I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane who loves exploring quirky places with my dog. Join me on my quest to find, experience, and share fun things to do and interesting places to go.
Published March 9th 2019
Discover Brisbane's art deco past
Do you love the glamour of art deco and appreciate the history of vintage cars. Well, now there's a wonderful way to experience both by taking a Brisbane Art Deco Driving tour in an authentic, 1928 classic Chrysler vintage sedan car called Bonnie.
What is Art Deco? In the roaring 20s, art deco was a signature style - captured in art, design, fashion and architecture. Think the glamour of Gatsby, the signature bob of Louise Brooks, the metallic sparkle of New York's Chrysler Building and you get a taste of this much-loved era.
Fast forward 100 years and the fascination and fashionability of Art Deco has never lost its sparkle. Like the rest of the world, Brisbane was captured by this creative global trend and many of our local homes, commercial buildings and landmarks give a glimpse into our very own art deco past.
Taking the Tour I stepped into the bygone era of the 1920s with the guidance of my Brighton based tour host and driver, Moe Akgun who along with his partner Samantha, an art historian, run Brisbane Art Deco Tours. I was greeted by Moe, who was suitably dressed in very debonaire 1920s attire, at one of Brisbane's most popular outdoor spaces, New Farm Park.
After a warm welcome, I stepped inside the comfy back seat of beautiful Bonnie the Chrysler, and we were on our way. When I say Bonnie, imagine the getaway car of gangsters Bonnie and Clyde. She has been wonderfully restored and features interiors from designer Catherine Martins' collection. Catherine you might remember was the costume designer on the movie, The Great Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby Phot courtesy Penguin Books Australia
I was surprised to learn that Bonnie hails from Sydney and was once part of the private car collection of former politician and Liberal Leader, Dr John Hewson.
The Sights Our tour started at the base of Brunswick Street, outside New Farm's 'Coronet Flats' building - a classic example of art deco architecture. Designed by Max Strickland, a Melbourne businessman of German origin and created in 1933/34, it was built during the Depression and was a showcase for the skills and ingenuity of local artists and tradesmen and remains simply stunning.
The authentic Art Deco features of the building include tall arched stained glass windows and custom wooden doors. Right next door at 999 Brunswick Street is another dwelling also of the art deco style fit for Jay Gatsby.
As we gently meandered through the stylish riverside suburb, towards Moray Street Moe expertly pointed out a multitude of authentic buildings of the art deco heritage with angular and geometric features built from 1925-1940.
Driving down Ann Street in Fortitude Valley we took an unlikely right hand turn into the Chinatown carpark. The top level of the carpark you see gives an unrivalled view of the row of TC Beirne's art deco buildings with the majestic McWhirters Building peeking through the background. It was the perfect spot for a panoramic view of inner city Brisbane, where the past and the present collide and to snap a courtesy picture with Bonnie.
Since many of the buildings are privately owned, this is an external tour only. Moe stops at various points of interest on the tour to get up close and for photo opportunities. The tour has been popular as a birthday gift, a special surprise and for wedding anniversaries.
What a special and memorable experience the Brisbane Art Deco Tour was. It was informative, relaxed and most of all it was so much fun. It left me feeling grateful to have seen and experienced my hometown of Brisbane differently through the lens of Art Deco and capture a side to the city that I had never seen before.
If you take the tour, be ready to see the smiles on the faces of small children as you drive by. Many are fascinated and curious about Bonnie and the grown-up kids are equally in awe.
I strongly recommend those who love history, classic cars, and the drama, elegance and glamour of the roaring 20s to take the tour. Whether you are a newcomer to Brisbane or an old timer, you will be sure to discover a new piece of our past and maybe leave sparkling just that little bit more than when you began.