Brisbane's European History

Brisbane nestles on a bend of the snaking river that has been so important to its development and character. In 1825 the city's position, 27 kilometres from the mouth of Moreton Bay, was chosen for its reliable water supply and because the upstream location would make escape difficult for the repeat offenders destined for the new colony.

Initially the site of the first settlement was established at Redcliffe, on the shores of Moreton Bay. When this proved to be unsuitable it was moved to its current position. Surveyor General John Oxley explored the Moreton Bay area in 1823 and named the Brisbane River, in honour of the Governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825, Major-General Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane.

The Brisbane River combined with other features of the natural environment to determine the shape of the city and the suburbs to follow. On the north-east, the Taylor Range provided a natural boundary and to the south Pine Mountain, Whites Hill, Tooheys Mountain, and Mount Gravatt defined the southern and south-eastern reaches of the city. The swampy land to the north was difficult to cross. Much of it was eventually drained to form the Brisbane Airport, leaving the Boondall Wetlands as a reminder of the former landscape.

The hills and ridges closer to the city were often developed first by wealthy landowners seeking the cooling breezes and views that they offered. This linked with nineteenth-century ideas about the health benefits obtained from being elevated from low-lying wetlands and the unhealthy air coming from them. The extensive ridges were not the exclusive abode of the rich, as worker cottages were spread equally between them and the hollows and flats.

In 1842 the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement was closed and the settlement declared open for free settlers. In 1859 Queensland was proclaimed a colony separate from New South Wales and Brisbane was proclaimed a municipality. From the 1860s immigration to Brisbane flourished as policies to assist immigrants were implemented. This influx hastened the development of the inner-city suburbs and was followed by a boom in migration in the 1880s.

In 1875 the first rail line in Brisbane connected central Brisbane to Indooroopilly. Suburban services increased to open up areas and provide the basis of Brisbane's development through the spreading branches of the railway lines. Tramways, buses, and ferries catered to formerly unmet needs in the suburbs, with the promise of imminent tram services acting as a catalyst for the development of some suburban estates.

Until recent times Brisbane has been subject to major flooding. One of the most devastating of these floods occurred in 1893, coinciding with an economic depression that lasted until 1886.

In 1925, twenty-one local authorities amalgamated passing overall control to the Brisbane City Council. In 1930, when the Great Depression was affecting all aspects of Australian society, Brisbane opened its new City Hall. From these dark times the city emerged to play an important role during the Second World War. General Douglas MacArthur directed the Pacific campaign from headquarters on the eight floor of the AMP building in Queen Street in the city, now known as MacArthur Chambers.

After World War II more people were able to afford cars and this enabled them to live further from public transport and the city. The city and suburbs have grown steadily, benefiting from an influx of post-war immigrants, and Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s. Along the way Brisbane has shed its reputation as a 'big country town' and emerged as a vital Australian city.


Allom Lovell Marquis-Kyle Architects 1994, The Character of residential areas Brisbane – A study for the Brisbane City Council.

Brisbane City Council Heritage Unit June 1995, East Brisbane/Coorparoo Character and Heritage Study, Brisbane City Council.

Brisbane City Council n.d., Heritage Trail Brisbane City Centre Series No.1 12th Edition, Heritage Unit Brisbane City Council.

Greenwood, Gordon & Laverty, John 1959, Brisbane 1859–1959 – a History of Local Government, The Council of the City of Brisbane.

Hogan, Janet 1982, Living History of Brisbane, Boolarong Publications, Brisbane.

Johnston, W. Ross 1982, The Call Of The Land: A history of Queensland to the Present Day, Jacaranda Press.