Spend 48-hrs in Brisbane with Eli Bell from Boy Swallows Universe as your guide. Buckle up for a wild escapade and a hilarious and somewhat unpredictable tour.
Boy Swallows Universe is Trent Dalton’s smash hit novel transformed into a Netflix series. The series stars Simon Baker (The Mentalist) as Robert Bell, Travis Fimmel (Vikings and Black Snow) as Lyle and Phoebe Tonkin as Francis. Watch the preview below if you haven’t dived straight into the seven-part series.
48 Hours in Brisbane – Brisbane City Haunts
So, you’ve taken a joyride through the pages of Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe, laughed with Eli Bell, and even caught a glimpse of the magic of the TV series on Netflix.
Here’s your guide to 48 hrs in Brisbane with Eli Bell from Boy Swallows Universe wandering through Brisbane’s bayside, dancing with its gritty suburbs, and discovering that even in the 1980s, the city had its own quirky charm.
Eli, with his infamous criminal babysitter Slim Halliday, his dad dealing heroin like it’s a stock exchange, and his mum juggling with the unpredictable art of junkie acrobatics, has made Brisbane a character of its own.
Now, if you are wondering why this wild adventure is the best way to see my home town, Brisbane, it’s simple: where else can you experience the city’s past, present, and a dash of the absurd all in one go? Boy, do they know how to serve up stories in the Sunshine State!
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Just remember: Eli may have eaten the universe, but you’ll devoured the best bits of his stomping grounds with a mere 48 hours in Brisbane!
10:15 am: Start at the end – Brisbane City HallJoin a free guided Clock Tower Tour (every 15 minutes from 10:15 am to 4:45 pm) and ride Brisbane’s oldest working cage lift to the top of Brisbane City Hall for epic skyline views. On the eighth floor is a giant analogue clock and the very spot where Eli confronts his arch-enemy in the novel’s nail-biting (or is that finger-chopping) finale. Tuck into some local history with a High Tea at the Shingle Inn on the ground floor of City Hall. First opened in 1936 on Edward Street, the original Shingle Inn was one of Brisbane’s much-loved eateries. Its wood-panelled walls now sit within City Hall, and you can still buy their famous patty cakes and passionfruit sponges. and Sunshine City memories. Don’t forget to turn the sugar basin sideways after you have ordered. (Shingle Inn opens Tuesday – Saturday, 9.00 am to 3.00 pm). Don’t miss the chance to admire City Hall’s amazing entry and to visit the Museum of Brisbane, an amazing social history museum focussed on Brisbane. The gift shop is top browsing! Below: Brisbane City Hall and scenes from Boy Swallows Universe replicating Brisbane in the 1980s.
12:00 noon: Head west for flavours of the east
Stroll up Roma Street to Roma Street Station and jump on a westbound train to the place where Boy Swallows Universe first begins. Welcome to the multicultural suburb of Darra, home to a stew of gloriously delicious Vietnamese restaurants that undoubtedly spiced up the life of Eli Bell.
Close to the quaint weatherboard cottages with spacious backyards, you’ll find three popular dining establishments – Kim Khanh, Van Vietnamese, and Que Huong Restaurant. Observant viewers may recognize the latter, as it served as a filming location for a scene in the Netflix production.
4.30 pm: Brisbane Crime Time
If you had dared to peel back the layers of Fortitude Valley in the 70s and 80s—back when Brisbane was still practising for its “new world city” title—you might have discovered some hidden gems, or more accurately, some slightly tarnished cubic zirconias. It was like the Valley was doing its best impression of an avant-garde art piece, with murky undertones that could make even a detective’s magnifying glass blush.
Much like how Boy Swallows Universe spills the beans on Brisbane’s not-so-glamorous side, the Moonlight State Fortitude Valley Crime Tour takes you on a hilarious stroll through the city’s shadier history every Saturday afternoon. Picture this: local crime maestro Jack Sim dishing out stories about Brisbane’s undercover brothels, sky-high casinos, and scandalous run-ins with the law. And let’s not forget his PhD-level knowledge of Boggo Road Jail, the high-security resort where Eli and Trent’s babysitter, Slim Halliday, once pulled off a daring escape. It’s like a crime thriller but with a side of Saturday afternoon laughs.
While you are in The Valley, make a pit stop at The Tivoli, the musical powerhouse that’s been shaking up Brisbane for longer than your aunt’s been trying to master the kazoo. This legendary venue has seen more rock and roll than a tumble dryer on steroids. And get this – it even had a cameo in a Netflix scene. So, if your life needs a soundtrack and a touch of streaming fame, The Tivoli is where it’s at.
Spend 48-hrs in Brisbane with Eli Bell from Boy Swallows the Universe with this tour.
7.00 pm: Riverside dining
For a dining experience that’s more refined than a cat in a top hat, head over to the swanky Stanley Restaurant at Howard Smith Wharves. Now, technically, Stanley might not have scored a role in the novel, but rumour has it that it’s the author Trent Dalton’s top pick for munching down on some Cantonese delights while gazing at the Brisbane River. It’s like dining with the literary elite, but with more dim sum.
You might like to finish the night with a cocktail at Mr Percival’s.
Overnight in Brisbane
Nestle into dreamland at Hotel Indigo, the riverside retreat that’s undergone a glow-up and opened its doors in the summer of 2022. Decked out with more original artworks than your grandma’s fridge, this place is like a living love letter to Brisbane’s past, present, and probably even its future.
The rooms here are very quirky. I stayed in one with a walk-through cupboard that doubled as a room divider. Their Japanese-themed restaurant, Izakaya Publico, has an amazing warayaki grill so expect plenty flame action. There’s also a whisky bar.
Oh, and did I mention the 16-storey mural on the side, courtesy of the artist ‘Blends’? It’s got a blue wren on it, giving a nod to “Boy Swallows Universe.” Why settle for counting sheep when you can count artistic references to novels?
The cast of Boy Swallows Universe IMAGE – Netflix
48 Hours in Brisbane – A Day on the Bay
Morning: Brisbane Bayside
Drag yourself out of bed at an hour that should be illegal and point your compass 40 kilometres north to Redcliffe. It’s not just the site of Brisbane’s first penal settlement; it’s also a beachy paradise turned bustling suburb.
On Sunday mornings, this friendly peninsula transforms into a hive of activity with the Redcliffe Farmers and Artisan’s Market, starting at the unholy hour of 8.00 am. And if that’s not enough excitement, the markets are a practically grooving distance from the Bee Gees Way – a disco-infused shrine to Brisbane’s favourite boy band, possibly even more famous than Trent Dalton (sorry, Trent).
In Redcliffe, channel your inner Eli by grabbing a scooter or an electric bike at Fun Times Hire. Cruise down the seafront parade like you’re auditioning for a low-budget Baywatch spin-off all the way to the old Hornibrook Bridge. You’ll find plenty of anglers there, casting lines with the enthusiasm of someone auditioning for a seafood cooking show.
In the novel, this is Eli’s go-to fishing spot and the place where he has rendezvous with his (and the author’s) favourite babysitter, the notorious Slim Halliday – a convicted murderer and hobbyist angler extraordinaire.
Now, if you’re more of a “seas the day” kind of person, consider hopping on a charter fishing boat with Brisbane Big Cat or joining the marine paparazzi at Brisbane Whale Watching.
Between July and November, you can come face to face with around 40,000 Humpback Whales, all making a fashionable beeline past the bay. Sure, it’s got nothing to do with the novel or the series, but it’s a whale of a good time and a great way to soak in Brisbane’s aquatic awesomeness.
Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe IMAGE -Netflix
6.00 pm: Fresh-catch dining
Along the Scarborough foreshore, there’s a buffet of restaurants tempting you with their culinary charms. But, let’s spill the local secrets: the real treasure trove of catch-of-the-day seafood is the stuff that practically does a victory lap off the trawler.
Make a beeline to Tempest (next to Morgans) to partake in the ancient ritual of peeling a fresh prawn or chowing down on a Moreton Bay Bug while the sun decides it’s time for bed. Because, let’s be honest, sunset tastes better with a side of seafood straight from the sea’s red carpet.
You could also just grab some fish and chips from Morgans or enjoy a locally brewed beer at Scarborough Brewing Co. Tip – they have a second-floor balcony with expansive marina views.
Stay on the Bay
Just a hop, skip, and a few dramatic clicks south of Redcliffe lies the fabulous Sebel Brisbane Margate Beach – a tranquil oasis that’s basically the VIP section of Brisbane retreats. It’s so outdoorsy and Moreton Bay view-centric that even the seagulls probably envy it.
Take a leisurely stroll along the beachfront, hit the cycling paths like you’re training for the Tour de Brisbane, or unleash your inner buoy and bob around in the bay. The beaches and lagoon are basically playgrounds for kids (and kids at heart), or you can just channel your inner sloth and soak up the ocean views from your hotel balcony.
Eli Bell may not have had the chance, but you sure can, and you can bet he’d be trading his adventures for a slice of this seaside serenity any day.
Brisbane River Walk
Grab some Three Spot Crabs, Morgans Seafood, Redcliffe on your 48-hrs in Brisbane with Eli Bell from Boy Swallows the Universe tour.
48 Hours in Brisbane – Back to Work
As your whirlwind 48 hours in Brisbane with Eli Bell come to a close, you can relax with the knowledge you have been introduced to the Brisbane locals’ love.
You’ve sampled seafood straight off the trawler, tackled the cycling paths like a pro, and even driven past The Courier Mail, where Trent Dalton might be scribbling down Eli’s latest escapade.
You’ve laughed in the face of Moreton Bay Bugs, discovered the secret fishing spot, and possibly witnessed a seagull giving the Sebel Brisbane Margate Beach the stink eye because he hasn’t been invited to stay.
Bid farewell to Brisbane, but just remember: Eli may have eaten the universe, but you’ve devoured the best bits of his stomping grounds with a mere 48 hrs in Brisbane with Eli Bell from Boy Swallows Universe.
Until next time, keep the adventure alive, and may your seafood always be as fresh as Eli’s wit.
Written by Kerry Heaney
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