Hey! I'm moving to Brisbane!
November 12, 2010 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me get to know Brisbane, QLD from afar, and help me pick the right neighborhood for me.

So, it looks like I'm relocating from Chicago to Brisbane in early 2011. I've got all the visa and tax stuff worked out, but am looking for advice on which neighborhood suits me, and what I should know about living in the city.

A little about me:
mid/late 30s single male
permanent relo, not ex-pat
would prefer not to buy a car
vastly prefer city to suburbs
foodie/amateur cook/baker
making pretty decent money, but not a penthouse suite paycheck

What I already know about Brisbane:
Cost of living is about 20% higher than Chicago
Electronics and clothes are pricier still
There is no tipping in Australia
No matter what hour of the day, there is a rugby match on your television somewhere.

I want to live in a walkable neighborhood with interesting bars and restaurants (I'm in Chicago's Roscoe Village now, and within a ten minute walk or ten minute bus ride, I can eat and drink in dozens of different and awesome bars and restaurants), with nearby grocers/markets/retail. Would prefer something in my demographic (like Roscoe Village, as opposed to hipster-centric Wicker Park)
I'm going to be renting, will not be looking to share space
Full-size kitchen and central air - can they be found?
I'm going to be traveling a ton, so easy public transport to the airport is helpful
I'm going to be working in what I assume to be the CBD (let's say Adelaide and Wharf), so easy access to public transport to that location is critical.

Any advice on neighborhoods, or Brisbane in general, is absolutely appreciated. What's it like to be an American in Brisbane?
posted by GamblingBlues to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome, Brisbane owns. I've lived here for quite a while.

You're basically looking at either New Farm or West End as walkable, near-to-CBD suburbs. New Farm is very gay-friendly, pretty gentrified, and pleasant, and New Farm Park together with the Powerhouse Complex is one of Brisbane's treasures. West End is more bohemian, a mix of professionals and students and ethnic enclaves. Both are ten minute's walk from the CBD, or have a bunch of CityCycle stations / bus stops if you prefer. The bus lines from both suburbs into the CBD are great, running about every ten minutes.

Both suburbs have a real mix of housing stock: if you're after a nice kitchen / central air, you're basically restricted to a newer apartment, since the grand old houses are generally built in the unairconditionable Queenslander style. A nice single bedroom apartment will set you back $300-400 a week.

Getting to the airport generally means getting to the nearest train station, which is a fraction easier in New Farm: walking to the Fortitude Valley station is maybe five or ten minutes quicker than walking from West End to the South Brisbane station, but it's much of a muchness.

Check out realestate.com.au with these two suburbs to get an idea of what's available in your price range. Other suburbs that are less ideal, but still decent choices, and definitely fit your criteria: Toowong, Milton, Paddington, Spring Hill.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 2:50 PM on November 12, 2010

Actually, I'll upgrade Paddington to "strongly consider" if you're going to be working in the CBD. It lacks a rail line but has a good bus link into town, and is quite charming, with a good selection of cafes / bars / facilities. Very very hilly, however.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 2:57 PM on November 12, 2010

Brisbane born and bred local here. Let me answer your questions in order.

I want to live in a walkable neighborhood with interesting bars and restaurants, with nearby grocers/markets/retail. Would prefer something in my demographic (like Roscoe Village, as opposed to hipster-centric Wicker Park).

If by "walkable" you mean "I can walk around in it and not be in too much danger" your best bet might be to live in The West End. It has a tonne of restaurants and bars and is very close to the Brisbane CBD, where you'll find more bars and restaurants. Some of the inner suburbs are probably a bit safer than that (Tarragindi, The Gap etc) but once you start moving away from the CBD, you get less restaurants and more suburbia.

I'm going to be renting, will not be looking to share space. Full-size kitchen and central air - can they be found?

Yes, but closer to the CBD most of the stuff you'll find are units, which wil have central air but smaller kitchens. Check out the rental page at www.realestate.com.au and see what you can find.

I'm going to be traveling a ton, so easy public transport to the airport is helpful

If you live in a suburb near a railway station, you can catch the Airtrain to the airport. But as I mentioned earlier, most suburbs don't have a lot of interesting bars or restaurants, and its those suburbs that usually are serviced by train stations. That said, the West End is within walking distance to South Brisbane station, so you may like to consider it as your suburb of choice. Also be aware that the Airtrain stops running at 8pm, so if you get back to the airport after that time, you'll pretty much be forced to get a cab.

I'm going to be working in what I assume to be the CBD (let's say Adelaide and Wharf), so easy access to public transport to that location is critical.

Again, trains are the best bet, but there's also lots of buses running to and from the CBD in peak hour. If you find a place on www.realestate.com.au that you like the sound of, go to www.transinfo.qld.gov.au and use the Journey Planner to work out public transport options from your street address to the CBD. That'll give you a good idea of how good public transport is in your area.

Happy to answer any other questions you want to know about. Either ask i here or send me a MeFi Mail. Happy to help!
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:59 PM on November 12, 2010

Oh, in addition to realestate.com.au, check out Google Maps for real estate options. Under search options you can search for real estate and it'll show you physical locations of properties for rent. Its datais probably a bit less reliable than realestate.com.au (an in, some properties may already have been rented out) but will still give you an idea of whats out there and what it'll cost you to live where.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:06 PM on November 12, 2010

Well, the first thing to grasp is that Brisbane is small. Terms like 'suburb' and 'city' kinda lose their meaning when the train from the centre of town to the distant western suburbs is just 10 miles long and the entire journey takes 30 minutes.

Second, Brisbane is a bit sprawly. You have suburbs, each of which will have a set of 'local shops' (newsagent, small independent grocer, chemist, post office). Every few suburbs there'll be a larger 'shopping centre' - I wouldn't say 'mall' because they pale into comparison with US malls. Brookside in Mitchelton is an example. The roads are dotted with mixed retail and industry outlets - you might have a gallery next to a cafe next to a sewing machine repair shop, for example. Commercial buildings taller than two storeys are unusual outside the city centre. Here's a typical street view from the same area.

Clusters of restaurants, bars and providores like you're talking about are rare outside the city, and even when you find them, 'dozens' of anything just isn't going to happen. You'll have to learn to be happy with a scant handful of each, or possibly all, depending on where you live.

Anyways, blah blah blah, look for somewhere east of Fortitude Valley (eg Newstead / New Farm) or West End if you can afford it. Otherwise, learn to be happy with living in a large country town where you sometime struggle to find cilantro in the suburbs, and where you'll happily drive half an hour to get to a favourite restaurant. I suspect you're going to find it painfully backward for a while.

And stay off the southside. ;)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:13 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm From Brisbane too! What everyone said above, but you might also consider South Brisbane, Woolloongabba and Dutton Park. Those are the next suburbs to West End, still walkable. Next to Paddington, also still within walking distance to the city, try Rosalie (disclaimer - this is where I grew up and I miss it!) and Milton. For New Farm, Tenneriffe is next door, or Bowen Hills. There are loads of appartments in the CBD and Valley too. If you want more info, feel free to Memail me. Brisbane is great - hope you enjoy. Oh! On preview, you'll be able to find cilantro anywhere now (definitely not true when I was growing up), but it'll be called corriander.
posted by t0astie at 4:06 PM on November 12, 2010

obiwanwasabi: "And stay off the southside."

There's something else you should know about Brisbane. There's a real North/South divide. People from the south side don't really venture to the north side and vice versa. People from one side of town will always say their side of the river is nicer than the other. As a Southsider myself, I will say the North-side sucks... it's old and dingy and their major shopping centre, Westfield Chermside, is way too big. Northsiders will say to stay away from the south-side because nothing happens there... but I put that down to jealousy myself.

On that note, there's an interesting article on today's Brisbane Times which says that the Southside is safer than the Northside. I provide it here so that you have some ideas about current crime rates in Brisbane.

And I'll also take this opportunity to let you know about newspapers in Brisbane. Apart from the free local rags that land on your doorstep every now and then (the kind you chuck as soon as you get them), the big local paper is the Murdoch owned Courier Mail. They're a right wing paper and they hate the QLD Labor (think Democrats) Government. Don't bother buying the paper version unless you ike reading actual newspapers; the website version I just linked to is all you need.

The Brisbane Times is an online-only source of news that started up a few years ago. They're generally more left than The Courier Mail and probably a bit more balanced in their coverage. It's worth checking out both though, but avoid Courier Mail reader comments... that's a mine field of pain and stupidity.

And remember; stay off the northside.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:20 PM on November 12, 2010

How like a southsider to discourage literacy and keeping up with current affairs :P

(Just live on the west side. We sit in our quaint villages at the foot of Mt Glorious drinking rum and wondering what the tall folk are up to over in Mordor.)

Just out of curiosity - what has your employer told you about Brisbane? I'd love to hear about how it was sold to you. With the right camera angles I'm sure it looks like Gotham.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:02 PM on November 12, 2010

Late to this, but yeah …
  • I want to live in a walkable neighborhood with interesting bars and restaurants: As other have said, the New Farm / West End / Paddington triangle is the area for this.
  • Full-size kitchen and central air - can they be found?: Yup, especially in houses / townhouses in that area - though it gets even easier if you can look a little outside the triangle (e.g. Teneriffe, Bulimba, Coorparoo, Annerley, Red Hill, Ashgrove).
  • I'm going to be traveling a ton, so easy public transport to the airport is helpful: As others have said, public transport to the airport = train. Anywhere near a rail line will be fine, with at worse 2 changes (most will be just 1 change). Airport trains run every 15 minutes or so during normal hours
  • I'm going to be working in what I assume to be the CBD (let's say Adelaide and Wharf)…: Nowhere in the city is any more than about a 10-15 minute walk from the train stations or major bus station; that area particularly is a most a 5 minute walk from Central station. There's also a couple of free buses running every 10 minutes or so that loop the city, but it's almost always just as quick to walk (avg 5 minute wait + avg 10 minute trip = 15 minutes anyway…)
As for the Northside / Southside thing: as someone who spent their first 20 years or so growing up on the Northside, the next 20 living & working on the Southside, and the last couple of years back on the Northside - hell, yeah, it exists, but a) it's more of an interesting and amusing social and behavioural oddity than a real cultural divide (although locals will jokingly treat it that way), and b) strangely infectious, particularly with traffic - you can almost watch the little switch flip insides driver's heads as they cross the river and adjust to the different local style.

What's it like to be an American in Brisbane?

My Canadian friends have kinda liked its quaintness with a touch of busy city crammed into a smallish area. American friends have either mildly liked it (from smaller cities or country areas) or mildly hated it (from larger cities or intense suburbia). Locals (and Australians in general) will give you shit about being an American, which at first will seem intrusive, arrogant, and cruel, but it's largely in jest. Remember, it's pretty much the Australian way to give someone stick about their differences (including in ways that would seem horribly racist or insensitive to Americans), but it is largely done in jest - that's just the way the local sense of humour runs. If you're a little self-deprecating and make light of your own 'differentness', you'll have few problems.

(An American friend of mine used to counter jabs at his accent and origin with "yeah, but at least I'm not Canadian - have you seen those guys?!". Worked wonders for him, and was guaranteed to start a little amusing and good-natured back-and-forth banter with the Canadians he worked with.)

On preview: The Courier-Mail? Left? My God, it encapsulates everything that's wrong with Brisbane (and Queensland). It's a piece of shit that's aimed squarely at a largely-imagined parochial hillbilly 'Queenslandness' from 30 years ago that never really existed anyway - except now it kinda does, because it's been pushing it for so long. Imagine Fox / News Ltd (which it is) adapted to the local lowest common denominator of left-wing bogans instilled with right-wing fears. You could almost read it's recent history as a practice run for the Tea Party.

Which is why nobody I know has bought it for the last 30 years, and why this little hard-left duck is often seen reading the Fin Review, and looks to the ABC & Melbourne Age websites for 'news'…
posted by Pinback at 6:23 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

To clarify

1. What Pinback said about the North/South divide being more of a joke than something serious to worry about is true.
2. The Courier Mail is a piece of shit rag, yes. I didn't say it was left... I said it was right. I think the confusion stems from my saying the Brisbane Times were "more left thank the Courier Mail", which was probably poorly worded.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:59 PM on November 12, 2010

Sorry, yes, on re-reading after posting I realised that I made the wrong inference wrt your comment on the CM - I skimmed, but didn't read, your 3rd paragraph. That's probably a Queensland trait I can't shake ;-).

Dunno if I'd call it "right-wing", though, as I said, I haven't properly read it in years. It does, however, do the peculiar trick of playing to a Left-ish audience by using Right-wing fears. The big problem with this is that there are almost no non-News Ltd papers in existance here (even the free weeklies are mostly Quest i.e. News Ltd), so it largely sets and dominates local news.

So some extra advice: don't read the state newspaper, don't read the free local newspapers, and don't watch news or current affairs from 2 of the 3 commercial FTA TV networks. The water's safe to drink though, and we have a true Universal Health Care system (for the moment ;-).
posted by Pinback at 8:06 PM on November 12, 2010

I hope your move goes well. Any of the places people have mentioned above will be nice to live in and if you don't pick well the first time round you will have 6/12 months to pick your colleagues or Brisbane mefites brains about where else to try.

I love Brisbane dearly but it isn't a fast-moving, metropolitan city that you may be used to. To me this isn't a bad thing. It might drive you crazy. There are a few websites like ourbrisbane.com.au that have upcoming events, restaurant reviews and the like. I love GOMA and QPAC always has interesting things happening.

It'll be hot when you arrive, Jan/Feb is usually the worst. Note that we have no issues complaining about the heat. Expect us to complain about the heat. Yes, we know it happens every year but MAN, it's SO HOT.

As pointed out above we will probably tease and pick at you - hopefully you'll be able to discern between good natured and malicious. Generally it's good natured but, like anywhere, Brisbane does contain asshats.

Memail me if you would like to know anything else or you think of something further down the track.
posted by latch24 at 11:02 PM on November 12, 2010

Native Brisbanite, grew up in West End for 20 years.

Advice on neighbourhoods: If you're wanting something with that urban vibe, then as others have said, West End, New Farm and Paddington are your best choices. New Farm is your best choice for closest proximity to your job (depending on which end you're at), closest proximity to some great but noisy nightclubs and bars (in Fortitude Valley, the next suburb), and an amazing park, farmer's markets and theatre (both at the Powerhouse). West End has more of a run-down vibe to it but has imo the best selection of shops and cafes without the traffic problems that Brunswick St (the main thoroughfare in New Farm) has.

You may be looking at renting a unit or townhouse in those areas, depending on your budget. You're most likely to get central air but may compromise on kitchen size. However, all mid-priced units I've rented in Brisbane have had very workable kitchens that can fit 2 people cooking and getting drinks.

As others have suggested, you may want to consider renting outside "the city". The city is mostly classified by locals as being the CBD and the Valley, which you'll be working in between. If you're looking for a house to rent, as others have suggested it, consider neighbourhoods along well-trafficked public transport lines that are in proximity to one of the suburbs suggested above. Near West End is Highgate Hill, Dutton Park, Annerley, and Yeronga, all with their charms. Other suburbs on the north include Windsor/Newmarket (along a train line), Ashgrove or Red Hill. Another option may be Bulimba in the inner-east, which would be a quick ferry ride to work, and has a very bustling restaurant scene.

My suggestion? Rent an apartment/townhouse in West End, New Farm or Paddington and sign a six-month lease option. That will give you enough time to get settled, explore the town, and find out which area and its transport suits you the most.

You may want to reconsider having central air as a must, even though our summers are quite brutal. If you're renting a house, try compromising on one with fantastic through-way breezes and air-con in one room (eg the bedroom). Electricity is quite expensive here.

Second everything that Pinback said regarding being an American in Brisbane re pace of the city as well as the teasing in good jest. Regarding media, the government-owned ABC network is far better than one might give it credit for.
posted by chronic sublime at 11:13 PM on November 12, 2010

- Nth'ing West End/Paddo/New Farm. The 'Gabba (Wooloongabba) might be worth checking out, it seems to be morphing into the Next Trendy Thing (some very good cafe/restaurants there now).

- Someone else mentioned the CityCycle program, but I think it's worth highlighting again -- particularly if you're going to be in West End. For $60 a year, you can pick up a bike all over town, West End, New Farm (and Paddington, I think?). Return it within a half hour and it's free. If you're in West End, you could probably get to New Farm (other side of the CBD) in a half hour. You could definitely get into town quickly and easily -- even in summer, you could do it in 10 minutes without sweating too much. Worth considering as a transport option.

- Central air is less common here than reverse-cycle air. RC is just fine, it's chilly, and you'll survive -- we have it in our bedroom, but seldom use it because we're tough southsiders (not like those lilly-livered soft northies).

- Brisbanetimes.com.au is a fairfax 'newspaper'. Consequently, it's also biased about everything, often in similar directions to the Courier Mail.
posted by coriolisdave at 2:05 AM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: obiwanwasabi: Just out of curiosity - what has your employer told you about Brisbane? I'd love to hear about how it was sold to you.

I haven't been sold on Brisbane at all. They've been focusing more on the job, which makes sense considering the crazy-ass travel requirements that come with taking it. I pushed for a home base in Sydney (sight-unseen), but my client (I'm a consultant) wants me in Brisbane, when I'm not on the road.

I won't even get to make a visit to Brisbane before needing to accept the job officially, which is a little crazy. My only trip to Australia was a month and a half ago, on business to the NT. I'm pretty confident in assuming that the NT doesn't represent urban/suburban Australia very well at all (unless you're all living what we call "slow news days" as the NT News led me to believe about the Territory - "Horny Ghost Haunts House" was the front page story the day I flew back. Sheesh.).

Trolling around on realestate.com.au, and looking around street view on GMaps, it's definitely looking like West End and New Farm meet my criteria. I'm going to be able to easily afford $450-$550/wk in rent, and what I'm seeing there seems pretty agreeable. Luckily, my company is springing for an agent/consultant to do my rental shopping for me, so this gives me a good chance to get what I'm looking for fairly quickly.

I really do appreciate all the advice here, and will try to get back and mark best answers after I end up making a selection some time in January. Thanks, all.
posted by GamblingBlues at 9:29 AM on November 14, 2010

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