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Having grown rapidly to around two million residents in recent years, BRISBANE is by far the largest city in Queensland, its fortunes booming. However, despite having many of the trappings of a business and trade centre – urban sprawl, high-rise buildings, slow-moving traffic, crowded streets – there’s little of the pushiness that usually accompanies them. To urbanites used to a more aggressive approach, the atmosphere is slow, but to others the languid pace is a welcome change and reflects relaxed rather than regressive attitudes.

Brisbane is an attractive enough place, with the typical features of any Australian city of a comparable age and size – a historic precinct, museums, botanic gardens and a glut of good cafés, restaurants and music venues – it just lacks the funky beach settlements. It’s a fairly easy place to find casual, short-term employment, however, and the healthy, unpredictable social scene tempts many travellers to spend longer here than they had planned. As for exploring further afield, you’ll find empty beaches and surf on North Stradbroke Island and dolphins around Moreton Island – both easy to reach from the city.

Some history

In 1823, responding to political pressure to shift the “worst type of felons” away from Sydney, the New South Wales government sent Surveyor General John Oxley north to find a suitable site for a new prison colony. Sailing into Moreton Bay, he was shown a previously unknown river by three shipwrecked convicts who had been living with Aborigines. He explored it briefly, named it “Brisbane” after the governor, and the next year established a convict settlement at Redcliffe on the coast. This was immediately abandoned in favour of better anchorage further upstream, and by the end of 1824 today’s city centre had become the site of Brisbane Town.

Twenty years on, a land shortage down south persuaded the government to move out the convicts and free up the Moreton Bay area to settlers. Immigrants on government-assisted passages poured in and Brisbane began to shape up as a busy port – an unattractive, awkward town of rutted streets and wooden shacks. As the largest regional settlement of the times, Brisbane was the obvious choice as capital of the new state of Queensland on its formation in 1859, though the city’s first substantial buildings were constructed only in the late 1860s, after fire had destroyed the original centre and state bankruptcy was averted by Queensland’s first gold strikes at Gympie. Even so, development was slow and uneven: new townships were founded around the centre at Fortitude Valley, Kangaroo Point and Breakfast Creek, gradually merging into a city.

After World War II, when General Douglas MacArthur used Brisbane as his headquarters to coordinate attacks on Japanese forces based throughout the Pacific, Brisbane stagnated, earning a reputation as a dull, underdeveloped backwater – not least thanks to the Bjelke-Petersen regime.

Since his time, escalating development has impressed upon the city’s skyline and for the past decade Brisbane has boasted the country’s highest internal migration figures and a quarter of the national population growth, resulting in booming house prices and the redevelopment of the dilapidated Brisbane River foreshore into upmarket apartments, many of which had to be evacuated when the river burst its banks in January 2011.

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