for just over $10 for two adults. Enjoy the wind in your hair as it accelerates to a cruising speed of 70k between stops. Jump off for a quick drink then back on to watch the city come alive with lights on the return trip. This is when the Mini-Manhattan moniker seems appropriate.

8) Best playground: New Farm Park has a new kids play area on the Powerhouse side with a coffee and ice cream van parked next to it so carers can stay caffeinated while their small charges run off steam.

9) Best transport option: The CBD is quite small and fairly flat so walking is possible, as well as the free city bus loop, but but if you want to actively explore, especially in the Fortitude Valley and New Farm area, consider renting a city cycle for a couple of hours. You need a credit card to register but prices start at $2 for thirty minutes as a casual user. There are lots of bicycle stands around the CBD so you can drop off at a different place. About a third of the bicycles have a helmet with them. Australia is one of the very few countries that require cyclists to wear helmets. Unfortunately none have child seats attached. The are dedicated bicycle lanes on many sections of the riverbank.

10) Best chill out spot with free wifi: The gorgeous old City Botanical Gardens has a free wifi spot (provided by the City Council) in the top section on the QUT side of the gardens. You can laze under a shady tree and log on for free.

Love you Brisbane!

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One Response to “River City/Brizvegas/New World City/Mini-Manhattan?”

  1. Alyson January 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    Welcome back Sharon – really enjoy reading your Blog! xx

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