Friday, December 07, 2007

At home in Old town

I've got 2 places that I refer to as 'home' now.

Curiously enough election night emphasised that division and connection really well. I'd agreed to spend the day polling with the 3 Glen Innes supporters for The Greens. So I hung out for few hours at the local uniting church, chatting convivially on the hustings, amazed at the ability of the local independent to entice One Nation supporters and Kooris to poll for him, while chatting to old schoolfriend's parents on the Nationals stall, or minding the stall for the ALP - whose supporters are close family friends. Two of the greenies were ageing hippies who'd only been in the district for 25 years, and only found acceptance with 3 generations taking root in the town.... so the nationals supporters were strangers to them, previously hostile political and social opponents - whereas most people at school knew I was left of Gough Whitlam (I hadn't heard of Che Guevara then) so me coming out as a greens supporter wasn't a big surprise. Even thought it drives me nuts - and I *can't* really live there, there is a familiarity and ease about the place and my contrariness feels grounded and accepted. But there to be educated, to be queer, to be an artist, *is* contrary and eccentric; an oddity to be tolerated, or a phase to be ignored like a bad haircut perhaps.

Even though there was an election night party planned at a house of some family friends, I'd felt an incredibly strong urge to be surrounded by a large amount of like minded people. I think the last minute polls promoting a swing to Howard were the clincher. I knew if he got back in that I'd need to get very very drunk and commit harikiri with a large group of like minded people, rather than silently sob at home, and share my hopeless gloom with the 25 lefties in town. Mum - bless her - agreed to drive me 100kms to the airport so I booked a ticket for the night time.

Armidale Airport is even more desolate than the Ryanair terminal at Pirrkala in Finland, and with a downpour - things looked hopelessly gloomy. but In the sky - somehow I had a strange sense of joy - which could have been from the weird clouds, or the complimentary wine, but by the time I got in a cab home - Barnaby Rudge was already calling defeat, and I could barely keep my mouth closed with delight.

At home, with the sun setting, I could hear people calling to each other in the streets of Erko - announcing results from cars and house windows. I looked up the results online and let out a shriek of delight. I ran downstairs to tell the neighbours but everyone was lost in a weird cloud of..... collective bonhomie; a common state for the compound which seems to be oblivious to the world on a number of levels (Ah dystopia such a bittersweet opiate!) So I frocked up as SCRAGG and ran up the street. Briefly saw Abel and her Mum - and blabbed delightedly in french. they were also oblivious to the result, but were convivial at least...

Up at Newtown Bridge, someone had erected a large screen and set up decks, and a large gathering of multigenerational rif-raf were standing and swilling and cheering with delight as the results came through. This was fucking perfect. I saw a lot of old friends. I saw the tom cat who ignored me as studiously as I ignored her (sometimes I'm REALLY sick of being a lesbian). Then saw a lot of new friends and forgot the sapphic angst. I lost scragg's 6-pack of bundy and bought some Guinness. then found the 6 pack. I got woefully drunk. Had a bit of a nostalgia moment, ostetatiously spraying my piss over parked cars with some old feminazi mates.... then tried to negotiate getting to the after-party with various drunken mates. We were all to drunk to read a street directory, or direct a cabbie. Finally made it as 3 vanloads of riot cops seemed to be screeching around the corner determined to use up the leftover APEC budget. It was 2am and there were people EVERYWHERE. This felt like home.

today, checking facebook, I came across yet another tiny group that a few friends had signed up to. The OLD Newtown (Sydney) 1992 - 1999 currently has 124 members, mostly comprised of the white thirtysomething creative class that typically sign up to facebook, and like to flaunt our subject formation as much as a series of affiliations, aspirations and lifestyle choices that denote the kind of social mobility, intellectual flexibility and political cosmopolitanism to which we like to be identified with.

true to form, I've joined numerous minor groups including reunion societies for student politicians, and even a tongue in cheek fanclub for a DJ mate... actually 'DJ' is an understatement for a luminary of ye olde vintage raver project of the Temporary Autonomous Zone of sound and silly arm waving, but I'll leave that for another time...

Meanwhile something about The OLD Newtown (Sydney) 1992 - 1999 was making me feel a little queazy.

I think one of my earliest posts on this blog (3 years ago, sigh!) was about the changes to Newtown as it moved upmarket, and cranky old codger that I am, I continue to lament the increasing impossibility of sustaining an oxymoron even in freeform writing like weblogs... err... I mean the increasing discomfort I feel around my olde barrio as it shifts upmarket. I CAN'T AFFORD to buy food there, let alone clothing. the cafe's look tacky and frightening and so do the pubs. there are maybe 4 places that I'd even consider going for a meal, and I do largely consider King Street as a convenient and well lit stretch between my home (the compound) and my work (the uni) - for which I'm so incredibly lucky that I feel like a total wanker for whingeing about having to get a train to buy groceries.

Maybe I just have a probelm with the dates. In my half life of sydney residencies I've lived in the following suburbs:

Homebush for 3 months
Dulwich Hill for 6 months
Camperdown for 6 months
Erskineville for 18 months
Enmore for 3 years
Randwick for 1 year (shudder)
Petersham for 3 years
Ultimo for 3 months
the Compound for 8 and a half years (interspersed with about 18 months overseas)

the compound is on the edge of Erko, Newtown & St. Peters so even it's not actually IN newtown, and since I've only lived there since 1999 then how can I claim to be a vintage newtown resident?

from 1992-1999 I didn't live in Newtown, I didn't shop in Newtown, and I could barely afford to go to cafe's let alone eat out in Newtown (except for family dinners when Mum came to town). Until 1994 I did a lot of pasting up on King street, and from 1993 I did quite a lot of getting pissed, but does this make a local or a blow in? and what were the criteria?

Is this a society for THE NEWTOWN PRECINCT? Or for visitors to Newtown? and if it is for the latter, then how am I meant to differentiate myself as a legitimate boho visitor from the tourist wannabe scum that have apparently ruined the place since?

Of course I do play the game of Spewtown authenticity, and have played it sickeningly well for years. I was a regular at the Sando in 1989, I used to do my study in the empty front bar of the Impy back in 1991, fornicated with different genders in Camperdown cemetery in both decades of last century, Inserted people, objects and substances into various orifices in the dunnies of that pub that got renamed and renovated FIVE years ago. I used to have dreadlocks, and I shared a house with an old communist who'd lived in the Barrio in the 1950's. thanks to the Department of Housing we're both still here.

I was whingeing about the place going to the dogs (yuppies) in 1991, and screaming at Eastern suburbs 'types' sometime... well, many times, but moreso when I was living in Randwick and working full time and feeling insecure and defensive.

So, true to form, I'm going to indulge in a little bit of projection, and wonder what people are trying to hide or ignore about themselves by this need to blame a suburb for echoing the destinies of it's boho luminaries and going upmarket? I don't know many people who've stayed as poor and 'hardcore' as we were 10 or 15 years ago, but I know LOTS with full time jobs and mortgages and kids and new clothes and salon haircuts. Change happens. And I’m also a bit suss about assuming that boho students, or temporary beneficiaries of Centrelink are somehow more representative of a suburb than the other residents or consumers, like people who have worked there, old residents from before it was trendyville, kids who grew up there, the yuppies who bought into the place early, and, heaven forbid… the kooris who I think might still OWN the place.

Maybe it was the anecdote from a friend in London who’d gone out to dinner with some old student mates – who were basically a bunch of GOTHS, whingeing about now newtown had changed in one breathe and speculating on their mortgages in the next. WTF???

I DO really believe that cultural and social viability do come from the capacity of spaces and suburbs to facilitate a certain amount of socio-economic flexibility. I don’t just mean ‘diversity’ – and dumping housing commission flats in bourgie ‘burbs, but having a variety of land use and land occupation and retail development so that wonderful seductive beast of entrepreneurial capital can flourish – with or without large amounts of dosh. If an area looks like a space where lots of peeps can indulge in a variety of dreams or ideas or fantasies – then even if 80% end up being boring opportunists on the make, then even the visibility of movement, of cultural activity, of social change and mobility can offer a broader challenge to the deadening stranglehold of monopoly capital.

Shopping malls aren’t just depressing because of the low ceilings or flouro lights, but because they present and reinforce a view that the only way to buy or to sell – to get clothed and fed and have contact with people HAS to be mediated by large scale industrial capital. Big buildings, carparks, chain store franchises, mass advertising. Organised, renovated, remote, insinuating itself at a molecular level into our bodies, our eardrums, our minds…. It is spirit crushing HELL.

I resent the fact that I can’t buy my groceries along a shopping strip in my suburb, and I refuse to by fruit in a supermarket. But I can still jump on a train to indulge in my consumer preference for fruit markets and small shops, whereas most Australians can’t. In Bathurst and Glen Innes there were no fruit and vegetable shops, and fresh produce was double the price of Sydney. This change has occurred in the past 18 months, and I imagine it’s the same everywhere.

My generation of thirty something bohos have witnessed the massive increase in fossil fuel consumption in the past 15 years, and incredible decline in any semblance of sustainable agriculture or food distribution or water conservation practices. While I like the fact that I can buy 5 different brands of organic tofu within walking distance of my home, but I think that this does nothing to change the fact that my mum can only buy vegetables that have been driven two thousand kilometres, when she lives less than 300 kilometres from major fruit growing areas of Australia.

Maybe I’m lucky to regard 2 places as home – so I’m NOT insular but always looking outside, or outwards, or looking away, wondering what’s happening to the other half of my world, while simultaneously maligning or eulogising the one where I live. This means that I can’t ever see a place as purely good or bad, or see the changes that occur in one place as separate from the changes to my own life, or the changes that occur elsewhere. Maybe it’s why sometimes the political disengagement of the compound drives me nuts. I believe creativity involves actively moving outwards, responding to changes and challenges by seeking new possibilities and fighting for them, rather than sinking into a safety nest of shared values and lifestyle choices.

I find Newtown delightful and frustrating as hell, and lived through a lot of heartbreak as well as had some incredible dreams come true. I think I still love it because it has this combination of disgust and delight, and irritates me as much as it seduces me. Maybe I’m just glad that I haven’t seen window displays of pyjamas and slippers. If a Katies opens up on King Street, I’m outta there.

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