Vol­un­teer guides hit the spots

The Bris­bane Greeters pro­gram cel­e­brates the city at street level

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JOHN WRIGHT

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

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