Money, Money Money & The Myth of Bris-Vegas

Trip Start Feb 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Friday, March 2, 2012

Our next stop was Queensland's state capital and the third largest city in the country, Brisbane (or Bris-Vegas as it is dubbed, for reasons we were unable to fathom). We had high hopes for the place, especially after coming from the tiny cluster of shacks that comprise Rainbow Beach. It was Francesca's birthday and we were in need of a good night out.

The city's architecture immediately tries to scream at you that Brisbane is a slick, cosmopolitan, yet edgy place. The skyline is dominated by non-descript sky-scrapers and as you walk the streets amongst them you stumble across random bits of council commissioned, desperate to be quirky artwork. Dotted in amongst these pristine buildings and exhibits are a disproportionate number of churches. These all appear to have been erected within the last few decades, yet have been deliberately weathered - as if with a supersize-scourer - to try and make them look old and stately. This does quite the opposite. These glaringly, poor imitations, plopped in amongst all the city sheen look comically odd. It's as if they've been freshly plucked from Alton Towers. We agreed that it wouldn't be that surprising if we walked inside and instead of finding a solemn candle lined altar, came across an Aussie translation of 'Thirteen' and a stand selling huge, shoddily made cuddly aliens.

We had booked to stay in a hostel in the heart of Fortitude Valley - allegedly the hedonistic hub of the city. Yet when we arrived, it seemed strangely quiet and aloof. Fortitude Valley didn't seem all too bothered to see us. The hostel, however, was one of the best we'd stayed in yet and so we decided to start our night out there.

After leaving the hostel, we wandered in the direction of anything remotely resembling life, in the hope of discovering the vices of Fortitude Valley. Ten minutes into our ramble we bumped into a group of Norwegian students, studying at Brisbane Uni. They kindly informed us that we were heading in the wrong direction, but that it didn't really matter anyway as only one place in the whole of Brisbane was open late on a Monday night. They took us under their wing and delivered us to the very place - 'Down Under Bar' or DUB.

DUB was rammed with Brisbanites, students and backpackers alike. There were some crap, degrading bar games being executed, which we largely ignored and a mix of cheese and modern RnB blasting from the speakers, which we acquiesced to. But surprisingly, everyone was on form and it was actually the best night out of the trip so far.

One of the Norwegians took a shine to Francesca and spent the night loitering around -energetically trying to engage in a mating dance with her. During our trip, the Swedish 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' trilogy had been doing the rounds - being passed around everyone and passionately discussed over our $3 hostel meals. As this young man was from the Scandinavia region we decided amongst ourselves that obviously he resembled a young Mikael Blomkvist - the trilogy's rugged protagonist. We proudly informed him of our clever comparison. He responded with a confused look and a remark: 'but I'm not Swedish.'

As the night progressed, he started to feel affronted by Sophie bellowing 'Blomkvist! Mikael Blomkvist!' at him every time he passed. Eventually, he took her to one side and angrily accused her of trying to sabotage his chances with Francesca. Additionally he stressed that as he'd told us all previously he wasn't even from Sweden and us calling him Blomkvist was the equivalent of him calling us Irish Leprechauns. Sophie spent a couple of futile minutes trying to explain that being dubbed a young Blomkvist was a compliment of the highest order. However, when he started getting slightly aggressive, we decided to call it a night and quickly slipped out. He was definitely no Mikael. 

We woke the next morning feeling somewhat ropey. But it was blindingly sunny outside and we only had one full day in the city so we dragged ourselves out of bed, feebly feigning excitement.

If there's one thing Brisbane can offer in spades, it's shopping malls, entertainment complexes and food courts. Making your way around the city, there's really no way to avoid them all. As we explored, the sunlight splashed against all the shiny, flawless shop-fronts and offices giving everything a happy consumerist halo. Money beams out at you from every window. 
The abundance of wealth in Australia was something that had not gone unnoticed by us previously. It is practically everywhere (although not in such a brash way as it is in Brisbane) and jumps out at you just as you let your guard down. At the start of our trip, Loz and I were wandering around 'Target' in Cairns - a value supermarket that sells everything but food. We stopped to peruse their entertainment department and were horrified to see a B-list cartoon film, made about five years ago, priced at $20 (nearly 15). We had a loud scoff while we passed it between us and Loz aptly remarked that 'you'd have trouble shifting that in ASDA for three quid!' And it was true. Yet here it was casually tempting shoppers at five times that price. 

Maybe coming from Britain - plunged in the belly of recession - we were bound to notice this frivolity more. Aussie's don't think twice about breaking a note or frittering away the best part of fifty dollars on short-lived crap. It would take some overhaul for us to adjust our spending habits to this more care-free way of life.
After the shops we headed for Southbank Parklands - a stretch of greenery and an artificial beach running along the riverbank. It is a perfectly agreeable place and we whiled away a bit of time sitting here in the sun. However, it put me in mind of a poor-man's version of it's namesake in London. Aiming for the same sort of glory and brilliance but just not making the grade.  
We headed next to the nearby Brisbane Art Gallery. Here we were genuinely impressed with what was on offer. The main section is open plan and walled by an abundance of windows. These windows allow the natural light to burst in and illuminate a range of different sculptures and abstract physical pieces. There is also a small outdoor art garden which is simply a joy to walk around. This features innovative water features, sculptures and visiting birds and has a little cafe tucked away in a corner.

 We squandered away the best part of an hour happily browsing the exhibitions. An unanimous favourite painting among the group was one entitled 'The Fur Coat.' This featured a lumpy naked woman sitting on a chair staring at a fur coat. We spent a fun few minutes speculating about how she came to find herself in this position and the significance of the garment.
The only thing that let the Gallery down was the humble corner assigned to Aboriginal Art. In a place this size, it wouldn't have taken much just to have a bit more.

As we headed back to the hostel we passed Anzac Square. Once again we found ourselves surprisingly impressed. ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and ANZAC Square is a state memorial to those who participated in overseas armed service. A large Shrine of Remembrance takes centre stage and an 'Eternal Flame of Remembrance' burns continuously in a metal urn in its centre. In keeping with the city's slick feel, a touch sensitive pad stands next to it. When you place your hand on it, a hidden voice smoothly narrates the Anzac Story. This is surrounded by a well kept park, populated by statues. The whole thing creates a reflective patch of serene green in the midst of the skyscrapers. Here Brisbane seemed to have found its niche and we wished the city had more like this to offer. 

Don't get me wrong, despite the general criticism, Brisbane is a perfectly pleasant place. But it left us feeling slightly short-changed and unable to grasp where the city's overwhelmingly flattering reputation had sprung from. We concluded that 'Bris-Vegas' was a name that the city (or officials in control of its PR) must have given itself in another attempt to try and become something that it's not.
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