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Published January 27th 2014
History and a low-flying helicopter view of modern Brisbane
They say that timing is everything. Yesterday, after living in Brisbane for thirty years, I finally decided to take a tour of Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower. This is not particularly earth-shattering but it won't surprise anyone who knows me to learn that of course, the forecast 'occasional showers' turned into a deluge at precisely the time I entered the historic Brisbane City Hall for my tour. C'est ma vie!
Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower
I'm not quite sure why it's taken me so long to get around to undertaking this tour. Yes, I know that it was unavailable during Brisbane City Hall's $215 million renovation from 2009 to 2013 but that still leaves almost 27 years where I twiddled my thumbs and said things like, "Now there's a tour I really should do some day."
The tour began in the spacious foyer of the very calm and quiet Museum of Brisbane. Just before 3pm ticket-holders for my scheduled tour were called to the reception desk where we were met by the friendly Anna, our tour guide and lift operator. Because of the confines of the lift and the viewing platform only seven people can attend each tour and this tour was fully booked. We lined up for our mini adventure with the peals of the mammoth timekeeper tolling comfortingly in the background.
Anna told us that the cage lift is the oldest working lift of its kind in Australia. It's the same one that operated when City Hall opened in 1930 and the restoration has brought it back to its earlier glory. It ascended quietly and smoothly, passing the huge clock faces (five metres in diameter). I'm sure that on sunnier days the space would be flooded with light but the pale glow that emanated on my visit was more subtle. Anna explained that each clock face has its own electric mechanism and the time is master controlled by a nearby Grandfather clock. When City Hall opened the clock was the largest public clock in Australia.
The view of one of the clock faces through the cage lift grille
We alighted from the lift and followed Anna up two short, narrow flights of stairs to the observation platform at a height of 76 metres above the ground. The tower itself extends to a heights of 92 metres. We were thankfully protected from the wrathful elements; the space is covered above and all sides are guarded by thick glass panes set between solid sandstone pillars.
The narrow viewing platform runs around all four sides
These days there are obviously taller Brisbane buildings that allow a grand peek at the city but Brisbane City Hall's central position with plenty of space around it allows a really good helicopter (albeit a low flying one) view of the metropolis. Of course, our views were rather sodden ones, but still compelling. In fact the rain's rippling effect on the glass made for some interesting photos.
We were afforded a good view of the much-maligned, stark King George Square, probably Brisbane's most unpopular public space. I know it wasn't designed with viewing from above in mind but its vast grey sombreness was magnified by the matching weather and its appeal isn't improved by distance or the magnification of the ugly roofs over the Groove Train cafe and entrances to the busway.
I love historic buildings and immersing myself in the craftsmanship and culture of days gone by. I particularly appreciate that sense of wonder and smallness that comes from looking at the world from a great height, especially when the spire, lighthouse or tower you've ascended was built without the aid of modern technology, in days when large buildings could truly be said to be marvels of construction.
The western side was a bit more sheltered from the rain
The Clock Tower is open to the public from 10am to 5pm seven days a week, with free tours every fifteen minutes. You don't need to book, just turn up at the reception counter of The Museum of Brisbane and you'll be issued with a ticket for an available tour. In busy periods like school holidays you may have to wait for an hour or two, but you can spend your waiting period perusing the museum exhibits. You can also book in for a free guided tour of the restored Brisbane City Hall building.
The Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower tour is a small slice of history that should appeal to modern generations who inhabit a world of fast food, speed dating, and Twenty20 cricket. You get all that history in one bite-sized, sandstone-clad piece, along with a unique bird's-eye-view perspective of a very modern Brisbane. And it's FREE. My advice? Don't wait thirty years to enjoy it.