Living and working in Brisbane - a perspective

Category: Ships Log
  Living Brisbane Cover city at night 150x  

March 2015

It has already been 3 months since we sailed (well, mostly motored) up the Brisbane River to the Dockside Marina in Kangaroo Point, close to downtown Brisbane.


During the last three months in Brisbane we've been settling into a "normal" life again. I went back to an 8-5 workday at an office desk (which was quite a change after the cruising life), we made new friends, got a used car and our Australian drivers licenses, learned to drive on the left side of the road, and started to explore the surroundings of our new home. I thought for this blog I'd provide a snapshot of what life in Brisbane is like:

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We are all chatting and having a good time on the largest boat on our dock, which is used for any kind of get together and to store all of our bicycles. We are munching from a table overloaded with savory and sweet treats and Shawn even brought some fine steaks from the barbie1 for our potluck. Of course his feline companion "Mello" follows him and quickly becomes the center of attention. Cats are naturally very graceful and this seems to become even more apparent on a moving boat. Most of us have to hold on to the rail while moving along the upper deck when the city ferry flies by (ignoring the speed limit around the marina), because it produces such a large wake that the boat rocks violently from side to side as if we were out at sea. Mello, however, just swaggers across the rail on the upper deck, jumps down onto the lower level and disappears in the forward hatch without a single lapse, despite the motion of the boat. It seems cats are the better sailors after all. :-) It's a pretty night with a near full moon, a slight breeze, and no mozzies2 so we finish the evening off with a short walk around the tip of Kangaroo Point enjoying the great views of the city lights reflected in the river.

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Nightshot of Mellow, the most admired bachelor at the Dockside marina.

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View of downtown Brisbane at night from Kangaroo point.


The next morning, I enjoy a hot shower at the marina facilities. The manager had a sparky3 come in last week to fix the broken ventilation and also hired a chippy4 to replace the entrance door frame. Termites seem to be a big problem around here, and they munched up a large part of the wooden door frame in the last two years since the facilities were rebuilt after the large flood. Yes, Brisbane has an impressive history when it comes to devastating floods and the last disaster happened only 4 years ago in 2011. The flow of the Brisbane River and its tributaries are managed by a series of dams that were constructed in the 1980s; the pollies5 response to devastating floods that occurred in the 1970s. Wivenhoe Dam, along the Brisbane River, is the largest with a 2.3km long structure. The dams were designed to protect several towns along the river (including Brisbane) from flooding. Unfortunately in 2011 the authorities miscalculated the amount of rain, didn't pre-release enough water, and had to open the spill gates when Lake Wivenhoe was on the verge of overflowing, causing massive flooding throughout Brisbane. According to our friends in the marina who were here during the flood, the water level reached the white caps on the very top of our dock pilings. If the water had gone any higher, the docks, along with the boats tied to them, would have been lost. As it was, many boats tied to moorings or pilings in other spots along the river were lost.

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The closed spillway of Wivenhoe, with the dam at 100% capacity (there is still an extra 90% capacity for flooding though).

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Kangaroos are enjoying the deserted campgrounds around the flooded Lake Wivenhoe behind the dam.


I am sure the rain predictions have improved since then, but it still makes you worry a bit when another crazy weather system with lots of rain is approaching. Like several weeks ago, when two cyclones*, named Marcia and Lam, were heading for Queensland. Cyclone Lam ended up diverting to the northern territory where it landed as a category 3, but Cyclone Marcia grew stronger and made a beeline for the Queensland coast. She landed well north of Brisbane, but hit land as a category 5 cyclone and caused terrible devastation in several towns. By the time Marcia made it to Brisbane, most of her wind was gone and we only experienced heavy rainfall and a few hours of 20-30kt wind gusts. But it really made us realize that for the first time, we are living in a cyclone zone and it is possible we could be hit. Incidentally, Lake Wivenhoe filled close to 100% capacity, but it has an additional 90% storage for floods, so unless the lake level reaches 190%, they can wait to spill the excess water until the river goes back down. Hopefully we won’t be seeing any devastating floods while we are here and the boat will stay safe!

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The so called Cyclone sandwich. Cylone Lam (north) and cyclone Marcia (further east) heading for Queensland.
A local news site ran this headline: "HERE’S the weather forecast for northern Australia: a high chance of chaos
with an 85 per cent chance of get-me-the-hell-out-of-here for at least the next couple of days."

Anyway, where was I? Yes, it was early in the morning and after a good shower, I am back at the boat and Alena is already in the middle of preparing a delicious brekkie6. We have soft boiled eggs, tasty ham, fresh organic sourdough bread (from one of our marina neighbors who moonlights as a baker once a week) and Swiss cheese. The cheese has an interesting story though. We bought it in a local supermarket chain and it was pretty much the same price as most of the other sliced cheeses they had. When we first opened it on the boat Alena pointed out the lovely picture of the Alps on the front of the cheese wrap. First we thought it's kind of funny they use an image of the Alps for their cheese here, but then we turned the package around and read that the cheese is actually made in Germany. This might be the cheese with the largest carbon footprint ever, and it makes you wonder how they can sell a cheese from the other side of the world for the same price as the local cheeses. Anyway this brand of Swiss cheese is now banned from our boat. Later we found out that most European cheeses, including Gouda, Emmentaler, and Havarti are all imported from Europe and that you mostly have to stick to Cheddar, Colby, or Mozzarella if you want local cheese. It's a strange world we live in.

Living Brisbane Breakfast Alena on sailboat Green Panther
Alena preparing our brekkie on Green Panther.

After brekkie I commute to work and it's actually a pretty nice trip. Most of the time I ride my bicycle and on rainy days I take the city cat, a speed ferry operating on the Brisbane River to Uni. The University of Brisbane is set on a hill next to the river and has an exceptionally beautiful campus. The lovely park setting features several large ponds and is home to a variety of birds. The most conspicuous are the snake birds with their long snake-like necks, the ibises which are all over Brisbane, and the large and noisy flocks of white cockatoos. When I finally arrive at work, I am on the 5th floor and open the door to the Australian Centre for Ecogenomics (ACE). We investigate the roles microbes play in several environments, including how gut microbes aid your immune system, which microbes help to reduce the greenhouse gas methane, and ways to optimize microbes to produce biodegradable plastics. The latest project which we are preparing will look into the microbial partners of reef corals and how they influence and support coral health. These days most of my time is filled with data analyses on my computer, so I am back to being a shiny bum7.

Living Brisbane University of Queensland campus pond
The University of Queensland (UQ) features a beautiful campus.

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Ibises taking on the city (painted power transformer). This is
also why you have to be careful when taking a bus in Brisbane,
or walking by the town hall, or even going sailing!!


On most weekends we explore Queensland's coast and the "Hinterland" (see previous blogs). The public transport with buses and ferries is great in the city, but we are happy to have a car for longer weekend trips. The national parks are beautiful, have gorgeous rainforest and waterfall hikes, and are full of interesting wildlife that is very new to us. It's amazing what kinds of treasures are still waiting to be found out there. A new mammal species was recently discovered in Springbrook National Park which is less than an hour drive from Brisbane. The mammal discovered is the black-tailed antechinus**, and is described as a highly sexed mouse-like creature, and apparently the male member of this species is so absorbed by his duty to reproduce that he fertilizes any female within reach until he passes out and dies for love.

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Sulfur-crested cockatoos we spied during a hike at Mt. Coot-tha, just outside of Brisbane.


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A large carpet python hanging out in the trees of the subtropical rainforest in Mt. Tamborine National Park.

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A recently discovered new mammal, the black-tailed antechinus, shares an addiction with David Duchovny. (Photo: Flickr/Alan Couch, CC BY 2.0)

But sometimes you don't need to venture far from home. On January the 26th, Australia Day, the action was only 5 min away from the marina at the Story Bridge Hotel. The hotel was hosting the 34th annual Australia Day cockroach races in their parking lot. Each race starts with the announcement of the names of all 30 cockroach contenders; the names range from very sophisticated to rather foul-mouthed, most playing on the words “cock” and “roach.” A jar containing the cockroaches is brought in with an escort of kilt clad bagpipers. The race starts once all the contenders are brought to the middle of the ring and the jar is lifted. Official roach judges are positioned all around the arena and whichever cockroach reaches the edge first is declared the winner. Every roach is labeled with a little number to make them easier to identify. Luckily you don't have to bring your own home-raised roach and can by a trained race roach at the event for a small fee. The money from the races goes to a local charity and the hotel makes quite some profit too, since the unofficial rules say you have to have a beer during the roach races. The races start every half hour and run for the entire afternoon. It was tough but we tried to uphold the local customs.;-)

Living Brisbane cockroach race flyer Australia Day
Poster announcing the cockroach races 2015.

Living Brisbane cockroach race start
The crowed gets excited as the mc and the judges prepare for the race start.


Living Brisbane australia day Alena Chris
We are upholding local customs.

Finally, we have experienced that Australians are very friendly everywhere you go. During our second week in Brisbane I got lost once in the city returning from a marine store. While I was looking at a map by the bus stop a taxi driver stopped and asked where I needed to go. I told him I was looking to make it to Kangaroo Point and he said, "That's on my way. Today is your lucky day! I just finished my shift, hop in I can give you a free ride home." I was a bit suspicious at first, but the guy seemed legit and very friendly so I took him up on his offer. We chatted a bit on our way and he told me his story, how he came to this country as a kid from Ethiopia, and pretty soon we were at Kangaroo Point. I offered him some money but he just smiled and wished me a good day. Wow!


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Panorama view of our new hometown Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. Part of the Brisbane river is visible on the right.

Our future plans for this year are to explore the islands in Moreton Bay close to Brisbane, see the Great Barrier Reef around Cairns in the North of Australia, and visit our friends and family in good old Europe and the U.S. again. G'day mate!


Australian terms explained:
1Barbie . . . Slang for barbecue, has nothing to do with an undernourished American fashion doll.
2Mozzies . . . Mosquitos, e.g. "These flaming mozzies are sucking me blood dry."
3Sparky . . . an electrician - apparently they make sparks when they work with electricity.
4Chippy . . . a carpenter, since they produce chips when they cut up wood.
5Pollie . . . any kind of politician
6Brekkie . . . slang for breakfast
7Shiny bum . . . an office worker, since they sit on their bottom all day so it gets shiny

*Cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons are all the same thing. The location of the storm determines what it is called. In the Atlantic they are called hurricanes, in the Pacific northern hemisphere, they are called typhoons and in the Pacific southern hemisphere, they are called cyclones.

**Article on the discovery of the black-tailed antechinus:


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