I have just moved out of the Illawarra. To the uninitiated, it’s a region south of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, country of Australia. Main town is called Wollongong. It has a jaw-dropping coastline. Sheer escarpment all carved and weathery, a fresh wild ocean, nooks of trees and some pockets of interesting folks.
The Bulli pass slices a cross-section that divides a middle class North from everything else. There’s steel town history, serious White racism, blokey tradey surfy entrenched dominance, blokey blokey blokey public space. Sub-sub pockets of immigrant histories and the present. Depressed low-lying areas full of housing commission brick racking up the misery. Clusters of murders and abuse, drug drugs drugs, the South Coast train line which is often a gauntlet of meth addicts, hopeless white trash, uni students, internationals, those who fatten from the blokey powers-that-be commute in suits. The Northern Suburbs people with recycled shopping bags and kids in private school. All that. All that.
I have lived in different corners of this place, in a few main episodes, over the past 18 years.
(Hadn’t actually put that together before. 18 years. I think I have been saying 10 years for about 10 years).
So there’s the love maps of ex-houses and exes and ex-lives, but those maps are transparent now, delicate spider threads across the air of the burbs. I got peace with the times had and the now.
I have deep love for some people there, and the land land land. Stone and coastal wash, precipitous overhang of cliffs all moody and the always-beast of the escarpment. Points and beaches and dogs taking on the sand. Just-unheard trauma of murder and colonisation in all of the cells of the place. This pain and violence is a part of the place, and I love this place. I gave it time and listened to it. It was humbling, and I still bow.
The corruption and idiocy of the managerial leaders of council, the university, and members of government for this region still floor me, even when I thought I could not be shocked. The incredibly bad ideas and outcomes freeze my brain. How could they think that building another mall next to the existing one that is already an alienating dystopia surrounded by neglected small business and deep social detritus – how could they think that that is a good idea. How could they possibly believe their own spin? Corruption is the only answer that fits, unless, unless: they really are that stupid. They really think that casual minimum wage retail jobs will help the region. That they are a city of innovation. That it is a university of excellence.
The stupidity and waste of potential finally did me in. Well, it was a family decision, and we want to support our little troupe. My partner came to the region from New York City and the place was a shock to him, on all the levels. And, ah, there is no employment. We are two qualified educated people, all that, who are broad minded about the kind of work we might do and for whom, but this region got no love for that.
See, there is a carrot, which is that things could happen. We could get culture funded, connect with the refugees, we could put this environmental idea together with this resource and we could use these smart people and actually pay them and ..
And I listened to these ideas and saw them and talked about them and went to events for them over the 18 years. And then I didn’t, because there is something to looking realistically at the idiots at the top of the pile and their concrete refusal to encourage good stuff.
I know the people who still do good stuff. Get a bread oven happening for people. Fundraise. Film. Put on a gig. Get a co-op up. There are triumphs, and there will be, and I truly have all the power for these ones.
But there’s this knowledge of the ceiling. Don’t get too excited. Don’t expect too much. You have to have the steelworks on board, or council, or just have 10 people at your thing forever. There might be a cool thing that lasts for a while. But then you will have to deal with also being priced out of the rental market and having no stable work and try and keep your thing going then.
So, as you can see, I’m done. Sad. Sad and done. Still kind of in love with the core of the place from my core, weirdly. But done.