A Tribal Town

November 24, 2006 at 3:57 am (Uncategorized)

Sydney is a town of tribes. It’s not just suburban tribalism, although I know for sure that exists, but it’s ethnic tribalism as well. Take the English. They arrive in Australia in droves – willingly this time – and some of them make their home here. I have English friends, mainly because I, like many people in my socio-economic demographic, have lived in London, and because some of my Australian friends have married Englishmen, and because sometimes I have hit it off with the friend of a friend or whatever. I love them all. The English are amusing, they’re polite, and they’re often very informed and inclined toward conversation topics more interesting and varied than property prices and expensive stroller brands, which can evidently sustain the rest of Sydney for years. There’s a lot to like. But so many English people come here with what seems like the express intention of avoiding befriending Australians at all costs. Maybe they love the Sydney lifestyle, they just don’t care for the Australians living it so much.

Increasingly, I’ll be sitting in a bar or restaurant and realise that seated nearby is a table heaving with English accents. Often there’s not an Aussie drawl among them. Despite John Howard’s best efforts, this is still a free country, and they’re perfectly within their rights to gather with their countrymen, but I just find it curious, especially since it’s happening with increasing regularity. It’s not like there’s any shortage of Australians. We come in all shapes, sizes, and colours and we’re everywhere you look around here. I think you have to make a special effort to avoid us, especially in a city like Sydney, which is, after all, in Australia.

Last night at Opera Bar, where I was catching up with Sarah over several champagnes and enjoying the lovely views of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the water, I noticed a large group of English friends to our right. They looked like they were having a good time, and they definitely formed their own very self-contained little tribe of exclusive Englishness. One English friend, who has lived here for years, has always maintained that Sydney girls are bitches (oh, I always say indignantly, but I’M a Sydney girl!!), and maybe that’s the justification for not socialising outside their tribe, but it’s a bit chicken and egg, too, because you have to actually know some Sydney girls first.

When I was living in London, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was hang out with Australians. Earls Court and I never really saw eye to eye. Why on earth would I want to surround myself with Australians when I can do that back home? Llew felt exactly the same way, so we really threw ourselves into making English friends. It was difficult, and sometimes I cried I felt so rejected, but in the end we met some of my absolute favourite characters in a very rich play of life, and had an absolute blast with them that without a doubt transformed and defined my experience of living in their country. I just wish sometimes that all these tribes – and I only single out the English because I have lived in England – would loosen up a little. Although there’s undoubtedly safety in numbers, it always pays such dividends to bother to meet the natives.

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