The dream of the ’90s is alive in Brisbane

I was recently inspired to reconsider the old “all my friends are leaving Brisbane” question, after reading an article by Bridie Jabour, over at the new Guardian Australia.

She talked about the mass exodus of young people. But I think Brisbane is the kind of town people can easily stay in: a comfy deck chair in the sun, lean back, relax and you’re never going to want to get out.

Brisbane, like many home towns, has a yo-yo effect. People leave and come back. I did. There’s a hot and sticky glue to this Pleasantville paradise. It’s easy to get stuck here, to melt into the pavement, to not move.


But the city has changed a lot. It’s blossomed in ways that’s surprised me (and not just the jacarandas). I always say that by the time I move to Sydney or Melbourne, Brisbane will be Sydney or Melbourne, and it’s coming true: laneway cafes, hipster bars, GoMA… There’s heaps going on, take the 24-hour comic challenge I was involved in last weekend. I’ve never seen so many productive people. I know many artists and musicians who love it here and choose to stay. Jeremy Neale of Velociraptor is a loud-and-proud Brisbane ambassador . “My friend calls these a passport shredder days,” he told me, looking outside the window on a sunny day when we did a story on Brisbane’s rising stars. Certainly many bands have said you don’t need to leave town to “make it” anymore. And that’s a great thing. The Stress of Leisure’s recent record Cassowary (a true tropical bird) drips with a humid love for the city. But even the title of that band – the Stress of Leisure – sums up Brisbane’s fatal flaw, its catch. It’s a bit *too* easy.

Paradise Brisbane can be a bit of a siren’s trap. That comfy deck chair can be just a bit too comfy, a bit too laid-back, a little too inviting of apathy. US TV show Portlandia has a fantastic song about the overlooked city of Portland, somewhere, culturally and geographically, between San Francisco and Seattle. “The Dream of the ’90s is Alive in Portland” the song goes. “Sleep till 11/you’ll be in heaven…”

“Portland is a city where young people go to retire.” Well, that song could easily apply to Brisbane!

Certainly, I know plenty of people who are content to be content. But, then, what’s wrong with being content? Maybe striving is overrated. The internet is full of people striving to be peaceful. Maybe making art and music is about being with friends, not on the covers of magazines or on massive stages. (Not that there aren’t plenty of keen Brisbanites going for that goal.)

Maybe Brisbane has struck the pace of life that everyone else is looking for?

Brisbane has definitely out-grown its country-town diapers, that’s true. (And really, that joke is getting old.) I do think we can be a bit navel gazing as a city at times. Constantly reprising our own history to prove that we have one. Constantly re-praising all the same seminal bands that came from here. (You know the ones.) “Look New York, Berlin! We have a navel too!” Way too many poems about jacarandas and verandas. But hey, write what you know.

I think the world is there to be explored. Physically or through media, books, culture… whatever is your bag. Personally, I’m all for trying different dishes before deciding that your nan’s home cooked comfort-pie might possibly be your favourite. (Of course, all this talk is a first world luxury. We’re all lucky that we can choose where we live. And the non-adventurers among us are probably leaving less of a carbon footprint.)

So, Brisbane, the most comfortable pillow I know. But what do you think? Do you love it or “just like” it? Is it a relationship you’ve outgrown or one you never want to leave. Let me know!

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8 Responses to The dream of the ’90s is alive in Brisbane

  1. Bunnitos says:

    Great Article. =) I left Brisbane for Melbourne a while back and I can’t say I miss the heat but the Jacarandas and verandahs are cool, and the storms too. Otherwise though I like living somewhere where there’s more to do, where the beach and the city are really close together, where the weather is mostly cold and where people are less concerned if you’re different. I still have a soft spot for Brisbane and lots of people I love there, but it’s not somewhere I’m ever moving back to unless something disastrous happens.

  2. Nick says:

    Lovely bit of writing. Don’t forget this immortal exchange from an early ’80s Doctor Who adventure:

    TEGAN: I know the Tardis is huge, but it can’t be taking them this long, surely. What’s a Zero Room anyway? The Doctor said something about null interfaces.
    NYSSA: I suppose it’s some sort of neutral environment. An isolated space cut off from the rest of the universe.
    TEGAN: He should’ve told me that’s what he wanted. I could’ve shown him Brisbane.

  3. Yes, it was an actress called Janet Mahoney playing Tegan. She grew up in Camp Hill, Brisbane and was at school with me.

  4. Satu says:

    Timely for me, considering I’m leaving Brisbane at the end of the year, at the ripe old age of 34. For me it’s about a career change; as much as Brissy has evolved, there’s no film industry and that’s what I want to move into. But the easy lifestyle we have in Brisbane is not something I’m looking forward to giving up.

  5. BrissieGal says:

    I went to Sydney 2 years ago and was surprised how underwhelmed I was with it. I mean it’s “Sydney”! Meh. Really, apart from the Harbour, and a few other touristy things, there was very little between that city and Brisbane. Suddenly Sydney felt overrated. Brisbane has come a long way baby.

  6. If Sydney can be compared to being beaten up and robbed in a dirty alley way – and it can – then Brisbane is being stabbed in the throat – sticky, nihilistic but compelling.

  7. pw says:

    I’ve lived in other cities, and I prefer Brisbane. It’s as relaxed as I am.

  8. Muzz says:

    I left and lived in London, Edinburgh and Tokyo, but came back. Sure, it’s exciting living in these other places, but one thing I really like about Brisbane is that I can sit on my balcony or verandah and have a glass of wine almost every day of the year. You can’t get that everywhere.

    Sure, I think it would be cool to live in a place where more exciting bands play more often, and there are different art exhibitions everywhere, and be closer to Europe, but honestly, there is enough in Brisbane and accessible via the internets to keep me interested.

    That said, I don’t condemn anyone who feels the need to move away either temporarily or permanently.

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