I moved to Brisbane on my mother’s 47th Birthday. I gave her a small, newspaper-wrapped parcel after we unpacked the car. She took off the paper and started to cry.
Brisbane was sticky and foreign. My experiences of the city had been restricted to dentist appointments, and Disney on Ice that Mum treated us to on school holidays. Unlike the heat I was used to, Brisbane’s never seemed to leave me alone. It was everywhere, oppressive, and didn’t cease with rain or when darkness arrived.
I grew up in Roma, 479km west-north-west of Brisbane. Population at the time, 5983. Size of my graduating class, 32. Standing with my Grandmother on the front lawn of her green-trimmed house, her parting advice was that I was to never go out after dark into The Valley… or the city… or anywhere, actually.
A pale-blue unit on Samford Road in Alderley was my first Brisvegas home. There was a frangipani tree out the front, with a resident possum we called Frank. When I moved in, my roommate Shai told me we lived next door to a rock star; Tyrone Noonan, from George. The first night in the flat we heard him practicing through our paper-thin walls and giddy with a brush with Queensland fame, camped out in the bathroom listening to his voice by pressing glasses against the wall. We quickly realised that we didn’t need the glasses at all and after a couple of weeks the novelty of rehearsals at three in the morning wore off.
After a week in the unit I decided to introduce myself to our other neighbour, a red haired Russian woman who called me darling. She was forty-something trying to be twenty-something and suggested that Shai and I meet her son, ‘Speaker’. The next day we rang the buzzer of their flat. Explaining that, “I met your mother at the bus stop and she said we should be friends” in English to a Russian guy via an intercom was difficult.
Living in Alderley, the Brisbane I came to know didn’t extend far beyond the 345 and 390 bus routes. The south-side only existed for me to the edge of West End. As far as I was aware, there lay the end of the city. An excellent reason to change at Central was soon discovered in house parties at a friend’s place on Sherwood Road. They hosted several over a couple of months, all with obscure, colour or letter related themes and a rave cave with a black light. Among the strewn couches were scattered plastic cups and coffee mugs used for the garbage bin punch, or ‘gunch’, as we called it.
On those nights I’d sit on the sagging couch and listen to the party ring out over Toowong. The Wombat’s ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’ would be playing, and I’d watch the sweating bodies move about in the dark, white teeth flashing under the uv globe.