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Australia & Oceania, Memoir

Brisbane: moody river blues

Flooding Brisbane, 13 January 2011, Australia © Sara Moss

Hammered firmly into manicured lawn, the for sale sign reads “Millionaire’s Row at an Affordable Price”. Only metres away a crow swoops to haul a complete rat carcass from the ground into the branches of a flowering tree. Deftly, the crow then pauses with its bounty on the rusting roof of a Queenslander before continuing towards the Brisbane river.

I’m walking through the waterfront suburbs to ease my restlessness; it’s not working. Today the river is a broad slick of grey-brown, unreflective under a sky which has begun to smudge with cloud. The water is visible here thanks to an undeveloped corner block and the gradient of the bank. A new, angular development squats waterfront below eye line from the street.

Slightly more than seven months earlier I stood in the same place to watch the river in flood, sweeping mercilessly and debris-ridden towards Moreton Bay. Most of Queensland was drowning. Recollection of the January floods piques my tension.

Stilling myself at a closer vantage point, the former wool stores on the opposite bank catch my eye. Their red brick endures and the solidly-framed windows would once have reflected the bustle of dock life. Heady trading days. Now, a barge, kayak and ferry appear on the water, keeping their own rhythm. Quiet. I need to move again.

The light turns oddly apricot-coloured; the sun becomes a disc behind what is surely a brewing storm. I don’t stray too far from the river but turn my gaze to the surrounding conglomerate architecture.

Starkly contemporary dwellings abut shabby, new, and exquisitely-renovated Queenslanders. There’s a smattering of houses more inclined to European climates and the occasional, untouched 1950s timber house on an obscenely large block makes me think grandma and/or grandpa is still holding on. But my agitation is unabated. It’s a nameless internal jangling as I walk.

I flick to 1999, when I arrived in Brisbane. Echoes of afternoon walks I took then surface: meandering through streets in a city where I knew no one, looking for some sort of connection to place. Wondering what sort of life I would make in new geography. Voluminous greenery, sweet air, summer storms and fine winter days marked out my first two years. I found new friends. Then other horizons whispered their sweet nothings.

As the sky begins to break and the first raindrops crack onto dead leaves resting on roadside clover, I turn home. No solace to be had by the river today. I climb the hill of my street, that bit higher into crackling air, as the thunder begins in earnest.

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