In defense of the Gold Coast

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

About a year and a half ago I moved from the Dandenongs outside of Melbourne (where I had lived for approximately half of my life at that point; previously I had lived in Melbourne's bayside suburbs) to the Gold Coast, Queensland. This has to do with books in that my new novel is set on the Gold Coast (vaguely, with fictional areas, because it is a heightened reality), and features an armed robbery. Something which, if you are to believe the news, is apparently a constant occurrence on the Gold Coast. I think if you consult actual statistics, you'll find this is not the case.

If you're not Australian, to give you a brief overview: Melbourne is widely considered to be the most European city in Australia. I have never been to Europe so I cannot tell you if this is true. It's sophisticated and literary and everyone wears a lot of black. It's in Victoria and it's cold and gusty and rainy and sunny sometimes all in one day. Vampires would live there. Or maybe in Tasmania, I don't know.

The Gold Coast could probably be described as a 'regional centre'. It is just south of Brisbane (the state's capital city), in Queensland, which is a massive state that gets very hot at the top. People go to the Gold Coast to  surf and celebrate finishing school and visit theme parks with their families. The weather's mild and consistent, there are lots of very lovely valleys and rainforests and beaches, it's clean and safe and there are lots of nice elderly people. It has much less history than Melbourne, and much less impressive buildings.*

When I tell people that I lived near Melbourne growing up, and I moved to the Gold Coast in 2011, they usually ask: "Why on earth would you do that?"**

To be honest, folks, it's a bit offensive to tell people they've moved to a rubbish place. I love the Gold Coast. Which is not to say that I didn't love Melbourne, and the town outside of Melbourne where I lived, but I don't long for it and it's dreamy architecture. People are always telling me about Melbourne's wonderful culture, and about how Queensland is devoid of it. Yes, there are bogans in Queensland. There are bogans everywhere. There's a tiny little bogan in my heart and she knows all the lyrics to Khe Sanh. But you can't compare a city to a regional area if you're talking about culture. Brisbane has plenty of it. I don't think Melbourne is inherently superior to the Gold Coast. There can be no comparison.

Are people imagining that I'm living in a high-rise in Surfers Paradise and going out clubbing every night? That my life is year-round Schoolies?*** Living on the Gold Coast and holidaying on the Gold Coast are two very different things. The majority of the Gold Coast is suburban. You can lead a nice, quiet life in a holiday destination. There are lots of families who live here permanently, really.

There is this very weird widespread idea (I hear it from Brisbanites all the time) that the Gold Coast is very, very dangerous. People legitimately think that the town is overrun with bikies and armed robbers and organised crime. If you look at QLD police statistics, you'll find the crime is actually significantly down in the last ten years. The Gold Coast is not the crime capital of Australia. It's sensationally referred to as such because the media likes to freak elderly people out and make us all fearful in order to sell newspapers. (The very irritating thing is that multiple news sites seem to contradict each other on crime rates. So there are news sources that will tell you it's very dangerous here, but they do seem to be sensationalised. I doubt there is an actual 'impending bikie war'.)

I think the fear of crime on the Gold Coast is furthered by the fact that we have a news program just for the Gold Coast, that seems to report every single bit of crime that occurs (in Melbourne, I imagine a lot of it doesn't make the news). Also, mysteriously, they never seem to leave Cavill Ave, Surfers Paradise, which is of course going to have more crime than other areas. If Channel Nine news is to be believed, that's the centre of the Gold Coast universe. I hate to think people are scared to visit or move to the Gold Coast because of ridiculous headlines. I feel just as safe here as I did in my semi-regional town outside Melbourne.

As for setting my novel on the (semi-fictional) Gold Coast, and making it feature an armed robbery - it's a nice contrast, isn't it? Sunny place, shady people? There are plenty of novels set in Melbourne. It's an easy place to romanticise, all the pretty buildings and dark weather and cool people. There are plenty of novels and TV shows and films about baddies in Melbourne. I think the GC is deserving of some love.

*They run ghost tours on the Gold Coast now, which I find very funny. You would think the Gold Coast was too young for spooky old ghosts. No one would set a paranormal romance novel here. (That can be my next novel. Vampires living on the GC.)

**Sometimes people ask me bizarre questions like 'do you miss the literary scene in Melbourne?' I do know a lot of lovely people, including writers, in Melbourne. I am not really big on 'scenes' though. (There are communities of writers on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, too, obviously.)

***The whole concept of Schoolies baffles me - like, you've been well-behaved and worked hard throughout your schooling, so now you get to be an absolute idiot for a week as a reward? Like, good behaviour somehow earns you the right to be bad? Am I the only one to whom this seems illogical?
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