The stunning blue skies of Brisbane are endless. It’s one of the things Alfredo and I love most about living here – the subtropical climate makes for weather that is pleasant all year round. And while the city isn’t as famous as Sydney or Melbourne, we’ve found the capital of Queensland to be the perfect home for us. Its friendly vibe, relaxed pace and laid-back lifestyle welcomed us when we relocated from the Philippines in 2006 with five children in tow. We both felt it was the ideal place to raise our family.
We first got to know Brisbane in 1999, when we were invited to participate in the 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’s “Beyond the Future” exhibition together with artists Agnes Arellano, Roberto Feleo, Lani Maestro and John Frank Sabado. For this exhibition, we worked with the Filipino migrant community in Brisbane and asked them to contribute objects that reminded them of home. It was a collaborative project that engaged a specific community and created an opportunity for people to come together and craft something from their experiences. This led to several exhibitions in key cities in Australia, and eventually the big move over.
Living here has given us more opportunities with regard to our practice. Alfredo, for instance, has had the chance to go back and pursue his doctoral degree in the visual arts. Meanwhile our children Miguel (29), Diego (22), Amihan (20), Leon (19) and Aniway (17), who are now grown up, all had the opportunity to pick from high-quality schools. As Brisbane is also a multicultural hub, we find that we are able to access a lot of inspiration and material for our work, which deals with the themes of displacement, the hardship associated with making a journey and finding one’s identity. And because there’s a thriving Filipino community here, we always feel a sense of connection to the Philippines.
The city’s pace fits right in with our busy art practice. And after the hectic schedule that comes with traveling and working on art projects in Europe, China and Japan, and bustling metropolises like New York, Brisbane is the place to return to in order to slow down, recharge and start the creative process all over again.
Saturday is our market day. We head for the Davies Park Market (Montague Rd & Jane St, West End) (also known as the West End Market) where we get our fresh veggies and fruits. The fruits here are so succulent. The family’s favorites are avocados, mangos, seedless watermelons and dragonfruit – so we make sure to stock up. The market can be reached by bike or foot, via the river pathways and Kurilpa Bridge from the city. Everything from spices, mud crabs, licorice and artisan breads to embroidered clothing and handmade crafts are on display.
After shopping, we sit and enjoy some live music over skinny cappuccinos and flat whites from a coffee stall called Gypsy Wagon. We also frequent Xpresso Di Bella Coffee Wagon, which is owned by a Filipino who makes fantastic coffee. It’s Alfredo’s favorite place for when he wants a stronger ristretto. Beside this sits a shop with no name that bakes fresh treats – this is where we get delicious slices of fruit bread. Also within the market is Bootleg Breads, which sells Sol organic yeast and gluten-free baked goodies.
The coffee scene in Brisbane is definitely worth checking out, and locals take pride in the fact that huge coffee chains are practically nonexistent here. We often tell our friends to look for tiny, neighborhood establishments with long queues outside. These are the spots where people line up to get their morning brew and breakfast muffins to go. The longer the queue, the better the coffee. That’s another thing we like about living here. Things are not always advertised; you have to discover them. We’re not very good at remembering the names of shops, but we’ve noticed that if you follow the queues, you’ll always be satisfied.
We head over to our cousin’s home for lunch. Filipinos are all about family, and dining together over a home-cooked Filipino meal is often preferred to eating at a restaurant. Bonding with family – which now includes other Filipinos whom we aren’t necessarily related to – is one of the traditions we stick with, especially since we experienced their kindness and generosity when we first migrated. We didn’t get to bring too much with us, and our church community gifted us boxes of clothes and household items, some of which we still use to this day!
With a full belly, we make our way to the Woolloongabba Antique Centre (22 Wellington Rd), located in a nearby suburb. One of our favorite haunts, it’s filled with second-hand stores and vintage shops. We’re usually happy to just check out all the finds, but once in a while we pick up a piece or two like an electric fan or cane to add to one of Alfredo’s collections, or some faux jewelry for myself. Pop-up events, such as vintage record sales, creative workshops and live jazz, also take place here.