The Mole Diaries: Brisbane

The Mole Diaries: Brisbane University of Queensland by Philip Bouchard

This article was written by Lottie Mortimer, published on 3rd October 2012 and has been read 9781 times.

Lottie is studying History with an International Year at Royal Holloway, University of London and is currently on her third year abroad at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. She is also the author of The Ambling Explorer where you can find a few more posts about Brisbane, spending a year abroad in Australia and travel in general. Here is her insider guide to Brisbane...

Before you go

Make sure that you budget! Australia has a higher cost of living than London but their earnings are better. Minimum wage is around $17. If you can get a job, then fantastic, but be warned this can be difficult since many employers are put off by Student visas.

If you are a UK student and entitled to a student loan for your year abroad, look at how much student finance you are receiving and roughly budget it for the year. Also try and get your paperwork in before you leave, I left everything (including booking my flight) to the week before I left because of circumstances. This meant that I ended up communicating with student finance via post because it was too expensive to call them and they don’t do e-mail. Also consider setting up a password so that a parent or guardian in the UK can share information with student finance.

What to Pack

You’re heading to Queensland, the Sunshine State and portal to the Great Barrier Reef – sunglasses, hat and swimwear. This is a great excuse to shop for a summer wardrobe, but if you’re arriving in July it will be winter and the evenings can be a little chilly so make sure that you bring a few warm clothes. Make sure that you take some suncream and aftersun. Queensland isn’t called the Sunshine State for nothing. Of course you can buy it when you’re there but it’s good to come prepared so you can enjoy the sun straight away. Keep sun safe! Painkillers and medication – I didn’t bring many of these at all because I assumed I would be able to buy them in Australia. These are expensive. In Britain I can get a packet of paracetamol for 20p, Australia it will set you back a few dollars. Same with cold and flu capsules – what would cost me £2 would set me back $10 here. Ladies – if you have any favourite beauty products bring them with you. I haven’t been able to find a bottle of make-up remover here under the $10. Also, having a period in Australia is expensive, most packs of sanitary towels are around the $5 mark so I would advise you to bring enough to get you through you’re first month at least.

Arriving at Brisbane International Airport

Brisbane Airport does have free wifi but it does have a time and download limit. Be warned, the airport is in the middle of nowhere. This means if your uni isn’t picking you up, you have two options of leaving the airport:

A cab to the city centre will set you back about $40. The airtrain, the last one of which is at 10pm, this train journey can cost $15-$20, when any other train journey of the same distance would only cost about $5. Remember to factor in these costs when planning excursions.

Getting Around

Make sure you get you’re university student card as soon as possible and get yourself to a newsagent to get you’re go-card. It’s a bit like a London Oyster card, in the sense that it’s pre-pay travel card. This can be used on all public transport within the state – bus, train & CityCat (the ferry service.) If you’re a student you get 50% off and if you travel within the same zone within 2 hours you don’t get charged. Furthermore, if take 9 journeys within the week you get the rest of the week’s travel for free, regardless of zone. Most useful website when planning any journey is Translink. (you can type in any two places and it will find you a few alternative ways to get there. Australia is so large that most of the large cities are very far away from each other. You’ll probably want to take a plane. One of the cheapest airlines is Tiger Airways.


University accommodation is very different in Australia to the UK, some universities have a few residential colleges, otherwise you pretty much need to find somewhere yourself. College is expensive but is a great way to make friends and take full advantage of sports and social opportunities. If you don’t feel like college take a look at this website. Most people I know who don’t live in college, have found suitable accommodation by scouring Gumtree.

If you’re a fitness fan

Then check out the Brisbane River Run. Also if you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, the Kangaroo Point Cliffs are a former quarry that have been turned into a public place by the government for Rock Climbers to use for free.

Don’t miss out on

During September Brisbane comes alive for the Brisbane Festival. You’ll find concerts and events all over the city during this period, some free and others not. My highlights form 2012 were ‘Symphony under the Stars’ (a free open air classical concert by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra) and ‘Riverfire’ (the grand finale – 20 minutes of spectacular fireworks.)

3 Brisbane To-Dos to get you started

1. Take a stroll through Southbank Parklands and take a dip at the Streets Beach (yes, they’ve created a fake beach in the park that you can go for a paddle and a swim in.)
2. Be a tourist – Take a visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to have a cuddle with a koala and feed a kangaroo.
3. Spend a day being cultured and head to the Queensland Museum, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art.

A Little Out of the Way

Take a bus to visit Walkabout Creek wildlife centre. It’s half an hour through suburbia but I think it’s worth it. A concession entry ticket is $4.35. The centre is small and there isn’t many visitors, this means that you get to spend as much time as you like looking at the animals without reams of tourists taking up the whole space in front of you taking videos of the platypus with their iPads. There’s a small walk through aviary and a space outside where you can get close to some wallabies. There are also 1.5km and 5km bushwalks which are nice to see some nature and an ideal place for your first bushwalk. Make sure you look out for snakes though!


You’re probably noticing a trend by now, this is expensive too. When I arrived at Brisbane airport I saw an offer at Duty Free for 2 bottles of vodka for $50. I thought this was one of the worst deals I had ever seen. In hindsight, this was a fantastic deal that I should have taken advantage of. A bottle of vodka or whiskey will set you back about $50. Beer and Cider aren’t too bad but I still consider them fairly expensive. The way to drink cost effectively is to buy goon (boxed wine.)
Also, you can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets in Australia so you’ll have to head to the nearest bottle shop.

Free Wifi?

If you’re not at uni try the state library for wifi and power sockets in the city, if in doubt there’s always Maccas (McDonalds.)

Keeping in Touch

Download Skype for free video calls over the internet. Also take a look at Vodaphone’s International pre-paid plan. This lets you make calls to the UK, US & Singapore for $1.

An idea for the holidays

Since the Australian academic year starts in February and ends in November, you may well find yourself studying Semester 2, having a three-month summer vacation, then studying semester 1. This is a huge chunk of time. One way to spend it cost-effectively is to sign up on help exchange. A 2-year memberships costs £18. This is a cultural exchange where you stay with local people and work on a farm, boat, ranch etc. in exchange for food and accommodation.

One last thing!

If you take a weekend excursion to Sydney, don’t miss the last flight back.

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