Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Coming up the river

The Brisbane River is a Limpopo of a river: not in terms of length but in its grey-green, greasiness. Since Wivenhoe Dam was built in the 1970s, it is a sluggish, muddy river meandering its tidal way from the Brisbane Valley to Moreton Bay. Apparently until the 1930s it was noted for the clarity of its water with visibility of up to 5 metres. Now, visibility of approximately 20 centimetres is normal. In real life this means is that all you see is the muddy surface creased occasionally by white waves guarded by riverbanks punctuated by the occasional private and public jetty.

Like many waterways, the Brisbane River was a natural highway for inland exploration. At the time of the explorers, Cunningham and John Oxley the river was fringed by a variety of open grasslands, rain and other forests. In 1823 Oxley explored eighty kilometres inland and his reports directly led to the foundation of a penal settlement on the river.

Yesterday evening I travelled upstream by RiverCat ferry from the city to St. Lucia. A damp wind mingled with raindrops blew in my face and my mind was on those early settlers. I thought about them travelling upstream by steamer, watching the forests and grassland passing by and wondering about their future. My view was of freeways, galleries, museums, commerce and expensive housing disappearing in the wake of the rapidly moving catamaran. Wandering around the CBD in the drizzle, I saw a building built in 1860 and thought that the Jaeckels would have seen that as they were waiting for their steamer to take them to Ipswich. For one moment, a family of migrants standing with all their possessions waiting on a riverbank was more real to me than the Christmas crowds, lights and bustle.

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