Squeezing the grog out of Brissie

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December 2nd 2009
Published: December 4th 2009
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View from Brisbane City Hall TowerView from Brisbane City Hall TowerView from Brisbane City Hall Tower

St Andrews Church down there

Brisbane in the late 19th Century

It's 'hello!' again from 'Stralia!

Remember my previous blog entry (Slave to the wage: A pom at work) describing a work-place idyll? Well this one's different, describing routine, boredom and Brissie.

My job here finishes at the end of December and despite being offered a job at UQ I've decided not to stay on. I've hit some luck again, what with the job and the house etcetera.

Instead I'm flying to Adelaide, South Australia on the 20th - which is currently going through an oppressive heat wave unusual even for Australia. Somebody took pity on my singularity and so I've been invited to spend Christmas with Hannah and her family. This should be quite a cultural experience; a classic Aussie Chrimbo involving lots of merry making and fishing. Oh, and a few days spent in the fabulous wine country down there. I wasn't sure if I'd ever get to see Adelaide - a supposedly very English city so how could I resist?

So how come I'm not staying?

When I first arrived in the city I really enjoyed it; endless sunshine in an easy-going walkable city with lots of hot girls around. But my perspective has changed as I've rung as much entertainment as I possibly can from the city itself. Despite giving itself the the half-humorous, half-serious alternative name of BrisVegas I've slowly come to realise that Brisbane is not the most exciting place on earth.

However, the place is safe! I've never felt threatened or intimidated in my entire time that I've been here. Despite the shrill newspaper headlines about late-night pub opening hours and people being glassed or assaulted I don't think they realize what a safe place it is compared to bad old England; but nor do they seem to understand that selling alcohol (and lots of it) does not make everyone want to dance the waltz and are shocked when people fight.


"What two ideas are more inseparable than Beer and Britannia?"

H. Pearson in The Smith of Smiths (1934) by Sydney Smithch, p. 11

Well I feel very much separated from dear Britannia when it comes to the beer. Coming from London, I'm well acquainted with the drinking capabilities of the regular young Aussie. I'm either being served at a pub by one, bumping into them at barbecues, having them live with friends of mine or inexplicably
Her MajestyHer MajestyHer Majesty

Looking pretty young....
surrounded by them in a Temple of Aussie - the Walkabout Bar. They are most definitely a beery lot and keen on a good alcohol-fuelled session at every opportunity.

So, it's been surprising then that I've found that there aren't any good pubs or bars here. Honestly, I'm amused when people describe a place having a "good beer garden" when what they mean is that there are tables outside for you to enjoy a beer, but usually in a courtyard with no grass or flowers, in fact no garden in sight. It's basically the pub but with no roof.

And it's not that I haven't made an effort! (I've previously written about my low opinion of Aussie beer culture whilst in Perth.) My opinion hasn't changed that much in the meantime. For imbibing in the city I've visited some historic 19th Century pubs like The Normanby, The Caxton and Breakfast Creek but unfortunately I've found them all to be more like warehouses; packed to the rafters and too big and sterile for my taste. This was brought about according to to J.M. Freeland, in The Australian Pub (1966) "by the motor car, came the gargantuan beer barns of
Queensland State ParliamentQueensland State ParliamentQueensland State Parliament

Stained Glass Window of Queen Victoria...allowed QLD to split from NSW...
the suburbs and the drive-in bottle shops". Yep, you got it, drive-in off-licences, barn sized pubs and no character.

It's not surprising therefore that I've begun to long for a nice intimate, characterful pub such as the those back home and one with a real beer garden and not one misnamed as one. The nearest I've come to it is an English pub, the Pig 'n' Whistle with its dark interiors, but again it is too large and cavernous to encourage a return. Even more than this is the fact that a lot of tax duty is paid on beer here so even for a Londoner (of all people) I've found it expensive; particularly so when it is served in the smaller "schooner" glass yet costs the same as a pint back home - three pounds (6 dollars) and is still boring lager-style Aussie beer - cold and fizzy.

ID please, no shorts/thongs oh and you look tipsy

I've also found the place to be astonishingly puritanical when it comes to the "amber nectar". The whole culture of having a pint (or the damned 'schooner') and having a good time is sometimes an awful hassle; whether you
The corridor of Upper and LowerThe corridor of Upper and LowerThe corridor of Upper and Lower

Queensland State Parliament
look 18 or 45 everyone gets asked for ID here, and if you've forgotten ID (like a passport) it can ruin a night if the officious muppet chooses to ignore common sense about whether you look under age or not. Plus, beware of having too good a time in a pub here, my friend Tracy was refused a drink because a bar girl deemed her 'drunk' and refused to serve her. Tracy wasn't 'drunk' - and so what if she was, it's a pub for heaven's sake? - she protested to the manager who then reversed the decision.

The incandescent rage I'd have had towards somebody judging me on whether I was drunk or not I would not like to ponder on. Oh, and lastly, quite a few places don't allow you into their establishment after a certain time if you are wearing flip-flops or shorts. I've been refused entry to the Union Jack pub of all places because of my shorts - despite it being nearly 35 degrees out during the day. It's the 'naughty-naughty' patronising nature of having a drink in this place that grates, and not just the fact that there is no character in the pubs or decent beer around.


Live music is practically everywhere here in Brissie and it's got a very good pedigree as a breeding ground for up and coming bands (I'm being charitable here) I'm still contesting the Bee Gees ever being Australians but along with the The Saints who arguably beat the The Ramones and The Sex Pistols to release the first ever punk record back in 1976. I can't forget to mention Savage Garden or Powderfinger of course, they must mean something to somebody somewhere.

Sadly, I've found Brissie night life (as a backpacker) just too expensive. As in the city of Perth the Central Buisness District is deserted at night so revellers go elsewhere like the suitably named Fortitude Valley - or simply "The Valley" - which is full of pubs and clubs - but nothing to really write home about. The West End is 'alternative' with some interesting looking bars but a popular bar, Rumpus Rooms was chock-full with poseurs. I did have an interesting night out at Ric's Place - a live music bar in the Valley where I saw some really rather awesome garage rock - reminiscent in both look and sound of Iggy Pop and the Stooges. I've also seen some bands at the powerhouse, a refurbished power station, a bit like the Bank Power Station that is now the Tate Modern art gallery on the South bank in London.

Australia, despite it's isolation distance wise is not as closed off to new British music as America. There are always a number of UK acts that are playing, recently Maxïmo Park, Jamie T and Jarvis Cocker but I've been put off by the cost of these gigs. For example, 50 dollars to go see Jarvis in December - merely a musical nostalgia trip and to my tight wallet not worth twenty five quid.

Squeezing Brissie

There are lots of coffee-shops here, Brisbane is a real coffee drinking culture but trying to find somewhere to go to of an evening, has been difficult what with the expense and not living in the centre of the city. There's not much to do on weeknights in the area of which I live so I've resorted to spending evenings at the Coffee Club - a franchise chain of coffee shops where I have my regular flat white (Americano) and sit with
Go-Between Bridge...Go-Between Bridge...Go-Between Bridge...

..named after a well-loved Brissie band
my laptop trying to finish a bloody script I started a year ago. The staff are friendly enough but some of the waitresses look positively petrified after I speak to them. Is it the accent or my brush way 😉

The weekend, yes!!

Weekends have therefore been really important. I did some cultural things lately; took a tour of the State Parliament of Queensland which is the only unicameral state parliament in the country, no I didn't know what that meant either but which apparently means it has only one chamber - the upper chamber, the Legislative Council, having been abolished in 1922. Inside the upper chamber itself (replete with leather bound green coloured seats just like the House of Lords) I got to sit in the State Premier's seat - currently Anna Bligh - the first female state premier in Australia to be elected by popular vote.

We've been close before....she walked passed me whilst attending the Brisbane Writer's Festival wearing a fetching white outfit. Somewhat confusingly is the fact that there is also a Governor of Queensland too, basically the Queen's representative in the State (appointed by the Executive Council - basically the Cabinet), largely a constitutional figure with little power, she can however (yep, another woman) sack the Premier if she sees fit.

Also of interest is the rather beautiful Brisbane City Hall (built 1930) with a 70 metre clock tower which (rising 91 m above ground level) based on the design of the St Mark's Campanile in Venice. i went up in the 1930s elevator but the view from the once tallest building in the city is now obscured by the new high rises office buildings that have transformed Brisbane from country town to city.

Art innit

On the art scene Queensland Art Gallery is a really great building with large galleries and foyers with water features holding work from the Renaissance onwards, including a healthy dose of Aussie impressionist art as is the smaller historic one at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) but the modern one (GOMA) despite being a terrific space is full of nothingness.

I may go back to see it host the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT6) - although my appreciation for modern art has never been high and this was reaffirmed by the University of Queensland Art Gallery in St Lucia, which has a great space but nothing much of interest inside of it. However, travelling there by River Cat on a beautiful blue-sky day was a highlight as were the Art Deco campus buildings. Money and status is very clearly on display at "UQ" and reminded me of the upper-class elements of UK universities.

The Southbank is still a pretty good destination, located right next to the river with lots of restaurants, cafes, and with great views of the city's CBD opposite. It's always sunny here in Brisbane it seems, so everything has that shiny-like-new look to it. But I guess you could say that my relationship with Brisbane is coming to its natural end...

What I'm reading: A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush by Eric Newby

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