I live on the suburban outskirts of Sydney and 'community ' has a new definition, it's selective. There are the Church goers who swear they're part of the 'community' yet exclude the non Christian members, there are the Rotary Clubs who are also part of the 'community' yet there agenda is formal and open only to invitees, there are the sporting clubs but the only members of 'their' community are the sports players and parents, so what defines a community. Some might say I'm a little too big for my boots but basically the shoe doesn't fit. I don't fit, I don't feel any sense of community.
I remember in earlier days, much earlier, as a child in Handforth England, . .you walked down the street and knew your local MP, the Vicar, the shopkeeper, the teacher . . . you're kid got a ride home from Shenton's farm on a Donkey because she would sell her soul for a ride on a pony. The milkman was known as Doug and the Rag and Bone man knew to linger a little longer outside your house so you could pat the Shire . . .things seemed much tighter, you'd get a lift from the guy down the road on a wet afternoon, people had time to talk. Neighbours chatted over the fence . . gossip maybe - but old people didn't die at home and remain undiscovered for weeks. Because the town or village was small and tight, there really was a sense of 'community'. Jesus, I was only 7 at the time and could feel it!
In the burbs, I can't find it . . . sure I run into people I know, wave at walkers in the morning, there is 'familiarity' but not community. I know and am aware of, the Orange Blossom Festival or Castle Hill Show but I don't feel part of it. Even my local village shops, I'm recognised only by the guy that owns the Liquor store! The Welcome Mart has very nice and well meaning Seihk owners running it now, but try as they might, they can't emulate the local knowledge of it's previous owner (who I might add was a cantakerous little Yorkshireman but knew his local area).
Nick the Greek no longer owns the chippy . .it's been bought by Koreans who have none of the Greek charm (I'm sounding racist but seriously, it's business, they're not interested in their customers) . . the fish and chips are the same but they're not as friendly or fearsome. He retired after 45 years in the Hills and I miss him much. He was deliberately cantankerous, used to make the kids count out their change!
I miss our Chemist, a gentle man who you didn't mind whispering words like "thrush" or "maybe pregnant". He sadly died of cancer and sold the business on to one of the big chains with "Can I help you?" don't really care, teens giving advice on things they cannot possibly have experienced such as recommending natural therapies for the waves of warmth. God forbid if you're a 20 something looking for a large flavoured condom! Now there's no direct link to the pharmacist. Chicky babe comes and asks you what you're looking for . . runs to white coated pharmacist and your prescription is delivered in a little basket by a girl wearing too much lipstick. Now two people know that you're looking for a cure for tinea!
What really struck me about this gentle little movie was that 90% of the cast were members of the community. It drew them together, this one little event brought the break dancers, school children, street sweepers, shopkeepers and the police together. It was sort of like the Olympics in 2000. Everyone seemed happy, helpful, friendly. I had a family of Americans living in my house for three weeks. Besides being lucrative pour moi (they payed for the privilege), they were lovely and we barbecued (or 'grilled'), socialised, I drove them to the bus stops, took them to the shopping centre (or Mall as I believed it's called) and picked them up and earned a tidy sum for surrendering my little cottage to the Perkins family from Washington State. They had a great time, I had a sense of being involved in community.
My point? Suburban sprawl reduces community to street level. If you live in a decent street, get on with your neighbours, life is good but this is rare. We're all so fast paced and insular . . community now means 'doing something for' not 'participating in'. I tried, honestly, I was the Playgroup Secretary, got involved in the Heart Foundation's door knock appeal, local coordinator of CleanUp Autralia day. Was totally put off by the Gilroy College Art Show although they hounded me to take part and then determined that Clare and I, despite giving up our valuable time, were not capable of pinning a painting on a partitian. It seems being part of a community also means being on a committee . . .not going there!
Needless to say, I feel increasingly alienated from my community, despite having lived in the same area for 21 years. Unless I join the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Probus, The Garden Gurus, a Church group, the Orange Blossom or Castle Hill Show organising committee or some other 'organised' community group, I don't feel 'part' of my community. Surely community is an inherent affection and sense of cooperation for those you live with and around and not necessarily having to join a club or cause?
No wonder I feel separated from it . . . actually that's a lie, one can't be separated from something that does not exist . . . we don't have a 'community' any more. Or if we doo, maybe me feets too big! Tenuous link but the movie was about Fats Wallah