Starting out in the mid 1800s as a thriving extension of the adjacent CBD, Fortitude Valley buzzed along nicely accumulating a cathedral, convent, department stores and growing Chinese community until the demise of its lifeblood, the tramway, in 1969. Its subsequent devolution into dilapidation was rapid. The 70s and 80s saw a police-sanctioned infiltration of strip clubs, brothels and illegal casinos firmly establishing it’s fringe-dwelling status. It opened its arms to anyone seeking refuge from Jo Bjelke Peterson’s draconian civil liberty laws, particularly a well-closeted gay community. The Beat, one of the earliest gay clubs, still has them filling the dance floors after 34 years. It is the home of the first community broadcaster in Queensland, 4ZZZ, a volunteer-run-to-this-day radio station that, in 1975, pioneered programming of contemporary Australian music.
Steadfastly immune to urban renewal, The Valley is a shabby slattern with grimy facades, empty shops and deserted arcades. By day the streets are populated with strugglers from local community housing, drug addicts, catholic school girls, Chinese business owners and terminally hip youth hanging out and shopping at stores run by their friends. A few streets down from the heart of things, design-focussed James Street retailers and arts lovers at the Judith Wright Centre try their best to elevate the tone.
On Friday and Saturday nights a myriad of bars, clubs, venues and restaurants, from dodgy to über cool, throw open their doors to a sea of revellers, tired and emotional, lurching up and down Brunswick Street Mall and the nearby Albert and Constance streets. At this time, The Valley is the nightmare of any parent with a child newly drinking-aged.
I hope these images reflect my affection for this seedy little hollow. Plans for rejuvenation are ever afoot but I wish they would languish in development hell a while longer.
Pictures and words by Brisbane’s best kept photographic secret Loulou McPhee. Her pictures can be found on her website.