We love getting out and about in Brisbane and I especially love finding something new I never knew existed. Brisbane Open House gives you the chance to explore the city and discover such a gem. It gives the kids a sense of their city and if you plan your itinerary with the kids in mind, it is super fun.
Spread over one weekend in early October, there are scores of architectural wonders usually off-limits to the public, open to exploration. Some you have to book tours to but the majority you simply turn up to. We’ve been doing it now since it started in 2010 and have loved the buildings and experiences we’ve been privy to.
On the Saturday, Thomas, my mum and I made a brief visit to Wesley Mission’s Wheller Gardens in Chermside. Wheller Gardens was the first church-run institution for the elderly in Australia. My grandfather lives here and I have visited many times. However, I’ve never had a chance to see inside ‘The Sanctuary’, the church on the grounds where my grandmother’s ashes were buried.
I use the past tense ‘were’, as the area has recently been converted to a child care centre which is obviously not open to the public. Gran’s ashes were buried under a bush, but in the conversion, it looks like they were dug up and disposed of, so now a plaque will be erected on the brickwork of the church. For Open House, the retirement village also displayed a fully restored 1930’s cottage. Thomas enjoyed poking around the small rooms and Mum and I marvelled at the simplicity of the place.
There is a certain building in Bowen Hills that every Brisbanite knows on sight. The Old Museum has been on my Open House must-see list for years. But until this weekend it had been difficult to make time for it. This year, it was time to cross it off our list.
Built in 1891, this is one of the most iconic and oldest buildings in Brisbane. I had vague memories of giant dinosaurs, hovering whales and grand staircases from when I visited the museum as a child (and it relocated in 1986 so I must have been fairly young) but otherwise the building remained a bit of a black hole. I was hoping this visit might jog my memories and help create some for my children too. They enjoyed touring through the eerie rooms and staircases, especially in the basement, but what they seemed to enjoy most was discovering a huge plant grotto out in the heritage listed gardens.
On the Sunday, we had planned a full morning, starting at the Spring Hill Reservoirs. This is a Brisbane treasure that I’m sure most residents don’t know even exists. The hut-like structures behind the Old Windmill which most Brisbanites have probably paid no heed to, hide large caverns once used to store the city’s water supply. Divided into rooms by arches and columns, the place looks a little like the Batcave.
It certainly was a great place to photograph while the boys inadvertently tested their echos. To be honest, this is an untapped resource that Brisbane City Council should be making more use of. I know they do opera there but it would be a fabulous place for all types of concerts, parties, weddings – anything. Stephen was hankering to use it for his own private photography tour.
The Old Windmill was also open to the public. You couldn’t climb to the top without a pre-booked tour but you could have a peek-a-boo inside the base. There were some interesting pictures of prisoners working the treadmill, Stephen explaining to Thomas that it was a prisoners’ version of a lock-in contract at the gym.
Next it was off down the hill to Roma Street Station, boys rolling all the way. (It was grassy and steep and they are boys, need I say more?!) Queensland Rail are restoring the original station building and although it wasn’t particularly interesting for the kids, there were lots of fun activities on offer. The long distance tilt train happened to be on one platform. The boys wanted to get a photo standing by the end and a spontaneous guard allowed them into the cab, uneasily adding that they ‘not touch anything’ in case they sent it to Rockhampton a little ahead of schedule.
Queensland Rail also ran a surprise (or vaguely advertised) steam train around the Ekka loop too. It was Connie’s second steam train ride in just four months! She’ll be starting to think steam trains are the de-rigueur of transport in Brisbane.
As no one had had a meltdown yet, it was time to test our stamina and don a helmet at the Roma Street fire station. We’ve done this for a few years as the boys love the equipment, buttons and lights on the shiny engines. However, coming at lunch time was so much less chaotic than visiting first thing in the morning. We pretty much had the engines to ourselves.
Finally, with exhausted children in tow and memories in the bank, it was time for our final adventure – the bus home.