Documenting the growth of Brisbane

Select the small image to view the high resolution version and then you can scroll through the entire panorama.

The Jagera and Turrbal Aboriginal clans lived around the Brisbane River, with its ample supply of fresh food sources, for many thousands of years before the area was ‘discovered’ by Surveyor General John Oxley in 1823. Oxley quickly realised the site’s potential, naming it after the Governor of New South Wales, Thomas Brisbane.

Europeans settled in the region when the first Moreton Bay Penal Colony was built at Redcliffe in 1824 and then moved to the site of Brisbane’s present day central business district in 1825 after officials realised the natural bend in the river provided an excellent defensive barrier.

Free settlement didn't begin in the Brisbane region until 1842 as the Government initially wanted the convict area kept isolated from the wider community. The usual assortment of entrepreneurs and ex-convicts quickly followed and a town began to grow around the river. By the late 1880s, Brisbane was the main centre of commerce and the capital of the colony of Queensland and it was beginning to develop its own distinctive architecture and culture.

Early photographs of Brisbane in 1860, which at that time was being promoted by immigration agents as Queensland’s thriving metropolis, reveal the true state of affairs. The town was little more than a tumble down assortment of shacks with banana plots in back yards and unmade streets, lacking guttering.

The power of the developing science of photography was to show a scene as it appeared to the photographer. One of the best ways to get an overall impression of what Brisbane actually looked like at various stages in its development is to study panoramic images which present a continual view over a wide area.

The environment as organised by human agency is largely determined by social, economic, and cultural factors acting upon the natural surroundings. The Brisbane River, with its sinuous curves, breaks and shapes the cityscape and has been central to so much of the city’s history. The disastrous impact of the river in flood, the construction and destruction of bridges built to cross it, and the growth of the unique urban landscape that emerged in what is now the central business district and environs, is a story documented in this exhibition.

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