The Brisbane River has formed not just a physical division, but a cultural one as well from the early days of European settlement. This geographic preference for one side or the other persists today amongst many residents. My own family has lived on the south side for many generations, and we still venture north of the river only when absolutely necessary !
The division has its beginnings in the early days of free settlement in 1842. Before then, free settlers were not allowed within 50 miles of Brisbane. Squatters soon took advantage of the changed situation and commenced shipping their bales of wool from Brisbane. This avoided the long overland route to the south.
The commandant insisted that the squatters and their men stayed on the south side of the river to separate them from the remaining convicts on the north. It wasn’t long before sly grog began to be sold from the few shops established near the southside wharves. The sale of alcohol was banned until 1843 and the number of hotels increased with increased shipping and commerce.
Meanwhile, the administration of the district, and from 1858 the new colony of Queensland, grew from the nucleus of the convict settlement.
A tongue in cheek article from 1875 contains many references to the divide as it existed then.
There was a political aspect reflecting the fact that the northside was the centre of colonial government and the location of most commercial offices. Those working in white collar jobs were much more likely to live on that side of the river due to the lack of bridges. The only crossing existing at that time was the second Victoria Bridge, completed the year before in 1874 and replacing a previous wooden structure that had fallen into disrepair. Ferries were the only alternative.
The southside away from the wharves at the time of writing this article was more rural in character. Later, with the development of Brisbane’s deep water port (see another post in this blog Gloucester Street Railway Station ), the southside was the home of workers at the port and nearby factories.
The writer’s humour descends to condescension.
The columnist ends with the comment – “Gentle reader, let us here assure you that we own no land on the South side ; that we don’t live there ; and don’t go there once in seven years, on an average.
And so, dear old South Brisbane, farewell for the present, and may the days be many and long withal, ere branch banks and shilling ordinaries, free counter-lunches and Board-of-health wagons, railways and cab-stands, and all the other delightful agremens of “civilisation” invade thy quiet precincts and primitive haunts. We would fain have thee remain as thou art, innocent of all “progress”, for it is indeed not everywhere that one can travel 500 miles from home, by simply crossing a lone bridge with a penny toll.”
South Brisbane was also a separate local government area from 1888 until its amalgamation into the City of Greater Brisbane in 1925, further reinforcing the divide. The South Brisbane Municipal Chambers still stand on Vulture Street and now form part of Somerville House school (see my post South Brisbane War Memorial Park and the Disappearing Ridge )
This page has further reading on the cultural divide.