This walk around East Brisbane, one of Brisbane’s best kept secrets, reveals quaint churches, elegant parks, stately Victorian villas and a hidden creek life. Except for a slight hill in Mowbray Park it is a flat and easy amble of about 3.5km.
1. Whether arriving by car or Rivercat, start at the Mowbray Park Ferry Terminal (there is a dedicated car park there). The new steel and concrete quay occupies the site of one of Brisbane’s early and most popular swimming baths; before in-ground swimming pools became the norm the river had many floating baths (industry had yet to take its toll on the river) and this was one the last surviving, demolished in the 1960’s. A few remnants of these baths can still be seen - where the white metal fence is there are a set of railed steps leading into the water, as well as the retaining wall which was once the baths’ wall.
2. Take the road to the right of the ferry stop which leads up to Mowbray Park Croquet Club, a relic from 1905 that still operates on Thursdays and Saturdays and is open to hire by groups looking for a nostalgic afternoon. Turn left before the club and take the path alongside the carpark into Mowbray Park itself.
3. Mowbray Park, a century old memorial park to the World War I fallen, has the stately formal air of the Victorian era with its avenue of palms, gargantuan fig trees and well kept lawn, dotted with benches to enjoy the river vista. Head up the hill via the palm tree avenue to Lytton Road and cross at the lights to avoid taking your life in your hands.
4. Take the next street on the left, Stafford St. On the right at no 58 is one of the area’s most beautiful homes - Hester Villa, built in 1901 for mariner and Pacific Islander recruiter Captain Pearn and in recent decades immaculately restored by its conservation architect owner Ray Oliver. Apparently a penny dating from the year it was built is nailed above the front doorway.
5. At the intersection with Mowbray Terrace turn right and walk to the Mowbraytown Presbyterian Church Group, incorporating two halls and the church itself which was established in 1885 by Reverend Mowbray and after whom Mowbraytown was originally named. Behind the church building is the original Sunday school hall and adjacent on Mowbray Terrace is the latter, built in 1916 - now a private residence and photographic studio that also happens to be a coffee bolthole, Wired Espresso. Its portico has upturned crates for passersby who stop to partake in a Merlo (Mon-Fri only).
6. Head back up Mowbray Terrace which, like every other hilltop ridge in Brisbane is home to the grandest original villas. On the left past Stafford St is the tiny formal Williamina Park, named after Reverend Mowbray’s wife, from whence there are city glimpses and in which young children’s play equipment sits ensconced under the umbrella of an elderly fig tree.
7. Continue on a little until the parade of yesteryear majesty dwindles then loop back and turn left at the Methodist church onto Sinclair St. Upon reaching Vulture St turn left, cross and take Norman St, in which a disused church has been turned into a childcare centre. At the end of the street are a couple of old corner shops touting modern business while the butcher shop to the left is a reminder of the past.
8. Go left on Stanley St and at the next block is the heritage listed Triumph Theatre (circa 1927) with not just its façade but its external structure and much of the interior preserved. As one of the more ornate of its time, it is the only intact interwar picture theatre that has survived the wreckers ball only to be inhabited by a Kung Fu academy.
9. Beyond is a little clique of East Brisbane village life, with one of Brisbane’s most intriguing antique shops, Michael Allen’s Antiques being worth a look for objects from his latest foray into Europe’s dark past. On a lighter note the Gillian’s Garden Café is a charming eatery and nursery littered with bric a brac and Egg Bistro a chic little Euro style cafe with first rate food. .
10. Past the Lord Stanley Hotel take Edgar St to the left and then right onto Vulture St again. At the intersection turn left onto Stanley Terrace and trade the traffic energy for some peace and quiet. Here the road winds its way along until it loops around to the left then hang a sharp right into Oaklands Parade.
11. With its English inspired architecture, green lawns and quadrangles ‘Churchie’ (Anglican Church of England Grammar School) graces the length of Oaklands Parade. Its red brick chapels and buildings were built in a period starting at the end of World War 1, from 1918 until 1961 by the same firm of architects (Atkinson & Conrad).The School House is the oldest, completed in 1918 while the chapel was completed in 1934.
12. At the end of Oaklands Pde, aficionados of early 20th century architect RS Dods might like to take a sharp left - the heritage listed first house past the corner of Heath St at no. 59 ‘Kitawah’ is considered one of his finest residential works as well as one of his last in Brisbane. Unfortunately much of its original grandeur has been lost due to the neglect of its façade and barren front garden bearing the remains of roughly hacked bushes.
13. Loop back on Heath Street past the rear of Churchie where the road veers around to the left towards Heath Park. Take the entrance to Heath Park and to the left is a picnic ground and boat ramp. The tiny ‘bridge’ that disappears between the mangroves has a launch pad for kayaks and canoes and is a superb spot to take in the otherworldliness of Norman Creek with its tethered boats and tranquillity.
14. Follow the park around along parallel to the creek on Hilton Avenue until the intersection with Heath St. On the left is Real park, named after a judge who once resided in the area – head up the hill to right and back to the business of Lytton Road. In the little nondescript shopping centre there is an excellent fish café – The Fishmonger’s Wife. Eat in at one of the booths or better still, grab some takeaway and head across the road to Mowbray Park.
15. Detour to Mowbray Park via the cottages of Eskgrove Street and to the right on the riverside Laidlaw Parade at no. 56 lies the area’s oldest house – Eskgrove - a lowset rustic stone cottage that was built in 1853 and is highly significant as one of Brisbane’s few surviving pre-separation residences. Its first owner was a bank manager from Sydney by the name of Archibald Hutchinson.
16. Laidlaw Parade leads back down the hill to Mowbray Park.