A walk with Brisbane Greeters

It’s a moody Brisbane afternoon when I meet the bubbly Sue Hammond outside the recently refurbished and resplendent Town Hall. But it’s perhaps not the best day for a walk. The heat feels like a damp blanket and dark clouds above threaten to dump months of pent-up water restrictions on us at any moment.

Not to be deterred, we set off on what would soon go down in my books as ‘Brisbane CBD 101’ – an awesome FREE guide for visitors (or hapless residents who have walked straight past some of the most interesting aspects of the city in more than three years of living here).

Brisbane Greeters is part of the worldwide Global Greeter Network, which started in New York City in 1992. Celebrating its second birthday in the river city just last month, 140 volunteers operate on a rotating roster, as well as on-demand, to accompany visitors on walking tours of the city and surrounding areas, focussing on passion points from history to art to war and my favourite, food. Sue has been walking and talking with strangers since the beginning and jumps at any chance to share her love of public art and hot new cafes with Brisbane newbies.

We start with the history of Town Hall itself, overlooking an entirely different cityscape to what would have laid before it when it was built in the 1920s. Sure, it’s yet to celebrate its centenary but in Queensland stakes, this is one old girl. Imagining Daphne Mayo chipping away at the progression of carvings on the tympanum, in situ, over the three years it took her to complete is a spin out. The Museum of Brisbane sits neatly inside here with some great exhibitions, like the current one on Moreton Island (which runs until 12 October 2014), and free tours of the building are offered, too.

We head off to explore Burnett Lane, hidden discreetly in between Queen Street Mall and Adelaide Street. Rather than draw the obvious comparisons to Melbourne here, what’s edgy about Brisbane’s laneways is that they’re still bustling hubs where you’ll need to keep your wits about you and share the tarmac with delivery drivers in between your bar hopping and German sausage eating. As well as favourites of CBD imbibers, Brew, Super Whatnot and Survey  Co., it turns out the lane has just welcomed hidden café Felix and a cool vintage emporium called Burnett Lane Galleria where traders can rent space to sell their wares. Rumour has it a weekend market in the lane will be launching soon, too.

Sue’s hot tip? Don’t forget to look up (as you dodge the traffic) to see street artworks, and at night, a holographic light display.

Have you ever spotted kangaroos in the CBD? These scrap-metal masterpieces by artist Christopher Trotter take pride of place on George Street near the entrance to Burnett Lane and provide a great photo opportunity. Further along, Sue tells me that Donna Marcus’s great shiny ball sculptures – aka the giant pressure-cooker steamers – were literally rolled and scattered across Redcliff Place before being secured to the ground where they came to lay.

The second-last stop on our tour is a secret, hidden within the walls of a building I would never have set foot in had I not heard about it from my hostess with the mostess. Right at the back of the tiny St Stephen’s Chapel on Elizabeth Street, hides an impressive statue of Australia’s only patron Saint, Mary MacKillop, fashioned from a single camphor laurel tree trunk and looking more like it should sit in a contemporary art gallery than hidden away here. I’m no art expert, but go see the statue next time you’re in town. It’s seriously cool.

As we finish off the tour, wandering through the Stand Arcade and hearing the juicy story of The Mayne Inheritance, I realise there are so many more layers to Brisbane than the eye can see. I’m going to have to rely on my new friend Sue to bring me up to speed with another walk… or six. Luckily for me, her love don’t cost a thing.

*Photo of kangaroo sculpture – Richard Fisher via Flickr