G-20 leaders converge on Australian city once derided as seedy over-sized county town

The annual G-20 summit is descending on the capital of Australia's sunshine state with a promise to anoint it as a truly global city. But some inhabitants of Brisbane, once pilloried by Australians as a faintly seedy oversized country town, would prefer if world leaders had continued to pass them by.

For the boosters of Queensland state, playing host to top officials from the 20 biggest industrialized and developing economies is a long overdue acknowledgement they don't live in subtropical backwater. Small businesses, however, are struggling against the disruptions of road closures and an over-the-top security response.

"I have not heard one local person in favor of it. Not one," said Ron Wedlake who owns a kiosk across the street from the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Center which is at the heart of the biggest gathering of world leaders that Australia has hosted.

The first of the steel and acrylic glass barriers began appearing in the streets surrounding the convention center and some hotels a week before the summit, which starts Saturday. While the barriers did not block access to Wedlake's business, the shutting of the local train station had deprived him of his commuting customers by Monday. He wondered if he would bother staying open for the rest of the week.

"They talk about the long term benefits, but I can't see a long term benefit for the likes of a small business like me," he said.

Authorities predict the Group of 20 summit and the international exposure it brings to Brisbane will be worth $100 million to the Queensland economy.

Queensland license plates say it's the "Sunshine State" and Australians calls its inhabitants "banana benders" in a reference to how they supposedly occupy their time.

Many of the prejudices that larger cities traditionally held toward Brisbane are outdated. Some are hangovers from the 1960s when much of the sprawling city had no sewerage system and was often plagued by mosquitoes.

It is now one of Australia's fastest-growing metropolitan areas, with a population numbering 2.2 million people.

In recent decades, the state capital has been dubbed "Brisneyland" in part because of its playground reputation as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast, beach resorts, theme parks and other tourist attractions.

But the state remains deeply conservative and produces some of Australia's most colorful politicians such as mining magnate Clive Palmer, who's building a replica of the Titanic in a Chinese shipyard.

The G-20 is being held at the downtown's South Bank precinct on the Brisbane River, the same location where the World Expo was held in 1988. The success of that international six-month fair raised the population's confidence in their hometown as a global city.

While Brisbane retains its laid-back feel, pub owner Richard Deery insists it has long outgrown its country town reputation.

"It's a great city to live in. It's got a lot going for it," he said.

Deery owns the Story Bridge Hotel which stands in the shadow of the eponymous six-lane steel cantilever bridge on the southern bank of Brisbane River not far from the G-20. Deery's business is a "hotel" in the Australian sense of the word in that it has several bars but no beds.

The pub is within the so-called declared area, a security buffer zone where large banners, fireworks and anything that can hide a person's face such as a balaclava are banned. Anyone arrested and charged within a declared area can be held in jail until the G-20 is over.

Deery thinks the G-20 coming to Brisbane, bringing the slogan "new world city," is good for the city that he has called home for 47 years. But he's not yet certain that his business will make money from the weekend.

He has been using rooftop signs to advertise to the bridge traffic that the bars will be open throughout the G-20 summit. "Let's solve all the problems over a beer," one says.

Deery said G-20 organizers have sent mixed messages about whether the public is welcome in downtown Brisbane during the summit.

"The thing we don't want is for Brisbane to look like a ghost town with all this media attention on us," he said

Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk has offered free parking in downtown Brisbane to encourage the public into the city center.

But authorities have also made Friday a public holiday to help ease traffic congestion. Thousands of Brisbane residents plan to take advantage of the long weekend and hot spring weather to head to the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast resorts along the surf beaches outside Brisbane.

Deery is concerned that the public holiday means he has to pay staff more to work that day, so he needs more customers to make staying open worthwhile.

"I'll tell you next week whether it's been good or bad" for business, he said.