Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Sheltered Life

I was chatting with Drummer Boy late last night. He was still pumped about reaching the second round of the international band competition which Aktor have qualified to play in September. The venue was a pub/club in downtown Sydney where the rich tapestry of characters provides a good perve and can be a little scary for a suburban boy. He's no stranger to the city but after the big gig he and groupies sought respite in the Newtown Pub. This by his own admission was a real eye-opener. Apparently he didn't want to let go of TheFringelet for fear some derro would accost her. The bar was full of old timers, junkies and down and outs, locals, gays, punks, arty farty types, business people and uni students - a kaleidascope of alternative city life that we don't see in the burbs or even in the city clubs where suburban younglings tend to congregate until late before getting back on the Westbus and heading home to their sanitised lives.

I think it was a realisation for him that we have become homogenised in the outer suburbs in our 70 square rendered architectural masterpieces graced with lap pools and so close to our neighbours that we could lean out of facing bathrooms and clean each other's teeth. We've lost 'character' that can only be found on the city streets and have become a Stepford sprawl of middle class monotony. We have clean buses, trendy shops, neatly dressed private school children who have selective school coaching on Mondays, play piano on Wednesdays and netball on Saturdays. Yummy mummies with perfectly coiffed and coloured hair, pushing lethal three wheel strollers occupied by designer babies. The only stand-outs being the odd bunch of emo try-hards with their designer black jeans, perched precariously across their bottoms flashing silky Calvin Kliens.

Our suburb is filled with samish robotic types who drive new cars, dress for the times, talk about light fittings and renovations and service their incredible debts. They maintain their manicured gardens despite water restrictions and think a good night out is dinner at some pretentious restaurant where soup is served cold in a shot glass.

Newtown is inner city. It's a mix of impoverishment, university and public housing, yuppy renovations and a tolerance for the unusual that makes it a colourful place to visit. Just 2kms from the city centre, King Street is strewn with pubs and restaurants from Lebanese Kebabfests to Thai surprises and African delights. The shops range from fetish to fashion, homewares to hippy havens. It's smattered with Viet bakeries and old fashioned barber shops, trendoid pubs and disgusting green tiled locals. It has alternative clubs and venues with alternative patrons. Parking is a nightmare in the higgeldy-piggeldy tangle of federation style streets, so narrow that a u-turn is impossible. If you drive into one, the only way out is to reverse.

If you want to buy something unusual for a gift, Newtown is the new town. It's the hub, the coolest place to be and reminds me that the colourful differences in people is what it's all about and that the burbs have lost their character.

Sydney suburbs, well certainly in the affluent North West, have sprouted from the ground over the past 30 years and are now great sprawling patches of treeless gardens and red roofed homes without eaves so that the tiny land space is totally maximised. New houses are built on tiny 500sqmetre blocks with no garden but all mod cons. Plants now reside in ugly highly glazed pots on terracotta porches. Parks are contrived and 'planted' to look natural but manage to look manufactured like a Disneyland sound stage and skateboarders and BMXers are discouraged as evil influences. We have a plethora of faux pubs - the Irish inspired Mean Fiddler, the cartoon inspired Etamoggah the slick and cityfied Euro Bar and Hillside Tavern and of course the gargantuan RSL.

We have massive shopping malls which deny you a peak of the outside, like casinos where there are no windows so that you don't realise how late it's getting but keep shopping, spending, consuming, playing. Food halls where the fat are force-fed MacDonalds and spurious sushi whilst a voice in the background announces the specials. No less than 25 cinemas . . . where the young congregate and compare belly rings. No transvestites or derolicts here.

We're fortunate as we live a semi-rural lifestyle that allows us to be set apart from the urban sprawl but it's creeping ever near. I'm often asked, where will I move when we finally sell this place and I'm not sure . . .I love the rural life . . .I love the buzz of the city but the suburban wasteland in between is soulless and repetitive . . .houses made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same. It's true, we all live a sheltered life. Viva diversity!

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