Volunteer guides hit the spots
The Brisbane Greeters program celebrates the city at street level
DENISE Rogers has an unexpected challenge before her on the morning we meet in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall and it’s nothing to do with the fact that I am late and holding up her tour.
A volunteer in the Brisbane Greeters program — part of a global network of cities that offer free, short excursions conducted by locals — Rogers can’t wait to get started on our tour of Queenslander architecture in inner-suburban Paddington.
She has four guests — me, two recent immigrants from Durban and a Brisbane local. As we wait for a bus to Paddington’s Latrobe Terrace, one of the South Africans, Sharon, confesses to something that would daunt most professional tour guides.
‘‘I hate Queenslanders [the buildings],’’ she says. ‘‘I have since I first visited Brisbane in 2008. But if I learn more about them, then perhaps I’ll appreciate them more. That’s why I came on this tour.’’
Rogers isn’t fazed. This is her city. She loves it, like all the volunteer guides in the Greeters program. If the beauty of one of Brisbane’s defining architectural styles eludes a particular visitor used to solid brick, maybe a casual and informative tour at street level will sort it out.
Up on the Terrace, in an urban village atmosphere also defined largely by the architecture, Roberts proves to be a mine of information about Paddington, its buildings and its history. There is none of the slick, rehearsed patter of most professional tour guides; informality is the key, underscored by a real passion for the city.
So, up and down the Terrace we go, past wooden cottages that betray Paddo’s working-class heritage, past the old Plaza picture theatre-turned-antiques centre, past Trammies Corner. And Sharon, who has turned up her nose at a couple of the more dilapidated cottages, starts to soften when Roberts points out Latrobe Manor (1886), a perfect picture of colonial style and beauty.
‘‘I think I could live here,’’ Sharon says. And suddenly she’s not as dismissive as she was at the start of the tour about wooden houses on stilts. ‘‘At least I know now that there are some Queenslanders I like.’’
Perhaps it’s a case of mission accomplished as we round off the tour with a quick look at an art gallery and a cup of coffee. The Paddington tour, like all in the Greeters daily schedule, is planned for two hours. But ours lasts close to four, and no one is complaining. The informal setup is a big plus, as is the fact the tour, apart from incidental public transport costs, is free.
Another of the Brisbane tours is ARiver Runs Through It, led by Teresa Thiel, an English teacher who says many of her clients are locals who simply want to learn more about their city. And there could hardly be a better, cheaper way to do just that.
There are more than 50 volunteers such as Rogers and Thiel in the Brisbane program, which was established in February this year, 20 years after the first, Big Apple Greeters, was set up in New York. The network has expanded, according to Brisbane organisers, to about 50 cities worldwide.
Adelaide and Melbourne also have Greeters, but Sydney curiously does not. In Brisbane, the tours are limited to groups of six and can be booked at short notice. Itineraries cover a wide range of interests, including churches and shrines, heritage buildings and natural and cultural attractions. Customised, pre-booked free tours that cover other interests are also available and offered in up to 18 languages.
Passionate residents of the Queensland capital have joined the global greeters network