Observations of Life in Brisbane

These are just a collection of random observations about life in Brisbane. They are in no particular order, nor should they be used to try and get an idea of what it is like here in SE Queensland.


Australian drivers by and large are some of the most disciplined and complacent drivers in all the countries I've been in. They seem to stick to speed limits like no other driver nation does - and Queensland has some desperately low limits for some of the rather good roads we have here. 110kmh (69mph) is the absolute top, with 100kmh (62mph) being the common limit on single and multi-lan highways. And with ferocious policing of the speed limits by authorities obsessed with the fallacy that "speed kills", rather than the more accurate "inappropriate use of speed kills", it's small wonder that drivers here are so careful. Makes freeway driving relatively relaxing though, as everyone is driving at more or less the same speed. It just takes ages to get anywhere in this huge state. And begs the question why anyone would want to own a European car, apart from the pose value of not driving the local Ford or Holden.

That was the good news. The bad news is lengthy and considerable, which shouldn't come as a surprise.

The first one is that drivers have no concept of braking distance, with quite often a car length at 100kmh being all that separates vehicles. Leading to lots of "coming togethers". It also means that we can sit for ages at junctions because drivers don't know how to match their speeds pulling out. Or drivers pull out at junctions in front of oncoming vehicles, especially the larger ones, at speeds and distances which usually end up in rubber smoke and horns blaring. I pity any Aussie driver who wishes to drive in Europe - they'll end up in hospital before the end of the first day.

Indicators are used as "get out of the way, I'm moving over" lights, rather than "I would like to move over please"; this assumes that they use indicators at all. I'm continually amused by the people who indicate right in a lane which can only possibly turn right - I mean, which other way can you possibly turn? Sadly this only encourages the belief that an indicator is a right, not a request. Friends have pointed out to me many times that it is actually against the law not to indicate - somehow indicating right for a road that can only go right seems completely pointless to me, as it's not giving any extra information to other road users. So it encourages the habits I started this paragraph with. Oh dear.

Getting back to the "speed kills" propaganda promulgated by the state authorities and police here, this is just a sticking plaster on the fundamental problem. Australia, like the US, still has some of the lowest priced petrol in the world. One litre costs around $1.40 - when I arrived in 1998 it was around 60c. And this causes an issue. The average car in Australia is a 4 litre Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore. So talking around 180kw (245bhp). The average European drives some Golf GL, probably 2 litre, half the power. And half the performance. Yet Europeans have busy roads, congestion, higher speedlimits, etc. Yes, you've guessed where I'm getting to. Aussies are not trained to handle these high performance "average family cars". Combined with not understanding the performance, the handling, breaking distance, it's no wonder that there are accidents. If the authorities would admit the driving tuition doesn't teach people how to drive these cars, and actually put some grading in place, or more indepth tuition, then there would be less chance of people banging into each other.

Part of the driving problems here is that people have grown up with huge open spaces, not much traffic, and big wide roads. With the cars being so powerful, and mostly automatic gear boxes, it encourages a very lazy inattentive driving. Translating this into city driving, it means mayhem. There is no concept of making "good progress". Traffic lights go green, and in the next 20 seconds or so, Bruce might just get around to starting his car away before they turn red again.

I could also mention the complete lack of clue how to handle roundabouts ("no dear, that is a giveway sign, not a stop sign"). I think the authorities are watching though, as it seems more and more junctions are converting from roundabouts (good traffic flow) to traffic lights (usually badly phased, and leading to congestion). Case in point (late 2007) was when the authorities converted a very congested but functioning roundabout at the junction of the Brisbane Airport road with the M1 "Gateway Motorway" to having full time traffic lights. The delays at peak hour have gone up an order of magnitude, but the authorities still believe their own propaganda that the junction is now "safe and free flowing". What nonsense.

As a keen cyclist, I could also mention the fact that Brisbane drivers believe that cyclists only need 6 inches of clearance when passing; I'm not sure what other cities are like, but Brisbane definitely is not cycle friendly. Which is a great shame, given the glorious weather. But that is the council's fault. Obsessed with roads and smelly unreliable buses, they ignore the mistakes they are making and many European cities have learned from. There is only one other city in the world that has a successful public bus mass transit system - and the city council seems determined to destroy everything in its path to make Brisbane the second. If they'd only get rid of their "not invented here" arrogance and actually look and see how European cities have solved their transport problems, we'd get light-rail/trams back in Brisbane. Clem Jones' biggest mistake. Okay, not more ranting about environmental matters.

I could also mention the most annoying habit of all, causing huge traffic jams to slow down and look at the mobile speed camera or the car parked at the roadside while the owner peers under the bonnet. For the former, given that it is so rare for anyone to actually exceed the limit of 100km on our 4-lane freeways, slowing to 80kmh to pass a camera which triggers at 110kmh seems ludicrous. But that's what happens. How many times have I sat in 15km to 20km long jams caused by a police speed camera. And the camera is still there, even though traffic is moving past at 30kmh. Of course, the police are highly irresponsible for causing this, but their community care concept in Australia is very different to what I was accustomed to in the UK. Such a shame.

Other crazy things include the siting of mobile speed traps on 100kmh limited roads during busy periods, causing 15-20km of traffic jams as cars slow to look at the camera (did I mention that already?). In other countries drivers are fined for causing hold ups on roads, but here the authorities are above the law in this regard. And how they expect to catch anyone exceeding the limit in a traffic jam is beyond me. At least the radio stations report where the mobile cameras are, so any traveller can build that planning into any journey, especially during the busier periods.

The final, and most bizarre thing I've come across, is that the cars have no annual road worthiness test (MOT in the UK) - at least in Queensland. You only need to prove road worthiness when you sell your car. So once the banger is on the road, it can fall to pieces, on the road, and unless the police are bored and stop you for driving a wreck, you an drive your wreck as much as you want, not matter how much of a danger you are to others. Crazy. At least an annual roadworthiness will fix all the dodgy lights, bald tyres, and wrecks that are trundling around the roads at the moment. I wonder what lame excuse the authorities and so called road safety organisations are using to justify this.

Renting a House

Thankfully I'm no longer in the rental market having finally bought my own four walls in September 2005. A combination of Foreign Investment Review Board barriers, buoyant housing market, and collapsing US share market in 2001 conspired to prevent me from purchasing anything before then. Oh, and my job really has to take some of the blame too, given I spend about 40% of my time overseas.

But oh, renting a house is an experience in itself. I'd been through 6 rental properties in Brisbane by the time I had purchased my own place. The agencies definitely aren't too interested in this side of the property market, given the level of indifference and customer unfriendliness I endured in the 7.5 years I was renting houses. The worst of all was me turning up as a single person and wanting to rent a house, in its own ground. The agents would send me lists of units (apartments) or townhouses (basically semi-detached pseudo apartment). I'd explain I wanted a house, on its own ground, and the response was that I'd be better off in a unit. Hello, who is the customer? Never mind questions about affording something so "extravagent", providing endless references, credit histories, etc.

At least tenants are protected by the Residential Tenancies Authority, and the deal here is as good for the tenant as it is for the landlord. Mind you, having had two houses sold right under me, I'm not so sure. But that was the only justifiable way a lease could be broken by the landlord (apart from bad tenancy).

All in all it is better to own. The FIRB is just a nonsense to stop foreigners buying up the housing which most Australians can't afford to buy anyway, as the house prices are so much higher than the average income compared with many other developed economies.