When credit is due—Elizabeth Farrelly
At MM we often take the mickey out of Fairfax’s Elizabeth Farrelly. Her prolixity, her academic superiority and her self-absorbed tours through the lexicons in search of that perfect word or twenty words of same meaning does beg attention. Yes dear friends, Lizzies mind is a veritable quandary, a challenging labyrinth that rivals the ever-changing maze at Reignac-sur-Indre in France. A psychological complexity played out in a daily newspaper to titillate her academic ilk, the addicted to self-flagellation. Perhaps soon something practical; a vignette on preferred leather, whips and manacles with instruction on the avoidance of guilt?
But all that good fun aside; credit is due for her article that follows and our “graphics guy” has been busy generating yet another MM award for her wall of personal achievements, just beneath the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and Stonemason Brick Lavatory Construction Certificate of Excellence. Whether to do a runner from Sydney, Liz asks—like a scoundrel from a restaurant without paying—we can’t imagine.
Apart from her digression to a bullying love affair, a journey we must take with her, Elizabeth does describe Sydney’s passage through time, warts and all. Apart from a couple of cathartic passages it is a good read. Now, who can I get to bully me and pay my way so I can write books with too many words? Want the job Liz? (by MM’s Chaucer)
I’ve always loved Sydney, but I’m starting to fear the marriage is over
I’ve never thought you can half-leave a marriage, although many do. For me, you’re in or you’re out – and maybe, I’m starting to think, it’s the same with Sydney.
I loved Sydney from the moment our eyes locked, from that first breath of salted, sultry, grime-laden air. But now I’m wondering if, somewhere along the way, there’s been a category error. We typically personify cities as female; seductive, nurturing, enchanting, capricious. But for me, Sydney living is starting to feel like wedlock to a very rich man, with the emphasis on the lock.
Renowned Danish urbanist Jan Gehl has a few recommendations on how to make Sydney a more productive and liveable city.
To wit: the growing demands and shrinking freedoms, the broken promises and resolute unlistening, the bullying, the lies, the anger. Then, when you say you’re done, that’s it, you’re outta here – the threats and intimidations, the pleadings, the tears, the territorial fury. Make no mistake. You, my love, are owned. You’re property.
At a recent soiree in the Rocks my mates were having a whinge about the ongoing govern-eloper depredations on Sydney. (A govern-eloper, should you wonder, is a legendary, fanged beast born from the illicit coupling of governments and developers who like each other very much and in a very special way).
What, someone wanted to know, was I doing about this animal? Had I buried my puny hatchet? Flippant, after a glass of bubbly, I replied: “Sometimes I think, if Sydney wants to wreck itself I should just let it. Who am I to quibble?” The lash-back was immediate. Typical, they said. When the going gets tough, the writer gets selfish and buggers off somewhere nice. Like I was doing a bunk and leaving Ritalin Kid for Dad.
Which touches several interesting issues. What, if anything, do we owe our city? Is it, in fact,”ours”, or even home? Is a city like a marriage, where you hang in for the children, or the super, or the house? Is there duty here? Or is it legit to follow your heart, do a runner, have some fun?
More importantly, do you really deep down want to leave? Or are you just restless, a tad bored? Can it be worked on, worked out, worked through, or will your ennui just re-sprout in some other, greener field?
Ultimately, like everything, it’s about love. Not do you still love Sydney? But do you still love it enough, to stay?
There is still much to love; the pockets of sweetness and ancient need, moments when Sydney drops the hyper-shiny mask to reveal its true, damaged, brink-teetering self. The schizophrenic streets and sandstone kerbs, worn as teeth; the jazz dives and mah-jong dens; the featherbeds six inches from the smack-soaked street, the horseback coppers and poetry bars and sudden gifts of poppies, the ferals and fetal alcohols, the rotten figs and drenching storms, the leafy eccentrics, the soup kitchens, the limping boys and bat-faced girls and rainforest acts of ludicrous kindness. These, thank God, exist.
But increasingly, Sydney’s self-narrative is about perfection and fear.
“You’ll never survive without me,” a partner once yelled at me. “Stay,” he whispered. “I’ll look after you.”
“No way,” I replied. “You’re a bully. The worst kind.”
“But if you let me bully you,” said he, “you can write your books. Forget the treadmill. I’ll pay. Surely it’s worth it.”
Sydney, now, reminds me of this absurd and abusive power relationship, with so many of us held in place by fear. “You’ll never get back,” they say. “You’ll regret it.”
In Sydney, as my adviser noted last week, anything under $2 million is now considered the sweet spot. It’s not like anyone wants to live with wall-to-wall billionaires. Rich people are almost by definition boring, because the years they’ve spent grabbing the pile they have not spent cultivating mind, furnishing imagination or evolving soul.
They’re not nice to be near, and the cities they make leave less and less for the public. (You’ve noticed? The shrinking parks, the dying trees?) But we stick it out because Sydney has become this exclusive club, its motto scribed ominously over the gate: “who leave shall never return”.
There’s a narcissistic element here, a classic, manipulative push-pull. Sydney wants you around, admiring and reflecting – “I know, let’s talk about me!” Hell yes. But when time comes to give back, when it’s Sydney’s turn to recognise your role as little guy – nurse, teacher, roadman, poet – forget it. We demolish your houses, destroy your avenues, build hotels on your parks and zoos, flog your institutions, lock your bars, empty your streets of life, fill your burbs with motorways. And you’re fine with that, right? It’s love. You owe me.
Increasingly, Sydney feels all take and no give. You’ve heard much about unaffordability and the mass exodus of creatives. With a further 18 per cent house-price rise last year, the same creative classes who, 30 years ago, made Surry Hills Sydney’s Greenwich Village are leaving in droves – for Newcastle and the ‘Gong, Southern Highlands, Central Coast, Blue Mountains.
What surprises me now is to find myself in this self-same leaky boat. I can stay, but as a freelance writer I can’t stay and have any superannuation, any future.
Fine, you may think. A writer, especially one with discernible Left Bank tendencies, should expect to starve in a garret. Perhaps so. But if this is true for me, how much truer for the thousands less fortunate? My friend with terminal cancer whose rent has more than doubled without protection or redress. The family of musicians who lost their house to WestConnex, for half its market value. The scholars and poets and teachers exiled to woop-woop. These are contributors. Not bludgers. Workers. Givers. Lovers.
Of course Sydney is entitled to blind-eye us. A city can’t be forced to care, and emotional unavailability is a modern meme. But we should know its signs, and heed its warning. If the city we love cannot find room for its citizens of talent, they will suffer, yes, but so will it.