Eyes of the world on Brisbane (G20), Department of the Absurd

Channel 9 News yesterday had a story about how the massive worldwide TV audience for G20 news coverage will discover that

* Brisbane has graffiti
* Roma St Transit Centre is ugly.

In reality of course, they will discover that we have a Convention Centre and hotels, providing backdrops for political leaders to pontificate about nothing much.

49 thoughts on “Eyes of the world on Brisbane (G20), Department of the Absurd

  1. In fairness to Brisvegas have any of these reporters looked at any US cities recently?

    Though I’d hardly call it a comprehensive survey from some traveling by train/car through the US I would note the following:

    – Many small places like Amarillo has almost nothing in the CBD
    – Kansas City – looks like it hasnt changed much since the Wizard of Oz
    – Cincinnati still has multiple inner city areas bombed out from the riots of 50 years ago.
    – Atlanta is just plain grotty and dead in its central zone.
    – Seattle – much lauded – the area around the tower is nothing but crappy tarmac like school playgrounds of old. The monorail goes nowhere to nowhere – a bit like Darling Harbour – As to the location for Sleepless therein – this cove where the houseboat was is a dead industrial areas with boats stacked in tiers. The only public park is a small piece of contaminated wasteland – an old gas works that nobody wants to pay to clean up.
    – The New Jersey hinterland of New York which you pass through by train – repeated vistas of beautiful burnout trashed wooden houses followed by the Seventh Level of industrial decay Detroit style located in swampland. – The NY subway? – who turned out the lights?
    – And lets not forget the motorways which rip through the guts of both the city and countryside. Like the devastation of North Sydney by the Warringah expressway 10,000 times over. (there is story I have yet to read here – how the Eisenhower interstates ripped the guts out of America.)
    – The countryside in the prosperous east – small nicer cities trying to rejuvenate their downtowns but further out surrounded by trailer communities and industrial wastelands.

    – LA !!!!???? What a dump. How Hollywood manages to find clean days for their filming I will never know. Maybe its photoshop (leaving a few honest series aside like ‘The Shield’ which show the horrid brown world they live in as it really is.)

    Which leaves only San Fransisco/Oakland and Washington – far from perfect with deadly no go zones but you can walk around without people looking strangely at you and they are for different reasons rich enough to afford some public space/precincts good restaurants and museums.

    Look I have no problem with Americans any more than any other nation and I loathe the knew jerk left’s damning the US in toto – Obama may be problematic but look at what we have thrown up in the way of a government.

    No this is about public space and we really dont know how lucky we have it – even grotty old Brisvegas.

    This is another outcome of the Gough dreamtime we are so much in danger of losing.

  2. Slightly off-topic but Ch 9 had a news story the other day where 2 cars crashed with moderate damage and the drivers were shaken but not hurt. Riveting news so far! Then some bystanders and a shop owner came outside to push one car off the road. It started rolling a little out of control and nearly bumped into the shop front of the shop owner! OMG!!!

    I guess the moral of the story is Channel 9 and other media beat up non-events (and even non non-events) into news. A non-event is something that didn’t happen like the car (not) rolling into the shop front. A non non-event is the Roma St transit centre being ugly. I think. I am starting to get confused in my attempt at the phenomenology or non-phenomenology of this. Ah, hang on, J.Q. has a better word for it, namely “absurdity”.

    Finally, true anecdote and nearly totally irrelevant to the topic. I was driving my old Holden Commodore about 16 years ago, through Spring Hill, with my then 4 year old twins in the kiddie seats in the back. Suddenly there was a huge bang under the bonnet and clouds of brown oily smoke issued out. I am glad no news crews were there as I shut off the engine and made a panicked, headless-chicken exit, extracted my kids (with help) and headed for the nearest footpath. It turned out the air-con hose blew off and the blast dislodged a lot of oily detritus from a very dirty engine compartment all over a hot engine head, hence the clouds of scarey looking smoke.

    Funnily enough there is a shop-keeper in this story too. An Indian guy who had a computer shop sprinted outside and helped me get the kids out of the car. Then he let me use his shop phone to call the RACQ and my kids got to play on the computers while we waited. I rather shamefacedly admitted I had panicked a bit, needed his help to get the kids out quickly and felt foolish after the smoke had just dissipated. He said he had seen a car on a London street burst into flames coming out from under it bonnet and he and some others had pulled the driver out. He thought the same thing was going to happen again and wasn’t taking any chances.

    My moral to this story? The G20 reminds us of the culpable mendacity and inhumanity of all our leaders. Channel 9 reminds us of the banality and irrelevance of the MSM. And the Indian guy from the computer shop reminds us that ordinary people who help other ordinary people are the ones who really make the world work and worth living in. So let’s ignore the G20 and keep doing what we the ordinary masses do best, make the human world work. The key, IMO, is understanding our common humanity and not letting the manipulative elites drive wedges between us.

  3. Will media outside Australia even cover this earth-shattering event to any extent? I can’t recall a single mention of it in any of the American/European media I skim read. There’s nothing especially interesting on the agenda, and Brisbanites are unlikely even to put on a decent demo.

  4. I can’t remember learning anything new about other G20 sites and I expect I will have exactly the same experience with Brisbane. Do not think I am unusual in that regard so I expect people overseas wil have same experience.
    The attendees may have a different take as I agree with Newtonian, our cities are pretty good in their centres compared to many.

  5. @Ken_L

    In my experience, Europe and North America feature an Australian story about once each six months. The one Australian story I saw in six months in UK and Europe some time ago was literally a “man bites dog” story. Most of the rest of the world do not know we exist. This is a good thing. The way to survive in the future will be to remain out of the way and unnoticed.

  6. @Ikonoclast

    Will media outside Australia even cover this earth-shattering event to any extent?

    Only if one of the delegates gets eaten by a shark (or Putin goes fishing for one).

  7. Here are 17 things that are banned in central Brisbane during the G20 Summit. Check out #11:

    A thing that is not a weapon but is capable of being used to cause harm to a person.

    Then think El Kabong and his guitar, Josie Alibrandi and her history textbook, old ladies at football matches and their umbrellas, etc., etc.

  8. A note passed around some weeks ago in one network advising that no-one ought to demonstrate anything at the G20 due to extremely repressive laws and harsh policing. Presumably, a planned Aboriginal demonstration with attendant police violence will be presented to attendees as a traditional Australian cultural festival.

  9. The Victorian Women’s Trust is I think presenting the signatures gathered so far for their Monster Climate Petition at the G20

    “First, we will draw national and international media attention to it prior to and during the meeting of the G20 Summit in Brisbane in mid November this year.”

    Hopefully there will be some coverage, although I’m not sure how they plan to go about it.

    Are any demonstrations planned to coincide with the G20?

  10. The lead upto event in Cairns saw a 60 year old woman, who had just come out of hospital from major surgery, raided and hauled out of bed six o’clock on a Sunday morning. Apparently for placing a anti g-20 sticker, the size of a stamp, on a lamp post. The event itself hyped up the local media and hospitality industry, apart from that, benefits to the town itself were at best dubious. However, Cairns became a bit ike a James Bond movie set, with lots of black suites, the odd flash of gunmetal and that certain feeling of being watched, even on Rusties markets!

  11. Chaser’s Bin Laden interlude was memorable though Will. Quite frankly, the protest and comedy around these events are much more entertaining and deliver somewhat more ‘productive’ outcomes than the main event.

  12. After reading the article Paul linked to, and not having been to Brisbane since 1996, I have to wonder: Do people often shoot arrows into the Brisbane River?

  13. Our political masters have told us that the G20 will be marketing gold for Team Brisbane.

    There will be images of people in grey suits getting out of black cars, and going into white buildings of no heritage significance. Then there will be images of primarily peaceful protestors being manhandled by police in riot gear.

    Exactly what tourism segment are these images supposed to attract? Can any marketing types help me out here?

  14. John,

    You are being silly.

    The event will put Brisbane on the map.

    After it is over, the next major event will put Brisbane on the map.

    I predict many years of Brisbane being put on the map. Melbourne has been put on the map even more often than Brisbane – so far. We are the world’s most livable city no less. But we are nevertheless put on the map (again) every now and again.

    We support you, we feel close to you in your (latest) being put on the map experience.

  15. @Jim

    You are being silly. The tourism segment they’re after is pretty obvious. As I made clear in my previous comment (which may be below – or above – this one) the tourism segment that will be attracted will be the tourism segment that turns up when cities are put on the map (again). They will see Brisbane, they will see that it is now on the map and (thinking ‘what’s there not to like about a city on the map) they will come.

    Trust me.

  16. It seems the authorities are now getting worried that the G20 Brisbane lockdown will leave Brisbane CBD looking too deserted and this will give a bad impression of the city. We will appear to be a dead, hick place rather than a thriving, modern city. No jokes please, you southerners! 😉

    I think this possibility is great and exactly what we should aim at. Instead of demonstrating, or even going near the city on the relevant days, everyone should totally avoid and boycott the city. Ignore the G20, ignore the leaders and hopefully make as many CBD businesses as possible suffer losses which they can rightly blame on the authorities and the G20. I am all in favour of this total boycott. Ignore them and they will go away. Make the event a disaster of the “no-show / money-losing” type and the authorities will think twice about bidding or volunteeering for such foolishness ever again.

  17. For anyone that lives in brisbane during the g20 talkathon
    time to get away and go on holiday in NSW or north qeensland
    who wants to be in a city full of politicains that just talk

  18. @jimbo


    Don’t forget the Darling Downs; it is almost always bit cooler up here and less humid than in the rest of Qld. The wheat fields are very pretty at the moment despite the lack of rain to make the grass green – when that happens it is just beautiful – the colours are wonderful.

    And…the locals seem to realise that they need to be nice to people if they want tourists to come. They are not good at being nice yet but they are a bit more motivated than they used to be.

  19. @Ikonoclast
    Absolutely spot on suggestion to turn your backs on the G20. Give them no chance to play the terrorist card. Sydney during Bush’s visit was like a cage with whole blocks fenced, in snipers on rooftops, choppers overhead, police in paramilitary garb kettling a medium size crowd who put on the usual good natured Sydney picnic demo; they even dragged out Australia’s one and only water cannon. The coppers and spooks looked ridiculous.

  20. I’m a bit late commenting here but I did want to say, I went to Brisbane for the climate action summit recently and it’s lovely in many ways, but I do want to say, that transit centre, that is ugly and bad. You should do something about it.

  21. Also I know it’s too late, but why that freeway on the river? Why why why?
    Take Paradise, put up a parking lot (again)

  22. @ZM
    Yes I did two posts in September, the first about my own presentation, the second about two different trends I saw there, the first of which I described as “technology can get us there, with a bit of political will” (BZE type position, similar to some of the things JQ writes here), the second “we have to change the way we live, starting at local level” (closer to my own position, I’ve included some links there).

    I’m not suggesting they’re incompatible, but there is a difference. I think the first is a bit too much like business as usual, though I’m certainly keen on some forms of technology (internet and solar in particular).

    I won’t link because links seem to get me into moderation at present, but you can always google fairgreenplanet or click on my name here.

    Interested to hear your thoughts.

  23. Thanks Val! Your presentation was really interesting (I’ll try to think of a more intelligent comment to write on your blog ).

    I’ve noticed the two trends too, and thought that they seem to be getting stronger in their differences presently. I think its a shame because I think both probably need to go hand in hand – I doubt the current population can be maintained without technology*, but consumption needs to be much more prudent and local than it is now , and we will need to develop different sorts of communities and life practices to go with this.

    I talked to some young people and they felt quite upset that the climate movement seemed to be splintering in these different directions at a time when the movement needs to get stronger rather than weaker. But possibly it makes space for discussions. (one can only keep hoping)…

    * The Limits to Growth idea makes continued reliance in the long term on technology somewhat more difficult. Graham Turner gave a presentation on his work recently, and he said that even if we become better at recycling (say 75%) which would be like the high tech LtG scenario – eventually resources will still dwindle to a level that can’t provide for the needs of the high population that has developed in relation to the use of technology.

    I hope maybe recycling could get much higher in a fully circular economy, but have been told it is an engineering problem that is unlikely to be 100% solvable. I think this is because some use and recycling degrades the integrity of the material until it is no longer able to be reused and recycled.

  24. Just for fun – I tried to name the countries of the G20 (without cheating).

    I then checked with the official site, there were 3 I left out and several that I wrongly included.

    Hint: the “European Union” is counted as one single member.

  25. I hope Greenpeace is working up a decent stunt to embarrass Abbott at the G20. Taking climate change off the agenda has removed the main reason any other leader might have to spend 2 days flying to the antipodes and back, so anybody who goes (in many cases number 2s) won’t be feeling grateful to Abbott for providing him with the vanity photo-op. Enterprising journalists could try to ask the Chinese delegate about its coal policy, the Indian one about wind and solar incentives, the German on the Energiewende.

  26. Thanks for all the witty commentary here, it makes the G20 easier to bear.

    Yair friends who can are taking off to Byron and up the coast. And considering how many people (24,000) Campbell Newman has sacked, how many sick and elderly people have been thrown out of hospital and nursing home beds, how many environmental regulations have been shredded etc – it is nice to see Lord Mayor Quirk and his Liberal mates begging residents to come into the city for the G20.

    There really seems little other way to express our complete revulsion at what the LNP has done and continues to do and is planning to do to the fair city of Brisbane.

    But they’re spending $10 million on festivities so I personally expect many people will be in the city for the bright lights.

  27. what do diplomats do now that there are 747s, then the Internet, and now Skype. What do embassies do to fill in their day?

    The first wondered this when I was reading the Washington Post and New York Times on the web because when I got to work was about when they updated for the new day’s news and editorials – this was about 15 years ago.

    A day later, a cable from foreign affairs would arrive summarising what I’ve read a day previous.

  28. They spy. They interfere in local affairs. They make a token effort to help their own nationals in trouble. They help billionaires and corporations do business.

  29. @ZM
    Thanks ZM, very interesting. Bit off topic for this thread I guess but I would like to continue the conversation. Might write something more about this on the blog soon, or in the Sandpit here because it seems it’s controversial. I don’t know why it’s controversial because the two ideas – thoughtful use of technology plus reducing consumption – seem to me quite compatible, but it didn’t seem so to JQ for example. He seemed to be denigrating those who advocate a simpler way of life. Anyway as I said, I’d better not continue this on this thread, but it’s definitely an issue worth further discussion.

  30. Val
    It’s my understanding that, since the redevelopment of Roma Street Railway Station with two commercial tower blocks could hardly qualify for the name “transit centre”, the incorporation of a regional bus centre was an afterthought, while the construction of an underground busway for local buses was a very late addition to the scene(i.e., years later.) Does it explain much to know that the major shareholder is Lendlease?

  31. Ironic G20 news of the day

    Trade minister vigorously supports State owned enterprises – as long as they are foreign States’

    “”It’s been to the great benefit of Australia,” Mr Robb said of foreign state-owned investment. “If you look at the past 14 years, for goodness sake, it got us through the global financial crisis and it’s been an enormous contributor to wealth in Australia.””

  32. @lesleym
    Thanks Lesleym (I had to do your name with a capital L because spellcheck to foil spellcheck). It sounds like one of those arcane local slow moving scandals that outsiders never really get, but no doubt the involvement of Lendlease goes some way to explaining it.

    Not that our most recent “transport hub” or whatever you call it, Southern Cross station (although one example of renaming – from Spencer St station – that does add something, even though it doesn’t live up to its rather nice name) is all that great. The bus part, as usual, is not nice – why do people in Australia hate buses so much? – some transport buff should do something on this – and the rail part aspires to be nice, but the escalators feel unsafe and the whole thing smells of diesel – but it’s all reasonably tidy and rational. Whereas your bus part on the west side (is that right?) of the river – the open air part – is unattractive and doesn’t make the most of its surroundings (do town planners in Brisbane hate the river or something?) but at least it doesn’t feel totally irrational, the way the underground part does. I went in there for some reason (thinking it would be quicker to take the bus over the river and then walk to QUT I think) and it felt a bit like going into the vowels of the earth with no guarantee of returning, especially when the bus went into a place where it had to wait a long time, for no apparent reason, so it could do a u-turn and come back again. Anyway I got out in the end, though it was a bit challenging.

    Meanwhile we still have here – thanks to the goddess – the Victorian era glories of Flinders St station and the trams trundling their stately way about the inner suburbs. They’re not only tourist attractions, they actually work, to the extent they’re often uncomfortably over-crowded in peak hour.

    As you can see I’m rather obsessed with public transport!

  33. Jim Rose :
    what do diplomats do now that there are 747s, then the Internet, and now Skype. What do embassies do to fill in their day?

    What do centrelink workers do given that anyone can telephone the human services minister?

  34. Meanwhile we still have here – thanks to the goddess – the Victorian era glories of Flinders St station and the trams trundling their stately way about the inner suburbs.

    Interesting piece of historical contingency there: the conversion from cable to electric trams involved ripping up and replacing all the track [electric trams are far heavier than cable and required much heavier rail], which meant that when the rest of the country was ripping up its tram tracks, Melbourne’s were twenty years younger.

  35. A man has been arrested because he was not “accredited” whilst in the G20 fascism zone and taking a photo of the convention centre.

    This is a police state.

  36. @Jim Rose

    In the 1980s, before there was Skype or the Internet, there was an episode of Yes Minister where Minister Jim Hacker rang his friend the Foreign Secretary about an international story he’d just seen on the BBC news. The Foreign Secretary didn’t know anything about it because his television wasn’t working. He explained that he got all the international news from the BBC; the Foreign Office cables, he said, only came in a day later. They discussed the implications of the report for their relations with the (fictitious) country concerned, and then Hacker asked the Foreign Secretary to tell him if he heard anything more. The Foreign Secretary replied that it was up to Hacker to keep him informed, because Hacker was the one with the working television.

  37. @Collin Street
    Thanks that’s very interesting, I didn’t know that. I do remember, back in the 80s, when there was talk about getting rid of trams, and some patronising journalist in the Age (I forget his name, but I have a memory that he also did the restaurant reviews) suggested that as the people mainly using trams were school children and people on low incomes, they could never financially sustain themselves and we should get rid of them. (Thats what I think he said, though it was a long time ago. Not sure what he thought the pensioners and school children were going to do.)

    Now they’re used by commuters, especially I guess because of the popularity of inner suburban living now, and are often over crowded in peak hour. Everyone’s promising to improve public transport now in the state election – at least it’s an election issue here, even if half of what they say is fantasy land.

    Interesting article by Gay Alcorn in the Guardian today, talking about how Tony Abbott comes here and tries to talk about roads and East West link, and Denis Napthine can’t wait for him to leave so he can change the subject back to public transport again!

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