Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The border switch

There are several towns in Australia which exist in different states and territories but have become glued together over time. Tweed Heads and Coolangatta are two of them.

Courtesy of Peter Cokley
The proper definition of an Australian border, it is acknowledged, is a fraught science. A physical sense of separation is easily engendered by landscape, such as a powerful symbol of a sweeping, winding river even if the towns are minutes apart by road. 

In the case of Tweed Heads and Coolangatta there is only a dotted line which can't be seen by the human eye, although several symbolic features mark the boundary including the first runway at Coolangatta airport.  

The New South Wales - Queensland border was once a symbol of pride, its reach was reflected in the titles of several newspapers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries such as the Tweed and Brunswick Advocate and the Southern Queensland RecordThe Tweed Heads & Coolangatta Star, and The Border Star.
 Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 
14 February 1942

State Records NSW 12951/8549


The border earned its own fence and gate.
Tweed Heads Historical Society S6-S204

This view shows the border gates and the gatekeeper's office when it was situated on the border across the road from the Tweed Heads Police Station. In the background is the pilot's boatshed situated on Jack Evans' Boat Harbour. In 1957 the gates were moved to South Tweed Heads" [The Changing Valley, p.19]. They no longer stand.

The border was also a celebrated feature of what was called souvenir glassware, or touristware:

All this has changed. The border gates have been reconstructed. From libraries to museums to sporting facilities, which all encourage healthy and enriched lives, the invisible border is now far more difficult to negotiate:
Challenges of living on the border

"The classic issue is that Tweed taxis cannot pick up passengers in Marine Pde (Coolangatta). It's a safety issue for people who want to get home."

Bad sports over border

"... Gold Coast City Council several years ago had begun charging Tweed residents for the use of its libraries, particularly the Coolangatta library."  


This statement was made in 2011, and echoed again recently:
Letters, Tweed Daily News, 18 February 2015, p.12

This was not the case for library patrons in the 1960s, when the border was invisible, but it is clear that it has been turned into an obstacle since. For example, the newspapers which straddle the border have not yet been digitised for Trove. The article shown above discussing the closure of The Border Star was found in a regional digitised newspaper far from the Queensland border, not the paper of the home towns concerned. Perhaps they have no champion in either state? The problem was recognised for the successor newspaper in October 1998: 
A wealth of information is contained in the files of the Daily News - which date back more than 100 years - but most Tweed residents cannot access them as they are located in Sydney or Brisbane. In an effort to improve this situation, the mayor has launched an appeal for funds to have the files recorded on CD Rom [sic] so they can be viewed in the Tweed. Council has opened a Community Heritage Trust Account with the view to raising an estimated $50,000 need to have the files recorded. [Tweed Link, 1996-1999 not available online].
The State Library of New South Wales is currently investigating the locations of those tantalising earlier newspapers, snippets of our history which may never come back. The border is holding its breath.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

From top to bottom

Frank Gehry provided a most succinct justification for his design of the latest University of Technology Sydney building in an ABC interview on 27 February. 

He said: “The 19th  century buildings hold the city together”. So he chose warm-coloured local bricks for much of the exterior, to tie in with that heritage. It is an extraordinary way to acknowledge a gift which is now often spurned by town planners and developers. 

Inexorably the iconic buildings of self-contained small towns are disappearing under the weight of a lack of foresight and the risk of litigation, where the future of our heritage is put at risk instead. The character, the soul, the icons of childhood are wrapped in time. 

The places which stick in memory and convey a sense of lives past provide the rich texture to our current lives. Rip them out, leaving no trace, and we become soulless, less anchored and ignorant.
We can rely on our libraries and museums to fill some of the gap, through their virtual offerings. Hesba Brinsmead's Pastures of the Blue Crane continues to bring the rich tropical physicality of Terranora to life, in both book and video form. Colin Friels still swims at the Snapper Rocks swimming pools in The Coolangatta Gold, dolphins still jump with grace at the Jack Evans Pet Porpoise Pool in the photographs held by the Tweed Heads Historical Society, and Larry Corowa still runs in the Sports Days at Tweed River High School.

But that is not as sensemaking as the submersive physical experience. Coffs Harbour has recognised this as a significant issue recently by supporting two cultural heritage initiatives. The first is a decision by the Coffs Harbour City Council to “relinquish responsibility for the Bunker Cartoon Gallery [back to a] group of enthusiastic volunteers” who belong to a non-profit organisation. “Animated plans for Bunker” [ref: Coffs Coast Advocate, 28 February 2015, p.3.] It’s expected to save some Council budget, so there are generous intentions on both sides to retain a unique heritage for the future.

The second is the instigation of a study of heritage sites with mostly unacknowledged meaning. Not just those that are on a list of Council-supported heritage assets, but a reassurance that our past can still be studied in situ. The study “has identified about 500 additional locally significant items in the Coffs Harbour area, including banana-packing sheds, dairy buildings, timber houses, timber bridges and even fibro holiday shacks... These places may become part of tourist drives, walks, or even festivals, or they might simply be recorded for posterity” [ref: Opinion sought on heritage study, Coffs Coast Advocate, 25 February 2015, p.17]. This choice illustrates empathy for loss.

Do they all have to be maintained by public funds? While there is a volunteer community prepared to support them, yes, although the sums expended do not need to be burdening. Is the volunteer demographic growing larger? Yes. Bernard Salt reports on this continuously. So why squander the good will of a ‘rusted on’ volunteer workforce? Using the time of people generously donated to preserving a part of their contextual history is a key plank of our community wellbeing. I’ve written before about the CSIRO study in which Australia’s senior heritage curators acknowledged the confluence between a passion for heritage and general wellbeing. 

As an alternative, less expensive investment in health infrastructure, historical societies and their interest in built heritage are an unparalleled opportunity to invest in. In addition, the importance of a cross-section of experience and skills to the cultural heritage sector - such as that offered by any volunteering cohort - was acknowledged in a recent British study by key figures such as the British Library’s Chief Executive, Roly Keating.

Smaller towns struggle with the centralisation of budget decisions, regional politics, and infrastructural vacuums. But to ignore resources at hand, with time and expertise, is the ultimate short-sightedness. There are many agencies which recognise the value of and work extensively with volunteer labour forces, but this is not uniformly the case. Just look around your environment and you will know which ones they are.

Smaller towns should take the time to rethink, and use the knowledge of their residents to better understand and appreciate the significant iconic history available to them, while they can. As the Queensland government “restores” the Southern Gold Coast railway line one train station at a time, it knows that it is far costlier to rip out viable heritage and then, several years down the track, put it all back. 

Day-trippers coming off the train from Brisbane, at Tweed Heads station, c. 1916.