Saturday, March 18, 2006

You've come a long way, baby

What appears 'below the fold' is chapter one of one of the things I'm writing. By "I'm writing", I mean "that I've started in the past six years"... It was to be called Making the freeway safe for the Free Way: Living in Logan City. Or something like that, since that's a little long.

I started it a couple of years ago and then lost it when my computer at work decided to do one of its weekly random reversions to an earlier copy of my desktop and whoosh! it wasn't there any more. But luckily, I had been obsessed with formatting it and proof-reading it, so I had lots of printed copies to look at as I typed it back in today.

I've written a big three chapters of Freeway (the title comes from a song by fIREHOSE, by the way, and fIREHOSE is where the title of the Slaughterhouse Joe song gARDENHOSE comes from,) and I haven't tried to integrate chapter three into my "story" yet, it's still a stand alone article about Christmas. I haven't really started the story in the chapter below: the actual characters (apart from the first-person narrator) start in chapter two.

It's the most plotted thing I've ever planned, In fact, it's one of the first things I've ever planned, or plotted. Seriously, I've got a cork-board downstairs filled with different coloured three-by-five cards with major plot points outlined on it. I might type them up sometime and post them, since I'm using the internet as a great big archive to make sure I only have to ever frickin' type something once from here on in and there'll always be a copy somewhere.

A lot of the 'plot' was going to be a suburban story about, among other things, a coup in the management committee of a local community centre; interwoven with pretty much everything I know about Logan City, hence the introductory history lesson reproduced — for the very first time! — when you click on the time, just below...

I: You've come a long way, baby

Boomtown — Making the freeway — Beaudesert — Ratepayer-rebellion — Borders — Council — Kuraby — Farewell to Albert

In the boom after WWII, the Brisbane City Council had strict planning regulations for the new sub-divisions popping up in previously-rural outlying areas. The still-rural Shires to the south, however, had laxer laws; only requiring the developer to pay for lightly-sealed roads and minimal drainage. So, given the choice, the developers did what developers always do, and simply built where the costs were lower.

Sub-divisions were built along the popular road between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, just south of the border with Brisbane. The Housing Commission got into the act in the 60s and 70s, knocking up low-cost homes; even though the Shire Council planning rules were toughened up in 1967.

South-East Queensland — like most regions in Australia containing the State capitals — has always been profoundly affected by decisions made at the state level. And so it was with Albert Shire, that place just south of Brisbane on the road to the Gold Coast, in 1965 when a plan was announced by the State to build a freeway to link to the highway to the coast by 1970. As it turned out, only phase one was completed by '70. The whole project wasn't completed until 1985, 15 years late.

Still, freeway fervour was enough to sustain the pace of development, even after the change in the building laws. Land along the proposed route was bought and built on as the cost-benefit ratio swung firmly in favour of the property developers. Areas to the south of the post-war Housing Commission satellite suburbs, areas with proud rural histories and famous pioneer families, whose names now only dotted the landscape as the names of suburbs and streets and in pioneer graveyards, these areas were sub-divided and exploited for the sake of the non-stop unplanned boom that is South-East Queensland.

And what of the other rural Shire to the south of Brisbane City; Beaudesert Shire, inland from Albert?

Like Albert, Beaudesert had lax post-war planning regs and a major thoroughfare tapping directly into — and draining directly out of — the arteries of Brisbane. Unlike in Albert, Beaudesert's road was a transportation rather than tourist trail. Commercial developments sprung up along with the suburbs on the border Beaudesert shared with Brisbane.

Roads with origins as aboriginal tracks or simple paths linking isolated settlements became busy routes linking Beaudesert Road with the Gold Coast Highway, and Brisbane with points further south.

And so it was that the northern Divisions of the Albert and Beaudesert Shires became densely-populated, vigorous, vibrant, productive, rate-paying commuter communities jacked into the veins of the Capital while the southern portion remained undeveloped rural land dozing in God's bounteous Queensland sun.

Or so it seemed to the residents in the north. By the 70s most of them lived in 50s houses with crappy roads and shitty sewerage and they were beginning to raise a stink. Why, they asked, was less than a quarter of the rate-money collected in Division 1, (northern) Albert Shire actually spent there? Why did our vote count so much less in Council? And, for that matter, why were the council seats so far away?

So, yea and verily, did Albert and Beaudesert Shires play their part in the never-ending cycle of history by taking a leaf out of the property developer handbook: when you have a problem (like the expense of the provision of proper kerbed and channelled roads and reticulated water) just shift the cost onto someone else. But Brisbane didn't want the cost and the State Government didn't want Brisbane (already large and powerful) to get the people, so the Shires cut the north adrift and left it to fend for itself.

People say there were reasons for the decision beyond the undeniable pain-relief felt by the southerners of the Shires. The State Government of the time was the party for country folk: farmers; while the rebellious residents of the ramshackle northern region weren't sons of ther soil. They were probably socialists, communists, God-knows-what-else-ists. Likely to be L... Lab... Labor Party voters.

So, in 1970s Queensland, you did the traditional thing — what you always did — when your natural God-given majority was threatened by evil ideologues: draw upon Governor Gerry's Salamander and draw a new, separate but equal, local government area into existence.

Thus was the creation of Logan Shire, a place named after a river named after a commandant of the Moreton Bay colony who, at one time, held the record in the Australian colonies for the most lashes administered to convicts in a single year.

While not a salamander, Logan was indeed a curious shape. Even in the 21st Century, 'Logan Central', the suburb housing the administration centre — which had been carved out of the Woodridge and Kingston, two of the original Housing Commission house clusters — borders onto the City of Brisbane. From my house in the east, I can see south into the City of Gold Coast. The next hill further east not only affords a view into Redland Shire, to the east of both Logan and Brisbane; and which is only now having its red earth encased in concrete construction; but, because it is a high hill, the view probably extends all the way west to the City of Ipswich.

It is a seven minute drive north from my house to the frontier of the City of Brisbane. Once I get onto the freeway, of course.

Since its tumultuous birth, Logan has always been in the middle of nowhere, on the road halfway to somewhere. And the road is always a freeway.

Drivers heading for the Gold Coast on the three-year-old ├╝berautobahn can drive through Logan in 15 minutes flat. And in the summer, with the air-conditioning blowing recirculated air and their radios blasting their favourite Brisbane FM station, they neither have to smell nor hear Logan as they go through. The sights, kept away from travellers as they are by concrete or wood noise baffles, can be safely ignored in favour of the white lines and arrows indicating the fastest way thehell outta town.

But, back to 8 June 1978, when the foundation legislation, which had been introduced into State parliament only nine days earlier, was approved. Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my butt! Or back to 18 April 1979, when the woefully inexperienced, probably technically insolvent Council had its first official meeting. Or 1 July 1979, the new financial year, when the Logan Shire Council formally assumed full responsibility for its fledgling community.

Or maybe just cut a long and, I'm sure, colourful story (which I don't happen to know) short and go back to 1 January 1981, when Logan became a city. Just a few years ealier a new Shire had winked into existence and now it was a City.

The official history on the Council website doesn't dwell much on the time since 1981 (beyond a few teething troubles) and jumps forward to the present day. And since it is on the official website, phrases like 'a success story' are to be expected. But Logan has come a long way. After all, I moved there in 1993.

But the biggest symbol and the most potent metaphor for the distance Logan has come and the distances people have travelled to come to Logan are its freeways.

I came to Logan on the freeway in 1992. I was driving a friend to her father's business premises in Loganholme where she was to live and work. She is now my wife; we bought a house on the hill above the business in February 1993.

Of course, I had driven or been driven through it lots of times. I have childhood recollections of the family driving home from the coast. When you passed the Big W on Logan Rd at Kuraby, you knew that the great expanse of nothing between the Gold Coast and Brisbane had ended and you were back in Brissie.

Except part of that expanse of 'nothing' was Logan, and the Big W was on Logan Rd in Underwood, a Logan suburb, not Kuraby in Brisbane City.

And it's not like I was totally unaware at the time of things going on in Logan. When I drove my Nana back home to her place down the coast in those heady days in 1987-88 before I lost my licence, I dimly remember being annoyed by delays caused by construction — perhaps of the Logan Hyperdome (but perhaps not: it seems something was always being constructed in Logan in those days) — and I definitely remember trying to drop her off as early as possible so I could get back to the Loganholme McDonald's before breakfast finished at 10:30.

There is one more thing: some time in the 1980s, 'efficiency' became the be-all and end-all. So it didn't take long for someone to say that smaller Shire Councils in Queensland weren't as efficient as the larger Shires, Towns and Cities. From little seeds do the big oaks of "amalgamation" grow. (Oaks are, of course, an introduced species in Australia which out-compete the native plants and choke the waterways. Technically, they are weeds.)

The rump of the Albert Shire was amalgamated into the richer Gold Coast City Council in the mid-90s, a process repeated with many small Shires across the state. The council seat was moved onto the coast itself; but, to be fair, it moved from a location that was already quite a ways away from the city's northern suburbs.

By the end of the 90s, it was the residents of the northern Gold Coast who were complaining they were underserviced, neglected and remote from the seat of government.

© 2006


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