The Brisbane River runs large in our lives, and not just because we live beside it. The river's appearance changes according to weather and time of day; it boasts a variety of wildlife, especially birds; it is a working river, busy day and night; it gives the city its name and focus; and, of course, it was the principal player in the great flood of 2011.
It flows 344 kilometres into Moreton Bay from headwaters on Mt Stanley in the Brisbane Range about 25 km northeast of Nanango in the South Burnett region. The Brisbane drains a catchment area of 13,500 square kilometres and has numerous tributaries, including the Stanley, Cooyar, Lockyer and Bremer, and urban creeks such as the Enoggera, Oxley, Bulimba and Norman. It was first explored by John Oxley, New South Wales Surveyor-General, in 1823. He was looking for a suitable site for a remote penal station and navigated as far as modern-day Gailes, near the junction of the Logan and Ipswich motorways. He named the river after Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales. Allan Cunningham explored upstream of Ipswich in 1829.
It is a river for people, essentially, either on it or by it: for walkers, runners and fitness enthusiasts; skate-boarders, cyclists, rowers and kayakers; boaties, fishers and (unfortunately) jet-skiers; ferry passengers and sightseers; picnickers and partygoers; river police and coastguards; and all manner of workers on barges, platforms, tugboats, liners, tankers and container ships.
Its colour and mood reflect weather and sky. I never tire of looking at it: it is a joy to walk by and sail upon. Other cities' rivers look small and insignificant by comparison. There are always things of beauty to be observed.
The Brisbane is mighty and mysterious, winding back on itself as it does so that newcomers become disorientated. Oddly, even at king tides, it is never menacing. And, as people gazed silently at its swollen waters (bottom of the page) in the hours leading up to the flood peak in 2011, the power of inevitability was mesmerising. I felt terribly protective of my new home city. During the following days, all manner of debris was carried to the sea from way inland. Floodwater careened downriver in the centre while tidal flow surged in the opposite direction by the banks, a phenomenon I'd never witnessed before. For weeks there were no ferries and much reduced traffic generally apart from tugs and river police: these were strangely quiet times indeed.
Let's start with mood.
Then birdlife. In 'our' Weeping Figs we have Crows, Magpies, Magpie Larks, Currawongs, Butcherbirds, Noisy Miners, Figbirds, Lorikeets, Rosellas and a pair of magnificent Nankeen Night Herons (immediately below). We occasionally hear Kookaburras just across the river, and one evening a couple of months ago we thrilled to the eerie cry of a Bush Stone-curlew. Closer to the water you will see Herons, Egrets, Cormorants, Darters, Ducks, Gulls, Swallows, Magpie Geese, Striated Herons and, my favourite, Pelicans. There is rarely a dull moment.
As for river craft to-ing and fro-ing, where do I start? With the smallest, I think.
The smallest craft often seem disproportionately noisy. The Cats purr soothingly; the tugs labour endlessly; and, rarely, yachts under sail pass peacefully save for the flapping of sailcloth. Cruise ships glide majestically – and silently until signalling their departure with a spine-tingling horn blast.
And then there are the bridges. Where would a thriving city on a major waterway be without its landmark crossings?
Occasionally there are unexpected visitors...
Brisbane has grown up relatively recently and is not yet a far-reaching city. The contrast between beautiful riverside residences in the burbs and urban jumble is therefore just around a bend or two.
When visitors first come to Brisbane, we take them on a CityCat – from the Port of Brisbane to the leafy academia of St Lucia. It is by far the best introduction. Almost three years down the track, I still look forward to catching the ferry rather than any other mode of transport, and it's the best start and finish to a working day (I'm told!). I used to work in a building that overlooked the Thames in London, and the walk over Waterloo Bridge is still the best cityscape-by-night in the world, but I don't think I've ever used and enjoyed a river quite as much as the Brisbane.
This post was last edited on 27 June 2017