Brisbane History - A Perspective

Brisbane history is a totally new topic for our family.

Until we started researching for this website, none of our family knew much about the history of Brisbane.

For example why Brisbane was established where it is on the river?

And how did it evolve into the large and thriving city it is today?

Here is a take on the different versions of the history of Brisbane that we have read and heard from various sources.

Brisbane History - The Discovery

Before 1824 the area now known as Brisbane was inhabited by tribes of indigenous peoples including the Jagera and Turrbal. They had chosen this area because of the large river which flowed through the area with many twists and turns.

Back then the river was not the brown colour it is today, it would have been clear running and full of fish and other foods as well as a source of clean drinking water. Hard to imagine that now!

In late 1823, at the height of Australia’s role as a penal colony, the area was surveyed by General Surveyor John Oxley and the crew of the Mermaid from Sydney. Their mission was to scout for new, isolated locations to send the more difficult convicts from Sydney.

They anchored off Bribie Island (to the north of Brisbane) and selected the area around what is now Redcliffe on the shores of Moreton Bay.

There is a story that they spotted a fellow European lighter skinned man living with the indigenous tribes (also from Sydney, who had been shipwrecked during a trip to seek out more timber). He told the surveyors of a large river further to the south that was a popular location of camping sites amongst the local nomadic tribes because of its plentiful clean water supplies and fishing.

He led a party from the Mermaid, including Oxley to the river which flowed into Moreton Bay. Oxley surveyed the river as far as Goodna and Ipswich and named a few places along the way. The one I like is Breakfast Creek because they stopped for breakfast there! There is also an Oxley Creek – nothing like making sure you are remembered!

The newly discovered large river was named the Brisbane River by the explorers in honour of the then Governor of New South Wales (NSW), Sir Thomas Brisbane. At that time Queensland did not exist and the entire area was NSW.

After about a year of having the penal colony in Redcliffe, that site was abandoned in favour of a spot upstream on the Brisbane River. They chose an indigenous camping site where there was a large natural loop in the river which virtually surrounded the area and made it harder for the convicts to escape.

Brisbane History - What's in a Name

The new settlement was originally called Edinglassie, a combination of Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland. Thankfully, it was renamed after the river and became known as Brisbane!

The gaol (jail) in Brisbane was walled and only the worst convicts from Sydney were sent to what amounted to a high security prison. No free settlers were permitted within a 50 mile radius of this jail. Many of the convicts who were re-offenders or who offended whilst serving their original sentence in Sydney gaols escaped but perished in the surrounding harsh bushland.

Brisbane History - The End of the Penal Colony

It wasn’t until there was a change in the rules allowing free settlers to the Brisbane and Moreton Bay areas in 1842 that the city was able to grow and flourish.

The local area had an abundance of timber. The trees were cut down and used for buildings and fences and the land was cleared and used for agriculture.

Later gold was discovered around Maryborough and Gympie areas further north in Queensland, however most of the wealth associated with these finds ended up in the coffers of Sydney and Melbourne, leaving Brisbane to be quite under-developed.

With the restrictions gone, settlers moved into the area and built homes and businesses. Grand old style homes were built by the wealthy Brisbanites, the oldest surviving example being Newstead House.

Overtime other more lavish buildings such as Old Government House and Customs House were built where the gaol buildings had been, all but removing the evidence of the roots of the settlement.

In 1859 area now known as Queensland was ceded from NSW. Originally, Ipswich further up the Brisbane River was going to be the capital, but Brisbane became the capital city of the new Australian state of Queensland (Qld) because it was more accessible to boats.

Despite the natural harshness of the area including droughts and floods, the city thrived with booming trade, industry and maritime activities.

Brisbane History - Adversity and Triumphs

Brisbane has endured five major floods during its recent history, the most recent one was in January 2011. Brisbane and its residents have shown an enormous resilience and ability to bounce back after major adversity. During the depression of the 1930s the Story Bridge was the largest local construction of the time.

Brisbane, being the largest city in the northern part of Australia was quite important during World War II and the activities in the South Pacific Ocean.

General Douglas Macarthur headquartered the US Army’s Pacific Forces in Brisbane and many buildings were used to house military personnel. Today, Macarthur Central is on the site of the building General Macarthur used as his headquarters and Victoria Park was home to many US troops.

Luckily, Brisbane never saw any live action during World War II, although some bunkers and gun turrets can still be seen in the northern suburbs, Moreton Island and Sunshine Coast areas.

After WW2, Brisbane continued to grow and spread out with low density housing after a law was passed to encourage lower density development than in other Australian capital cities. However, certain parts of Brisbane’s developments were rather slow including the sewerage system which was not city-wide until the 1970s.

Brisbane History - Defining Moments

In 1982, Brisbane hosted the Commonwealth Games which required the building and upgrading of areas, infrastructure and sporting facilities including the Sleeman Centre at Chandler, which is still a major sporting facility in Queensland. The 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane were the biggest showcase of an Australian city on the world stage at the time.

Later in the 80’s the World’s Fair or World Expo 1988 put Brisbane back in the world’s focus. Expo 88 was based around South Bank and South Brisbane areas and led to further development of these areas.

Brisbane History - Today and Beyond

Brisbane has continued to grow and thrive with a population reaching over 2 million during 2010 it is still a growing and thriving city. Many families move to the city for the climate and lifestyle.

Brisbane’s CBD is a vibrant mix of private and public businesses as well as government offices. The main types of business are agricultural groups and resource companies with mining, gas and oil operations in northern Queensland and other countries such as Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Brisbane has significantly upgraded its infrastructure and transport during the early 2000’s and the city has been renewed and refreshed.

In early 2011, the flooding of Brisbane caused significant damage to some of the more recent initiatives and it was heart breaking to see present day icons such as the floating riverside walkway being damaged and towed away into Moreton Bay, as well as seeing the CityCat and River Ferry terminals washed away.

Brisbane has endured 5 major floods during its history and rebuilt and survived this set back. The city itself has bounced back quickly and many flood damaged buildings and businesses were back trading again with weeks of the flood. City ferries started back limited operations within a couple of months and rebuilding work has occured at an incredible pace.

This Brisbane history is very brief and paraphrased significant. The historic events included give an insight to this city and how it has developed.