About South

I grew up on the southern edge of Australia, never questioning the apparent verity that things improved as one went north, and were otherwise when one went south. This principle was even embodied in the idiom, ‘gone south’, which meant something had taken a turn for the worse.

Maps have long been oriented to the north, leading the eye and the mind in that direction presumably because some good thing is located in the preferred direction,  similar to the way church spires and vaulted church ceilings were designed to turn the eye and the mind heavenwards.

Where I lived as a boy, if you went north it got warmer with each mile. So in our cold southern winters northern warmth was yearned for, and when holiday time came, there was only one direction to go. When relations or friends took their holidays in Surfers Paradise or Tallebudgera, they were envied by those still stuck down south, which indeed seemed to be a substantial part of the motivation to go north for a holiday.  Upon their return they bragged about the joys of being ‘up north’. Of course our envy and their smugness were both sadly misplaced as Surfers Paradise back then was the same exploitative, expensive and soulless hole it remains today, and the Tallebudgera experience still goes downhill rapidly once you’ve handfed the parrots. Sydney was said to be better than Melbourne, for reasons presumably including that it was more or less north of Melbourne. The assertion of Sydney’s superiority could be made with confidence whether or not one had been to Sydney or even met someone who had. It was in the same class as gravity and god in the 1960s – a given.

Going south from where I grew up, things rapidly got colder, starting with Tassie and culminating in the unremitting iciness of Antarctica with nothing but progressively colder and wilder seas in between. At least this was the case until you crossed the south pole, after which things slowly got warmer again, but of course at that point you were heading north again. There was simply no escaping the self-evident truth that south was at best to be tolerated, whereas north was the direction to go and the place to be.

The very planet on which we live, spinning around in space with only arbitrary reference points in an infinite black void where north and south and up and down have no meaning at all, has somehow been universally viewed as having north up the top and south down the bottom. Hence, crossing the equator en route from Australia to anywhere north was a milestone on a journey to a far better place. For most Australian travellers last century, Europe was that better place.  Whatever disappointments were discovered by antipodean travellers in Europe, they were not sufficient to take the shine off being north.  By definition they were in a better place relatively speaking, because as they were constantly reminded, notwithstanding any disappointments they were experiencing, they were a long way north of ‘down-under’ – that most un-north of un-north places.

So enough! I love south. It’s where I was born, where I have lived, where I do live and where I will die. The southern climate is wonderful – true seasonal variation, hourly, daily and monthly changes which are of substance, each of the seasons in its turn to be keenly anticipated and enjoyed. Our hot dry summers with searing dry northerly winds  are balanced by cold wet winters, with frosts, snow, biting winds and serious cold fronts. The interludes between these seasons are the ebullient springs and the mellow autumns of the southern latitudes, each with their distinctive wonders and delights. An unpleasant wet season, and an unpleasant dry season (both hot), the lot of those in points north, cannot compare.

The coast along the south of this great continent is the bulwark for the entire nation against the relentless onslaught of the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean and the Tasman Sea. These oceans have huge swells generated in deep south latitudes which march with military precision and purpose to our sandy shores, only to inevitably end their journey with a vainglorious death-throe moment, rearing as if to conquer before crashing to final destruction on whatever sandbar, reef, rock shelf or cliff their long trajectory has taken them to.

Northern beaches on the other hand (and in this class I include all beaches around the north of the continent between say somewhere north of Coral Bay on the west coast and Teewah on the east coast) are utterly otherwise. They are weak warm bodies of water, occasionally with a bit of chop but never with swell. They are infested with creatures of every shape and size, all intent on killing humans. The irukandji jellyfish, the stone fish, the box jellyfish, the shark, the saltwater crocodile….the list goes on. Exit the water in the tropics with a croc on your tail, and you will continue to be chased by the suddenly even speedier amphibious croc on dry land, while at the same time being chased back into the water by buffalo, feral dogs and any number of dangerous snakes and spiders. The beaches are often muddy and boggy, the water is too warm to be refreshing, and the visibility is generally less than the length of your arm.

Give me a good honest great white pointer any day of the week. At least when you make it to the beach upon being chased by one, it concedes it was a draw and stays in the water, and both parties leave in peace. Contrast this with the saltwater crocodile who upon the chase moving from its sea phase to its land phase, will chase you up your street, into your house, and extract you protesting loudly from under the bed where you vainly tried to hide. Then it will eat you.

Don’t start me on hinterlands of the north and south of the continent. Give me the temperate rainforest of the Otways, or the tall eucalypts of south-west WA, or the gentle delights of the Fleurieu Peninsula in SA, or the rolling hills and clear creeks flowing into the sea over pristine sand along the south coast of NSW. Give me any part of the Tassie hinterland, from its Jurassic Parks to its windswept wildernesses, with its clear mountain streams and powerful rivers reminding us of how the world used to be. The tropics have nothing to compare – inhospitable jungle sums it up.

It is beyond the purpose of explaining the name of this blog to venture beyond the parochial hints above. The sea is my realm. The southern winter is my favourite season. Cold water ocean swimming is one of my joys. The southern coast of Australia and all that lies within a two day ride north of the coast is where I choose to be. I do go to other places from time to time, but only as a visitor. All trips away culminate in my yearning for the Southern Ocean, the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and my little patch of pure south in Apollo Bay. I will always return to this southern place, because it’s truly my home.

I take photos and I write. Often I don’t share my pictures or the thoughts I commit to writing. But when I do, the response usually makes me glad I did.

John Langmead

 

 

I use a Nikon D810 with a Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 zoom lens, a Sigma 150-600mm sport telephoto lens, a Nikon 60mm close-up lens, a GoPro Hero 3 and occasionally an iPhone 8.  Any photos published on the blog which pre-date 2016 (all JPEGs) were taken on my trusty but now retired Nikon D70s.  Since late 2017, all photos have been taken in RAW format and edited using Adobe Lightroom.