Fog clouds the view of Brisbane City

Fog clouds the view of Brisbane City from Mt Coot-tha. Courtesy: Mark Cranitch

It’s the perennial question you’re likely to be asked when introduced to strangers in Brisbane. What side of the Brisbane River do you live on (along with which school did go to)?

Arguments often follow about which side of the river is superior, with fierce tribalism claiming either the north or the south to be the better place to be.

The Courier-Mail ran the ruler over the north and south by comparing their performance on 11 key indicators – from real estate to the quality of schools, their best restaurants and cultural attractions.

Our analysis found one side came out narrowly in front, winning six of the 11 categories in question.

Griffith University’s School of Environment lecturer Dr Tony Matthews said river cities around the world often split in two, but Brisbane excels in its tribal divide.

“It’s a fairly common occurrence in a great number of cities where the river splits a city … it’s like an arbitrary division line,” Mr Matthews, who grew up in the city of Cork, told The Courier-Mail.

“Somewhere like London there is a big difference between south London and the rest of London and it also plays out in Brisbane.

“I haven’t been able to, and I’ve done a fair bit of reading around this, to find an historical signifier or a point as to why this started but it clearly exists.”

Mr Matthews said on paper, there was no superior side of the river and never has been.

In fact the place to be during Brisbane’s settlement and its formative years was in the hills.

“When Brisbane was settled residential development was confined to the north bank of the river … so the CBD is the first point of settlement and then settlement stretched out along the river,” he said.

“The wealthy Brisbanites moved to the hills very quickly, particularly the hills to the south west because if you could afford it, it gave you certain advantages … it was cooler, you got better breezes.”

As for modern Brisbane, north side residents, which include Federal Labor MP Wayne Swan and former LNP leader Tim Nichols, were closer to the airport, did not have to use a bridge or tunnel to access the CBD and were closer to entertainment precincts like Fortitude Valley, the Brisbane Entertainment Centre and the Showgrounds.

On the other hand, south side residents, which include Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her deputy Jackie Trad, were nearer beaches, had direct access to the M1 and Gateway Motorways, lived in arguably leafier and greener areas and could utilise the banks of the Brisbane River.

“You look at the north side of the river and it’s just an arterial road running along the riverbank. It’s a just a waste of space. You basically go along the northside of the river in a car,” he said. “The southside you can have picnics and there’s a lot of social public spaces.”

Fellow Griffith University tutor Professor Paul Burton said there was a much broader reason for people wanting to know the answers to the school you attended and the suburb you live.

The Urban Planning lecturer said when people are introduced they usually pose a set of questions as a conversation starter which could include which sporting teams you follow but for some reason Brisbanites revert to the side of the river and the school you attended.

“What’s going on … is we are asking a few short questions which allow us to pigeonhole people fairly quickly,” Prof Burton said.

“Some of that you can do visually … depending on what people are wearing … we want to be able to place people and know something about their class position and, in some circumstances, we may want to know about their religious or ethnic background.”

REIQ spokesman Martin Millard said people tended to gravitate to the side of the river where they grew up.

“People think about five things when buying a house, work schools, lifestyle, family and cultural and social connectivity,” he said.

“It’s complex enough buying a house and people like to live close to family and friends rather than move to the other side and start fresh with new friends.”

One major factor which could force people to change sides is the time it takes to commute to work or university, said Mr Matthews.

“It’s something that is well documented and looked at in urban research, and that’s people have a tolerance threshold for commuting of about 45 minutes to one hour,” he said.

Karen McBryde from Place Estate Agents says that in her experience living near family and friends is one of the biggest attractions for couples buying homes.

Even though there’s no historical basis for one side being better than the other, the argument on which side is superior is clear cut for Brisbane Lion’s forward Eric Hipwood. The young gun recently moved after he bought a house on the south side to be closer to the Gabba.

“I only moved because I bought a house on the south side. I’d much rather live on the north side,” he said. “They’ve got better cafes, it’s easy to get from A to B without traffic and it’s short drive to the Sunshine Coast if you want to go to the beach … it’s just a short drive to the airport.”

His sentiments weren’t shared by Brisbane Lions AFLW star Emily Bates who lives on the south side by choice.

“It’s close to my favourite spots … including South Bank and the Gabba plus there are better cafes on the southside,” she said. “There’s less traffic, closer to the Gold Coast and closer to where I do all my training.”

Brisbane Heat and Queensland Bulls batsman Joe Burns is unequivocal about the north side being superior.

“I grew up on the north side and had no reason to leave,” he said. “A lot of my friends live on the north side and the Sunshine Coast is very accessible if you need a break from the city. There are a lot of great facilities and different shopping options and you’re never short of things to do close to home.”

WBBL all-rounder Jemma Barsby is also a big fan of the north side and has no plans to migrate south.

“Traffic is a big one. There always seems to be some sort of traffic snarl on the south side and it just seems easier to get to places (on the north side),” she said.

“I find you are away from the clutter of the city. It’s easy for me to get to the Sunny Coast, which I love, and I’m only a couple of minutes drive from Chermside (shopping centre).”