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Published November 15th 2021
A suburb without Maccas and KFC in sight…seriously?
The inner-city suburb of West End is often described as eclectic, hip, and quirky. Known for its colourful characters and alternative lifestyle, it is under immense gentrification pressure. It's no wonder that the ever-encroaching high-density developments have compelled long-time residents to dig in their heels in an effort to "Keep West End Weird".
Situated on a peninsula known as Kurilpa which is girdled by the Brisbane River, West End has a mix of Queenslander houses, bungalows, 1980s brick unit blocks, and modern apartment towers. Its commercial base is a wide-ranging assortment of cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, pubs, clothing retailers and wholesalers, gyms, alternative health therapists, and many independent businesses.
To explore more of West End's persona, I went on several wanderings through the main streets and side alleys to discover for myself the weird and wonderful aspects of the suburb.
The instant impression is that it is a melting pot of artists, musicians, fringe dwellers, beer brewers, activists, gym junkies, pooch-lovers, indie dressers, and non-conformists.
However, on the bottom edge of Boundary Street (the low-rise commercial core) lies, in stark contrast, the new West Village towers with manicured gardens and upmarket retail and restaurants. Aside from this aberration, there is still much to experience of West End's unabashed bohemian vibe.
Street busker and musician Terry plays on a West End street corner. Image by writer.
There are also sculptures like the dot-painted giant lizard at the corner of Boundary and Russell Streets, the UFO sculpture at the intersection of Melbourne and Mollison Streets, and a wood and metal sculpture on Mollison Street memorialising a fig tree that once stood in that spot but was poisoned in 2012.
The UFO sculpture by Luke Roberts (2003) certainly fits into the West End Weird theme. Image by writer.
West End is part of the Kurilpa Peninsula, originally inhabited by the Turrbal and Yuggera tribes. Aboriginals have a strong sense of connection to country and there are many that live or hang out in West End.
There are several places where they informally gather and socialise — under the UFO sculpture on the corner of Melbourne and Mollison Streets; Bunyapa Park which has a community garden and a mural of aboriginal activist Sam Watson who died in 2019; at the lizard sculpture on Boundary Street; and in an alley on Boundary Street which has been decorated with aboriginal art and motifs.
Johnny (right) and Aboriginal friends chilling under the giant fig tree with the giant lizard sculpture. Image by writer.
At the Davies Park farmers markets, jugglers and tightrope walkers may be seen practising their skills and at Orleigh Park, drummers are known to herald in the full moon and the summer or winter solstice. Or you may catch public performances by The Sideshow collective made up of hula hoopers, acrobats, jugglers, circus performers, fire twirlers, and musicians. Although The Sideshow no longer has a venue in which to perform, you can still find activities advertised on their Facebook page.
ART AND MUSIC SCENE
The Bearded Lady - 138 Boundary Street - A venue that hosts indie music and monthly sessions of life drawing.
Metro Arts - West Village, 97 Boundary Street - Promotes avant-garde art installations and performances.
House Conspiracy - 42 Mollison St - Community centre for emerging artists to develop, engage with other artists, share ideas, and exhibit works.
International food is a central theme in this suburb and you can find any of the following cuisines in West End to tantalise your taste buds: Greek, Malaysian, Indian, vegan, Mexican, Transylvanian, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Japanese, Thai, Asian street food, Italian, Eritrean, and Turkish.
Boundary Street Food Trucks - Rumpus Room Carpark, Fri & Sat 5pm-10pm - Food trucks and stalls serve up ethnic street food such as Durban bunny chow, Sri Lankan kottu roti, Mombasa coconut curry, and Turkish gozleme.
Ethnic food stalls and trucks set up on Friday and Saturday nights. Image by writer.
Jungle Tiki Bar - 72 Vulture Street - Come dressed in your best Hawaiian to blend in with the island artefacts and furnishings. Then imagine you're in some Polynesian paradise while sipping a cocktail out of a pineapple…
Exotic cocktails are served in this intimate Polynesian-themed bar. Image by writer.
The Red Bowler Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar - 15 Duncan Street - Expect the unexpected at this cafe/lounge/venue whatchamacallit. From vintage movie nights to drag bingo to African drumming and indie music, there's something to surprise and entertain in true West End fashion.
Expect the unexpected at The Red Bowler. Image by writer.
Kafenio - 8 Vulture Street - A Greek cafe serving char-grilled vegetables, meats, and seafood including Tasmania octopus tentacles drizzled in olive oil and lemon. It is a haven for Greek men to socialise, and play backgammon and cards.
Greek men come from all around Brisbane to play card games and backgammon at Kafenio. Image by writer.
Open House - 73 Vulture Street - A treasure-house of indie clothing, jewellery, homewares, gifts and wall art made by artisans, many of whom are local and/or indigenous. A wonderful shop to buy some hard-to-find gifts for special people and occasions.
A small sample of artisan wares at Open House. Image by writer.
Yak & Yeti - 89 Vulture Street - A clothing and homewares store with colourful ethnic goods sourced from sustainable, fair-trade, family-owned cottage industries in Nepal.
The Happy Herb Shop - 83 Vulture Street - West End wouldn't be complete without the hippie vibes of this store. Stockist of plant and herbal concoctions, incense, superfoods, medicinal mushrooms, and more.
Do you think West End deserves its reputation of being weird (and wonderful)? Please leave a comment below.
Alternative health potions and lotions can be found at the Happy Herb Shop. Image by writer.
Good article, thank you. I’ve known and loved many aspects of West End for many decades..a unique part of Brisbane. Please look at doing an article on the many businesses that have been operating in West End for 2 or 3 generations such as Shays Shoes, Leo Tsimpikas Real Estate, Peter’s Swiss Deli, Michael Innis Menswear, Micks Nuts,.. some great stories there.