Hidden Brisbane

Reckon you’ve seen all there is to see in Brisbane? It’s time to go behind the scenes. Clambering up and down service steps, poking around backstage dressing rooms, or exploring exhibits generally kept from the public’s gaze, allows you to be a tourist in your own home town. From world-class sporting facilities to architecturally designed arts spaces, my story in Brisbane News magazine reveals the Brisbane venues that indulge that human yearning to throw back the curtains.

The Gabba

Aerial photos of The Gabba abound. Yet it’s not until you’re teetering on one of the grandstand’s top rows that you grasp the vastness of this structure, built to hold 42,000 people. Since the first game of cricket was played here in 1895, sportsmen, streakers, pop stars, and dignitaries are among those who have passed through its turnstiles. Today, it’s just me, a bunch of English tourists, and some groundsmen adjusting sprinklers on the lush green lawn.

Our guide, Ron Rees, is an old-school raconteur who keeps up a rollicking commentary, interweaving official history with personal anecdotes as he takes us from corporate box to media room to members’ bar to indoor cricket pitch. We pause at a window where he points out the spot on Vulture Street where, in 2000, he was watching Pakistan’s controversial fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar signing autographs.

“This kid came running out of a nearby house, wanting to get his bat signed,” Rees explains. “The traffic was coming towards him, you could see he was going to get hit by a car, but there was nothing you could do to stop it.” Rees saw Akhtar drag the boy to safety. “Akhtar scraped his face in the process and they said he couldn’t play the next day,” Rees says. “But he did.”

Rees points out sporting memorabilia, including the 1933 Bodyline series cricket bat signed by Don Bradman, a pair of gloves worn by Steve Waugh and a wall print featuring the Tied Test between Australia and the West Indies in 1959/60, with original players’ signatures.

Cost: Adults $16.00; Concession, and children 4 years and older $6.00; Children under 4 years free

When: Thursdays 11am (bookings essential)

Book: Call 1300 843 422 or email tours@thegabba.com.au

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Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)

Attend any show at QPAC and you’ll be struck by how smooth and seamless it is. Backstage, though, it’s a different story, says thespian and tour guide Amanda McErlean. As we gather near the Lyric Theatre stage, she points out the technical contraptions which allow “fly men” to hoist lights, props, bits of scenery and other heavy items at lightning speed. The viewing room to which crying babies and coughers are banished. And the potential drama arising out of 49 dressing rooms.

Our 10-strong group trails into the Concert Hall and past an organ worth more than $4 million. Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to the middle of the stage, imagining what it would be like if my voice was more songbird and less foghorn. “Come back under cover – there are people working at height,” warns McErlean, gesturing for me to re-join the group. As if on cue, there’s a heavy crash of something metal clattering to the floor.

Next, we venture into the wardrobe room, where costumes are stored and busted zips repaired. Here there are sewing machines and a bank of washing machines to rival any laundromat. During Muriel’s Wedding, the wardrobe room overflowed with lacy white gowns, but our visit occurs during stripped-back Chicago, a production in which “the dancers wear not much of anything”, says McErlean, leaving lots of room to move.

Cost: Adult $16; children, students (to 17 years) and concession $11

When: Fridays 10:30am to 11:30am (bookings essential)

Book: https://www.qpac.com.au/visiting/backstage-tours/qpac-weekly-tour/

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Brisbane Racing Club (BRC)

Chalkboards outside every one of the Eagle Farm Racecourse’s 440 on-site stables announce their occupants’ names. Joe. El. Sue. So plain, so pedestrian. Where are the Midnight Dancers? The Masters of Destiny? BRC Racing Manager Bart Sinclair grins. “They’re nicknames, not racing names,” he says. Such sleight of hand protects the horses from those with nefarious intentions.

Race day attendance has taken a hit since cruelty concerns first aired on First Corners. Sinclair acknowledges that the industry should have done better, but points out that the horses here are treated humanely. He wouldn’t have it any other way. After first coming to the track when he was 4, and placing bets at 11, racing is in his blood.

The Brisbane Racing Club’s behind the scenes tour takes place on selected race days. Guests meet a leading trainer and jockey before heading onto the track to witness the start of a race and, later, to listen to live race commentary from within the race caller’s tower.

Racing began at Eagle Farm in 1865, so the site is steeped in history. The Totalisator Building and the St Leger Grandstand are two examples of heritage-listed late 19th and early 20th century structures. A little known racing museum here contains the world’s only intact Julius tote machine, the forerunner to the computer.

Cost: $175 includes a drink and snack in the Owners and Trainers’ Bar and access to the Members’ Reserve.

When: Selected Saturdays (bookings essential)

Book: Call 07 3268 2171, email sales@brc.com.au or book online at https://www.brc.com.au/about-us/merchandise-gifts/gifts/behind-the-scenes-tour

OTHER BEHIND THE SCENES TOURS

Clock Tower Tours

A traditional hand-cranked lift inside the Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower transports visitors to a 64-metre high observation tower affording a bird’s eye views of the ever-changing city. The clock tower has been in operation since the opening of City Hall in 1930.

Cost: Free

When: Daily 10.15am – 4.45pm, every 15 minutes (bookings essential)

Book: https://www.museumofbrisbane.com.au/whats-on/city-hall-clock-tower/

Queensland Museum

Queensland Museum’s behind-the-scenes tours are temporarily on hold due to building works. But when the tours resume in late 2020, it’s a chance to explore literally millions of objects, specimens and other curiosities not on public display.

Details: To be advised in 2020.

Boggo Road Gaol

Over 119 years of operation, Boggo Road Gaol was the site of riots, escapes, hangings and rooftop protests. Tour options allow visitors to explore heritage-listed Number 2 Division, sometimes in the company of former prisoners or officers.

Cost: Adults $27.50; concession $25; teen (12-17 years) $20; child (5-11 years) $15; under 5 free.

When: Daily, 11am (bookings essential)

Book: https://boggoroadgaol.com/