Essay: What is Queensland?

In 2005, Christian Ryan, in my view a brilliant editor, was in the seat at The Monthly. Indeed he was the first editor. He sent me on a trip around Queensland and this is what I found. Can anyone help.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Nothing the matter with home brand baked beans. Live in and love Noosa.

  2. John- a wonderful journey through Queensland. I really enjoyed it- have sent the link to my parents-in-law who are Maryborough and Wondai born and bred.

    It made me think of the times I’ve been to Gympie and sat our my wife’s grandparents’ front verandah on the highest point of the town and looked down and could see the smoke from the Nestle factory.

    It made me think of the hot, humid afternoons, but the sun going down early- even in summer. And then, the hot darkness.

    It made me think of the fierce parochialism- I could never find Coopers beers, until very recently.

    It is probably too simplistic to say it is the Texas of Australia, but like Texans they most certainly are Queenslanders, and then Australians. I don’t know if that’s true of the Southern states.

    Great read.

  3. Patrick O'Brien says

    Wonderful piece. Nailed it in the observation that dissent and contemplation have been practically bred out of the population.

    The materialism that destroyed overgrown Brisbane was a shame. There’s still pockets of it in the side streets of Highgate Hill and you can spot it now and then if you take a ride on the city cats, but it’s mostly gone. Perhaps Brisbane has only come of age financially.

  4. Loved this. Matt Taylor sings about his Queensland roots and his journey south to Victoria. One part of a song “From Brisbane to Beechworth” is priceless:

    “From Brisbane to Beechworth,
    is a journey of the mind.
    I know many who have made it,
    many more been left behind.”

    I have great childhood memories of travels “up” to Queensland.

  5. Andrew Starkie says

    Hot, hey?

  6. Andrew Starkie says

    We spent a week in Surfers in yr10, 1986. This meant we were rich. Too young to comprehend how tacky and uglt it was. Caught a bus back up there after yr12 for the original schoolies. Worst 24 hours of my life, sick all the way. Good week though. 20c spirits.

    Discovered Molloollaba recently. A smaller, easier, more humble version. Having a meal and beer in the surf club last October, home surf of G Kenny and other legends, watched a bloke in speedos drag his board up the beach. Wouldn’t have been a day under 60, but had the body of a 20 year old. He stopped and chatted with a group of younger clubbies, teens to late 20s. All of them physical perfection. I sighed and sucked my guts in. Took me a few days to get used to the blond/blue eyed masses. A long way from Sydney Rd Coburg.

  7. Andrew Starkie says

    Leyland Brothers? It’s a Wipeout?

  8. Neil Anderson says

    Interested to see that you mentioned Julia Creek on your journey. I wrote a radio-play in 2010 which was set in Julia creek, based on a young family from Melbourne leaving their huge mortgage behind and taking up an offer of buying a house in Julia Creek for the nominal sum of one dollar. I had seen a TV program about dying towns ‘giving away’ houses for families who would relocate to these towns to provide additional numbers and hopefully skills that could be utilized.
    My character from Melbourne was a writer and a playwright so he was pretty useless for providing practical skills. What he ended up doing was recruiting some likely lads at the pub to put on a play for the locals.
    Queensland is the only other State apart from Victoria that seems to run the play competitions and this particular competition, which I won after my third try, was run by the Miles Regional Arts Council and the Western Downs Regional Council.
    So there are some culture-vultures even in some of the more remote areas.

  9. DBalassone says

    Loved the piece JTH. You capture the essence of Qld perfectly and take me right back there. I quit first year uni in ’91 and moved to Gold Coast with a mate to work at a new restaurant about to open in Broadbeach called Choices. It was owned by business tycoon Reuben Pelerman who also owned the Brisbane Bears at the time (he was the one who sacked Paul Feltham). While we were in training, I vividly recall a limousine pulling up and Reuben hopping out in shorts and sandals – very Queensland! He quietly addressed the group, muttering something along the lines of “the customer is always right”. I lasted about 2 more days and then split (didn’t even make the opening) and ended up working on the cotton fields just outside of Goondiwindi. We were staying at an old hospital that had been converted to a poor man’s homestead, right on the McIntyre. We had to rise at 3am, in order to finish early to escape the soaring early afternoon heat. We played Rugby in the late arvos where I distinctly remember being called “Giuseppe” for the first time in my life. I thought I was Peter Daicos and was dodging and weaving, even running backwards to avoid the merciless tacklers. After a while an indigenous teammate of mine screamed “the worst thing you can do in this game is run backwards” along with a few other choice words. It was a steep learning curve, though strangely enough I remember thinking at the time that Queenslanders knew more about Aussie Rules than we Southerners knew about Rugby. Ended up making some great friends and having a blast, but was bloody relieved when I caught the 20 hour bus ride home (had to somehow get to Toowoomba to catch it from memory). After all those early starts, 3 cosy years of uni sounded pretty good to me now.

  10. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Saints, Go Betweens, if Queensland never produced anything else, it would still be punching above its weight.

    Pig City was an eye-opener for a Mexican like me.

    Was always bemused at how Joh was able to flourish for all those years.

    Thanks for sharing this JTH

  11. Can you forward me Christian Ryan’s address? As expatriate Croweaters, Swish, Mickey and I plan to do the “What is South Australia?” follow up.
    We start from the Parachilna Pub on December 28. We await the remit of a generous advance.
    Loved the span and scope and gentle suggestiveness of your Queensland piece. Wondered about the device of giving “Gielgud” a name and a personality. Rocinante in Monsieur Quixote?

  12. Skip of Skipton says

    Joh was able to govern for as long as he did because of his famous gerrymandered electorates. Rural votes being worth two or three times that of metropolitan ones. As they should be!

  13. Andrew Starkie says

    Beautiful Harmsy. What a journey. Have you met Monte Dwyer, former ch9 weather man? He chucked it all in in the 90s and now chases the sun, markets and grey nomads selling his books and singing his songs. I met him in Tamworth five years ago and catch up for a chat each year. He’s a real character. Read Matthew Condon’s two books on police corruption in QLD that led to the Fitz Inquiry. One more book to come. Interesting stuff. Terry Lewis goes from bag man to Big frank Bischoff, to being busted and sent to the bush, to becoming commiss out of the blue at Joh’s behest. Just because he liked him and he was one of the boys. Could keep his mouth shut and tow the line.

  14. daniel flesch says

    Great piece , JTH. You talk of the wonderful Qld. climate. I spent a couple of August weeks in Toowoomba once . Old house , howling westerlies. Freezing. Worse than Melbourne. … And here’s a “what is Qld? example : in my long ago youth i rode my motorbike from Melb . to Bris. Meadowlee (sp?) had a campaign going for their margarine . There were Olympics on around that time . Dotted the Hume Hwy throughout Viic. and the Pacific Hwy throughout NSW were billboards advertising Meadowlee’s ” Australian Gold. ” Crosed the Tweed and straight away a billboard promoting Meadowlee’s QUEENSLAND Gold….Another example of Qld. exceptionalism : what we call peanut butter , Qlders call peanut paste ? Why ? The dairy farmers forced it . Apparently they were worried the people might get confused and not buy enough of the dairy product…And @ Andrew Starkie- you reminisce about Terry Lewis getting to be Police Commish in dubious circumstances – history just repeated as Premier Newman appoints the Chief Magistrate to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court . Newman actually a Tasmaniac , but has adapted quite convincingly. Just like Joh , who was by birth a Kiwi.

  15. matt watson says

    I moved to Brisbane from Melbourne in 1988.
    Lived at Salisbury.
    Remember EXPO 88??
    Before EXPO, a Queenslander on a double block at Salisbury would set you back 40 grand. After EXPO, the houses were worth 80 grand.
    The Commonwealth Games might’ve opened up Queensland and Brisbane to the southerners, but EXPO had the biggest influence. All those Victorians and New South Welshmen who came up that winter wondered where the winter was.
    Houses were cheap, opportunity aplenty.
    I have found Queenslanders are parochial without being overt. They are smug, because they live, or used to live in the best state. Best weather, bad weather, heat, sun, beaches, rain forest…
    Queensland has it all.
    But Brisbane and Queensland has grown madly. EXPO did it. By 1992, 50,000 Victorians were moving to Queensland each year.
    House prices went up. Blocks were split. The country town aspect of Brisbane changed, though it remained an ugly city.
    The relaxed, carefree lifestyle Brisbane loved changed.
    To get that you now need to go regional, but only to a town that isn’t reliant on mining.
    When I went to Salisbury High School in 1988, I was the only Victorian at the school. There was 1200 kids.
    Now, the Victorians are everywhere.
    I’m not saying they changed Queensland for the worse, but the state now has a sense of entitlement it didn’t have when I arrived.
    I still love it here and will most likely never move back to Melbourne, but I don’t notice the difference as much anymore.
    Brisbane, as an extended city, is more like Melbourne, in a community sense, now than it has ever been.
    Except for the weather…

  16. john,

    fabulous piece of writing, I enjoyed reading it very much.

    Unfortunately It confirmed what I say to everyone in PNG, where I am living.
    I say “Put up a big barbed wire fence around the place and don’t let them out”
    They are a ignorant, backwoods racist bunch of rednecks,and and should not be allowed out to embarrass Australia and the human race in general
    Imagine how you would have turned out if you hadn’t escaped at a relatively young age age

Leave a Comment