A walk around Central Brisbane
This walk takes you through the heart of town, past many of the city’s landmarks. The walk itself is only a couple of kilometres or so. Brisbane can get hot, and is not an ideal city for long walks, but if you stop off to see the sights on the way this one can easily take an entire afternoon.
Start at the Old Windmill (often known locally as the Observatory), which is north of the city centre in Wickham Terrace. The most ancient of the city’s old landmarks, on a hill overlooking the heart of town, The Old Windmill is a remnant of the bad old days of the Moreton Bay Penal Colony. It was built in 1828, just four years after the colony had been established. The windmill was intended to grind flour for the colony’s bread supply, but right from the start it never worked properly. Its wooden sails were so heavy that they needed a gale to move at all, so convicts were set to work turning the mill. Anyone found guilty of ‘insolence’ or using ‘profane blasphemies’ was sentenced to work 14-hour shifts on the notorious treadmill, which earned the windmill the nickname, the ‘Tower of Torture’. According to a local historian, the treadmill at the windmill was so draining that ‘the steps of the wheels are sometimes literally wet with perspiration’. And those who refused to work were occasionally hung from a gallows, rigged from a wooden sail.
When fire swept the city in 1864 most of the old buildings were burnt to the ground, but the windmill was only partly damaged. Later it became an observatory, and in the 1930s it was used as an experimental television station. Nowadays it remains purely as a grim reminder of the city’s early history.
From the windmill set off down the hill south-east along Wickham Terrace towards Edward Street. At Edward Street turn right, continuing across Turbot Street and passing the railway bridge. At the crossing with Ann Street, turn left, and on your right you will see Anzac Square, laid in 1930 in memory of the members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) who gave their lives in the First World War (most of them fighting bravely against overwhelming odds in the notoriously mismanaged Gallipoli Campaign against the Turks). In the centre of the square is the Shrine of Remembrance with its cupola and sandstone Doric columns, and an everlasting flame. In the crypt beneath the flame is earth from the Gallipoli battlefields, which is designated ‘Forever Australia’. From Anzac Square head back (south-west) down Ann Street, cross over Edward Street, and ahead on your left you come to King George Square, overlooked at the far end by City Hall, which was built in the 1930s, when it became known as ‘Million Pound Town Hall’, on account of its excessive cost. Its grandiose Italianate facade (no worse than many similar ‘monster-pieces’ throughout the world) contains a fascinating permanent reminder of the state’s early racist policy. Over the portico is a depiction of Aboriginal life ‘dying out before the approach of the white man’. Take the lift up the clock tower to the observation deck for a fine view of the city.
Leave King George Square from the east corner, and continue north-east up Adelaide Street. At the crossing with Edward Street, turn right. Continue south-east down Edward Street until you come to the crossing with Queen Street. Turn left up Queen Street, and on your left you come to the National Bank Building. This shrine to the worship of money is one of the finest 19thC buildings in the land – as befits a period when money was taken seriously. Each part of it cost a great deal of money, and is not without meaning. The style dates from the Renaissance period (the era when banking began in earnest), and its fine entrance door is carved from a single piece of wood.
North-east of the National Bank Building, at the junction of Queen and Creek Streets, turn right down Creek Street. At the junction with Elizabeth Street turn right, and on your left you will see St Stephen’s Church, a splendid neo-Gothic pile, which was completed in 1850, making it the oldest church in Brisbane. According to a local 19thC legend, the building was saved from the ravages of the great 1864 fire, which devastated the city, by a flock of birds in the shape of a cross, followed by a wind that held back the flames. Next door is St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral.
Continue down Elizabeth Street to the crossing with Edward Street, where you turn right, which brings you back to Queen Street. Turn left here into the Queen Street Shopping Mall (www.visitbrisbane.com.au/the-city/things-to-do/shopping/queen-street-mall), where you come to shop till you drop.
Leave the Queen Street Mall by its south-western end. On your left you will now see the Treasury Building Casino. Originally it was to house the treasury but it took more than 30 years to build, by which time the state had practically no treasury left to put in it. Instead they cleverly turned it into a casino (www.treasurybrisbane.com.au). It seems this spot was always set aside for losers: it originally housed the officers’ quarters of the old penal colony.
Continue south-west down Queen Street, and across the Victoria Bridge over the Brisbane River. Directly ahead you will now see the modern Queensland Cultural Centre, which includes a wide variety of sights. Among them, the Queensland Museum (open daily 9.30 am to 5 pm; entry free but charges apply to the Sciencentre and some special events and exhibitions, www.qm.qld.gov.au) contains an exciting natural history collection, and some superb fossils dating from millions of years ago to the present (the latter is in uniform in the second gallery, and takes a dim view of noisy kids).
Also part of the Centre, the State Art Gallery (www.qagoma.qld.gov.au) has some art of the highest quality and some high-octane nonsense. Amongst the former are works by Sidney Nolan and several other Australian artists which would not be out of place in any great 20thC collection. The Aboriginal works on display appear equally varied in quality – but what’s good and what’s rubbish is more difficult to judge. European standards don’t always apply. Finally the State Library (www.slq.qld.gov.au) has some old photos that take you right back into a tough history.
Just to the south-east of the Queensland Cultural Centre, along the bank of Brisbane River, stretch the South Bank Parklands (www.visitbrisbane.com.au/south-bank), the site of the 1988 World Expo, now a large urban park, where you can wander through various ecosystems, from rainforest to desert and encounter a variety of urban ecotypes from candyfloss sellers to buskers. There’s also a boat ride along the waterways, cycle paths, a butterfly house and a maritime museum. The site covers more than 15 hectares, which means it isn’t quite such a crowded mishmash as it may sound. You can end your walk here with a well-deserved cold drink at one of the many cafés.
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