Learning to love Brissie – at last

I have a confession. Ever since I moved to Brisbane from Sydney more than 16 years ago, I’ve been homesick. Lured here by romance, not by place, I have compared the River City at every opportunity — often unfairly — with my harbour- and beach-fringed home. I have complained loudly that Brissie is bland, lacking energy and too close-knit for this big city girl.

But the tide is turning, in part due to personal surrender (if you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em, right?) but more so because Brisbane is looking and behaving more like the ‘new world city’ it claims to be. It is, in marketing parlance, fulfilling its brand promise.

Like any good brand positioning itself for success, Brisbane’s moment in the sun hasn’t happened by chance. Yes, the city is blessed with more than 300 days of sunshine a year but weather is the equivalent of good genes — nothing you can influence. What has been intentional are the likes of Brisbane City Council, Brisbane Marketing, Brisbane Airport Corporation and the Queensland Government laying out visions that point in the same direction and enable Brisbane to shine.

This cohesion is rare, especially when there are political differences at local and state levels. But while southerners might scoff at Brisbanites’ obsession with where everyone went to school, there’s no denying this city’s collegiate approach to doing business. Introductions are easy, ideas are exchanged and stuff gets done. Of course, that’s an over-simplistic view, but there is a spirit of enterprise, anchored by a healthy dose of pragmatism, that ripples throughout Brissie.

Much fanfare has been made about our newest destination darling, Howard Smith Wharves, and anticipation is building for the opening of Queen’s Wharf in 2022. Brisbane needs these hip, new and exciting venues for residents and visitors alike, but they’re just part of Brisbane’s new story.

A city’s success hinges on an alignment of agendas — political, economic, tourism, transport, education, environment, planning and social. And that’s exactly why Brisbane is likely to be a rich case study for place-makers and urbanists in years to come.

The list of projects and initiatives propelling Brisbane is too long for my word limit but a few have sparked my imagination more than others.

A new runway

Brisbane’s new runway is landing next year, bringing new jobs, more direct destinations and more visitors.

Rowland has been working with BAC for several months to spread the word about the new runway and to help Brisbane residents realise we’re connected to our 24/7 airport in more ways than we imagined.

From Middle-East bound watermelons to the lights that make Eat Street sparkle, you would be surprised how many imports and exports share the bellies of our passenger airlines.

Working at capacity in 2035, the new runway will drive $5 billion in annual economic benefit to Brisbane and the surrounding region through employment, tourism and business.

Start-ups and niche sectors

Brisbane seems to have stopped fretting over whether it has sufficient corporate HQs. Instead, it’s confidently attracting the smaller and more enterprising end of town in start-ups, advanced manufacturing and biotech.

Both council and state government initiatives have given flight to a raft of hugely successful businesses (YouFoodz, Maxwell Plus, Tanda and GO1 among them), while lower lease and recruitment costs make Brisbane even more competitive. It also doesn’t hurt that Queensland has Australia’s lowest payroll tax.


Brisbane should be on every international student’s shopping list. With its world-class universities, great weather, festivals, cool cafes and bars, excellent coffee, and proximity to Asia and some of Australia’s best beaches, it ticks a lot of Gen Z boxes. For parents, Brisbane is safe, friendly and clean.

The city offers convenient and affordable student accommodation, thanks somewhat to a council discount on infrastructure charges, while Study Brisbane hosts a giant, annual welcome ceremony for international students.

International students are enriching for the city. They bring a new energy and fresh perspectives and hopefully become global ambassadors.

These are just three pieces of a broad offensive, across multiple touchpoints, which is steadfastly transforming Brisbane. It’s hard to define or sum up in a slogan, but this is how Brisbane is finding its place. And in doing so, I have to admit, it’s helping me find mine.