Thursday, October 17, 2013

New South Walesian geography

The following may be considered quite impolite but some time I just have to say it: The Australians here in this area are just weird with their approach to geography. We are in Canberra and thus, although the city has its own territory, essentially embedded in New South Wales (NSW). And talking about localities in NSW with Australian colleagues is a constant struggle.

You see, when they tell you that a species of plants occurs at the "south coast", they do not, in contrast to what anybody outside of Australia would reasonably surmise, mean a coast that does anything so base as actually being situated on the southern edge of any land mass you might be thinking of. You would thus waste your time if you were attempting to locate this plant species on the coasts of Victoria or South Australia.

No, here in NSW, Sydney is the navel, the pole, the hub of the world, the focus of all thought. So obviously (?) to a local, the "south coast" is the coast of NSW south of Sydney, and the "north coast" is the coast of NSW north of Sydney. The fact that both are really the east coast relative to land and ocean is apparently a minor detail, and people can get quite exasperated if you are unkind enough to point it out. Of course this makes it much harder to communicate when you really do need to say that something occurs on the southern coast (for reals) of the continent, but I have by now gotten used to dealing with this particular weirdness.

Recently I had an even more bizarre exchange. A colleague came back to work and told me that she had spent the extended weekend visiting relatives in a town in "western NSW". After she mentioned the nice wildflowers there I asked her to show me the town on the map because the interior of the state has many interesting species of the group I am working on. So when we stood in front of the map, my finger and eyes quickly focused on the western half of NSW but I could not find the town.

The joke was on me! As it turns out, the town is literally in the easternmost fifth of the state. But of course, as I learned from the aforementioned colleague, that is still western NSW. Presumably because it is just slightly west of the ridge of the Great Dividing Range or something. Again, the fact that this place is nearly as far east as you can get in NSW without falling into the Tasman Sea is a minor detail, and she was quite surprised at the misunderstanding.

Admittedly, when I was a child everything south of the Elbe river felt to me as if it weren't really northern Germany any more. But well, when I thought like that I was what, 10 years? And even then I would not actually have called Lower Saxony "southern Germany"...

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