I wrote this to you as I visited Brisbane for the first time in a long time.
It’s hard for me to adequately tell you what Brisbane is to me. For a kid growing up in regional Queensland, it’s the Big Smoke, the city of dreams and impossible sophistication. There are Things in Brisbane, galleries and bookstores and large shops and places to go, all of which seemed almost mystical to my small town small child self.
And now of course, I know Brisbane is not Real City. It’s the country cousin to other Realler, Bigger Cities. Melbourne and Sydney. It’s an overgrown village compared to New York and London. But I didn’t even leave this state until I was 19. Didn’t know all this then. For 19 years it was my gateway to the bigger world.
It’s the city of Expo 88, when my mum scraped together enough savings to take her, four kids and a baby on overnight train. Just to glimpse a world outside the sugar cane fields. I was 5 and remember my eldest sister falling off the train bunk we shared. I remember being astounded at the sheer crowds of people. Getting distracted by something beautiful and marvellous, and getting lost, walking the crowds sobbing. When I was finally found, my mother’s face was pulled tight, and she held my hand tightly. From then on, she stapled a card of contact details to the underside of our hems. Incase of loss, return to owner.
It’s the city she let us solo travel to as teenagers. Me and my eldest sister and our motley crew of friends (all boys). We saved up for years and took the overnight train again. Stayed with an aunt, and in a hotel room, laughed ourselves stupid. We were so very very young and so very very stupid. I don’t know why she let us go, but she did. And I’m glad she did. I just don’t know how, as a mother, I’ll learn to let go when I need to.
Brisbane is the City of Boys. The place I met my pen pal after years of letters. He drove me to the top of Mt Cootha to see the lights of the city. And he kissed me so softly that he made me fall in love. Not with him, but with kissing. I didn’t much like it before then. Thought it a messy, wet kind of business, a bit too much like swallowing oysters. Some unknown impulse drove me to it anyway. It wasn’t until him though that the Kiss Gods opened their rays to me, and I never once thought of it in terms of seafood again.
Another trip, to meet an internet penpal this time, this in the days when such a thing was a novelty, an invention. He was the one who loved music and seemed perfect on paper. We fell in wild, teen-soaked love for two weeks. I knew he wasn’t The One, but gosh wasn’t he The One For Now. When I returned home, he became one of the early adopters of ghosting. Back in 1999, it wasn’t called that then. It was called heartbreak and uncertainty and why just tell me why. Maybe it’s still called that, ghosting is just the umbrella term.
I came back to Brisbane a couple of other times after my Tours De Boys. After I graduated, to go to Malaysia as an exchange student. To walk the art gallery, the most enchanting place on earth, and marvel at the lines and the paint carefully applied to canvas. It was everything I wanted to be.
After then, I fell in wild and required love with a man. Not just any man, but The Man. The one who quickly became as fixed to me as my right hand. The one who would father my future children. The one upon which all other love stories seemed small and inconsequential. The one whose presence still sustains and thrills me two decades later later.
He had lived in Brisbane in all the years I’d visited there. Walked the same streets, wandered the same small alternative stores. I wonder if we ever crossed paths. If we had, I would have remembered. One look and I would have known. After all, it was all it took when we finally did meet.
We met in my tiny home town, in all the unlikely places. And since then we have lived in most places in Australia, but never here. His Brisbane and My Brisbane have never intertwined. Not yet.
Until then, it remains as ever: frangipanis and soaring skyscrapers. The newest of architecture burrowed into the hill beside old stone churches. Green sub tropical wilderness growing through the cracks. Jacarandas and palm trees, apartments and ambling Queenslanders. And gaudiness. Of course, the gaudy.
All of this wonkiness and charm. It’s exactly how Queenslanders would build a city.
And even though I’m nearly 40, even though I’ve seen other, bigger cities, it still thrills me. For this small town girl, this Big City of Boys and Dreams and Memories still holds a hilly piece of my heart.
All My Love,