The living heritage of the Brisbane region can be traced back at least 6000 years when the bay and the land, the rivers, creeks, and nearby ranges assumed their modern form. This ‘country’, known and shaped by countless generations of Indigenous people, was central to the identity, heritage and well-being of the Moreton Bay clans.
The Indigenous way of life remained relatively undisturbed until the arrival of a party of convicts and their gaolers in 1824. From Sydney, they were sent by the then Governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane, to establish a penal settlement. The initial site at Red Cliff Point was abandoned in 1825, in favour of the site now occupied by Brisbane’s central business district.
Within fifteen years, transportation of convicts ceased and in 1842 the Moreton Bay district was thrown open to free settlers. Despite initial uncertainty, an influx of entrepreneurs, pastoralists, and labourers followed, all determined to take advantage of the region’s many resources.
Makeshift and dilapidated in appearance in the 1840s, Brisbane Town changed considerably as the population increased from 829 in 1846 to almost 6000 in 1859, when Brisbane became the capital of the self governing colony of Queensland. The relative isolation of Brisbane prompted calls for self-defence against potential international aggressors and a local military and naval force was formed.
By the time of Federation in 1901, Brisbane, the capital city of the fastest growing State in the newly constituted nation, retained little evidence of its convict past. Thought by a visitor in the late 1880s to be ‘new, brawny, uneven and half-finished’, Brisbane’s main thoroughfares were lined with elegant and imposing architect-designed buildings, symbols of the 1880s economic boom.
In the suburbs, grand houses and timber and tin workers cottages had replaced the slab huts and the shanties. A hive of maritime activity, Brisbane had continued the expansion of its communication and transport networks and its trade and industry despite the devastation wrought by drought, floods, and depression in the 1890s.
The City boasted all the social and cultural amenities of the Victorian Age and prided itself on the incentives available for those able to help themselves. Those excluded from the system were invariably moved to the margins – many to State institutions, some to nearby Aboriginal reserves.
Each of the major events of the twentieth century left an imprint on the City. Some were cause for celebration, others imposed costs difficult to quantify. Nonetheless, World War I, the formation of Greater Brisbane in 1925, the 1930s Depression, World War II with the city as General MacArthur’s Headquarters, the 1974 flood, and more recently the 1982 Commonwealth Games and Expo 88, all changed aspects of the City’s identity and appearance. Each fostered a change in the way in which the people of Brisbane viewed themselves.
In recent years there has been a concerted effort to revive areas settled long ago, through the restoration and innovative use of heritage buildings. With history so apparent on Brisbane streets and waterways, the City is ideally suited for exploration on foot, by car and by the City’s public transport network – including buses, trains, ferries and CityCats.
The sites that make up Brisbane’s Living Heritage Network, offer the visitor a fascinating blend of colonial history and interpretive experience. Together this brings to life the rich heritage and vibrant living culture of Brisbane. Enjoy exploring Brisbane and embrace its living heritage.