Brisbane’s South Bank is putting on a bright new face, reports Elizabeth Meryment
NEXT year will mark the 20th anniversary of that landmark in Brisbane’s cultural history, Expo ’ 88. Which just goes to show how quickly two decades can fly by. Indeed, the event seems so freshly etched in the memories of anybody who lived in Brisbane during those heady days — chicken dances at the German beer hall and 20,000 people watching the Hoodoo Gurus on the river stage — that people are still talking about it. On a recent weekend visit to the inner-city playground that has grown out of the Expo site, we have to laugh at a conversation from a nearby table at one of the restaurants jostling for trade on this stretch of the Brisbane River.
‘‘ Do you remember Expo?’’ a man is asking his significantly younger date over a glass of wine. ‘‘ Oh, yeah,’’ she says. ‘‘ I was only five. But I still remember coming with my Mum.’’ Perhaps he would have done better not to have inquired.
Although for the past 15-odd years the site has been mainly a family attraction of gardens and pools, the South Bank Corporation is now sculpting the area’s cultural credentials and encouraging its development as a retail, dining and entertainment hub. While South Bank comprises 17ha of parklands, the whole precinct actually covers the 50ha that stretch from the river’s edge to the funky inner-city enclave of West End.
These days, the focal point of the precinct is the freshly opened Gallery of Modern Art and a host of new restaurants and boutiques that have opened nearby.
‘‘ If there has been a criticism of South Bank, it is that it is too engineered,’’ says the corporation’s chief executive officer Malcolm Snow. ‘‘ What we’d like to see here is a bit more anarchy. I mean that in a good way.’’
The efforts of the corporation certainly show, because if we thought a weekend would be enough to really do South Bank, we were wrong. There’s simply too much to cram into two days and, having eaten well and seen most of the cultural sights, we almost miss our plane home due to a last-minute spot of shoe shopping. Thankfully, this great space for the people is continuing to evolve, in the best possible ways. CULTURE THE beautiful new Gallery of Modern Art has already become one of Queensland’s premier attractions. When combined with its neighbour, the Queensland Art Gallery, the collection has more than 10,000 pieces of modern art, making it the largest contemporary gallery in Australia. The new space is particularly enjoyable; when entering through the big sliding glass doors, the light, air and roominess of this large building are impressive. I have to say that some of the artworks strike me as being of the ‘‘ I could have done that if I’d only thought of it’’ variety (rows of dummies and booties stuck together, anyone?), but other pieces are exquisite, especially in the Asian and Aboriginal galleries. More: www.qag.qld.gov.au.
Beside the two galleries is the refreshed State Library of Queensland, principally an educational resource, but one that boasts a rather glam cafe, wine bar and bookshop. The library also has a calendar of exhibitions worth checking out. See, for instance, the latest exhibition, Broken Links: the Stolen Generations in Queensland. More: www.slq.qld.gov.au.
Just across the way is Brisbane’s cultural grande dame, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, a showcase for the best plays, ballets, operas and other performing arts the state has to offer. Upcoming productions include Miss Saigon . More: www.qpac.com.au. DINING THE arrival of Bob and Brad Hamilton’s Era Bistro on Melbourne Street has heralded a new level of fine dining at South Bank. While the area has long enjoyed some good eating options, Era is undoubtedly one of the city’s better restaurants, with the mod-Oz menu of executive chef Andrew Budgen a winner. The Era complex also comprises a cafe, a barcum-tapas lounge and an incredible bottle shop with a custom-made temperaturecontrolled wine wall. More: www.circarestaurant.com.au.
Other good dining choices are to be found in Grey Street. Cafe dell’Ugo, an Italian bistro with a well-regarded sister establishment in New Farm, looks promising; there’s a modern bistro-bar option, The Point, two notable Turkish venues, Ahmet’s and Mado, plenty of cheap Asian options and, my favourite, the Batavia, a cafe filled with shabby-chic antiques and faux antiques. Stone Restaurant in the Saville Hotel offers stylish cafe fare, while along the waterfront, established places such as River Canteen have great water views. SHOPPING ANYONE whose familiarity with South Bank is based on impressions formed five years ago would be surprised to learn there are now some excellent and eclectic shops. One of the best is Polder & Amis, a tiny boutique stocked with an eccentric collection of deluxe French goods that range from vintage children’s wear to modern designer apparel, soaps, artisan jewellery, handmade shoes and exquisite tins of sweets. Owner Christine Demer travels to France twice yearly to source wares. More: www.polderamis.com.
Nearby, T’Licious is a delightful emporium devoted to all things to do with tea. Look out for paraphernalia such as pots and spoons, as well as an amazing array of looseleaf teas. More: www.tlicious.com.au.
Flowers of the World is a lovely florist and homewares venture offering vases, candles, cards and gifts. It also has a tiny organic cafe. A couple of doors down, at the clothes and shoes boutique Jonak, I buy the most darling pair of heels, and on sale, too. PAMPERING GLOW Salon isn’t huge but the T-shirts worn by the staff — reading ‘‘ Beauty is My Duty’’ — say it all. Glow’s beautiful young owner, Mary, provides good conversation and excellent pedicures. And for mothers, Mary is considering starting a childminding service to make pampering even more stressfree. Unfortunately, the luxury of hydrotherapy is not presently available in droughtstricken Brisbane. Newly opened is sister salon Glow Retreat, around the corner at 161 Grey St, under the Saville Hotel. More: www.glowsalon.com.au; www.glowretreat.com.au.
For men, an option is the No. 19 Men’s Day Spa, which specialises in massages, haircuts and skin treatments for blokes. More: www.number19.com.au. FAMILY-FRIENDLY FUN IT is not possible to go past the well-used but still pleasant lagoon beach as a winner for children. A fixture of the site since its conversion to parklands, the beach’s sand and water look as fresh as when they were first developed. One of the lagoon’s several pools is closed during our visit due to a leak (water is so scarce in the Queensland capital that leaks are treated very seriously) but this doesn’t dampen the spirits of the juniors splashing about in the available water. Kids can also run about on the grassed Rainforest Green, while a busy market on Friday nights and weekends — selling such wares as children’s clothes, pottery, woodwork and leather goods — offers colour and action. There are also several ice-cream parlours. STAYING IN STYLE THE year-old Saville Hotel is said to be fourand-a-half stars but it certainly has a five-star fitout. Our two-bedroom suite is thoughtfully appointed and there’s a good view across the river to Parliament House, the Botanic Gardens and the dramatically lit Kangaroo Cliffs. There is a mini-kitchen and even a swish loungeroom in which we can spread out and relax. While the airconditioning is reassuringly cool, the windows also open, a rare and wonderful thing in a city obsessed with maximum refrigeration. A lap pool, gym, Stone Restaurant and pampering facilities such as Glow Retreat make this an excellent place to bed down after a busy day exploring all that South Bank has to offer.
The Saville Hotel, 161 Grey St, Brisbane. Phone (07) 3305 2500 or 1300 554 632; www.savillehotelgroup.com. Elizabeth Meryment was a guest of South Bank Corporation.
South Bank is a 30-minute drive from the airport or a 10-minute walk from the central business district. Entry to the parklands and pools, the art galleries and the library is free. There are frequent bus, train and ferry connections. There are three large car parks in the area. Transport information: 131 230.
Expo space evolves: Clockwise from main picture, South Bank markets; riverside sunbakers; Cafe dell’Ugo; Gallery of Modern Art; and centre, the Saville Hotel