The History of Brisbane


The history of Brisbane really starts much further back than most people talk about, as the indigenous people of Australia arrived about 30,000 years ago, so historians tell us. They continued to live here right up until white men also came to live in the area. According to early records, there were around 5000 indigenous people living in the area at that time.

In 1770 Captain Cook sailed up the Queensland coast naming various areas along the way. While he named many of the islands, and other areas he saw on his way up the coast on the way, he never actually landed in Brisbane.

As he passed by the islands that sit in the ocean out from Brisbane, he named Cape Morton and Morton Bay after Lord Morton who was the president of the Royal Society.

© Bert Knottenbeld | Flickr - Moreton Bay Shore

The next part of the modern part of the Brisbane city history began in 1799 when Matthew Flinders sailed up the coast from Port Jackson. He was searching for a usable river around the Brisbane area.

Flinders sailed into Moreton Bay but unfortunately he missed Brisbane. The history of Brisbane tells us that it was Woody Point in Redcliffe where Matthew Flinders landed instead. This is the lovely spot in Redcliffe city, which is about an hour out of Brisbane, shown in the picture below.

© Bert Knottenbeld | Flickr - Woody Point Looking out towards Port Brisbane

He had been hoping to discover the Brisbane River but landed not far away on the Redcliffe Peninsula. He also landed at Coochiemudlo Island (a great fishing spot these days). Flinders also discovered and named the Pumicestone River now called Pumicestone Passage, another popular fishing area.

This is located north of Brisbane, and is the passage that separates Bribie Island from the mainland. It runs between Deception Bay in the south and Caloundra in the north. Cook had predicted that there would be a major river&coming from the inland, around what was later spelled Moreton Bay, due to misspelling at the time in a publication about his voyage.

Eventually the Brisbane River was discovered by John Oxley, and the site was chosen for a new northern settlement. Originally Brisbane was founded in 1824 as a penal colony, for the less rehabilitated criminals of New South Wales. But the prison only lasted 14 years before the land began to be sold for private settlement.

The new town was named after Sir Thomas Brisbane who was governor of New South Wales at the time of the founding. This photo below is of Newstead House, which sits on the river, at a city suburb now also named Newstead. It is Brisbane's oldest remaining building of a home built by a 'regular' settler.

History of Brisbane, Newstead farm

©  eGuide Travel | Flickr - Newstead House

The economy of Brisbane grew quickly, owing to the fertile land and easy access to the river for transportation. It has continued to be the lifeblood of this city, and in recent years the river has again become popular as a means of transport. Taking a ride on the Brisbane river is again popular, and a means of transport that the average person can use.

When the people began to feel the desire to form a separate government, one that was more in touch with the workings of the northern settlement, changes began to happen. In 1851 citizens started discussing separation, and in the famous laid-back Queensland style, eventually got around to getting independence from New South Wales eight years later.

Queen Victoria gave her approval for a new state in 1859, and was rewarded with having the state named after her. The history of Brisbane now began a new course, as capital of the new state, which required revenues. The photo here is of the Old Customs House. Where would we be without the tax collectors!

History of Brisbane, old Customs House
History of Brisbane, The Old Governor's mansion

Amongst the early settlers at that time, were my great-great grandparents and their children. My great grandfather also came at this time on his own, and later married the daughter of the couple mentioned. These early settlers left the mother country in a quest for a better life in Australia. Very courageous.

The government brought through various land initiatives, and this helped to create crop expansion. In addition the discovery of valuable mining metals helped the state of Queensland to outgrow its population.

History of Brisbane, old Commisariat building

© Drew Sonne | Flickr - Commissart

The photo above is also of one of the oldest buildings in Brisbane, the Commissariat. Once a government storage depot, it is now a museum. The sudden demand for workers saw immigration become a major source of population increase.  A influx of population eventually let to a lot of conflict, but the state had yet to prepare itself for the cultural clashes that would ensue.

This eventually led to one of the defining moments of the young Queensland's history, which was the sheep shearers strike in 1891. This served to unite multicultural laborers across Queensland and started a revolution of labor politics in the state. Sadly, when jobs started to decline and the Australian Federation enacted in 1901, all foreign workers were deported.

The history of Brisbane is a story of pioneering explorers and settlers, and their determination to run their own affairs locally. This photo here features the Old Queensland Governor's Mansion.

History of Brisbane, old Parliament building
History of Brisbane, mansion

Along with trying to find its cultural identity the new state hit some natural road blocks on the way. In one year alone there were two major fires and a flood. Building the city on a flood plain is a problem Brisbane still faces today, and the city has been working on a plan to deal with this in future.

These two events combined to completely destroy the downtown area. The history of Brisbane and the state of Queensland saw one of the biggest disasters, caused by man-made problems.

The introduction of cane toads to try and control sugar cane pests threatened to destroy local flora and fauna. Without natural predators the toads flourished and started to encroach on native species habitats and food supply. The toads have continued to flourish and are still a problem in areas around the state. 

History of Brisbane, old governor's house

© Oliver Huvenne | Flickr - Old Government House

But the history of Brisbane is one of overcoming setbacks, and Brisbane was officially proclaimed a city in 1902. The city and state continued to thrive on the sugar cane, mining, and wool industries. With this growth, the inhabitants started to spread farther into the outback.

This presented the state with new problems as to how to maintain access to the farmers and miners who were in the interior. Queensland and Northern Territories Air Services or Qantas, was established to serve the remote communities of the Queensland outback. Another invention born from necessity was the Royal Flying Doctor service which began in 1928.

Queensland continued to grow. However for years it did not reach the international status of Sydney and Melbourne, and became was considered a country cousin. Brisbane was seen as a large country town, instead of an exciting major city, hence the ironic nickname of Brisvegas.

Expo '88 changed all that. Held in Brisbane it began a new era of multiculturalism, splendor, tourism, and introduced the city to the world. What an exciting time that was for our city.

History of Brisbane, Nepalese Temple and Expo 88

© Ben | Flickr - Nepalese Temple on South Bank

The influx of visitors from all over the world led to a definite change in the way people thought about the world and the city came of age!

Many of the buildings that were built for Expo can still be seen. The Nepalese temple at South Bank, seen in the picture above, is one such building.

The increase in tourism has helped to increase the level of attention the city attracts.

The history of Brisbane since that time has been steady transition to a truly international city, which still manages to maintain the laid-back sub-tropical atmosphere that originally attracted immigrants here.

Over the recent years Queensland has led the way in attracting tourists and migrants from within Australia and you know if people within Australia want to be here then it's a place you can't afford to miss. 


Checkout These Pages For Things To See Around Brisbane

Southbank Parklands are a play ground in the center of the city.

Brisbane river cruises offer a relaxing way to see the city.

The Gold Coast is a great day out for surfing & swimming.



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