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An edited version of this story was published in Tracks Webzine, Brisbane, Australia.


Australia's third-largest city, Brisbane (population 1.3 million) is being urged to adopt the motto of its San Franciscan namesake sister city, and call itself The City of Stars. After all, the Oz city was named after a noted astronomer, Sir Thomas Brisbane, who catalogued 7385 stars in what was then the largely uncharted southern sky. Brisbane's Planetarium, a popular tourist attraction, is named after him..

Don't imagine for one moment that Brisbane California (population 4000), which adjoins San Francisco, adopted its motto just to compete with that other City of Stars, Hollywood.

Sheri Schroeder, City Clerk of Brisbane, California, says "We are called The City of Stars because of our tradition of putting six to eight-foot wooden stars with Christmas lights on them on our houses during the holiday season.  Since Brisbane is a hillside community it is quite beautiful." Many properties offer panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, Mount Diablo, the East Bay, San Francisco and San Bruno Mountain.

"City of Stars has nothing to do with Hollywood," says Albert Duro, a computer network administrator who lives in California's Brisbane.  "We have a 50-year tradition of home-owners putting up lighted stars on top of their homes at Christmas. The five-point stars are made by volunteers and given to anyone who wants to put them up."

Duro knows a lot about the big sister city Down Under, whose residents call it BRIZ-b'n. "We pronounce the name a little differently here," he says. "We say BREEZE-BAYNE."

As every true Queenslander knows (or should know), the Oz city was named in honor of Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane (1773-1860) who was born in Brisbane House, near Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland. After a distinguished military career, he became Governor of New South Wales, which included what is now the separate State of Queensland, in 1821.

In 1823,  Sir Thomas Brisbane sent Lieutenant John Oxley north from Sydney to find a new site for convicts who were repeat offenders. Oxley discovered the Brisbane River and named it after Sir Thomas. A year later, convicts arrived at Moreton Bay and initially settled at Redcliffe. When that site proved unsuitable, Oxley suggested that the settlement be moved to its present site.

Sir Thomas visited the settlement in 1826, accompanied by the Chief Justice, who had wanted the new site to be called Edenglassie (a blend of Edinburgh and Glasgow?). Oxley however suggested Brisbane and (not surprisingly)  Sir Thomas agreed. The convict settlement was declared a town in 1834. Officially, free men could not settle within 50 miles of the colony until its penal function was abandoned in 1839, but the ban was not observed.

A short-lived rivalry with the town of Cleveland ended when Cleveland's wharves burned in 1854, allowing Brisbane to become the leading port. Proclaimed a municipality in 1859, it became the capital of newly independent Queensland that same year. Nearly a century later, in World War II, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, had his headquarters there.  Today,  Brisbane, with a population of 1.3 million, is Australia's third largest city.

Sir Thomas Brisbane's fame hasn't spread as far as California. "Never heard of him," Albert Duro declares.  "Local legend has it that our Brisbane was named by Arthur Annis, a real estate promoter who subdivided and started developing the town in the 20s. He either named the town (previously knows as Visitacion City) after his native Brisbane, Australia, or after Arthur Brisbane, who was at the time a very famous American journalist and supposedly an investor in Annis's venture."

Real estate agent Ron Davis offers an enthusiastic description of what has been his hometown for 15 years, on his Internet Web site.

"Brisbane is a friendly town ... only minutes south from downtown San Francisco and San Francisco International Airport," he says.  "Property values range from the mid 200s to the higher 900s. Unlike other areas with such diverse property values, there are no bad neighborhoods.

"The weather is great, the schools are dedicated, the community caring and the crime rate is low! All these things, combined with a small town sentiment and lots of tradition, make Brisbane a place you will love to call home."

Like its Australian namesake, Brisbane California had violent episodes in its past. The town's official website displays extracts from a book called Spirit of Independence  which, it says, "chronicles the recollections of our earliest residents beginning shortly after the 1906 earthquake and during the depression, when lots sold for $5 down and open land was all around us...

"According to local legend, during the 1850s, Joaquin Murieta used the area as a refuge from the local police. Depicted by some as a notorious desperado and by others as California's Robin Hood, Murieta preyed upon the San Francisco to San Jose stage line from Costanos Canyon. Although Murieta was eventually hanged by the San Francisco Vigilante Committee, his fame lives on in the folklore and legend of the area...

"The great oak with its long horizontal bough still stands, on which tradition says he hanged his victims. Rumor has it that here somewhere he cached part of his ill-gotten gain. Who knows, but someday a wanderer here may unearth his private hoard...

"[French migrants] Emile and Julie Allemand...  built the Brisbane Hotel, the community's first major structure. Still standing today, the hotel... served as the town's first grocery store, post office, general merchandise store, and hunting club.

"Following the introduction of Prohibition in 1918, a number of San Francisco mobsters employed moonshiners to manufacture liquor in Costanos Canyon. As a result of these activities, the area soon became known as a center of speakeasies and gambling dens.

"'Don't forget that we had bootlegging going on,' relates Winnie Wilson. 'After we moved out of a house down by the Brisbane Inn, some bootleggers got in. Us kids used to hickey them if we saw anyone coming. They used to dump their mash, like apricot mash, all over on the side there. They'd hide, but they finally caught them anyway.

"John Wilson, Winnie's husband, was also aware of some of the slightly less-than-legal activities occurring in the area. 'During Prohibition, we had these boats come in off the ocean and throw the stuff overboard and leave it, any way to get it in there,' he remembers. 'The bootleggers threw them off out in the ocean and let the stuff float in. They had guys laying there waiting for it.'"

There are three other places named Brisbane in the United States - one each in North Dakota, Illinois and Arkansas.

Brisbane in Grant County, south-western North Dakota, is (or rather was) a Milwaukee Road Railroad station founded in 1910.  No-one knows for sure whether it was named for Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936), a  nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, or for a railroad official named Brisbane.

The town had a population of 100 in 1920, which sadly had dwindled to six by 1960.  Brisbane High School was open from 1927 until 1936, but only 32 students graduated.  The post office closed in 1956, with mail going to the nearby city of Carson.

Duane Schatz. mayor of Elgin ND, and publisher of the Grant County News and Carson Press, grew up in the Brisbane area in the 1950s and has many family friends there, and fond memories of the people and good times. "Alas, the town no longer exists," he laments, "but it once had a grain elevator, grocery store, lumber yard, post office and school."

In his folksy column On the Street, posted on his newspapers' Web site, Duane recounts this tale: "Some time ago, our Western Dakota Cable TV man, Tim, was on his way home when he experienced a flat tire on his older station wagon. With the type of roads he drives on south of Bentley, he usually carries several spare tires and upon checking his trunk all the tires were flat. So looking around he noticed a tire hanging on the fence sporting a No Hunting sign painted on one side. He went over and sure enough, it was the exact size he needed and it appeared better than his tires. So he took the tire and put it on, with the No Hunting signature on the inside and drove it many miles. I wanted to get a photo of that tire, but he decided to put it back before coming to town again."

Duane's co-publisher, Gail Schatz, also writes an entertaining column, In the Kitchen, with this marvelous piece of nostalgia: "Fishing and camping in the summer is something we enjoyed and did a lot of when I grew up...  First off we fished with a string and a hook on the end of a tree branch that we would break off and we had to catch grasshoppers for bait. We always went fishing after the cows were milked, chickens fed, eggs picked and all of the other chores were done in the evening.

" Our camping was different too. We would pack a homemade jelly sandwich and water jug and sometimes carry a blanket to Cherry Creek to camp out and fish under a tree until dark. If it was moonlight we stayed until 10 pm, then grab our leftovers and a few bullheads we had caught and head back home (to the old log house). That way we didn't have so many rattlesnakes to put up with or coyotes that came close to the buildings a night. Sleeping under the stars was a bit more risky where I grew up than it is in these modern campsites today."

Kirk Samuelson's hilarious Web site answers some frequently asked questions about his State:

"Huh? Many respond with utter confusion when North Dakota is mentioned," he says.  "They don't know if North Dakota is a place, person, or brand of ice cream. Some figure it is only a fictional place, like the North Pole. Most of these people are from Montana.

"Where the bewillikers is that? Now that's a good question. North Dakota is nearly in the geographical center of North America...  It is south of Canada, west of Minnesota, east of Montana, and north of South Dakota. In short, North Dakota is in the middle of nowhere.

"Does everybody in North Dakota drive tractors? No, not everybody. In fact, less than 10 per cent of the population are farmers. The rest of us ride horses.

"Do you still have cowboys and Indians out there? Yes! North Dakota is home to several tribes of Native Americans including the Chippewa, the Mandan, and the Sioux. And there are five Indian Reservations in North Dakota. As for cowboys, well, every beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pick-up drivin' North Dakotan male is part cowboy.

"Isn't it cold up there? No, it isn't cold. It's really, really, really cold.

"State Language: English. A bill was passed in 1987 to make English the State Language. I would have voted for Swedish.

"State Dance: Square dance. This is a dance where everybody stands in a circle."

The world's fourth Brisbane is a small settlement in Will County, Illinois, and the fifth is in Nevada County, Arkansas.

And there's a place called Brisbin (any relation?) in Pennsylvania, near a town rejoicing in the name Slippery Rock, only 157 miles from Washington DC.

"Many tales are told about the origin of the name Slippery Rock," says the Slippery Rock University Web site. "Some scientists have even identified the particular moss, which combined with the clay and silt washing over it, creates the 'slippery rock' in the creek.

"Some say George Washington was fleeing natives in the area and chose to dash across the Slippery Rock Creek to safety. The pursuing native, losing his footing on the rocks, misfired, and the father of our country was spared. A minor protest in the early 1970s led some local institutions to change their logo to show a settler slipping on a rock. In any case, the rocks are indeed slippery, and the unusual name has been a distinction enjoyed by its citizens for many years...

"The name Slippery Rock originally referred to the post office, located at Etna Furnace south of the present town. According to local legend, the post office was loaded into a wheelbarrow and moved to Centreville in the middle of the night and the federal government was never notified. The town came to be known as Slippery Rock to match its newly acquired and more conveniently located post office."

Copyright 2000, 20001, 2002   Eric Shackle   Story first posted April 2001

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