The Brisbane Series: Part IV

Words by Bronte Coates

Published on August 25, 2011


In the lead-up to the launch of our first journal, Home is where, we will each be sharing a piece of writing anchored around our first experiences of Brisbane. This piece comes from Bronte, who moved to Brisbane from Mackay in 2003.

I grew up in Mackay, a town where sugar cane ran rampant across hillsides. Brisbane meant waking at 4am, leaving the dogs behind and driving to a servo where I would invariably eat hot chips. Brisbane meant visiting my grandparents and their garden blooming with acidic fruit that dropped like rainfall for my grandfather to squeeze every morning of his life.

The year I turned fifteen we didn’t drive home again.

At the time I secretly thought the most thrilling thing about living in the city would be public transport; I was terrifically excited to ride a train. Other exciting Brisbane activities included shopping in centres that had more than one level, and didn’t just circle around in a loop, and eating at Sizzlers.

Now, many years later, a Sizzlers restaurant is soon to open in my hometown. I read about this endeavour in the local paper, ‘Mackay, your dreams are coming true – you will no longer have to travel for four hours to feast on an all-you-can-eat buffet’. I can only assume they are referring to the dreams of the 935 people who like the page, ‘I LOVE our Local Sizzlers!… LOL jk, I live in Mackay.’

When packing up my room I’d dug up some old Girlfriend magazines and read an article called ‘How to Survive your First Day at a New School’. The writer urged me to view this experience as a fresh start. Don’t let your past shape you! Be yourself, how you want yourself to be! This seemed like very good advice. In Mackay, I was known for being conscientious and responsible. In Brisbane, I would be cool.

On the day I arrived to stay in Brisbane, I had a nose stud and owned a necklace that said ‘hot’ in diamantes. I’d attempted to dye my hair blue and the result was unexpected and vaguely distressing. Even after washing my hair the suggested six to eight times my particular shade of ‘blue’ (please read, dirty-grass-stain-green) was unwilling to leave. It clung to my hair in tight coils.

Now, many years later, I realise I had no chance of pulling it off.


In our upcoming journal we asked contributors to write pieces that finished the phrase, ‘Home is where’. The response has been fantastic (plug, plus, plug) and surprisingly varied. Topics range from philosophical musings on the narrative of home, to haunted houses, to the simple answer: Home is where you live. One recurring theme that struck a chord with me was that home is a place you leave.

I feel the narrative of ‘a return to home’ surrounds us. This is not just a story found in literature but also through everyday images such as advertisements and popular music. With such an emphasis on return, I think I’d forgotten that you have to leave first.

This past week, every time I’ve sat down to write about moving to Brisbane, I end up describing my hometown. Even now, after living here for nearly a decade, I continue to judge this city by what it is not. It is not Mackay.


I moved in to Garling Street during summer. Sweat dripped from me as I unpacked clothes, when I covered the broken air conditioning unit with a red cloth, and when I assembled the steel rods of my bed. To this day I still can’t open the top cupboard.

My room juts out from the house and overhangs the back garden like a bust on a ship. An incinerator sulks down the slope, under the shade of a mango tree. One of my housemates swears to me she found some mangoes before I moved in but if that’s true then she ate them all before I ever saw any.¬†Over January when the water poured in buckets from the sky, our grass wouldn’t stop growing. It brushed against my hipbones as I treaded a trail to the hills hoist and back. Dropped pegs were swallowed whole and the bottoms of my sheets were dip-dyed by the stains.

In this house I learnt to bake bread from scratch. When I knead dough I jump a little to push my whole weight onto the soft mass of flour and yeast. This is probably not safe practice in a house that visibly shakes when we pull dance moves in the living room. A cupboard once fell off the wall. The whole building slants downwards; eggs slide to the pool of oil at the back of the frypan and visitors almost fall off the toilet. When baking cakes one edge always has a thick lip like it’s been in a brawl.

We buy Dilmah leaf tea in bulk from the supermarket, brew it in a yellow, stainless steel kettle and take it out to the deck. A pool shimmers over the fence to my left, in summer just a glittering mirage. Past our garden I can see the dips and layers of Paddington, hills laden with brick-roofed housetops and lethargic tree branches touching leaf-tips to each other across the wide roads. When you’re up close and personal with Brisbane it’s easy to forget how beautiful these hills can be but from my deck, I see just fine.

At the end of this year I’ll probably move away.