October 29, 2010 at 2:01 am (Uncategorized)

After a full, frantic day finishing and polishing next month’s Varuna feature, I fell into bed last night and – wait for it – didn’t wake up until morning! No, really! A full night’s sleep – how’s that for a sweet reward? Thank you, Baby J, for allowing this minor miracle to occur, and thank you, Bursting Bladder, for the same. Sleep. I love it. It’s just the most restorative practice – I feel like a completely different person when I’ve had enough kip. I guess we all do. But wow, it’s a nice feeling having a clear head, and after a dip in the Pacific first thing (I’m still sitting in damp swimmers and a sarong), I feel fine! The happy hormones are back – or maybe it’s just the happy hack; it’s always great dusting a deadline.

I finished reading Delia Falconer’s non-fiction Sydney on Wednesday night, and it struck me for the hundredth time what a very different place my hometown is depending on where in it one lives. Are other cities like this to quite the same degree? I’m not sure…Sydney is so sprawling and so disparate, and its four compass points are often so entirely alien to each other, that it does seem like disunity defines a uniquely tenuous whole. It’s pathologically postcode-centric, Sydney, and one’s experience of living here is shaped and stunted by the city’s insurmountable, in some sense unnavigable spread. You just can’t get around easily – it’s a bitch of a place to attempt to traverse. No one’s got the time, many don’t have the remotest interest, and so everyone marks out their patch and largely sticks to it, making occasional exceptions for exciting excursions to, well, foodie destinations, and that’s about it. Sydney is very motivated by food – few things will get its residents moving like the promise of some edible ethnic revelation across town. Make way, make way. Anything else, forget it. Have you seen the traffic? Have you sampled the public transport? NOTHING COULD BE WORTH IT – nothing we can’t eat, at any rate.

Anyway, I loved Falconer’s Sydney because it is so recognisably my own, and not at the same time. I am a rare thing in Sydney, being someone who has lived in all four quarters: north, south, east and west. Years in each of these wildly dissimilar sections of the city have given me a vastly different Sydney history to Falconer’s own, and I would have written, of course, a very different book. Nonetheless she captures exquisitely realised, minute details that made me laugh and cringe in equal measure – oh boy, that’s us, all right – and jogs so many buried memories from childhood and adolescence – some truly nightmarish, including the fatal fire at Luna Park and the unthinkably, unbearably violent murder of beautiful nurse Anita Cobby. The hilarious cheek of a driver leaving an obnoxious note on an innocent party’s dinged parked car made Llew and me roar with shocked laughter – there is something to this ghost town’s convict past that makes us rude in the face of authority and propriety, and I love that about Sydney. I fucking love it.

And when Falconer recalls an older gentleman’s long ago mark of respect at the sight of a passing hearse (I think he removes his hat), and laments both his and the gesture’s passing, I wanted to cry out, ‘No!’ – no, we of this fractured city are still capable of grace. One of the most profoundly moving moments in the days of thick grief after my granddad died occurred the day of his funeral. He was a motor mechanic, and he left instructions that he wanted his coffin carted to the Eastern Suburbs Crematorium on the flatbed of a tow truck (this request being the only thing that managed to raise a laugh – and a big one – from yours truly the day he died). So it was, with the rest of us travelling along behind. The double-takes of other motorists and pedestrians were pretty priceless – as Granddad surely anticipated, cheeky bugger – and as miserable as we all were, bawling in the funeral car behind, little bursts of hysteria kept coming over the car as we registered the incredulity greeting our procession as we passed. And then it happened.

We were coming down Avoca Street in Randwick, about to join Anzac Parade. A young man was walking on our side of the road, also heading south. He looked like a suburban hood: stupidly oversized jeans, arse hanging out, gigantic watch, huge sneakers, a thin white singlet showcasing his thin white frame, tattoos, a baseball cap, some bling. My gaze was drawn to him – perhaps I was already wondering what he would do. Nearly nine years later, it still puts a lump in my throat and I am now blinking back tears. Because this guy, this utter parody of bored youth in all his faux ghetto glory, caught sight of my granddad’s coffin, did the expected full double-take, and quickly scraped off his cap, lowered his head, and made the Sign of the Cross.

Yep, it still makes me weep. Oh dear, here I go!

So, Delia, I wanted to say, the old man’s time has not ended. All is not lost in Old Sydney Town.



  1. Pete said,

    Wonderful anecdote (which had me tearing up a bit too). My grandfather was also a motor mechanic and his funeral was depressing as hell. I’m sure he would have loved the idea of the coffin on the back of a tow-truck too. Sounds like a great book on Sydney as well.

    • doctordi said,

      Was he? What a wonderful coincidence! Oh, I think he surely would have loved it too – it becomes funnier and more heartbreaking when one thinks of tow trucks attending crash sites – by the time the Motor Neurone Disease took him, my darling granddad was indeed a wreck (although mentally still as sharp as a tack – better in some ways, and certainly worse in others). There were a lot of laughs the day of the funeral, in amongst the floods of tears.

      It is a great book on Sydney – Falconer builds up a layered, moody portrait that’s also suffused with the city’s very particular light.

  2. Lilian Nattel said,

    You made me all teary, too, Di. Hats off to granddad and the young man who doffed his.

    • doctordi said,

      Funny, Lilian, how a thing like that made me glad on a day when I thought gladness beyond me. He’ll never know what it meant to me, but I’ll never forget it.

  3. bakersdaughterwrites said,

    That’s a beautiful story Di – and some really savvy observations about Sydney-siders – sounds like there’s a book in your experiences too. I heard Delia Falconer talking on the Book Show recently and meant to track this book down – particularly as so much of it seemed to focus on the Potts Point/Kings Cross area I lived for years and still think of as my spiritual home. You’ve reinspired me to do so.

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, BDW, that’s where I first learned of the book, too – go the Book Show!

      I have family and personal history in the east, so it was one of my favourite parts of the book. I’m sure you’ll love it too, reading it through your own past. Enjoy!

  4. Delia said,

    Hello DrDi, that story did make its way to me, via a friend, so I had to come and read it for myself…

    Thank you! It truly made my day. Just when you start to despair that this town may have lost its soul, it turns around and does something wonderful to surprise you.

    Best wishes (and thanks for your kind comments about my book), Delia

    • doctordi said,

      [Nervously pats down hair, checks teeth in the hall mirror]

      A very warm welcome, Delia! The internet never ceases to amaze and impress me. I’m surprised and so pleased to have you stop by, and I thank your friend for his or her kindness in bringing you here.

      Yes, it was a big faith restorer – I find myself thinking of it whenever I start to fear for the city’s future (which happens depressingly often these days, I regret to say). Those small moments punch well above their weight in correcting the balance.

      And it was my pleasure – I loved your book, many thanks for it.

  5. Norwichrocks said,

    London is similarly postcode-centric and fractured. The whole cliche of the cabbie saying ‘Sorry love, I don’t go south of the river” is COMPLETELY true.

    But I’m really loving exploring and discovering Sydney’s individual little paradises. I went for a walk in Balmain on Saturday (okay, I got lost on the way to Mort Bay Park from the ferry) and found some darling little side streets.

    Oh, and that story about the young man doffing his cap in respect at your Grandfather’s passing is possibly the only good thing I’ve so far heard in favour of a Catholic education.

    • doctordi said,

      Oh, that’s true, Woo… when I recall my time in London, I see it was absolutely dominated – outside work hours, anyway – by Wandsworth, Clapham Common, Brixton… when I arrived in London for the first time, Llew was living in Wandsworth. When we were moving out of that house a year or so later, we deliberately looked further afield (Camden and surrounding suburbs), but just couldn’t win a trick in terms of price or availability, so when a place came up in Clapham Common, just down the bloody road, we took it. But you’re right, and I’ll always be a little sorry we were so partial in our lived experience of the city.

      Balmain’s a great little part of Sydney – and Sydney is full of great little parts, as you’re discovering, and as I’ll never tire of reminding myself.

      Ha – that’s very true! I get pretty sour about Catholicism, but that gesture still moved me.

  6. litlove said,

    Yes, like Woo I was going to put in a word for London (having never been to Sydney I can’t quite imagine it). But one thing about London – it’s radically different quarters often exist side by side, slums so close to grand mansions, and this across a lot of its breadth, that it gains a sort of homogeneity even as it has all these strange divisions. How nice that the author of the book came by! What a lovely thing to happen!

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