Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 3rd – Brisbane’s Urbane Jungle

Walking around Brisbane's relaxed, but busy streets, I couldn't help thinking to myself that this must be a pretty good place to live. It might not be able to compete with Sydney or Melbourne's gloss and grandeur, but it seems to be a more accessible kind of place, with not the same level of self-consciously expensive look-at-me air to its streets or people.

When it came to its cultural attractions, Brisbane also used to suffer by comparison with the other more glamorous state capitals, but in the last 30 years it's added some great cultural institutions on its South Bank. With its neighbouring theatre, art galleries and museums, it's a similar concept to London's South Bank – in fact, the concrete and the box shapes of its riverside buildings are very similar.

We went to the excellent Queensland Art Gallery to do a free guided tour of its Aboriginal collection. Our guide explained that Queensland was quite late to set up a State Gallery, so New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia had already scooped up much of the best Australian art available, which meant that they have chosen to concentrate on contemporary Aboriginal art and on art from South East Asia.

Our guide did a brilliant job in explaining the complexities of aboriginal art – unsurprisingly, there's a lot more to them than meets the untutored eye. It was particularly surprising to find out that the "dot art" that we think is synonymous with aboriginal art, only came into being in the 1970s. This was when aboriginal art was first becoming popular, but the artists chose to hide some of the secret meanings in their illustrations (which traditionally were used to locate watering holes etc), by covering the paintings with dots. This turned out to be pleasing to the western eye, and dot painting became the norm.

Knowing some of the stories behind the art, and the underlying concepts involved certainly gave me a greater appreciation of aboriginal culture, and there was some really interesting stuff on offer here. I just wish we'd had more time.

The rest of our day was spent with general wandering and finding a nice place for lunch. In spite of it having a predominantly high-rise cityscape, somehow Brisbane didn't have a particularly claustrophobic feel to it – maybe it was because it was a Sunday, but there was a sense of space that is rare in a city of so many skyscrapers.

Brisbane has a lot going for it – a great climate, an urbane cultural side, interesting colonial heritage, and by the looks of all those skyscrapers, a very healthy economy.