The Great Northern Hotel, Townsville, is a fine old corner building with iron lace on its verandahs.
Northern is a good name for a North Queensland pub, but there’s also a Great Northern Hotel in Newcastle, New South Wales, and another in Byron Bay. For a Sydneysider, Newcastle is north, and Byron Bay is a long way north.
It’s all about where you’re standing.
There is also a Great Northern Hotel in Cairns, but to a patron of the Great Northern Hotel in north London, or the Best Northern in Ontario, Canada, the thought of anything in Australia being named “northern” would be absurd.
Staying in New Zealand a few years ago, at Invercargill, as far south as I’m ever likely to go, I was startled to find there, on the northern side of the railway line, the Northern Hotel. It makes sense to the locals.
Compass point names pop up everywhere, and they sometimes require a bit of re-orientation for a visitor. As a Queenslander living in Kalgoorlie for several months, I found it difficult to adjust to the idea of going east to the desert and west to the ocean.
When Con and I drive south, over the border to Murwillumbah or Lismore, we’re driving to the Northern Rivers. That name feels right to a Sydneysider, but not to a Queenslander. Our northern rivers are the Mitchell, Herbert and Burdekin, not the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence.
Australia’s interstate clichés involve the compass points, too.
Queenslanders talk about “southerners” with a hint of scorn. Detached from such manly and heroic matters as crocodiles and floods, there are too many of them scuttling about in Sydney and Melbourne, boasting of their Harbour Bridge and their coffee culture. We call them Cockroaches, especially at Rugby League State of Origin, when it’s all about the Queensland Maroons versus the New South Wales Blues.
In Sydney and Melbourne, people think of Queensland as the Deep North, a backward place of no account, of cane toads, cyclones and annoying politicians: Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Pauline Hanson, Clive Palmer.
In Tasmania the locals speak about the rest of Australia as “mainlanders”, pretentious sneerers who make cliched jokes about Tasmanians and sometimes leave them off the map entirely, then flock down in the summer to enjoy the state’s arts, history and food.
Adelaide people enjoy a slight snootiness that goes back to their roots as a settlement of the free and well-heeled, not convicts. South Australia is the state of Don Dunstan, festivals, and wine. Lined up to collect his winnings at the Hawker races in South Australia, Con struck up a conversation with a woman from Adelaide. They started to talk about wine.
“We produce wine in Queensland,” Con said.
“No you don’t,” she said.
To Western Australia, the rest of the country is “over east”, a place that is both far away and unaware that its prosperity rides on W.A.’s mineral wealth and hard work.
Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world. Migrants from Europe reach Perth and decide to stay there, as if to say, “We’ve been travelling so long we can’t stand the thought of going any further.” Perth has a more British feel than the east coast cities, and more English accents in its streets. There are also more South Africans in Perth, just as there are more New Zealanders in the eastern states.
From Perth, a week in Bali costs less than a week on the Gold Coast, and it’s a shorter flight. Even by air, crossing the country is a major undertaking. It’s no wonder the compass points are so important in our interstate thinking.
Once we flew east from Perth to Brisbane via Melbourne, on the “red eye” which departed at midnight, W.A. time. At half past five in the morning, during the brief stopover at Tullamarine, exhausted and dreading another two hours in the air, I tried to buy a newspaper to fill the time to Brisbane.
The airport shops were shut, but nearby in the queue for a Sydney flight there was a dignified, suited gentleman reading The Age. I walked across, told him my problem, and asked him if he needed the puzzles page. He graciously pulled his paper apart and gave it to me. I thanked him and went back to my boarding gate.
A few minutes later he appeared next to me in the Brisbane queue, and handed me the puzzles page from The Australian as well.
I was grateful. Those puzzles got me all the way north to Brisbane. Southerners can be nice, even to us Queensland Cane Toads.