Monday, August 14, 2006

Long Division

There is a divide in Townsville, and I’m not talking about the divide between black and white, which does exist (and which I am working up to talking about. Stay tuned). The one I’m talking about now is the divide between the haves and the have nots. The divide is this hill, known as Castle Hill.

Castle Hill is a big feature in the townscape. All the roads go about the base of it and the sea air flows around it, creating beautiful afternoon breezes in some places and suffocating stillness in others. Castle Hill divides all that is pleasant in Townsville from all that is flat, brown, suburban, and generally uncivilised. On our side, the Eastern side, is the sea, the parks, the cafes and restaurants. On the other side, and I’ve walked to the top of it and peeked over the other side so I know, there is naught but a flat grid of suburban houses interspersed with massive warehouse-size shops that sell lounge suites and televisions. In every driveway there is a ute, and behind every front-yard fence is a barking dog.

Townsville has a rivalry with nearby Cairns that is not quite as fierce (or as tiresomely talked-about) as the one between Sydney and Melbourne. But there are people around here who feel quite strongly about it and I have noticed that there are many mine employees who chose to live in Cairns rather than Townsville, even though it adds an extra leg to their journey home each fortnight - either five hours on the bus that the mine provides for free or a couple of hundred dollars for an extra return flight each time. That’s easily too much time and/or money for me to consider commuting from Cairns, but like I said, there are a lot of mine workers who do. (There are people who commute from further afield too: Darwin, Adelaide, Christchurch and Bangkok. But that’s another level of hassle altogether).

Those who prefer Cairns generally consider Townsville to be too dry, too ugly and over-populated with boorish yobbos and army dickheads. There is an element of truth to that, (but really, most of it goes on on the West Side of Castle Hill). People who prefer Townsville reckon that Cairns too sultry, too lugubrious, too overgrown and too given over to tourism. And as I see it, Cairns has been lazily and smugly selling itself to Japanese tourists and now, quite late in the piece, Townsville has begun to smarten itself up, much like one of its working citizens who, in preparation for a big night, puts on clean jeans and an ironed shirt and a lot of aftershave (and, most probably, rounds off his outfit with white sneakers and no socks). The tizzing up of Townsville has well and truly begun, and where once Castle Hill was considered an unsightly reminder of the proximity of the desert, it is now considered an interesting feature of the landscape - especially by those who live in the recently gentrified suburbs in its afternoon shadow.

However, there is one feature of trashy Townsville that it just hasn’t managed to cover up: its tattoo.

If you click on one of the pictures, you should be able to see it. It would have been quite a feat to paint it up there in the first place, and when we first moved here it used to irritate me - a stupid tribute to the lengths that some people will go in order to perpetrate such a visible vandalism.

Then I was told by a fairly reliable source that the white graffiti angel has been a feature of Castle Hill since 1963. That's either some very good paint or some consistent touching up over the years. Either way, I better appreciation of it now. It's a piece of historical vandalism. It marks the way that Townsville used to be.

No comments: