What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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Field-Tested by Jez Heywood
in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia
Anyone from Australia or with more than a passing knowledge of the culture will be familiar with the rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, the two largest metropolitan centres. Sport, culture, the weather, you name it: endless arguments ensue about which city does it better. So when John Birminghams unofficial, warts-and-all biography of Sydney, Leviathan, was published in 1999, I, a born, bred and proud Melburnian, picked it up the first chance I got. Primarily because I was a fan of Birminghams Australian gonzo style, but also because it promised to peel back the mask of sunshine and glamour that Sydney hides behind. And I got what I wanted: Birmingham uncovered tales of corruption, avarice and stupidity that I devoured with a smug, self-satisfied Melburnian grin.
Eight years later however, I was feeling stagnant and, with uncharacteristic spontaneity, I decided to pack up my things and move to Sydney. Between apartment and job hunting, during a particularly cold winter, I re-visited Leviathan as a introduction to my new city.
The ghosts of the distant past leapt from Leviathans pages and hid around every corner. Inept politicians became a day-to-day reality. Sydneys main thoroughfare, George Street, meandering along the lines of a colonial livestock track from 200 years ago, became somewhere I would find myself closely acquainted with. I discovered that property developers still run wild, erecting edifices that do nothing but serve themselves; more than once Ive found myself going out of my way to avoid sites where once-grand Victorian buildings made way for ugly office blocks. And by merely choosing a suburb to live in (that, incidentally, has a minor role in the book as the setting for a hilariously unsuccessful attempt at starting a neo-Nazi political party), I inadvertently took sides in yet another, even older, rivalry: east versus west (of the CBD) and north versus south (of the harbour). Which, like most things in Sydney, is all about money.
I quickly realised Id made a huge mistake.
After two years here, I'm still and always will be a transplanted Melburnian. Sydney is a place where I live, but it will never be home. I get lost with alarming frequency and compare the two cities on a daily basis. I find myself gazing wistfully at old photos showing a much more handsome city. And Ive uncovered other stories of a now-lost culture that are just as disheartening, like the Royal George Hotel: from the 40s to the 60s, the home of the Sydney Push, a ragged bunch of left-wing intellectuals, its now one of a number of places all owned by the same rich kid where the aspiring-to-be-sophisticated champagne and cocaine set go to be seen.
Leviathan hasnt left my bookshelf since that last read, but when the time comes to move on and it definitely will it will be the first book I open when I get to wherever it is that Im going, to remind me of what Ive left behind.
Jez Heywood is a graphic designer, photographer and writer. His first attempt at self-publishing, a collection of music writing, is in the works. As is a website. In the meantime, you can see his photography here. He currently lives in Sydney but pines for Melbourne.