Tell me about living in Queensland.
February 11, 2008 7:49 PM   Subscribe

What is it like to live in Far North Queensland? What little things to people do to adapt to the weather? What do people think about? NOT looking for tourist information.

As I continue to freeze to death at the end of the New England winter, I am dreaming about a place I've always wanted to visit: Far North Queensland. But there's plenty of touristy info on the web--I want to know what it's like to live there. What kinds of industries are there? What are the sunsets like? Does the rain drive people crazy? What do people do for fun? How does the weather change as you go south to Cairnes and then Brisbane? (DumbAmericanFilter) is there still a strong sugar cane industry, as described in the novel The Thorn Birds? One of these years I'm going to spend my winter, your summer, there. Thank you!

(I've read the several articles about Queensland over the past few decades in National Geographic, and they have been helpful in a general sort of way.)

Bonus question: is the weather generally the same in Queensland as it is in Darwin and the Northern Territory? Another interesting place to visit, I'll bet.
posted by Melismata to Travel & Transportation around Australia (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My boss lives in Far North Queensland (Cairns, to be exact). I've been there on business with him a few times. The place is gorgeous. I'm an atheist but if FNQ isn't God's country then I don't know what is.

I imagine though that its asthetic value would be lost if you lived there for any length of time. But here's what I can tell you about the place, based on information I know, plus information gleaned from him and my brother, who lives in Townsville (which is as far south as you can go but still be in FNQ).

First, the weather is crazy. In summer it's hot and worse, it's humid. The humidity would kill someone used to UK weather. And when it's not hot and humid in summer, it'll be raining monoon rains or, worse still, cyclones. It's probably not too different from Darwin, whic experiences cyclones, but I understand that the NT has more of a dry heat than a humid heat (I've never been there so I can't say with any certainty). Humidity is, as you may know, far worse than a dry heat.

The further north you go, the higher the chances of nature killing you. Crocodiles are a real problem even in urbanised areas such as Cairns and north of Cairns crocs are a problem that gets worse. Townsville has a real mosquito problem in the summer; Ross River fever broke out there a few years ago because of them.

While the major cities, like Townsville and Cairns, will give you some relatively decent city life (meaning you can go out and have a good time at night, but your choices are not as big as say Brisbane, Sydney or London), the fact is that they're still pretty remote from Queensland's capital city Brisbane (you're looking at a 10 to 14 hour drive south, and that's with no overnight stops). You can fly to Brisbane relatively cheap, but flying is a major pain in the arse. There's a high speed tilt train but it's pretty expensive. The remoteness, as you might imagine, means that goods and services (such as they are) tend to cost more, too.

Sugar cane is not as big in Cairns as it is in a place like Mackay. But it's still a pretty big industry. Not as big as tourism is, but it's still strong.

All of this sounds pretty negative, but they are not problems that are insurmountable. Many, many people live up in FNQ and do so without dropping dead like flies. And there are many good sides; a stronger sense of community exists in FNQ towns and cities than most places I've ever visted (though racism is an issue; if you're anything other than white I really wouldn't reccommend living there). And it's really, really pretty, as I said earlier. Lost of places to go bushwalking and swimming (there are safe beaches, despite the sharks and crocs). And the Great Barrier Reef is, like, right there, so if diving is your thing, this is as good as it gets.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:05 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's hot. The further north you go, the hotter it is. So... Cooktown, Port Douglas, Cairns are tropical. Like, 38-40 degrees and 98 per cent humidity, with a wet season that lasts from (roughly) December to March, give or take a month either end.

What people do to adapt to the weather? Live in aircon for the most part. My office is icy-cold enough that it can be 40 degrees on the street and I'll have to wear a cardigan inside or risk hypothermia. Most houses have aircon, especially newer places, as well as ceiling fans. I put on both at home. To cool off, people go to swimming holes around town, up to the Tableland to waterfalls and rivers, hang out at the northern beaches, or swarm into shopping centres and movie theatres to be in the aircon. Also: drinking. A lot.

What kind of industries? Cane, and tourism (especially eco tourism based around the reef and rainforest) and environmental services based on research/expertise from reef and rainforest. There's still a building boom, so trades and construction are hot. You can have a look at a regional profile here.

Does the rain drive people crazy? No, it's fantastic! It's warm enough that you can walk home (often knee deep in floodwater that's raging through the city gutters). And believe me, after a few sweltering hot days, you'll really, really welcome the wet. However, drinking, a lot, does drive people crazy.

How does the weather change as you go south from Cairns to Brisbane? Cooler, drier toward Brisbane, which, until recently was in drought. Cairns has a much more pronounced wet season and is more prone to tropical cyclones, massive thunderstorms, torrential rain and flooding.

Is it the same as Darwin? I've never been to the NT, but I think they have even *more* of the same. A real monsoon, rather than a wet, yet more cyclones, even hotter. More drinking.

What do people do for fun? Drink. A lot. Also, all the things you'd do in any city - go to the movies, eat out, go for day trips around the place, hang out with friends.

I'm from Brisbane originally and I've been in the Far North for a year, and I'm about to head a bit further north again. It's like a different country, really. Everything is much slower, people are friendlier and waaay more easy going (and believe me, Brisbane is no rat race) and inclined to go out of their way to help you out. As you head north out of Cairns, people are nicer and slower and friendlier still.

MeMail me if you want to ask more stuff.
posted by t0astie at 9:16 PM on February 11, 2008

Oh! Re crocs - yes, there are some at the beaches and indeed in the drains. Which sounds like it would be a terrifying threat, but... isn't. Wildlife control officers relocate them, people stay out of their way and beaches are closed if they show up.

Mosquitoes, however, are a real problem. Dengue fever outbreaks happen semi-regularly. So bring your bug spray.

And Townsville? Not in Far North Queensland. I never new this til I lived up here, but (and God help you if you get this wrong in Cairns) Townsville is in North Queensland. Cairns is in The Far North.

There is something of a rivalry between the two cities. In Cairns, Townsville gets mocked as Brownsville due to comparative lack of rain. I don't know what they say about Cairns in Townsville!

And yes, there is a fair bit of racism here. Despite (or maybe because of) a million tourists from all over the world descending on the place and a sizeable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, it still can be kind of closed and insular. Credit to the Far North though, I not everyone is a redneck - far from it.
posted by t0astie at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2008

Just watch out for the badlands ..............
posted by zaebiz at 9:48 PM on February 11, 2008

Effigy's right it's god's own country.

The greens are so amazingly green, the thunderstorms are like nothing else. Great food in Innisfail...

I loved around Bowen, Townsville, Cairns for a number of years and miss it dearly.

Thanks for the link on the horror stretch zaebiz, I remember us kids driving with mum and dad and they gave this stretch of road such a buildup that they guaranteed our silence for the three or so hours it took to drive it. I've driven it hundreds of times since and always gives me the willies. Still, it's got nothing on East Gipsland.
posted by mattoxic at 9:58 PM on February 11, 2008

I just moved here from Perth, Western Australia- more of a culture shock than I expected.

I get depressed when it rains all the time, and it has currently been raining near-constantly for three weeks, so I am probably being more negative than usual.

1. Bug spray will become as necessary as, I don't know, oxygen? Yes, it's really that bad. For me anyway.

2. I disagree with T0astie. The rain is NOT fantastic. I hate it. Everything is wet, and muddy and MOULDY. I just removed a bunch of pictures from my walls and they have mould all over the backs of them. Everything is damp, all the time. It's not cold, it's "nice" rain, but jeez, it frustrates the crap out of me. (caveat: I walk a lot, so I think the rain annoys me more than most because I am therefore perpetually covered in mud and insect bites. If you are able to spend a lot of time- ie, the entire wet season- inside a building or vehicle, you'll be right).

3. Apart from the bugs, you have to contend with snakes, crocs, cane toads, spiders. These things really suck. My housemate's cat just got bitten by a snake and nearly died- a lot of pets die from cane toads and snake bites. Not many people die, though.

4. I'll be honest and say there are a few rednecks here. There really are. That doesn't make them bad people, because they frequently have hearts of pure gold, but there won't always be the level of culture you may be used to. In some parts, there is a fair bit of racism, though you get that anywhere- people just seem to be more open about it here.

5.. Roads. Are. Shit. Here. Reaaaaallly shit. I think every other state in Australia has better roads. But again, it does depend on where you go because apparently some of them are all right. It's mostly that the smaller roads tend to sustain a lot of damage in wet season.

6. Do you like food? Well, you'd better eat it quickly! Everything goes off so quickly here. Bread goes mouldy over night. I mentioned the mould, right?

7. XXXX. I think this is the worst thing about Queensland. It's the beer of choice for all banana-benders, to the extent that my local pub only has two beers on tap: XXXX and XXXX Gold (light).

1. Amazing storms. While I hate the rain, I have never seen anything as beautiful as the storms here. Just mind-blowing, really. You have to experience them to believe the energy in them.

2. Scenery. Some parts of Queensland could be mistaken for heaven. It really is that beautiful. When it's not raining, anyway.

3. Wildlife, particularly the birds. Rainbow parrots fly around here like pigeons do in London. While they are a pest to farmers etc, I will never cease to find that beautiful and amazing.

4. People. As I mentioned before, there are rednecks. And as I also mentioned before: hearts of gold. I'm not going to wax lyrical about how much I admire these goodhearted country folks, but really, you will meet an astonishing array of characters.

5. The best seafood I've ever eaten. 'Nuff said.

6. It's cheap! Groceries- particularly fuit and veg- are very reasonable. I can get ripe avocados for around 80 cents most of the time. Yum.

7. It is the most laid back place I have ever been. People talk sooo slooooowwwwwly, and walk even slower. They drink fast though! It's really easy to make friends here- just buy them a XXXX (pronounced four-ex in case you were wondering). Buy yourself something decent to drink, while you're at it.

People think about... well, they think about rain, a lot. Also, fishing, cows, and beer. Often, they are thinking about when it will stop raining, so they can procure fish, cows and beer. Judging by the comments I've overheard since I've been here, I'd say they also think about sex a fair bit. But that's normal, right? So you'll fit right in... (seriously though, I don't think people think as much about the "higher matters" as they do in some other places- Queensland is like an island, people here seem to feel disconnected, and so laidback that it just doesn't bother them).

Now I'm just rambling. In short: move to Queensland. I think Queensland is like anti-depressant medication. It will either totally alleviate what ails you and you will be living the good life, or it will make you even crazier. As far as I can tell, it's usually the former. Just do it!
posted by indienial at 10:16 PM on February 11, 2008

Hmm, I lived north of Cairns from 74-84. It never got as hot up there as it does in Brisbane. Here's a weather observation site. You can see from that the mean maximum doesn't go above 32C.

It rained a lot. A real lot. I loved the rain, but I didn't like the mold that came with it. It flooded a lot too. I can't think of one year where I wasn't cut off from town at least once.

Dealing with the heat, the kids in the area go swimming, but in the creeks rather than the sea. The only good time to swim in the sea was winter (box jelly fish), and being aclimatised, that was way too cold, even if it only dropped to say 22C.

For the most part, people are really really friendly, under the right circumstances. There were cliques, but there is everywhere. There was gossip. But there was this real feeling of community. Once you knew people, you'd get free fruit off their tree (lemons, five-corner, mangos, lychees, passionfruit - okay, that's a vine, not a tree), or they'd drop off the extra fish they caught that they couldn't eat.

All my friends lived on farms, mostly sugar, but pineapples as well. Tourism happened, but the locals pretty much ignored it if possible.

The architecture has changed a lot since then. I've noticed a lot of houses being built in a Balinese style, rather than the typical Queenslander, and that makes sense. Except for the sandflies. I don't miss the sandflies.

As for being killed by the wildlife, I slept on a Daintree beach at night when I was a kid, and there were croc tracks in the morning (dad! what the hell were you thinking!?!), walked through mangroves at night (bro! dude!) and crossed estuaries at low tide (stupid!) and I was never attacked. I do remember a close call with a shark (nobody got hurt), and seeing box jelly fish (deadly) in water I had been dangling my feet in.

None of my school mates died due to the fauna and flora. The ones who did kark it did from natural causes, electrocution but mainly car accident. Like normal.

What do people think about? Farming, for sure. Fishing, yep. Sports. Community groups. There's some cultural stuff going on. Sean Connery's ex Diane Cilento has a theatre up there. There's a variety of church groups.

Of course, things have changed in 24 years, and I don't know, because I'm not there anymore. But that's what it was like then.

Brisbane is hotter in summer, colder in winter and not usually as wet, but we've just had 14 months rain in two, and a fair bit of flash flooding. There's better surf down this way. Better unis too. More things to do, if you're not into farming and fishing, I guess.

A bunch of people have told me that they think Queensland is mostly racist and incredibly parochial. I think they're hanging with the wrong people. It's not been my usual experience.

Regarding the Thorn Birds, they don't do cane the same way. It's harvested by machine, and back in '84, harvesting green (not setting fire to the field) was really catching on) . There's not the same need for itinerant labour, it can usually be handled by the kids in the area, and one or two labourers, depending on the size of the farm, and the farmer's family.

However, even back then, when I read the Thorn Birds in 79, it had the flavour right, the humidity, and the beauty and the landscape so green it hurts your eyes if you're not used to it.

Concerning mosquitos, Ross River Fever and Dengue Fever are available all over the tropics, but relatively few people get them. Take precautions and you should be fine.
posted by b33j at 2:28 AM on February 12, 2008

t0astie, I think you're exaggerating on the temperature front. I don't ever recall seeing Cairns get up to 40 deg C* (although it may have rarely).
'Hotness' is a relative and subjective thing but I've spent a few season in FNQ and I found it to range from pleasant to pretty damn warm. When it's hot in the southern capitals (or out in the countryside) it's much 'hotter' to my mind -vs- Cairns. Humidity is a different kettle of fish though. 'Fairly warm' + >75% humdity = a bit uncomfortable without either a breeze or aircon.

*"1995 - highest maximum temperature (between 1942 and 2007) of 40.5 degrees recorded 20 December."
posted by peacay at 2:28 AM on February 12, 2008

Actually, I probably was hyping it up a bit. It just *feels* that hot!

There are some 38C-plus days but the Bureau of Meteorology website says here mean days over 35C are actually quite low. About 141 days a year are over 30C.
posted by t0astie at 5:00 AM on February 12, 2008

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