Bridges not too far

An en­joy­able ram­ble along the Bris­bane River

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

EVEN on a steam­ing hot day, the Bris­bane River flows cool and breezy through Queens­land’s cap­i­tal. To my left, sky­scrapers shade the city’s her­itage build­ings: gen­teel Par­lia­ment House, rest­ing on the river’s edge; Cus­toms House with its turquoise-patina dome; the Ed­war­dian-Baroque Trea­sury and Land Ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ings con­structed from sand­stone and re­birthed (some­what dis­con­cert­ingly) as a casino and ho­tel com­plex.

It’s only the Botanic Gar­den and South­bank Park­lands that give any hint of the city’s pri­mor­dial ex­is­tence, but still th­ese green spa­ces are clipped and tamed and tell lit­tle of the Abo­rig­ines who in­hab­ited this water­way be­fore the white peo­ple came. The wind picks up as we round Kan­ga­roo Point, set­ting maps aflut­ter. It was at this spot — then still wild with man­groves and in­hab­ited by the Tur­rbal and Jagera peo­ple — where a hap­less Bri­tish sailor was said to have found him­self ma­rooned with a bot­tle of rum, a plug of to­bacco and six­pence.

“But he did very well for him­self,” says the cruise­boat com­men­ta­tor, “for he went on to start a shipping company.”

Now we are pass­ing be­neath the fa­bled Story Bridge, the can­tilevered, her­itage-listed hand­i­work of John Brad­field, who en­gi­neered Syd­ney’s iconic Har­bour Bridge. You can map the city’s his­tory through its bridges, the com­men­ta­tor says; when­ever there was an eco­nomic down­turn Bris­bane de­cided to build a bridge. Six­teen now span the Bris­bane River, which starts its long voy­age in the Great Di­vid­ing Range, threads its way into the range’s foothills and through the sub­urbs of Bris­bane and is fi­nally ex­pelled into the ocean at More­ton Bay.

It’s a lan­guorous jour­ney from here all the way down to the ocean, but the river’s broad and gen­tle curves are mis­lead­ing, for at ev­ery turn a mighty blast of wind is de­liv­ered, almost knock­ing this up­right sight­seer from her feet. Hum­bug Reach is the most fe­ro­cious of all; it was here, as they fi­nally turned into the home stretch, where set­tlers sail­ing up­stream to their new home of Bris­bane would en­counter bat­ter­ing winds. Their de­scrip­tions of the mis­tral were po­lite enough not to ex­tend beyond the term “hum­bug”, and thus the reach was named.

The shore is lined now with smart apart­ment blocks and, peer­ing out from be­hind, ware­houses and wool­sheds, sugar re­finer­ies and elec­tric­ity de­pots too pre­cious to be con­demned. They’ve been reimag­ined in­stead as trendy unit blocks and, in a mar­riage be­tween old and new, still bear their orig­i­nal names.

Sus­pended above the wa­ter close to the shore­line is the new River­walk, a thor­ough­fare built to re­place the float­ing walk­way de­stroyed in the 2011 floods. From here, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans mak­ing their way from New Farm all the way into the CBD might rest a mo­ment against the balustrades or on one of the shaded benches and scan the cof­fee-brown wa­ter for sharks. For this part of the river is a nurs­ery for bull sharks; lo­cals of­ten see them jumping out of the wa­ter, the com­men­ta­tor says, and one par­tic­u­larly en­er­getic bull shark was once ob­served fling­ing it­self, un­wit­tingly to be sure, all the way up into the air and right over a Ci­tyCat pas­sen­ger ferry.

Now we’re at Break­fast Creek, where the first party of set­tlers stopped for break­fast on its way up­river almost two cen­turies ago. They’d go on to find a fresh­wa­ter creek and set up a colony where the CBD now stands. Bull sharks and floods couldn’t keep them away.

Bris­bane River and city sky­line

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