April 5, 2011

Border country

I've always had a thing about borders. I suppose it goes back to Cold War days and images of Eastern European guards wearing great coats, submachine guns and expressions of grim suspicion. As a child, I was terribly disappointed when driving from the North of England into Scotland that there was no barrier or hoo-hah to deter Sassenachs. I still try to collect an entry stamp on my passport as I arrive in a country that's new to me. But the EU is no fun anymore.

Borders are not only geopolitical, of course, but those that aren't are much more likely to be overlooked. I can never understand why pilots don't inform their passengers as planes cross the equator. Even if most are sleeping through the experience, I am sure the pilot could post it silently on a screen for the benefit of those for whom the passage from one hemisphere into the other is significant. (As we flew to Australia on 31 December 2009, neither did the pilot mention the incoming New Year in the time zone we were overflying an hour or so after take-off.)

A day out of Brisbane on our roadtrip to the far north of Queensland last June, I was anticipating entry into the Torrid Zone (aka the Tropics). As we approached Rockhampton we passed the westward-leading Capricorn Highway to our left and the Capricorn Coast to our right. Amidst the giant plastic cows welcoming visitors to Rocky (Beef Capital of Australia), I searched for the sign to photograph for the record, the blog, my memories: 'Welcome to the Tropics'; or 'You are crossing the Tropic of Capricorn'. Nada.

Boundaries within Queensland can be both confusing (see Roadtrip Part 1: Heading up north, July 2010) and controversial. If you were ever to risk engaging a native Queenslander in the Daylight Saving Time debate, you would doubtless touch upon the idea that the southeastern corner of the state alone adopts DST along with New South Wales and Victoria.

Shock horror: we can't have the state capital in a different time zone from the rest of the state. But Mount Isa is a world away from SEQ, so what would it matter? Those of us who pop over the border into New South Wales in the summer and have to adjust our watches, or not, don't seem to suffer. Sometimes we forget and turn up an hour late. There is rarely a drama. Aah, I seem to have dived into the debate there without really noticing.

Where do you draw the line, however?

Source: daylightsavingseq.com.au

I am already imagining a light early-summer-evening for my beer overlooking Noosa Heads and Cooloola.

Of arguably far great importance to many Queenslanders, however, are quarantine zones and the boundaries thereof. Australia has a long history of invasions by unwanted species – from camels and cane toads to rats and rabbits – and there are stringent border controls in place to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. There are quarantine restrictions on the movement of plants, plant products, soil and machinery, for example, and the penalties are severe. I narrowly escaped a $200 fine for forgetting to bin a rogue Granny Smith lurking at the bottom of my in-flight bag on arrival at Sydney a few years ago. No excuses for jet-lagged idiots: you read the signs, didn't you? The beagle who headed straight for my bag as I approached immigration was cute as a button but her handler was unsmiling and intimidating.

My first experience of the fruit police was in Far North Queensland. I was happily heading south from Cairns to Magnetic Island when I was pulled over. There was a banana on the dashboard. I had to hand it over or eat it on the spot: I chose the latter as a matter of principle. The message was quite clear: don't mess with the fruit police in banana country.

© Brian J McMorrow

In the 1960s world banana production was decimated by a fungus called Panama disease. A resistant banana cultivar saved the day just in time, but the fungus has since mutated and once more there is the threat of a' banana apocalypse' (Banana: The Fruit that Changed the World, Dan Koeppel). Where there is monoculture cultivation – as in parts of Queensland – the risk of crops being wiped out by disease is a big one.

As you drive up and down the highways, you can't fail to see fire-ant warning signs, too. Fire ants are aggressive and voracious eaters. They are a threat to fauna and flora, livestock and humans. Multiple fire-ant stings is a fate worse than many mozzie bites. Anyone involved in the movement of soil, turf, hay and straw, potted plants, and mulch or green-waste fuel must comply with Queensland Government regulations. Again, the penalties are great.

I suppose I have strayed far from the notion of quixotic border crossings.

We recently returned from a roadtrip to New South Wales, back into Traffic-Light World (with its warmer nights and vastly superior road surfaces and viewpoint lookouts). I couldn't have wished for more beautiful border country as the Murwillumbah-Nerang road climbed the Springbrook plateau.

Very often when you're driving, the directional signs you've been following are suddenly no longer there when you need them: at other times, there is such a plethora of sign boards you can't possibly take in all the options in one brief glimpse away from the road. The state border on the crest of the hill was of the plethora type. I was pleased as Punch to see the state line (top), of course, but this – just beyond a cattle grid – puzzled me somewhat.

Are there fewer requirements for horses entering New South Wales than cattle? Is that why the horse is trotting off and the cow is waiting behind? And I couldn't help thinking the sign would have been more helpful at the bottom of the hill. It was a hell of a long way back down to the vet's.

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