The Brown Snake: the Brisbane River over the decades

In two hundred years (since European discovery) the river has been the backbone of the city of Brisbane. Today it is used and enjoyed for trade, tourism, transport and pleasure.

By QUT Digital Collections

Bain, Jack (1964) Story Bridge, Brisbane from M.V. Waiben, August 1964

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) acknowledges the Turrbal and Yugara as the First Nations owners of the lands where QUT now stands. We pay respect to their Elders, lores, customs and creation spirits. We recognise that these lands have always been places of teaching, research and learning. QUT acknowledges the important role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people play within the QUT community. 

Aerial view, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane (1999) by Iraphne R. ChildsQUT Digital Collections

First Nations people

The history of Indigenous Australian presence in and around the Brisbane River dates back thousands of years.   They had a deep connection with the land and waterways and lived sustainably, utilizing the resources provided by the natural environment.

Different sections of the Brisbane River were known by various names within the local Indigenous communities. 
Meanjin: Refers to the area around what is now known as the city of Brisbane. It is the Turrbal word for the area and has cultural significance.
Maiwar: Another name for the Brisbane River, used by the Yugera people, who also had a presence in the region.
Toowong: this name was used for a section of the river, which may have been associated with the Indigenous communities living there.

Observatory 5 1862, John Watson, 1862, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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South Brisbane Coal Wharves, Poul C. Poulsen, 1894, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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Looking along the Brisbane River towards South Brisbane, Jack Bain, 1954, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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From water for drinking and bathing and food supply for the early convicts and settlers to bustling water transport the Brisbane River has always been a focal point of the city, although through the many floods it has also brought regular devastation to homes, businesses and other construction such as bridges.

Aerial view of Brisbane River and City taken from Torbreck Apartments, December 1965 (1965) by Jack BainQUT Digital Collections

Over time, as European settlers arrived, they brought their own names and divisions for different sections of the river. This included the creation of "reaches," which are stretches of the river with specific names. One of these reaches is Town Reach.
This section of the river runs through the city center, historically significant for early settlement.   From the main port of Brisbane to one of the main restaurant and leisure sites along the Brisbane River Town Reach has changed a lot.

Looking along Petrie Bight with the old Eagle Street Wharves towards Brisbane City from the Story Bridge, December 1965 (1965) by Jack BainQUT Digital Collections

Looking along Petrie Bight with the old Eagle Street Wharves towards Brisbane City from the Story Bridge, March 1970 (1970) by Jack BainQUT Digital Collections

Looking along Petrie Bight with the old Eagle Street Wharves towards Brisbane City from the Story Bridge, February 1973 (1973) by Jack BainQUT Digital Collections

Although cross river ferries, larger sail and steam boats and public transport via trams, trains and buses were more common in the 19th and 20th century with the proliferation of cars there has been an increase in bridges and replacements to bridges across the Brisbane River. The following images are some but not all bridges and the list of pedestrian, rail and vehicular bridges are growing all the time.

Grey Street Bridge, (William Jolly Bridge) Brisbane, Jack Bain, 1954, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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Walter Taylor Bridge (Indooroopilly Bridge), Jack Bain, 1962, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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Second permanent Victoria Bridge, Brisbane River, Jack Bain, 1962, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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Merivale Railway Bridge, Brisbane River, Jack Bain, 1978, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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Views of the Story Bridge, Brisbane, Jack Bain, 1954, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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Captain Cook Bridge Construction, Brisbane, Jack Bain, 1969, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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Construction of original Gateway Bridge, now called "The Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges", Cynthia O'Gorman, 1985, From the collection of: QUT Digital Collections
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Credits: Story

Brisbane River - Wikipedia


Many of the photos for this story come from the Bain/O'Gorman collection although the Black and white images are from the Dr Love photo album and some others are from Asia Pacific Images: 1970s to 1990s Brisbane sub collection

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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