hinterland

The word hinterland comes from the German hinderland, with the literal meaning of ‘the land behind’, usually the country behind the sea coast or a river, and traditionally, the port and city. In our case, we are behind the coast but in front of the Blackall Range, which is probably what most
people think of when they imagine the Sunshine Coast hinterland. “Oh, near Maleny” they say. And we nod, although Maleny is twenty
minutes by car and a world away by its altitude, community and climate.

Hinterland was also applied to the surrounding areas of European colonies, which, although not part of the colony itself, were influenced by the ruling colony. Although I have no wish to return to colonial times, it still fits. Local government sits on the coast and decisions tend to
be made for the greater population, which is concentrated along the shoreline and canals. The further away you are from the decision makers, and the less populated the area, the less likely revenue will be expended for your benefit or your views considered. Nonetheless, I quite like the idea that we are related to the coast but separate from its highways, malls and spreading estates. We have our own hinterland identity.

‘Hinterland’ can also be applied when talking about an individual’s depth and breadth of knowledge of other matters (or lack thereof), specifically of cultural, academic, artistic, literary and scientific pursuits. For instance, one could say, “Annie Dillard has a vast hinterland.” This usage is said to have first been applied, perhaps appropriately given its colonial reach, to British politicians. The spread of the expression is attributed to Denis Healey, former UK Defence Secretary, and his wife Edna, in the context of the supposed lack of hinterland of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. What a dinner party conversation that must have been!

I’m not sure about the hinterland, in this sense, of our community; it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There are a handful with a vast cultural hinterland, and many lacking even the hinterland of Maggie Thatcher. It is a wonderful oddity of language that one can live deep in the hinterland and yet also be lacking one. But then perhaps it went without saying, in colonial terms, that a hinterland population could not possibly possess a hinterland of the mind.

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