In October, The Age posed a question:

13-01-2011 11-44-24 AM

The gleaming new riverside art gallery it cited as a hallmark of Brisbane’s cultural awakening is flooded today. Just like the renovated State Library next door. And the adjacent performing arts centre, which has hosted numerous international shows since its overhaul in 2009.

Gallery head Tony Ellwood said of Brisbane at the time: “There’s a sense of continual improvement and optimism in every aspect of life. This is the land of hope.”

Noel Staunton, recently appointed artistic director of the Brisbane Festival, remarked: “Brisbane now has found its confidence. It no longer looks over its shoulder at Sydney or Melbourne but says: ‘We know who we are.'”

And not just because of its art spaces. The public transport system that Liberal mayor Campbell Newman largely constructed — including an extensive bus-dedicated network — is underwater and potentially in need of repairs. The super-charged catamarans that ply the river each day — critical public transport infrastructure as much as they are an icon of the River City — are berthed and broken; dozens of pontoons hurtling downstream. Services won’t resume for weeks, maybe months. The floating walkway that linked pedestrians and cyclists to the city and leafy New Farm has been destroyed and, perhaps given the controversy around the initial build, unlikely to be revived. New parks and public spaces are inundated and ruined.

This is, overwhelmingly, a human story. Accounting for its residents, recovering their lives, remains Queensland’s greatest challenge. And not just in the south-east corner, but across the vast expanses of the state, where some communities are experiencing the devastation for a second time. As Anna Bligh reassured regional residents in this morning’s press conference: “…we will keep the towns and cities of regional Queensland at the front of our radar, you will not be forgotten.” The tragedy is palpable.

But Queensland’s burgeoning, blossoming city of some 2 million people made something of itself over the past decade. It worked better. It was more exciting. More livable. It developed a soul.

Queenslanders are bred tough, an emotional premier reminded the world today. Its people will recover. Its capital, a fledgling city in so many ways, has come so far. There is now so much further to go.

Peter Fray

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