Bulimba, an inner suburb on the south side of the Brisbane River, is 4 km north-east of central Brisbane. It lacks a bridge connection to the north side, but there are ferries from the end of Oxford Street, across the river or upstream on the City Cat service to central Brisbane. 'Bulimba' extended well east of the present suburb. It is thought that 'Bulimba' was derived from an Aboriginal word describing the common magpie lark (also known as the mudlark or peewit).
In 1849-50 the pastoralist/farmer, David McConnel, built Bulimba House (34 Kenbury Street), a two-storey sandstone residence designed in a high-gabled, English tradition. McConnel, a successful stud cattle owner and pastoralist, settled at Bulimba apparently in deference to his wife's needs, choosing a rural site within a short boat journey of the town of Brisbane. Bulimba House is on the Australian heritage register.
By the 1860s Bulimba was a farming settlement with a school and a church; the main town was reached by river, the McConnel family having a rowing-boat service. A post office was opened in 1871. The Bulimba cemetery, well south of the present suburb, was established in 1874, positioned on Wynnum Road and accessible to Coorparoo, Balmoral and Morningside. In 1882 the Bulimba Brewery was opened in Oxford Street, but it failed within a year and was acquired by the Queensland Brewing Co Ltd. The new owner enlarged operations, but shifted production to a larger plant in Brunswick Street, New Farm in 1906, and the brand name 'Bulimba' was also transferred. The old Brewery site was converted to wharfage by Dalgety and Co.
The Bulimba local government division was formed in 1880, extending from Woolloongabba to Moreton Bay. Its population was about 2000. The area included over two-thirds of the Bulimba Creek with its sinuous lower reaches flowing through Tingalpa and Murarrie. The opening of the Brisbane to Cleveland railway line through the Bulimba division in 1889 confirmed steady population increases in Wynnum and east of Norman Creek, beyond East Brisbane. Immediately before the railway the division was divided into four local authorities: Coorparoo Shire, Balmoral division (including Bulimba Village and east to Hemmant), Kianawah division (named Wynnum in 1892) and Bulimba division (named Belmont in 1894) extending from Camp Hill to Tingalpa Creek and south to Mt Gravatt. The name 'Bulimba', from describing all the land from New Farm to Wynnum in 1880, was truncated in 15 years to a village across the river from New Farm, as well as being the name of a cemetery and of a watercourse that would over the next 80 years become a major carrier of sewage and industrial effluent.
Bulimba village was served by a vehicular steam ferry (1886), connecting with the Newstead horse-tram service (1888) which was electrified during the late 1890s. (A walk down Oxford Street to the ferry remained the sole means of convenient public transport to Brisbane until the 1930s when an electric tramline was extended in stages around from the Norman Creek bridge, along Wynnum Road and north along Riding Road to Balmoral (1925) and finally to Oxford Street in 1935.) The village shops, tradespeople, Church of England, school of arts and the primary school were found along Oxford Street, the shops mainly at the river end of Oxford Street. Neighbourhood butchers, boatmakers and grocers were scattered among more distant local streets. The emerging suburban township was described in 1903 in the Australian Handbook:
Given the separation from Brisbane, the opening of an open-air cinema in 1912-13 was a welcome addition to the community. The imminent extension of the tram service to Bulimba led to several residential estates in the 1920s, and a new ferry terminal with a clocked cupola design was built in 1922. The name 'Bulimba' once again spread beyond the suburb when the city Electric Light Co opened the Bulimba powerhouse at distant Murarrie, next to the Bulimba Creek, in 1926. Industrial development, including sugar mills and noxious industries, adjoined the creek's lower reaches, and upstream there were grazing, poultry farms and market gardens until the early postwar years. Improved erosion controls were brought in during the 1980s by which time there was substantial residential run-off.
Bulimba was a mature suburb by the end of the interwar years, protected for the most part from floods from the Brisbane River (in 1893 its edges were flooded and in 1974 a few small parts filled up). The eastern end next to the river was reserved for army purposes, later accommodating the Joint Logistics Unit and Naval Headquarters for south Queensland. Quicker access to central Brisbane came with the City Cat river transport (1996). Industrial land around Pashen Creek became prime residential space in the late 1990s, and the REIQ ranked Bulimba as the number one growth area (in prices) in 2001. This confirmed a trend to escalating house prices, with residents attracted by river views, the riverside golf course, Oxford Street shopping and proximity to the CBD. There are four heritage-listed sites along Oxford Street: the ferry terminal (1922), the memorial park (1904, 1919) with a fine bandstand; the timber Anglican church (1880-90s) and the State primary school's interwar brick buildings.
Despite being an older suburb, Bulimba's population has a median age of 34 years, the same as metropolitan Brisbane's. The median weekly income of the residents in 2001 was $496, 16% higher than the metropolitan median. Both statistics confirmed Bulimba's appeal to new residents, including owner-occupiers and renters in the town house developments that replaced former industrial sites in the early years of the twenty-first century.
The riverside park and memorial park sit on flood-prone land, but in January 2011 the Brisbane River invaded built-up areas south of Oxford Street and reaching down to Hawthorne.
The Bulimba ferry terminal was upgraded and reopened in December 2014. The new terminal blended the old terminal building with a modern gangway, which rises with the tides and local flood events.
Bulimba's census populations have been:
Brisbane Courier, 10 May 1930, p 23
Rod Fisher, Eastern suburbs placenames drive, Wooloowin, Brisbane History Group, 1990