Denise Cullen re­veals the Queens­land cap­i­tal’s best hol­i­day se­crets

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

KEEN to be seen as more than a gate­way to the Gold and Sun­shine coasts, Bris­bane in­creas­ingly bills it­self as a good-time get­away. But once you’ve rid­den the City Cats, climbed the Story Bridge and lolled about on the beach at South Bank, what is there left to do? Plenty, claim in­sid­ers, who say the best at­trac­tions are among the city’s big­gest se­crets. Queens­land Po­lice Mu­seum: The 16ha Roma Street Park­land at­tracts all the at­ten­tion here­abouts but across the road, on the ground floor of the Queens­land Po­lice Head­quar­ters, is an un­der­rated mu­seum full of quirky true crime tales and in­for­ma­tion about polic­ing in the Sun­shine State. Among the more colour­ful ex­hibits are a china skull-shaped bong con­fis­cated in a drug raid and a stuffed dog hauled into court as the silent wit­ness to a mur­der.

Un­for­tu­nately, a wax voodoo doll handed into po­lice when witch­craft was still il­le­gal in the state has de­te­ri­o­rated to such an ex­tent that it has been re­moved from dis­play.

A sim­u­lated mur­der scene also al­lows mem­bers of the CSI gen­er­a­tion to pit their knowl­edge of blood spat­ter pat­terns, shoe im­pres­sions and other as­pects of foren­sic science against the pro­fes­sion­als. www.po­ abou­tUs/fa­cil­i­ties/mu­seum.htm. Bushranger Bikes: The Queens­land cap­i­tal’s ubiq­ui­tous fer­ries are pro­moted as the ul­ti­mate way to tra­verse the city. But, for an even more ex­hil­a­rat­ing sense of sun on your face and wind in your hair, I highly rec­om­mend join­ing a Bushranger Bikes tour. Wind­ing along abun­dant bike paths, back al­leys, board­walks and bridges, th­ese tours ex­plore the city in all its guises, from the so­phis­ti­cated cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict to trendy West End artists’ digs.

Cy­cling is the pas­sion of per­son­able owner Jon Newrick and, with a back­ground in emer­gency ser­vices, he knows all the city’s off-the-map look­outs, cafes and sea­sonal cu­riosi­ties. (On my tour, we pull over to check on the progress of a cou­ple of nest­ing curlews.) Other com­pa­nies drop bikes and maps at ho­tels, but Bushranger Bikes takes you by the han­dle­bars for a su­perla­tive sad­dle-up. Tours are set for April 19, May 31, June 15 and July 9. www.bushranger­ The Gun­shop Cafe: If you need con­vinc­ing that this cafe was a gun shop un­til firearm laws were tight­ened more than a decade ago, look for the bul­let holes in the pol­ished wooden floor. With cosy in­door, street and court­yard seat­ing, the Gun­shop Cafe is widely re­garded as one of Bris­bane’s best break­fast joints. Chef Ja­son Coolen is clas­si­cally trained but can’t re­sist adding his own sub­tle twists to dishes. If you like eggs bene­dict, for in­stance, you’ll love his vodka-cured salmon with spinach, poached eggs and hol­landaise on rye sour­dough.

The same sense of in­no­va­tion ap­plies to the ever-chang­ing lunch and din­ner menus. Celebri­ties, in­clud­ing the boys from lo­cal band Wolf­mother, hang out here, but it’s not a place for au­to­graphs. Just drink your cof­fee and be cool. www.the­gun­shop­ XXXX Ale House Tour: It’s not so much a se­cret as a case of some­thing that’s so blind­ingly ob­vi­ous, and so cen­tral to the Queens­land psy­che (de­spite the present own­er­ship), that it’s of­ten over­looked. The flash­ing neon sign on the enor­mous 120-yearold brick brew­ery looms over Mil­ton Road like a gi­ant ex­ple­tive deleted.

Tours of the rel­a­tively new Ale House ex­plore the his­tory of this parochial brew and the evo­lu­tion of the grin­ning and wink­ing Mr Fourex char­ac­ter be­fore walk­ing vis­i­tors through yeasty-smelling op­er­a­tional ar­eas that in­clude fill­ing and pack­ag­ing lines. The tour con­cludes with the op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple dif­fer­ent brews, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal XXX beer, which is avail­able nowhere else. Among the more im­prob­a­ble sou­venirs for sale is a $50 in­flat­able stubby that is taller than the av­er­age drinker. Em­po­rium Ho­tel: A flam­boy­ant, flushed-red foyer framed by steel and chrome and smiles. Elab­o­rate, hand- blown chan­de­liers. An­i­mal prints. Geo­met­rics. Boudoirs dec­o­rated in deep choco­late. End­less, end­less mir­rors. It could be a lux­u­ri­ous harem or high­class bor­dello: step­ping into the Em­po­rium Ho­tel in For­ti­tude Val­ley is a de­li­ciously dis­ori­ent­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. And that’s be­fore the early morn­ing rooftop swim, dur­ing which we look up to spot a lazy flock of hot-air bal­loons drift­ing across the sky.

The bar, with its creative cock­tail menu and walls of wine, adds to the sense of un­re­al­ity and eclec­ti­cism. There’s no in-house restau­rant but this 106-suite bou­tique ho­tel is sit­u­ated amid a so­phis­ti­cated shop­ping and din­ing dis­trict, en­sur­ing no de­sire goes un­sated. www.em­po­ri­umho­ Bris­bane Jazz Club: Hun­kered amid shad­ows cast by the plush Kan­ga­roo Point apart­ments, and within walk­ing dis­tance of the orange lights of the Story Bridge, this is the only jazz club in Aus­tralia with its own premises.

A gen­tly slop­ing floor lead­ing to­wards the Bris­bane River gives the eerily buoy­ant feel­ing of be­ing aboard a cruise ship and is tes­ta­ment to the club’s for­mer in­car­na­tion as a boat­shed. Dif­fer­ent styles of live jazz fea­ture ev­ery week­end, from 1960s-in­spired quin­tets to 20-piece orches­tras and younger, more ex­per­i­men­tal styles that raise the roof.

Es­tab­lished mu­si­cians and up­com­ing tal­ent from the nearby Queens­land Con­ser­va­to­rium fea­ture on the pro­gram and the vibe is mel­low and re­laxed. www.bris­bane­jaz­ QUT Art Mu­seum: The Queens­land Art Gallery and Gallery of Mod­ern Art stand os­ten­ta­tiously across the river, but this lower-profile mu­seum also has a sig­nif­i­cant amount to of­fer. Es­tab­lished in 1945, the Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy art col­lec­tion is one of the largest in the state, with strengths in­clud­ing Queens­land art and other Aus­tralian paint­ings, prints and mul­ti­me­dia works. A busy pro­gram of pub­lic talks and demon­stra­tions aims to in­crease ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Make a day of it by bring­ing a pic­nic to en­joy in the City Botanic Gar­dens just op­po­site (guided walks of the gar­dens depart twice daily). Those plan­ning hol­i­days well ahead may wish to note that Old Gov­ern­ment House, next door, is un­der­go­ing ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions and will re­open in early 2009 with greater ac­cess and self-guided tours via pod­cast­ing.­mu­ Merthyr Bowls Club: With its im­mac­u­late greens, ex­pan­sive wooden deck and ab­so­lute river frontage be­side the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar man­sions of New Farm, there is no hint the Merthyr Bowls Club was on the brink of clo­sure a decade ago.

But as ne­ces­sity is the mother of in­ven­tion, the club’s strug­gle for sur­vival in the face of se­vere fi­nan­cial strain led to the much-im­i­tated in­no­va­tion of bare­foot bowls and in­tro­duced a game de­ri­sively dubbed old men’s mar­bles’’ to the younger gen­er­a­tion. (A gilt-edged framed pho­to­graph of the Queen above the en­trance door is one of the few re­main­ing nods to nos­tal­gia.) Bowl­ing and bar­be­cue pack­ages, start­ing from $15 a per­son for rib fil­let, salad, bowls and coach­ing, are pop­u­lar, but book well ahead as there is a wait­ing list. www.merthyr­ River­bend Books and Tea­house: There are few more be­guil­ing spots to spend a morn­ing than on the cov­ered open-air deck of this Bulimba book­shop cum tea­house. Sur­rounded by thick tufts of bam­boo and with ceil­ing fans cir­cling slowly, it’s easy to pre­tend you’re some­where else — a re­mote spot in South­east Asia, per­haps — so dis­con­nect the lap­top and turn off the mo­bile phone for an in­tox­i­cat­ing sense of es­cape.

Healthy cafe-style meals fea­ture on the break­fast-to-bed­time menu; lunch op­tions in­clude freshly rolled sushi or Viet­namese rice pa­per rolls stuffed with chicken, veg­eta­bles and herbs. Staff make fab­u­lous frappes, too. Crowned the Aus­tralian in­de­pen­dent book­shop of the year in 2006 and 2007, the at­tached book­shop of­fers a large but care­fully se­lected range of ti­tles, with a com­pre­hen­sive art and ar­chi­tec­ture sec­tion. www.river­bend­ River­life Ad­ven­ture Cen­tre: Kayak­ing on the Bris­bane River is the only way to ex­plore the city’s most dis­tinc­tive ge­o­graphic fea­ture when the sky has dark­ened to deep indigo.

The night I go out with River­life Ad­ven­ture Cen­tre there is not a breath of wind and the river has a peace­ful, med­i­ta­tive qual­ity. That is un­til one of my fel­low pad­dlers pan­ics in the wash of a pass­ing ferry, tips her­self into the silty brown shal­lows near a stand of man­groves and screams.

The glit­ter­ing lights of land­mark build­ings such as el­e­gant Cus­toms House seem close enough to touch, while pass­ing un­der­neath the Story Bridge, the thunk-thunk of traf­fic sounds hit­ting the joists is like a heart­beat. This is a tidal river and we’ve timed it so the jour­ney back up­stream is a lot eas­ier on the bi­ceps. Climb­ing out, I can still taste salt on my tongue. www.river­


A river runs through it: See the city by day or night on a kayak­ing trip along the Bris­bane River or from the lively Bris­bane Jazz Club at Kan­ga­roo Point

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