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If you’re looking for a walking tour in Brisbane with a difference, you need to know about Brisbane Greeters, a group of dedicated and knowledgeable locals who take small groups on free walking tours of their town. I’m just going to say that again. Free walking tours! Two of my favourite things in one phrase.

There’s no better way to discover a neighbourhood than with a local—they know the nooks and crannies, the hidden secrets and the tales of things that have gone before. And given they live locally, they’re usually fans of the area, because why else would they live there? So this seemed like something not to miss.

So I didn’t. Mr T and I signed up and joined Sue, our lovely guide, on a terrific guided walking tour of the historic areas of Newstead, Tennerife and New Farm. Some of the areas we’d visited before, either driven through or even walked previously, but with a local guide to inform our visit, a whole new world of history and tidbits were revealed to us. How much we miss on a normal pass through.

The areas we visited were dripping in history. We started near the water and saw the spot named by Lieutenant John Oxley after he breakfasted there. He had proposed the area as a good site for settlement but an area further north was settled instead (see if you can work out the name of that creek now). We visited a 130 year old pub where they still serve beer from wooden barrels, heard tales of visits from Bert Hinkler, passed an air raid shelter from war days and spotted one of the only two American eagle memorials in Australia (the other is in my hometown of Canberra.) Wouldn’t have noticed any of the above had I been on my own. Well, I would have seen the pub.

Much of the area was a solid working class area with a lot of industry. It’s now the site of a lot of marvellous urban renewal, the first area in Brisbane to undergo such transformation. The rows of wool warehouses that once stood next to the rail lines and opposite the busy wharves have been transformed into an array of modern apartments while paying homage to their past. The old Powerhouse has been revitalised into a funky exhibition space and the sugar refinery now a most elegant suite of apartments. It’s brilliant.

The area is also rich in naval history as a stroll along the submarine memorial walk will reveal. In World War 2, the US navy took possession of New Farm Wharf and associated wool warehouses in 1942, as well as other buildings in the area. Moreton Bay was one of the largest US naval bases in the Southwest Pacific and operated over a period of three years. So much to learn of years gone by.

I absolutely loved our day discovering parts of Brisbane and the history that’s made it into the place it is today, and taking note of things you may have passed before without a second glance or thought. Discovering them with a local made it a bit more special too: like, ‘This 130 year old pub was my Dad’s “local”’, and ‘I grew up in that house on the hill over there.’ That sort of thing.

Tours are on foot and go for between two and four hours. They’re for small groups only and can be tailored to individual groups, though they will have some set areas they cover. The most popular one is one Brisbane city, which goes for about four hours, or there’s a selection of more tailored walks in the ‘burbs. You can even request a walk specially curated to your interests, but don’t forget to book in advance – at least a week.

And believe it or not, this is a completely free service! And I don’t mean one of those ‘free walking tours’ where you’re pretty well expected to tip in lieu of paying, so #freenotfree. The organisation has a strict policy of not accepting tips although they do welcome donations through their website to help offset the administration costs of running the program. Or you may be able to coerce the guide into joining you for a drink or a coffee. The volunteers do it because they love their home town and are pleased to showcase it to the world. Amazing! If you’re lucky, your guide might even play a spot of piano for you.

A guide from Brisbane Greeters playing one of the "Play Me" pianos on Brisbane streets

Brisbane Greeters is part of an international network, International Greeter Association, dedicated to welcoming visitors to their home towns and taking the on guided walking tours to show some highlights and hidden gems, places you wouldn’t discover by yourself and stories to go with it

The Brisbane group is supported by Brisbane City Council. Several cities in Australia also offer these tours (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Cairns). There are also branches in over 200 destinations all over the world, from Madagascar to Macedonia, Ghana to Germany, or Colombia to Croatia, and all the way in between.

If there’s not a Global Greeters network in your area, the organisation can help you set up your own. Now, there’s something to keep you busy!!

If you love walking tours, meeting new people, and discovering new places and hidden secrets, this could be for you.

I’ll be signing up again soon with Brisbane Greeters for another free walking tour of Brisbane to discover some of Paddington’s secrets.