Discovering Brisbane: Australia’s Unsung City (Vol. I)

When most people think of Australia they think of the outback, the opera house and the barbie. Brisbane, Australia’s third largest city is not what generally comes to mind. But then again, most people don’t know what sound a koala makes. Aussie’s keep that a secrete. Because the noise koalas make is bloody horrible, reminiscent of a rutting bull moose mixed with some sort of scary vampire garbage disposable, it would scare away the tourists.

A less guarded Aussie secret is Brisbane, the gate way to the Great Barrier Reef and the gold coast, and just a short trip from beautiful Byron Bay and the beaches at Surfer’s Paradise.  You can go hear the koalas, if you dare, at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane City, or take a short train trip to the sunshine coast, and see the Crocodile Hunter’s world head quarters, Australia Zoo located on Steve Irwin way.

But if you are anything like me, and the eucalypt-eating-fuzz-balls are too scary for you, Brisbane has one of the world’s best galleries of modern art, a lively music scene and plenty of places to indulge your palate if you get hungry or thirsty along the way.

Like Austin Texas, Brisbane is set on the banks of a slow river, and is the state capital of a sprawling state known for both cattle and mineral wealth.  Brisbane has been known as the “big country town” for years, but with the newly opened Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane is acquiring an urban sophistication that can’t be denied. Home to the world renowned Asia Pacific Tri-annual, and most recently to an exhibition by Aussie hyper-realist  sculptor Ron Mueck, the new Brisbane GOMA, boasts and impressive permanent collection, and is just short walk across a thoroughly modern court yard, to the Queensland Art Gallery, State Library of Queensland, museums and more, all of which are free to the public.  Clearly being the capital of a big rich state has its benefits.

But the similarities to Austin don’t end there.  Both cities are famous for the bats that come out at sunset.  But the bats in Brisbane, the locals call them flying foxes, are the size of small cats, making those Texas bats look like mosquitoes – who says everything’s big in Texas?  And like Austin, Brisbane is one of the best places to see live music.  Home to seminal punk band, The Saints, who were named by Bob Geldof as one of the three most important bands of the seventies, along with the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, Brisbane has a tradition of rocking out.  Local free gig guides abound, listing shows in any style of music imaginable.  If you don’t recognize any the names of the performers, insiders know to stop by Rick’s Bar, in Fortitude Valley, the HiFi in Brisbane’s West End, or the Joynt near the Cultural Centre.  Any night of the week you’ll see world class music in an intimate setting.

So if you think you are strong enough to handle the exotic sights and sounds of Australia, and are prepared to go as South by South West as you can get, start your down under vacation in Queensland, the Texas of Australia.  It’s cleaner than Sydney, and you can enjoy all Brisbane has to offer, big city style with a down home vibe.

August 21, 2010