New entertainment and lifestyle precincts like Queen’s Wharf are taking shape in Brisbane, Australia in its preparation to host the Olympics in 2032. But make no mistake, it’s the people that’s the heart and soul of this vibrant river city in Queensland.
Suddenly popping up next to me as I was scanning a bus stop sign board, a blonde bearded man donning dark shades casually asked, “Where do you want to go?” He startled me but I quickly realised who he was – the bus driver. And the fellow’s quite sexy, too, I thought absent-mindedly as I answered him.
“Queen Street Mall,” I said, noting that he must have just alighted from bus 370 that was parked in front of Meriton Suites at Herschel Street.
“Hop right in. We leave in a minute,” he said.
In the five minutes it took to arrive at my destination, we chatted like old friends, with me telling him where I was from. He told me 60% of bus passengers couldn’t be bothered to wear a face mask, even with the existing mask mandate. And as I got off the bus, I made a cheeky parting shot: “I have to say this before I go you’re the sexiest bus driver I’ve ever seen!”
My witty remark had him laughing of course; oh, I do believe spontaneity is the spice of life!
It’s this Australian spirit and energy that I love. The good-natured banter reminded me of the joviality and laidback-ness of Aussies as I began my next chapter of life in Brisbane. I lived there 13 years ago before returning to Malaysia, and now I am again residing in this vibrant river city with my adult daughter.
Humans have an instinctive need to belong and affable Aussies such as the hot bus driver, and Bianca, who chatted with me while I was waiting to catch a train, do help develop that sense of belonging. I told Bianca that Malaysians are generally friendly. She has never been to Malaysia and the short time that we spent talking, I told her as much as possible about my country of birth. And when her teenage daughter chimed in with “I like your bag” upon seeing my We Bare Bears shopping bag, I told her about my Elsa of Frozen bag – which then led us to the subject of Disney princesses.
I told Bianca the only rude people I’ve encountered ever since returning to Brisbane are migrant taxi drivers. I still seethe when I recall how I scolded one of them for being rude; instead of apologising, he had the audacity to shout at me. Another migrant driver deemed it fit to talk loudly on the phone – in his mother tongue – the whole trip from one suburb in the city, to where I lived! Thankfully I don’t have to put up with rude and unprofessional taxi drivers as Brisbane is well connected, with trains, buses, and ferries that are comfortable and efficient.
“Australia should do something about some migrant workers as they could give the country a bad name,” I opined as Bianca listened intently. “When you go abroad to work, you’d want to show your best side, so I can’t understand how some people think it’s acceptable to be so unpleasant.”
I also shared my “ugly” episode involving taxi drivers with Doug, a supervisor at a train station, who shook his head upon hearing about it. Like the obliging bus driver, Doug had initiated social contact, walking right up to me and starting a conversation by asking me where I was going. Maybe I looked a little lost and he was just doing his job, but it’s helpfulness that’s greatly appreciated.
As it turned out, it was a one-sided conversation with me doing most of the talking while Doug demonstrated good listening skills. Doug, too, has never visited Malaysia, so hopefully I did make a good enough impression on him.
Another day, another repartee – this time with a group of Greek-Australian men observing the renovation work being carried out on a cafe near the train station. Passing this group on my way to the station, I stopped to ask if they’re the owners of the cafe, and they said yes.
The cafe was badly damaged by the floods that hit Brisbane in February 2022 and new owner Tass Maniatis said it would reopen soon. The group had a dog with them while I had cat badges pinned to my handbag – so somehow some light-hearted comments about dogs and cats were exchanged, eliciting laughter all around. I was told to stop by for coffee and I knew I would.
Greek-Australians are among the biggest minority groups in Australia. Along with other groups like the Vietnamese and the Lebanese – who arrived in huge numbers from the 1970s to 1990s – they make up the multicultural face of Australia. But whatever their ancestry, Aussies come across as amiable and good-natured – or at least those born and bred in the country are so. With their distinctive Australian accent, they collectively mirror the landscape of cultural diversity of the land Down Under.
Discovering the multifaceted splendours of Australia goes beyond taking in the sights and sounds of cities with their gleaming buildings or nature with its rejuvenating offerings. My penchant for congenial company motivates me to readily open up to new faces and places but not every traveller is as socially confident of course.
For the visitor eager enough to directly connect with the locals, highly rewarding experiences await. Being communicative and uninhibited does improve one’s sense of well-being especially for someone seeking to fit into a new environment. We only need to embrace informal interactions to really soak up the warmth of the Australian spirit and energy.
A liveable city
A lot has changed in terms of built environment since I last walked the streets of Brisbane more than a decade ago. Ranked 27th in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Liveability Index, the city bustles with activity. Signs that it’s preparing to host the Olympics in 2032 are evident everywhere.
At the Roma Street train station, a big sign announces the development of an underground station that offers easy access to key Olympics venues, new housing, and expanded park lands.
At the iconic Eagle Street Pier riverfront dining complex, it’s the last hurrah for eateries like Jade Buddha Bar & Kitchen. It was at this popular watering hole that I enjoyed my first glass of wine since returning to Brisbane. The precinct will make way for Waterfront Brisbane, a AU$2.1bil (RM6.5bil) development that is set to transform the city into a premium business and leisure destination.
It’s just a stone’s throw from Queen’s Wharf, a AU$3.6bil (RM11.13bil) development designed as “a breathtaking and vibrant oasis for locals and visitors, blending beautifully repurposed heritage buildings with stunning contemporary architecture” – or so its website proclaims.
Certainly, fascinating sights and sounds are aplenty in Brisbane, with many new attractions still in the pipeline. But make no mistake, it’s Brisbanites that are the heart and soul of the city – people like Bianca, Doug, Tass, and oh, the hot bus driver!
The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.