I’ll admit I am not really one for local history, but if you like sandstone buildings with stories to tell and freshly renovated spaces, Brisbane City Hall and the Museum of Brisbane is a nice place where you can take a break from the present day.
Brisbane City Hall is a Queensland cultural icon and costed 980,000 pounds to build, which today equates to just over $65 million (adjusted for inflation). Naturally this made it one of the most expensive construction projects of its day. It was a labour of love, with the designs submitted by Hall and Prentice in 1917 and built over the next decade. The designs were considered, in this day’s slang if you’re a contestant on The Block, “academic chic” and influences were taken from Greco-Roman spaces which were seen in many public buildings in Australia at the time. However due to a clash of egos with landowners, the City Hall project almost didn’t get off the ground. Opening day was on January 3rd, 1928.
Brisbane City Hall was the central office for public servants and is still where the office of the Lord Mayor resides (portraits of predecessors line the corridor leading to the office). The clock tower was the highest point of the city when it opened at 92 metres and though outdone today by various apartment towers, it continues to be the city’s time keeper. This can also serve as a warning to people going about their business when 12pm rolls around – there is a lunch break “flood” when the bells ring, so take your sushi and RUN!
The City Hall bell tower can be accessed through the Museum of Brisbane. At the time of its inauguration, it was the largest clock in an Australian public building, with the face being five metres in diameter, and had the most modern timekeeping system of the day which still remains in operation. However, appearances are deceiving. While the clock face you see on the outside is large, the master clock which really keeps the time hangs on the wall inside the tower, and is the size of a small grandfather clock. Basically it has a little clock/big clock complex.
The Museum of Brisbane was integrated into City Hall during its major overhaul from 2010 – 2013, when it was moved from the ground to the third floor. The place needed more than a coat of paint and some Selleys All Clear to fill in the cracks that came with age. The Museum serves as an education centre for visitors on how Brisbane has evolved since the 19th century, from the first settlers through to Expo ’88 (I learnt people needed therapy for “Expo Withdrawal” when it finished) and at the time of this article, it was displaying images and letters of ANZACs and nurses from World War One in honour of the Centenary. The Museum prides itself on “living history” and aims to provide “rich, cultural experiences” in which they managed to succeed. The ANZACs exhibition made me cry because this song just tied everything together.
After touring through the Museum and trying to sneak into the Lord Mayor’s office (if those beady eyes from the portraits don’t scare you off first), you can stop by the Shingle Inn on the ground floor, restored faithfully with its original wooden seats and fittings. High tea is served by staff dressed in 20s waiter/waitress attire complete with aprons and frilly hats.
Entrance to Brisbane City Hall and the Museum of Brisbane are free, as are trips up the clock tower which run every 15 minutes. Bookings for the Shingle Inn, however, are essential as well as first dibs on the scones before your dining companions.