It's Rugby League State of Origin week. For League fans, the State of Origin Games weeks are the biggest weeks of the season. These matches are tough, cliche-filled mini-dramas where everyone with even a passing interest in the game takes sides, dons a colour, drinks beer and yells a bit, at least here, north of the Tweed.
It's Queensland versus New South Wales, "Mate versus Mate, State versus State", Maroons versus Blues, Cane Toads versus Cockroaches.
In Queensland, businesses are draped in maroon and white bunting, balloons and banners, office workers wear their prized maroon footy jersey to work over their shirt and tie or blouse, and the war cry is "QUEENSLANDER!!" So ubiquitous is the Queensland obsession with State of Origin that people who aren't swept up in maroon fever are mocked, insulted, shunned. Of the 900 or so people that I follow on Twitter, the number to confess their disinterest in the sporting event is in single digits. Brave Susan Hetherington did; she knows the territory all too well.
Many Queenslanders would be amazed to learn that the same level of obsessive state fanaticism just doesn't exist south of the border. Sure, footy fans wear blue to the match, and get together to watch the game, yell at the tellie and share a few beers, but you won't find many offices and shops festooned in blue. In New South Wales, a State of Origin match does not equate to state pride on the line. The morale of the entire state doesn't hinge on the final score.
Queenslanders take a great deal of pleasure in taunting their New South Wales friends and colleagues when the maroons win State of Origin (which they seem to do most of the time). Take a hint from a transplanted southerner: save your breath, the don't care that much.
Queensland parochialism is a force of nature. There's a maroon-hued unity within this state that I've never seen anywhere else, in any colour. When a Queensland sportsman wins anything of note, it's a headline.
There's a line, though, and while I respect the Queensland state pride, that line is crossed far too often, particularly by media. Look at individual sports like tennis, golf, surfing and swimming. Some of these sports have national teams, so when competing at international level, those athletes are representing Australia. They are wearing the Green and Gold. The cry from the stands is not "QUEENSLANDER!", it's "Oi Oi Oi!" Too often, the Queensland media report these victories by describing the victorious athlete as a Queensander.
"But they are Queenslanders!", I hear you argue.
Yes, they are, but when representing Australia, can we introduce them as such, as leave the state affiliation to the second sentence?
I recall during the Beijing Olympics four years ago, pumped up Queensland journalists breathlessly reported Queensland's Olympic medal tally. It wasn't a sidebar, or a feature on the success of Queensland athletes in the Australian team. It was just the way some maroon-hearted reporters presented the medal tally.
Here's a note, up front of the London Olympics. Queensland doesn't compete in the Olympics because Queensland is not a country.
Of course it's appropriate to count up the number of Olympic medals won by Queenslanders if that's the point you're trying to make, as was the case in the Quuensland Parliament after the Games, but surely we can agree that if you're an Olympian representing Australia, your medal is an Aussie victory, first and foremost?
I fully expect to be challenged on this, by Queenslanders, by media, by you: why shouldn't we be proud of our state?
We should be proud, and we are. Still, Queensland state pride often seems over the top, particularly in comparison to...well...everywhere else. The fact that nowhere else does state pride like Queensland does is something else we can be proud of.
But what's behind it? Is it a response to having been mocked for so many years for not being as big or successful or trendy as New South Wales and Victoria? Is it an attempt to reclaim some pride after the Fitzgerald Enquiry painted the Sunshine State as more shonky than shiny? Is this intense maroon frenzy just a group reaction to our own inferiority complex?
I think it is. This is Queensland, constantly having to prove ourselves. It's part of who we are. For those cooler weeks in footy season, Queensland becomes QUEENSLANDER! This is our personality, our image, our colour scheme, our obsession. And for those three games per year, that's okay.
I wonder what Queensland is for the other 49 weeks of the year?