My NSW Plates

When I moved to Brisbane at the beginning of 1984 I toyed briefly with the idea of changing my car to Queensland plates. “You know they don’t have annual inspections in Queensland. They’re all rust-buckets on the road”, I remember my brother-in-law saying at the time. I probably didn’t need to change my plates that first year because I spent so much of my time back in NSW, anyway. I don’t think I really became a semi-Queenslander until 1985.

One of my first memories of that year was the electricity strike. I remember having power one hour on and one hour off. I remember my university flat-mate, Cathy and I going to supermarkets and being shown around in the dark. I also remember going to the bottle-o with her to get some beers, with the result being she ended up drinking me under the table. How times have changed. The electricity strike was a big show down between the trade union movement and the Bjelke-Peterson Government. I don’t actually remember who won in the end, to be honest.

As I watched “Four Corners” tonight, I was briefly taken back to my days in Brisbane, as Chris Master profiled the dying days of “The Moonlight State”…

Like me, the reporter Chris Masters is from Lismore. As a young boy growing up there, Sydney was never really on my radar. With a large amount of family already in Brisbane, there was no question I would go to university in Sydney. And with a sick mum, Brisbane was the obvious choice being just three hours up the road.

Arriving at university amidst a group of students a year younger than me (Queensland only had five years of high school), and meeting people from such remote areas as Mount Isa, Gladstone, Rockhampton and Townsville, I always felt like a bit of an outsider in a way. There was something about being a “Queenslander” that I didn’t quite understand. There was a “pride” in being from Queensland that we never really had in NSW. I’m sure part of it has to do with being from a smaller, more remote state. Or maybe there’s something about the place that makes you feel really proud to live in a really terrific place? And Queensland is a terrific place.

In seeking to explain the dying days of the Bjelke-Peterson Government (and the twentieth anniversary of the uncovering of police and government corruption) Chris Masters’ program tonight sought to locate so much of what happened in the idea of “Queensland Pride”. Whether it was true or not, or just a ruse, the explanation given in tonight’s program by so many of those who participated was that “Joh just wanted what was good for Queensland” (or words to that effect).

As I recall it was a fairly commonly held view at the time. Another friend who I shared with at university at the time had an uncle who was actually a Queensland government minister. He constantly reminded us about all the great things the government had done, and steadfastly refused to believe there was even a hint of corruption associated with the government. I wonder what he would say now.

As for a hint of corruption? Well I never saw any, but as an undergraduate arts student you would never expect to me to. The one exception was going out to a club on a Sunday night. At about midnight the police arrived and we were all told to leave the club. I can’t remember if I actually saw a bag of money change hands, though that’s what everyone believed was occuring. After about twenty minutes we were all allowed back into the club. That’s about as close as it ever got for me to “The Moonlight State”.

Twenty years later, however, I don’t remember how much was fact, and how much was made fiction due to the passing time. Interestingly, a few of the people I work with also lived in Brisbane during the 1980s. Although a close colleague and I don’t recall ever having met, even though we’re of a similar age, and would have been hanging out in similar circumstances, when I first mentioned to him I lived in Brisbane during that period, and hung out at such and such a bar, his eyes began to smile. When I mentioned to another colleague I had lived in Brisbane during this period, and that I had often seen him on the same train line that I used to use, there was again a smile in his eyes. Those of us who lived through Brisbane in the 1980s all seem to be connected through our memories of the time, even if they have faded somewhat.

And even if I wasn’t all that aware of what was going on, it was great to watch tonight’s program, and to briefly reminisce about 1984-1988 when I lived in Queensland, but maintained my NSW number-plates.

  1. How the tide turns James. I am well and truly a two pot screamer these days. That pains me, but my liver is thankful.

    Gosh, it’s funny how you felt a bit marginalized being from New South Wales. I was from the NORTHERN TERRITORY and I may as well have been showing my Martian credentials, I felt so far from normal there. Thank goodness for you and Heather. Non-Brisbanites the lot of us!

    I think the rest of Australia really smirked at that “Queensland pride”. Apart from having a twit like Bjelke for a premier (apologies to the zealots), as far as I understood, there was a real impression that Queensland was a backwater.

    I remember getting off the plane in Brisbane in the 80s (from Darwin of all places) and the pilot quipping, “Remember to wind your clock forward one hour, and your mentality back 100 years”.

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  2. Enjoyed your relatively positive take on those years James. I think it was BECAUSE the rest of Australia laughed at us that we had such a pride in ourselves, because we were laughing back at the rest of Australia knowing we had it better, as we still do laugh now that 1,800 of you a week are clamouring to move to Queensland to escape States like NSW that have become absolute failures precisely because you didn’t have Governments like Bjelke-Petersen’s that built infrastructure and lowered taxes.

    I have been down in Sydney for just over a year, and am counting the days till I move back to Qld next week. Back to modern, clean, efficient, cheap trains, back to a rego system that doesn’t require me to get a couple of different coloured slips & pay several different agencies to re-register a car that is only 4 yrs old, back to a whole heap of Govt services being free compared to NSW where everything costs. Yeah – laugh all you want at us hillbillies and poor old Joh, but I know which State is better to live in (and 1,800 southerners a week agree) and who we’ve got to thank for it. The only pity is, all those southerners moving up are making Brisbane overcrowded and overpriced. Much better when the great life in Qld was our secret and yuppie southerners wouldn’t be caught dead there.

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