by Leanne Frahm
transcription by Chris creagh
It may come as a shock to Victorians, huddled as they are in their cold and tiny piece of pseudo-England, and to Melbournians in particular, to realise that Australia doesn’t stop dead at the Murray River boundary. Australia isn’t called the world’s largest island for nothing; there is, in fact, a rather biggish continent out there, and even, wonder of wonders, people living in it.
Part of that bigness, the largest state bar Western Australia (which doesn’t count because it’s half a world away), is Queensland. The scales aren’t quite the same in my atlas, but I’d estimate that Queensland is about three times the size of Texas, or, taking a nice square state, around nine North Dakotas would fit into it. (I’d estimate the number of Victorias that could be encompassed by Queensland, but my calculator only goes to six noughts.)
So Queensland is pretty big. And because of its bigness—stretching from latitudes 11 to 28—it holds within itself an enormous variety of environments to please every fetish.
Let’s take the worst example first—that gem of the Queensland tourist crown, the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is Australia’s answer to the nastier elements of tourism anywhere. It might be opulent, tawdry, ostentatious, tacky, expensive—but who says it can’t be fun? There’s great surf there, and some fine beaches—until noon, when the shadows of the high-rise apartments built right on their edges block the sun. There’s noise, and discos, and swinging, and if you like gambling (which is—pardon my virtuous cough—quite illegal in Queensland) you just do a hop-skip-and-jump over the New South Wales border. There’s a Sea-World, and fauna parks, and a great number of innocent and innovative amusements designed to part the visitor from his tourist dollar. There’s general freneticism—a microcosm of pleasure-catering that will leave you breathless and broke.
For the less depraved (but only slightly), there is the Great Barrier Reef and its resort islands. If you’re into sunburnt blistered flesh, limpid tropic waters, snorkelling through shoals of ravening coral fish, and real sand in your Vegemite sandwich, forget the Riviera, the Lido, even Brighton. This (to coin a phrase) is where it’s at. You want the excitement of fishing for big fish? You want the romance of coconut palms swaying across a vibrant tropic sunset? You want pure and simple relaxation? The islands have them in droves. And the GBR (as it’s affectionately known in the trade) stretches the whole length of the Queensland coast. Just about any coastal town can be a jumping-off point to a Reef island or two. (But compare prices carefully first. Some islands think they are the Riviera, and charge accordingly.)
Maybe you might just like bumming around looking at scenery. When you consider that along the north of the Eastern coast there’s a major town only every 250 miles or so, that leaves an awful lot of space to be filled up with scenery. Tropical rainforests are my favourite (except for the leeches). There’s a nice patch just inland from Mackay, at the Eungella National Park, and lots of good stuff around Cairns at the almost-top of the state.
But Queensland isn’t just a jungle with a town hacked out every so often. In fact there’s precious little jungle left (maybe you’d better see it while it’s still here). The Great Dividing Range runs down the Eastern coast of Australia from the north tip of Cape York and even (no accounting for tastes) into Victoria. It separates the wet coastal areas from the dry interior. So there’s an enormous range of scenery in Queensland, from the arid western plains to the coastal mangrove fringes. Scrublands, swamplands, heath-lands, drylands, wheatlands; mountains, valleys, deserts; sugar-cane plantations, cattle stations, cereal crops, open-cut coal mines, pineapple farms, and even, if you forage far enough into some untouched upland wilderness, an illicit marijuana plantation. You name it, we got it.
Even the deserts can be fun. It’s around the central inland towns like Clermont and Emerald that you can buy a licence and go fossicking for gemstones, camping overnight, and generally roughing it with your own Porta-toilet. Here, rumour has it (particularly Melbourne rumour, which shows how accurate it is), you’ll find the real, dinki-di, sunburnt, wrinkled, piercing-eye, semi-literate Outback Aussie. He probably won’t like you much. But if you’ve a penchant for anthropology, what could be more fascinating than a study of the customs and mores of the Melbourne fan contrasted with those of the Queensland cattle-drover?
This has been a brief–incredibly brief, considering the subject—rundown of the charms of Queensland. You’ve already been exposed to those of Melbourne—have you stopped laughing yet?—and no doubt in all fairness fans in other states will get a chance to expose theirs in due course. But remember, there is only one Queensland – thank god.