With its proximity to salty waters, air of faded grandeur and sense of infinite optimism, there is something almost Venetian about the Brisbane suburb of Teneriffe which celebrates its history with the Teneriffe Festival each year.
Once a bustling centre of commerce and now the stamping ground of trendy new urban dwellers, fragments of Teneriffe’s history continue to burst through the contemporary surface.
You can smell the history here – in the scent of lanolin which emerges, on hot days, from the old woolstores which have long since been converted to modern apartments. You can see it – in the vast warehouses and the grand old homes once owned by captains of industry. And you can hear it – the sound of the river lapping against the wharves.
These tangible reminders of a bygone area all collide in the quirky landmark sculpture known simply as ‘Gloria’ who presides over a prime area of river frontage. This larger than life-sized silver merino is named after the late Gloria Grant, who co-authored the historical book Reflections on New Farm. The modern day merino is thus a whimsical symbol of this precinct’s prosperous past.
Gloria is one of the last ports of call on an occasional tour I took in November. A walking tour of historical Teneriffe, run by adult education specialists Bright Learning, is led by local historian Gerard Benjamin, who not only possess a quick wit and encyclopedic knowledge of the area, but has a skill for storytelling that brings Teneriffe’s fascinating history to life.
Bright Learning’s next A walking tour of historical Teneriffe takes place on Saturday 12 April (9am to 11.30am). It’s a superb way to spend a morning, whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or simply the lives of ordinary people living in extraordinary times. (But if this is the sort of thing that interests you, you’ll need to get your skates on, for there are only a few remaining tickets.)
For example, Gasworks Plaza, which is technically in Newstead but forms an important part of this tour, is now a thriving hub of restaurants, bars, cafes and boutiques. In a past life, however, it was the site of a large gasometer, the framework of which remains and is lit up every Friday and Saturday night.
Back in those days, coin-operated gas meters were in operation and someone had to collect the coins. ‘Among the businesses which existed there was a brothel and the coin collector had to time his visit so he didn’t run into anyone he knew,’ Benjamin explains.
Benjamin is equally adept at extracting the ironic and interesting from contemporary life too – pointing out at the Stongehenge-like Gasworks Plaza a sign which forbids activities such as skateboarding or bike-riding but also specifies ‘no personal training’ too. Such elements hint at the clashes that can occur between residents living in converted industrial areas and other users of their public spaces.
The meeting point for the start of A walking tour of historic Teneriffe is the Bright Learning headquarters. These are themselves situated in the 102-year-old Carson Winchombe Woolstore where ‘prominent squatters and graziers came to collect fat cheques for their valuable wool clip’, a staffer explains.
Other points of interest include the Mareeba Flats (Brisbane’s first block of flats), the railway line and sidings along Macquarie Street and The Nouvelle apartment complex which was built on the site of one of Brisbane’s worst woolstore fires. Most walkers take advantage of photo opportunities with Gloria and take extra time to explore some of the area’s groovy cafes and restaurants.
Benjamin is co-author of the local best-seller Reflections on New Farm and contributes a monthly history column in the New Farm Village News magazine. (Be sure to ask him about how exploring his own family history uncovered a previously-unpublished manuscript.)
As well as A walking tour of historical Teneriffe, Bright Learning offers a range of other interesting courses, such as storytelling, gardening with herbs and tea mixing, brewing and tasting.