I mentioned previously that in these years I am dubbing my nomadic 20s, it’s been difficult for me to figure out Townsville. This city in Northern Queensland, Australia was my permanent home from 2000-2012 before I left for Brisbane and then Vancouver.But the question always comes back to the same inevitable answer:
It is where I graduated from primary school, high school and university with a Bachelor of Journalism. It is the city I returned to during holidays from Brisbane and after my working holiday in Canada. It is where my sports team reside. It is the place I know – the suburbs to avoid, the shops to visit, the eateries to enjoy and the things to do.
Following my return late last year to this city I dub my hometown, I notice a difference which I hadn’t previously. Townsville growing up, in terms of population, housing and culture.
When I was overseas and speaking to fellow Australians, if I admitted to being from Townsville I would nearly always be met with a face. This face would either include a raised eyebrow, a scoff or something of the sort. Townsville doesn’t have a fantastic reputation: why? Well we are rural (Brisbane is a 1.5 hour flight away) which basically equals uncultured to a lot of people, and extremely hot and humid about ten months of the year.
But in Townsville’s defence – and this may be one of the only times I defend my hometown – it isn’t exactly small. The population is currently estimated at just over 190 000 and we are about to surpass Geelong as the 12th biggest city in Australia.
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Townsville has one of the largest army bases in the country (army men: that’s another story for another time) which means a high turnover of residents. This also translates to needing more housing for more people. Since returning home and reading the local paper, I have notice just how much it has grown in a few years. There are so many new housing estates being created in the city’s outskirts that it won’t be long before the population is over 200 000 in my opinion. The city is growing outwards and who knows when it will or is able to stop.
City Lane = A Slice of Melbourne
Back in the day, I worked in Flinders Mall, the city’s centre. It was quiet, with our customers being either tourists or city workers. A different business seemed to close every month, which meant a lot of empty spaces. This made the mall look run-down and unpleasant, with its saving grace the Cotter’s Market each Sunday.
It finally got the facelift it deserved and so desperately needed right after I left (of course). The mall was open to traffic and there was an injection of fresh businesses. Its latest establishment is City Lane, this cute alleyway filled with five very different premises. As soon as I saw it I thought instantly of Melbourne. I dined at The Courtyard for my birthday lunch, which is a truly funky space reminiscent of Vancouver’s hipster eateries. Their hashtag, as all businesses seem to have these days, is #dontpissoffthegnomes. This is why.
With a funky street art inspired exterior opening onto an outside retro styled beer garden and an interior reminiscent of a Mexican cantina, The Courtyard offers a range of craft beers and ciders and a tempting menu featuring all your favourite Americana style street food eats. Hang out here under the watchful eye of the resident garden gnomes who can sometimes be found getting up to no good!
From the graffiti, the turf walls, the bird cage table numbers and the colourful menus, I could see myself happily making The Courtyard my new local, if I was remaining in Townsville. My mum munched on the Fix Mix Combo of soft tacos (shredded beef, zesty fish and Cajun chicken) which equalled three for $15. Although a tad pricey, the tacos were worth it. The slow-cooked shredded beef was tender, the chicken just the right amount of crunchy and the pico de gallo very on par with its American counterparts.
As soon as I saw Alfred’s fried chicken and “our speciality”, I didn’t need to look any further. There are options of a quarter bird, half or whole and I chose the quarter, which turned out to be A LOT of bird. The menu stated the chicken was “coated in our crazy mix and crust then pressure fried to perfection – the best damn chicken in town!” I have to admit I had never tasted chicken like that anywhere else in Townsville. The coating was so crunchy yet the chicken was still moist and tender.
Other offerings at The Courtyard include popcorn shrimp, gourmet hot dogs, the always-necessary burgers and fries and Philly cheese steak. They also offer ice-cream sandwiches and churros for dessert – if I only had room after devouring my bird!
Across the alleyway is Donna Bionda, which is an Italian restaurant with a great undercover outdoor seating area. There is also Shaw & Co, with the tagline: bar with balls. I was tempted to try there but The Courtyard stole me away. A bar based around meatballs does sound like an interest concept though. The other two options for now in the designated City Lane are the Paleo Cafe, which is Townsville’s first clean eating, health lifestyle cafe. They also have a in-store fridge stocked with Paleo-friendly ready made meals and pantry supplies. Opposite the cafe is Sakana, because obviously no city worldwide can have too many sushi restaurants, right?
Flinders Mall is constantly growing and I am looking forward to coming home on holidays to see what else is new.
Townsville Growing Up and Up
I honestly think all of this newness is just the beginning for my hometown. The clubbing district – or as we called it in university, “town” – is getting a massive accommodation facility built in its middle, which is said to have rooms and a camping area for caravans.
I don’t think the growth in Townsville will stop the eye-rolls and the “you’re from where” faces, but the rejuvenation and modernisation make me just a little bit prouder to call this growing city my hometown. Just don’t think I’m going to get that printed on my shirt or something.