Where new border line should really be drawn
IT is almost 200 years since the first European settler laid eyes on the Tweed River.
John Oxley, the surveyor general of New South Wales, and his assistant John Uniack, gave the river its name when they explored the area in 1823.
"The little island under which we lay received the name of Turtle Island, in gratitude for the abundant supply of that fish which we procured from it," Uniack wrote in his journal. "We also gave the name of Tweed to the river."
The name was to prove remarkably prescient. The creation of the state of Queensland was still more than 35 years away, yet the river was named after the Tweed River in the UK which straddles the border between England and Scotland. Indeed the very word Tweed is said to derive from an ancient Celtic word for border.
The Australian version of the river made an obvious place to draw the line between New South Wales and Queensland but as we all know, in another quirk of history, despite starting at Point Danger the state boundary was defined as an almost perfect inverse of its course.
It is a decision that of course affects us to this day.
We have, in the Gold Coast and Tweed, one deeply connected urban area, but two time zones, two police forces, even different rules on rabbits. It's not quite East Berlin versus West Berlin, but for those who cross the border daily, it's hardly ideal.
Fixing the problem for once and for all would clearly be desirable, and Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate was right to suggest it. Unfortunately, the boorish manner in which he did so has done little to advance the cause.
Extending Queensland's borders to the Tweed River may seem like an obvious approach, but it would create as many problems as it solves. People in Chinderah and Kingscliff are hardly likely to be pleased about being separated from their close neighbours at Tweed Heads, where many socialise and do their shopping.
Similarly, implying that the Tweed would become part of the Gold Coast, and suggesting this would boost house prices, seemed more likely to inflame than engage.
The most common reaction from Tweed locals - and it is a perfectly understandable one - is that they don't want the unique character of their area to change. And they definitely don't want more high-rises, as Tweed councillor James Owen told the Bulletin.
"One of the key mantras in Tweed is we don't want to be like the Gold Coast. It's about keeping our identity, our relaxed lifestyle, our beautiful environment," he said.
"The kind of Gold Coast-style development is something not right for Tweed and it doesn't need to be.
"We love the Gold Coast, it's a good neighbour and we like going over and enjoying it. But we love Tweed - our little piece of paradise."
Mr Owen was accurately reflecting the feelings of his electorate. Similar comments are littered through Tweed community forums whenever the topic is raised.
But in these objections, there is an obvious opportunity to sensibly advance the debate. The Tweed gets its identity from having its own council and planning rules different to those that apply in southeast Queensland. It has that separate identity despite being part of the same urban area, just as the Gold Coast is distinctly different to Brisbane.
A border down the Tweed River would cut the council area in half and destroy its unique character.
Although it would seem at first blush more ambitious, a more reasonable suggestion might actually be for the Tweed Shire, as a whole, to join Queensland, with a guarantee it would retain its council as is and an undertaking that it would be granted special planning status.
Such a move would also see the border moved to very sparsely populated rural locations.
A proposal of this nature, which attempts to take account of local concerns, might provoke a more thoughtful debate.
It is also not something that politicians should decide. So far we've heard about the Mayor of the Gold Coast writing to the Premier of Queensland, who in turn has written to the Premier of New South Wales.
Who is asking the people who would be most affected, those who live on the Tweed?
Any proposal to change borders permanently would have to be put to a vote of the people of the area that would change. Their voice is the only one that really matters in this debate.
Legally, the NSW Premier could say no, but in reality would be unlikely to face down the results of a popular vote.
History likes to throw us challenging curve balls. The choice of where to draw the border line was one. The COVID-19 pandemic is another.
But we don't have to be trapped by the nineteenth-century decisions of explorers. How good would it be if, with a little imagination and respect, the problem they gifted us was finally solved.
Originally published as Where new border line should really be drawn