TODAY’S voyage of discovery proved a pleasant way to while away the hours, with a round trip to Fortitude Valley covering many highlights, some of them to be covered properly in the days to come.
The walk started in Spring hill and continued down St Paul’s Terrace where there are some superb examples of the type of housing that befitted this hill-top location in its heyday more than a century ago.
A garishly painted but cute cottage stands beside a gracious colonial home; an interesting old rendered boarding house looks up at a spectacular timber Queenslander and new apartment buildings blend in between them.
A whole block is given over to the imposing red brick of the Villa Maria Centre, a heritage listed building now belonging to Catholic Healthcare.
Its fame is its rather tenuous connection to Mary McKillop, Australia’s first saint, who founded the Sisters of St Joseph with a priest called Father Julian Woods who also happened to found the order of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Brisbane in 1874.
The huge Villa Maria Centre was established on St Paul’s Terrace by the good sisters to provide help for the aged, needy and infirm, and as a place to maintain “perpetual adoration” which meant round-the-clock prayer – at least one of them had to be praying at any time – hence the order’s name.
The nuns were also once famous for their needlework, making elaborate vestments for the priests and also supplying Brisbane emporiums with bridal trousseaus.
The building has the unmistakable look of a convent. It’s a huge complex that has been built in stages, starting in 1924 and now offers a “ladies only facility with single rooms with ensuite and sitting area, a homely atmosphere, a church with regular services and a small community feel” all while being smack bang in the middle of Brisbane between the City and Fortitude Valley.
In January 2008, the convent joined Catholic Healthcare and continues to offer aged care services. There is also a chapel and spiritual centre on site but as I was only walking by and this was not my destination for the day, I didn’t explore beyond its street presence.
So, on with the journey and down into the Valley, finding the way by keeping the iconic entrance to the old McWhirters department store in view as its now pretty much at the centre of the action beside the Brunswick Street markets and Chinatown.
I can still remember my mother taking me on the tram from the City to the Valley so we could go to McWhirters (or Myer as it was by then) on one of my rare days in the Big Smoke. It now bears little resemblance to that big old posh place I remember.
The markets are something of a ritual for me, not so much for the exotic clothing, books and jewellery on offer but for the Chinese massage tents.
It was soothing as always and one of the best value treats around with the chance to choose from a menu of the parts requiring massage. It’s the best $20 to be spent on a sunny Saturday.
Next, it was into the McWhirter Centre which happens to house my favourite supermarket – Indian. Even if you’re not shopping for any and every type of exotic Indian flavours and foods, it’s wonderful to wander around just for the smell – a rich mix of incense and spice.
And of course if you want bulk rice, a scintillating choice of chutneys and curry powders and other ingredients, then all the better. This is the place to get it.
The nearby Indian café bar also serves a brilliant butter chicken and rice for just $7.
Around the corner is a Red Cross charity shop that’s definitely worth checking out.
All in all the McWhirter Centre has a variety of shops, some exotic others more functional, that make it worth dropping by.
On the way back towards the city, I stopped in at the Chinese Supermarket, another little cracker and my source of green tea.
Here it comes in big bundles for $2 rather than tiny trendy teabags for three times that amount. And if you want the teapot and cups to prepare it, they’re there too.
The route home takes me past Cathedral Village, where the Catholic Church once held high hopes for a cathedral but is now an apartment development and through Centenary Park with its brilliant old-fashioned statues mounted high on plinths.
All in all an excellent day but I’m afraid you haven’t heard the last of it as there is more to tell about some of the stops.