I first visited Brisbane when I was twelve years old. My parents and I were passing through Queensland’s capital city on our way to the Sunshine Coast, a popular summer vacation spot for Australian families known largely for its pristine beaches, quaint townships and bed and breakfasts owned by people named Pam. Even as a twelve-year-old, Brisbane left a lot to be desired. Downtown consisted mainly of a cluster of outdated 80s skyscrapers, shabby looking pubs, and a shopping “district” that had a Target and a McDonald’s.
Over the years, as capital cities like Sydney and Melbourne grew and flourished and became cultural destinations in their own right, Brisbane lagged behind. At one point, everyone in Australia began referring to Brisbane to it as “Brisvegas,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the city’s lackluster nightlife and cultural offerings. If you met anyone who actually grew up there, the only proper Australian thing to do would be to tease them mercilessly.
But at some point in the last five or so years, Brisbane got cool. It began slowly, with murmurings of a cafe culture and a slowly emerging theater scene. People reporting they had actually enjoyed their work trips there. Rumors swirled of multimillion-dollar waterfront investments, a hip arts district, and restaurants that actually required reservations. What was going on?
I grew up in Sydney, but have long been disillusioned by how expensive, overcrowded, and pretentious the city has become in recent years. Brisbane was sounding more and more like what Sydney used to be before things went sour. But was it all just hype?