If you’re like me and love exploring or discovering local history, then a free walking tour in Brisbane could be just what you’re looking for! Why a free walking tour? Well, you can go at your own pace and the Brisbane City Council provides information on the sites. Additionally, this tour contains a historic landmark where can have some lunch and if you’re up for it, a celebratory beer or wine! Without further ado, here are 10 historical sites to visit in Fortitude Valley, all in close proximity to each other.
You can start this walk in any order and here’s a link to a map and some information on sites in Fortitude Valley. I’ve only included the sites I think are interesting and I did this tour with my dog Cookie, as the family was resting at home and I needed to take Cookie for a walk. However, this is a great walk for groups or solo, as there are some fun break points along the way.
1. Fortitude Valley Post Office
Cookie and I started at the Fortitude Valley Post Office, which is on the corner of Ann and Ballow Streets. What’s so interesting about this place? Chinese immigrants figure prominently in Brisbane’s history and in the early 1900s. Here Chinese businessman James Dow translated mail from Chinese into English, which ensured that Chinese immigrants received mail from their home country.
It was also an important site during the great depression of the ‘20s, as the post office was one of Australia’s important distribution centres for welfare payments. in the ’90s the place was converted into Brissie’s popular nightclub, the GPO. Now, however, it’s home to cocktail lounge The Gatsby, which you should check out if you like your cocktails or whisky. However, Cookie and I weren’t up for such activity, so were merely stared for a while, then continued on our free walking tour in Brisbane.
2. The Beat Megaclub
The Beat Megaclub is a nightclub that opened in the 80s’ in Brisbane that was a seminal place in Brisbane’s gay scene. During this time, homosexuality was illegal in Brisbane and gay people lived in fear of arrest. Raids were also frequently undertaken in the valley. Of course, things eventually got better and the ‘Valley’, championed by this building, became the centre for Brisbane’s gay rights during the ‘80s. How cool is that?!
As you can see, the building looks pretty funky too. I haven’t yet been inside. Instead, I just stood across the road and tried to imagine the scene of retro activism, when the seeds of change were planted.
3. Bakery Lane & Bragg’s Bakery – Free Walking Tour in Brisbane
This is definitely a cool locale to visit and one of my favourite on this walk. Another good thing about this part of your free walking tour in Brisbane is that there’s an information plaque at the site, with some good tales to tell. This little laneway is also pretty and contains a food court, so you could stop off here a while if you want to make a day of it! However, at the front of the lane, on the right-hand side, is a two-story brick building that was once an important Brisbane culinary institution.
In 1865 Charles Bragg opened up a bakery here, which was popular, as it ran for nearly 20 years. His daughter then took it over and amazingly, she kept it running for a further 27 years, which was certainly uncommon for a woman at the time.
Keep you’re eye out for the fairy door just inside the lane entrance! As you can see in my video at the end, Cookie seemed to really like this place as he was keen to explore.
4. All Hallows’ School
You can’t really go inside All Hallows’ School but its history has an important place in Brisbane. That aside, it’s certainly a worthy stop on your free walking tour in Brisbane, as the architecture here is pretty incredible. Just a few blocks south of Bakery Lane, All Hallows’ School was originally an industrial school for orphaned girls, founded in 1868 by the Sisters of Mercy (no, not the band). It was here the girls learned how to cook and sew in the hope of finding gainful employment.
Today, the school still provides quality education for young women and the stonework on the walls and the gate is certainly impressive to look at.
5. Centenary Place
Centenary Place is located right across the road from All Hallows’ School. It’s a pretty little park and one that I’ve walked past many times and not paid any attention to, until doing this free walking tour in Brisbane. As a bonus, Cookie seemed to like it and there’s a very pretty spot in the back corner at the statue of famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns.
In the 60s’ and 70s’, Centenary Place was Brisbane’s Speaker’s Corner, where political and Aboriginal rights activists bellowed their messages out to willing listeners on Sunday afternoons. Today, the city’s Speaker’s Corner lies in King George Square. However, this little park is definitely worthy of a stop, at the very least to catch your breath and to bathe in the pretty greenery near the Burns statue (which is exactly what we did).
6. Interwar Commercial Precinct
I honestly didn’t get much out of this visit, as it’s a pretty non-descript-looking building that sits on a busy stretch of road that’s hard to access. However, I’ve included it here as it’s directly on the way to your next stop (you’re heading back into the Valley centre now) and it was an important part of Brisbane’s Chinese history.
So, what happened here? The building was leased by a Chinese merchant company and it was the scene of anti-Chinese riots that broke out across the city. Shops and homes were smashed and pillaged. The government’s response at the time was, shamefully, to limit Chinese immigration. Now, thankfully, times have changed and the Valley is celebrated for its multiculturalism and Chinese community.
7. The Prince Consort Hotel
Now, you’ve got to that part of your free walking tour in Brisbane where you can have a break, have some lunch and/or a tipple. What better place to do it in than The Prince Consort Hotel, which is one of Brisbane’s oldest pubs! This retro-style heritage-listed pub was built in 1888 and at the time it had one of Brisbane’s longest bars.
However, one of the best parts about this hotel, at least for me and Cookie, is that it’s dog-friendly! Cookie and I therefore stepped inside while I had a schooner of hazy IPA and listened to a local band, while Cookie was pampered and fed doggy treats by the bar staff. He’s a cute dog and this always happens! Anyway, this was a nice little break on this tour and while I didn’t have any lunch here (I just wasn’t hungry), I implore you to stop and perhaps even check out the menu here, as there are some good offerings.
8. The Fiveways Building
After you exit the Prince Consort Hotel – presuming you’ve left before dark – turn left out the front entrance, left again, and follow Brunswick Street until you get to the Five Ways Building, just opposite the gaming pub Netherworld (which I’m keen to do a post on soon). This is another one where there’s really not much to see, although the history here is quite interesting and gives you an insight into Brisbane’s shady side.
Once you get to this part of your free walking tour in Brisbane, just stop, look up at the building and think about the following: the building was a regular of the Queensland Police Force, which engaged in prostitution, illegal casinos and alleged drug trafficking and corruption. This illegal activity led to the demise of the National Party Government, which had held power for 19 years.
If this doesn’t interest you, just turn around and head into Netherworld. I’m uncertain if Netherworld has any historical association with Fortitude Valley, but it sounds like a fun place to take a break!
9. The Maternal Child Welfare Clinic
Head back down Brunswick Street the way you came and turn left at Alfred Street. Just a short way along on your right-hand side, you’ll come to the Maternal Child Welfare Clinic. What’s so special about this place? It’s another seminal spot for women and cultural progression in Brisbane. This humble-looking abode was built in 1924 following the Labor Government’s Maternity Act.
The idea was to decrease child mortality rates and increase the birth rate, as a virile society meant a strong economy. The building was Queensland’s first maternal and infant training centre.
On this part of your free walking tour in Brisbane – from the Prince Consort Hotel to the Fiveways building, the clinic and on to the next destination – you’ll likely see a lot of colourful, down-and-out types, even in the middle of the day. They’re a harmless lot though and Cookie loved this part of town, as there was all manner of food scraps on and around the streets, so I had to watch what he ate!
10. Valley Presbyterian Church and School
Head on past the station, over towards the old McWhirter’s Department store, turn left and head down to your final destination, the Valley Presbyterian Church and School. Here you’ll find the Valley’s first Presbyterian church, built in 1885. Alongside this, there’s a Sunday School, built in 1906, where Presbyterian children were given their religious education.
The good news today is the building’s still intact, but inside there’s a Holey Moley putt putt golf club, with karaoke and a bar. Another fine break spot on your free walking tour in Brisbane! This one I haven’t been to yet, but I did recently visit a Holey Moley putt putt golf course in the CBD, which was fun.
So there you have it, a free walking tour in Brisbane with 10 sites for you to visit, several of which are great spots to stop off at and enjoy some food, drink and relaxation time in the city. The best part about this walk is that it’s all within roughly a kilometre radius, so there’s not too much walking to do, particularly if you take your time. Saying that, it’s probably about 3 kilometres of walking in all, so keep that in mind if you’re not able-bodied.
This walk is also great to do with your dog, as Cookie enjoyed the action in this part of town. Lots to smell and see!
Is there any important/interesting historical sites I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below, on social media, or shoot me an email.