I’m leaving Brisbane this week. After resisting the urge to follow the hoards of twenty-somethings fleeing this city for a couple years, I’ve finally given in. Not to move to Melbourne or Sydney, but to the only place that could have made my mother more unhappy: Europe. I’ve lived in Brisbane for over five years now, but it seems that the narrative of leaving this city began almost as soon as I arrived. One of the first things I did after I moved here as a 17 year-old was to watch All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane. And after witnessing friend after friend pack up and move to the southern states in the past few years, it’s finally rung true for me too. While I never expected my stay in Brisbane to be permanent, I’ve grown oddly attached to this sleepy city. Sure, it has its downsides, which have been well documented of late, but somehow Brisbane gets under your skin.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Brisbane. Or is that with my time in Brisbane? It’s a small but significant difference and I think my answer would depend on my mood on any given day. Growing up on the Sunshine Coast, in my last year of high school it was a given that I would move down for university; I had spent a small amount of time here for school trips and a week in which we came to film a script we had written at UQ. That week was really the first time I’d been away from home in an independent capacity – it’s funny to think that our visits to Verve and the Judith Wright Centre, which seemed so worldly and mysterious, are still some of our regular haunts today. And I think that’s true of a lot of things in Brisbane – it’s easy to see things as old and tired and repetitive, but it’s not until you take a step back and realise that there’s a lot to love about this place.
For my 18th birthday a distant family member gave me He Died With A Falafel in His Hand to read. I think they’d meant it as a warning for what can happen to uni students who lived out of home, but it just made me more determined to have the true sharehouse experience. So I moved into a dilapidated old house in Paddington that had neither the beauty of an old Queenslander or the comforts of a modern home; it was falling apart, full of asbestos and had that knack of being both stiflingly hot and icy cold that is so unique to Queenslanders. It was perfect. When we moved in the grass in the sloping backyard was up to our waists; every now and again (generally just before our famed parties) I would mow the lawn while Siobhan brought out iced tea or cordial in her wonderfully faux-housewife way. I would walk to uni up the steep escarpment of Red Hill, every day turning back around at the top of the Cairns Tce stairs to grasp a glimpse of the valley that was now our own. On some of the stiflingly hot days in summer you could stare over that valley forever and not a thing would move. I was in love.
Meanwhile, I started to get involved a bit more with Brisbane’s music scene. Interning at Musicadium opened my eyes to so many great local bands, and I started spending most weekends holed up in a booth at the Troubadour or by the bar at the Zoo. The music scene is one of my favourite things about Brisbane. It’s less of a scene and more of a community – everyone knows everyone. I love that I can go to a gig alone and not worry because I’ll always know at least three people there (if not someone in the band). While venues have come and gone, the valley continues to be a fantastic hub of live music, and it’s great that it’s something the council actively encourages.
Brisbane is the city that wasn’t meant to be a city. And it shows; it’s bursting at the seams. Sure, it means the traffic is fucked, but it also means that every week a new bar is opening, a new website or magazine is launched, another multi-national tech company has bought out a fledgling local startup. Slowly but surely, Brisbane is coming of age. And like so many pimply teenagers with oversized limbs, it’s still trying to find its identity. Maybe that’s why we’re so prone to giving it nicknames. The often flaunted ‘Brisvegas’ is perhaps the most telling; a city trying to be flashy and gaudy in order to hide what it’s really like (I’ve never understood Brisbane’s obsession with slapping tacky fluoro lights on top of lovely old buildings).
While Brisbane was slowly growing up, so was I. By the end of uni I had ventured to Melbourne and Sydney away from the watchful gaze of family trips, and was beginning to realise all the things that the southern cities had that Brisbane was sorely lacking. I was feeling that itch again: it was time to leave. So I packed up all my worldly possessions and headed off for a gap year of backpacking around Europe. As much as I complained – loudly and bitterly – about Brisbane before I left, it wasn’t until I was gone that I realised that there was much to love about this city. The summers I so vehemently despised became things of mystical beauty; I missed sitting on our balcony watching the storms rolling across Mt. Cootha every afternoon, the long evenings drinking in parks, the still air of a bright summer’s morning. So I decided to come back.
There was much more than the weather to enjoy as well. There were things I still wanted to achieve in Brisbane – the least of which was get a job in the music industry, which I had coveted for so long. I reasoned with myself that I had done so much free and volunteer work to build a name for myself, that moving cities would just mean having to do it all again. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people – from being involved with QMusic putting on the Queensland Music Awards and BIGSOUND, to being music coordinator for 2high Festival, to helping Visible Ink put on some ace events around the city. The independent arts scene here is so vibrant and it keeps on getting brighter, despite cuts in government funding. Places like The Edge are like nothing I know of in any other city. Brisbane Festival rivals any arts event in Sydney or Melbourne.
While it sounds clichéd, moving to New Farm last year was the best possible thing I could have done that didn’t involve moving to another city. I bought a bike, rode along the river to work each day, cycled to markets, bars, friends’ houses and parks. Spending so much time near the river gave me a new appreciation for the city. Hosting Couchsurfers from all around the world also reinvigorated my love for this place; it’s hard to complain about something when you’ve got a tourist next to you genuinely impressed by what Brisbane has to offer.
But Brisbane is also a very comfortable city. Its laid-back lifestyle is great, but it’s also very easy to get lost in. One day you’re in your early 20s working on an art project, and then the next you wake up and all of a sudden you have two kids and a 3 bedroom home in Chermside arguing with your neighbour about who should pay for the new 6-foot fence because you can’t stand the sight of each other. There are people at work not that much older than me who have been in the same job for almost ten years. They’re happy, but they’ve never experienced living anywhere else. If most people that leave Brisbane in their 20s eventually return, at least they will have had experiences elsewhere that they can bring to making Brisbane a better place. In her piece in the Guardian, Bridie Jabour worries that that the exodus of 20-somethings has left a creative black hole in the city. Just taking a look at all the amazing people who are here working on some seriously impressive projects, I don’t think Brisbane has anything to worry about.
Will I come back to Brisbane? It’s hard to say. Not growing up in the city means I don’t have any family ties here, and in my line of work there are more career opportunities in bigger cities like Sydney or Melbourne. But I’ve grown to love this place. Sure, it can be sometimes hard to see past the drunken hoards of teenagers in the valley on a Saturday night, or the crappy public transport, or the inability to get any decent food after 10pm. But that’s Brisbane, and I’m looking forward to being able to tell people that this is where I’m from for a little while yet.