The grass is always greener - not here 

I've only been to Launceston once, and really liked it.

Old buildings with character, great restaurants and wineries, a recreational jewel in Cataract Gorge, no traffic hassles and one of the world's best golf courses about an hour down the road.

Can't say I'd like to live there though. Too close in winter to the Antarctic for my liking.

But 30 years ago my cousin went to "Launie" for three months to do a locum at a veterinary surgery and never came back. He fell in love with the place, even before he fell in love with a local girl.

They've lived there happily ever after, raising four children.

They'd agree that it rates pretty highly in the family-friendly stakes. No 1 in Australia apparently.

Or so a "silly season" survey tells us.

I've been to Albury a few times too, and really liked the town on the Murray River. What's not to like? The district is the gateway to the beautiful Victorian Alps and some of Australia's best golf course country and wineries, among its many charms.

Not sure if I'd want to live there, either. Too hot in summer and too cold in winter. But there are plenty of people who do.

People like staying in motels there too. More than they like staying in motels in Wollongong, apparently. Or so another "silly season" survey tells us.

It seems that every January publicity-seeking corporations release their "findings," comparing Australian towns and cities on all kinds of criteria, and then wait for the smug smiles of the "winners" and inevitable cries of indignation from the "losers" to generate publicity for their brands.

Livability indexes, family-friendly ratings, motel night bookings ... you name it, they measure it ... then issue a media release. And wait for the reaction.

Come in spinner.

So Launceston "won" the family-friendly title, and Wollongong was rated 21st out of 30.

So what?

I reckon Wollongong is a great place to raise a family. There are not many cities in the world that boast a better climate or better beaches - free and accessible to all and not just a privileged few. The education and sporting facilities are first class, while the lifestyle choices range from high-rise to semi-rural, from coastal to mountain villages - and all within 10 minutes drive of the sea.

And I hardly think it reflects poorly on Wollongong if Albury's motels sell more room nights than Wollongong's do.

Albury is, after all, the main town on the busy highway between Australia's two largest cities.

Our golf courses are pretty good too, and the award-winning Coolangatta Estate winery is just an hour down the road.

People choose to live in and visit towns and cities for all kinds of reasons, and I'm pretty sure spurious surveys and indexes aren't going to influence anyone.

So let's do away with the comparisons and the silly competitions. No more Australia's best beach or Australia's tidiest town. No more motel-stay surveys or family-friendly ratings.

Here in the Illawarra we've got a lot to be proud of and I for one wouldn't swap it for anywhere else in Australia.

But I love visiting other places, and enjoying their contrasts. In fact, I'm going back to Launceston in March.

Vive la différence.

Nick Hartgerink is a former Mercury editor who now runs his own media consultancy.




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