Sydney or Bust

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The Southerly Buster is the perfect analogy for living in Sydney. There’s always something fantastic about to whack you in the face.

And I don’t mean that drunk bloke glassing you after a great night at the pub. I’m being serious.

Why do you think King’s Cross is so close to beautiful Potts Point, Penrith is next to the Blue Mountains, and so many busy and noisy streets are lined with stunning crêpe myrtles?

It works the other way too. You’re having a great swim at the beach and then you get caught in a rip. Everyone’s day at the cricket is ruined by a knob with a big flag.

Whenever I have a day hating the CBD I wander down to the harbour. And there it is… The Cahill Expressway.

We enjoy mixing the ugly with the beautiful — because too much of either is nauseating. I truly love Sydney … even if it makes me feel dirty. Because there’s always a southerly coming.

Southerly Busters Explained – Bureau of Meteorology

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Costco – but at what cost?

Visiting Costco took more gusto than I could previously muster. But today, under the mistaken idea that the big-box store sold dishwashers, I headed into the fray.
I left thirty minutes later, concerned for our society, empty-handed and with bruised ankles.
Here’s how it went down…
1) Entering the carpark on a rain Friday at noon… I discover this is apparently the peak period for masses of adults dressed in smart casual to go bulk shopping in SUVs .
2) I find a car spot and a mega trolley. Costco trolleys are made to carry a month of shopping and a flat-screen TV. And I saw this proved time and time again. It also straps in two children and there’s room for two more. I also saw this fact proved. “Look how big their family is!” My 3-year-old said. And there they were, mum pushing all four kids in one trolley.
3) Entering the building is my first challenge. There are people everywhere but as I watch, none have any discernible direction. There are no signs saying SHOP ENTRANCE so I circle the entire carpark till I am drawn, inexplicably, along with another twenty trolley-pushers, toward what could only be the Death Star.
They all move as one up a long ramp. It feels like Aldi so far, except it’s not to scale.
4) I get inside and there are more trolley traffic jams. As I wait for movement up ahead, I am overtaken several times. It’s as cut-throat as the carpark. At least as shoppers, everyone apologises for ramming each other in the ankles.
Is this supposed to be fun, I wonder? I look around for motivation. Most shoppers look pale and bemused as if this is their regular routine. (If they know how this operates, why did they come in rush hour?) I bypass a woman checking for membership cards. At this point, Costco has gone from supersized Aldi-clone to cult, in my book. I literally whisper “I don’t have one, yet!” And the lady waves me through, explaining where to buy one when I want one. So, why check for cards if you don’t need one? I can only assume it is so that the CCTV operators know which of us to track. I have been marked.
5) As for prices, they are undeniably cheap. I found my TV for $150 cheaper than Bing Lee. Confectionery, coffee machines, dodgy barbecues, they are all 20% cheaper than I’ve seen. I could buy a 4-pack of toothbrushes what I assume is a good price, but who else sells a 4-pack? The same goes for a 500g pack of Doritos. Who ever wanted that much?
Sure, you could get back the $60 cost of membership in one vist, no worries, but it’s certainly easier the happier you are to suspend the belief that you can have too much of a good thing.
6) I told my kids to watch our for who has the fullest trolley. And there were many contenders. If you ever go to Costco, I urge you to play it. Over-consumption is out of control. I understand this could be a monthly trip for some, but seriously, if they offered bigger trolleys, I do think people would fill those too. The only reason I think some shoppers stopped, was because they’d have to leave a passenger behind to fit any more in.
7) I was consumed, but mostly by the scale of the place. They import it, put it on the shelf, it goes home in a huge trolley. If everything can be done this way, why would we need the corner store? Convenience? Cheapness appears to beat convenience, for lots of Costco shoppers.
Naomi Klein’s NO LOGO is a brilliant read on the dangers of Big Box stores and how they have killed off many small retailers across middle America. The true sadness is the service. We are substituting any personal touch for an extra 10% off. The man who owns the store with his son stacking the shelves is replaced by a nameless, apathetic salesman who’s real task is primary task is to maintain order while avoiding eye contact.
I talked to a staffmember – most of whom stand idly by, hoping not to be consulted, just like at Bunnings – who told me that while they didn’t offer dishwashers of ovens yet, they would soon. “They’ve really only just opened. They’re look into all of that,” he said. “Plus, they’re opening a new Costco at Casula, and that one will be bigger!”
Oh boy.
My father used to have a card for Campbell’s Cash and Carry. There were myths around about how cheap it was. In reality, my dad was just getting paper plates in bulk. Those were the days.
8) As I tried to leave, I did another circle of the carpark, unable to find my car. Then, I noticed the shopper ahead of me struggling badly with his trolley. As I got closer, I realised that the pathway, built to provide safe passage around the moving cars, included posts every few metres that made the path about two inches too narrow to allow the mega-trolleys to pass through.
The irony of inconvenience was too much. I gleefully dumped my trolley and headed home.

Cinemas are for suckers… like me.

I ventured out to see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, along with thousands of other Aussies this week.

The main reason I went was to be convinced, once again, that despite his oddness, shortness, and proboscis, Tom Cruise, is still fantastic in action films.

Seriously, Cruise gets the same look hanging from the world’s tallest building as does a two-year-old in a sandpit.

But, the cinema experience was slightly betrayed by yet another leap in cinema ticket prices. Prices had even risen since I last saw a film… last month.

$21 per ticket. Twenty-One Dollars.

I can accept Australia’s high taxes as we receive great services. Likewise, I can accept Sydney’s preposterous real estate prices because it’s the best city in the world and supply-demand means I’m going to pay more to live here.

But why, when the prices of DVDs are still tumbling (thanks eBay) and my options to watch films are always increasing (downloads, file-sharing, smart-TVs, Netflix, RedRoom, T-Box streaming) does the cost of seeing a movie continue to rise?

Cinemas have had me annoyed ever since I had to confront the manager at Hoyts in Sydney CBD after I spent an entire Batman film sitting in the floor in the aisle. I was not alone in the aisle. The film was so over-booked there was ten or more of us who slummed it just to see a new release blockbuster.

And that’s not the only madness going on at one of Australia’s biggest movie franchises.

Cinema customers wanting to see a film at Hoyts these days must jump through several hoops that did not used to exist.

1. Plan your night early, allowing time to use the glitzy hoyts.com.au website.
2. First-timers must sign up to the Hoyts Rewards Program, which does offer one free introductory ticket.
3. Pay $21 per ticket for any friends you mistakenly thought to invite.
4. Pay a $1 booking fee per ticket.
5. Print tickets to scan at self-serve cinema.
6. Sell soul to devil to partially replenish your bank account.

Although that is only six points, there are several things wrong with this.

Being an avid user of the internet, I can’t help but use a web-based analogy.

If you had to install a Flash plug-in every time you used a particular website, would you return to that website often?

Or, if you like shopping, imagine you had to call Myer to warn them you were coming, prior to any trip. Absurd.

I certainly recieved a good movie on a big screen with loud sound, but, as the cinemas try to deter illegal downloading of films, what more are the cinemas offering me at this grand event?

They’ve replaced the staff selling tickets with vending machines. The toxic choc-tops are still a ludicrous $5. The chips cost so much I had smuggle in my own Cheezels to save $3. Why do I still put myself through this for two scenes that would still look pretty good on my own 42″ TV, assuming I sit really close?

The screen has been given a special name like Vortex or Mammoth-Vision or something.

This cynical strategy is to hide the fact that as prices have increased, screen sizes have reduced. More films can the be shown more often to more people.

In the industry, it’s probably called “Sucker-Churn”.

(It may also explain why the price of my ticket was $3 more than lat week but the website was unclear.)

Be warned: If your cinema screen is not called Senstadium, Mega-Visiontacular, or some such, be sure it’s barely bigger than your wall at home. And at home, you can put your feet up, make your own popcorn and tell people to keep quiet without risking a fight.

Plus, no one has to sit on the floor.

Tupperware or unaware?

Every marriage faces many challenges and one of the first and worst ones is whether you will buy Tupperware.

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I think Tupperware is a great choice … if you are UNAWARE of any alternatives.

Somehow, women everywhere are convinced it is a cut above anything else, like a Danish designed chair or German engineered car.

The latter may be an accurate analogy, it’s just that Tupperware has become the Kombi of kitchen hardware.

UNMICROWAVEABLE –
Some of their containers are not microwave friendly. What!? Why are Tupperware still making the kind of plastic that warps or leaches poison?
Just make the ones which I can zap in thirty seconds and eat it straight out off your opaque polymer plates.

UNRETURNABLE –
Lifetime Warranty? Pffft.
This is a very clever con because returning Tupperware is near impossible. Despite the 50s aura behind the brand’s success, Tupperware Ladies are not your best friends. They are peripheral friends at best and sometimes they’re complete strangers. Most likely, you’ve attended their parties out of guilt and the fear that no one else might turn up… but then you always end up buying three ‘little things’ and you leave $200 lighter.

Then, when all your marvelous Tupperware starts to crack you must now find and catch up with this “friend” who is now an acquaintance you haven’t seen in twelve months – and it’s only to return their junk. Awkward.

STACKABLE –
Geometry isn’t that hard, is it? We all made a tessellation in art class, didn’t we? Tupperware designers, space is at a premium. Some people only get one shelf in their share-house fridge!
Our cupboard is full of crooked Tupperware towers of blue sandwich containers and flattened bowls that no longer expand like they used to. Why can Decor and those blue clip-it containers – which are made by Kiwis you know, KIWIS! – manage to make everything stackable yet hifalutin Tupperware is often oddly shaped and is often unstackable regardless of whether it is empty or full .

LOSABLE –
We once bought those nifty little containers for about $10 each.They were supposed to store the unused portions of onion or lemon you lose in the fridge. Instead, we lost the containers.

EXPENSIVE –
Not just pricey, this stuff is exorbitant. If Tupperware was in a shop you’d just laugh and walk by. It’s moulded plastic, people. The only comparable product I can think of is those Kitchenmaid mixmasters that charge $800 when everyone else’s model is about $400. But at least they include heavy metal and mechanics.
The most complicated that Tupperware gets is a twin air-vent system to give my needy veges enough oxygen (don’t give them too much – they’ll explode! WTF?)

BREAKABLE –
So they say. Bollocks. I have proof.

Let’s leave Tupperware where it still is… in the fifties.

Sydney – where’s the colour?

Last night I found myself driving through the Sydney CBD at 4am. It was a worthwhile drive as I discovered two things.

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1) No one-year-old can stay awake with the monotony of the 702ABC graveyard shift and street lights passing by, and
2) There are still people sitting on the Town Hall steps waiting for people at four in the morning.

Apart from those stunning discoveries, I took note of Sydney’s colour palette. If you ever get the chance to, don’t. We are a city bathed in light, imbued with a harbour and buried in trees, but once development gets a green light, that’s where the colour stops.

I see concrete… concrete for miles. Our buildings, our footpaths and our monuments are grey, nearly without exception. Some of our older buildings may be Sydney Sandstone – the art gallery, the museum, the QVB – but the years and the traffic leave so much of it a dreary, dull tone. We have so little public art that the only thing punctuating our passion for grey is the electric blue sky. But don’t worry, we’ve done away with that too. Sydney’s latest shopping destination, Westfield Sydney at Centrepoint, is such a cave that I feel lost as soon as I enter and adding to the claustrophobia, natural light seems like a memory.

If you follow me on Instagram you will know I have a love/hate thing with Sydney. My photos of our hot, dirty town are either critical or adoring.

What is it with this city? Why did we make the plaza in front of St Mary’s Cathedral completely paved, unusable space? Why is the Cahill Expressway (below) still standing and, for that matter, Harbourside in Darling Harbour?? As monstrosities go, that one literally saps your soul just walking past it.

The Cahill could never look as good as Jeffrey Smart made out

The Cahill could never look as good as Jeffrey Smart made out

I am feeling the effects of reading Delia Falconer’s book ‘Sydney‘ which provides countless metaphors and historical tales telling how our great city functions and, more intriguingly, how it malfunctions. It misfires socially, spacially and structurally, but we still wouldn’t give it up for anything, not even Melbourne.

We insist on ugliness when all around us is beauty. We glorify Kings Cross, our dingiest strip. We have tainted the harbour since day one of European settlement and nowadays we just slap cookie-cutter real estate over one-time toxic waste dumps. (Hello Breakfast Point!)

I am also grieving the loss of enormous Wynyard Park, now a small strip of grade about the size of three acres. Last week I stumbled upon a photo of how large this invaluable green space once was – as big as a three football fields.

Now, at lunch hour, as office workers pile in, you struggle to find a square metre of grass.

I am also peeved that when given massive opportunities to impress, our planners entirely opt out. The City West Link is one such example with four-metro high concrete walls. Some of these lifeless panels feature a metal sculpture laid over them – it could be a stimulating addition until you realise it’s repeated like a stamp on one hundred subsequent panels.

Recently, the bus depot at Balmain Road had a makeover. I travel past this corner often so was eager to see what design they came up with.

Have you seen Silverwater Prison? It looks five times better. And, as they are made of wire, at least you can see through the first two maximum security walls.

The bus depot is grooved concrete all the ways round. Lifeless. Thoughtless. Practical. Well, we need walls don’t we. Must protect the buses.

Concrete panels - adlib to fade

My wife hopes that the grooves are meant to represent something – corrugated iron roofs perhaps? I wish it was corrugated iron. A least that would rust and we wouldn’t have to look at any more soulless concrete.

Paying for your Tree-Change

Saw an article yesterday…

Families given $7,000 to leave Sydney

Riiiiight. Except people move to the cities and outer-urban areas for opportunities, not just the lure of good espresso and more schools to choose from.

Then there is the more moderate weather, the better health care resources, the beach…

Read the full story of the government’s latest cash-bonuses-as-social-engineering initiative.

Surely an attitude change would have to come first; like those perceptions that all folks in regional areas are short-sighted, uneducated or filled small-town busybodies and Fossey’s outlets.

However, other generalisations are based in fact.

People in regional areas of Australia tend to have broader accents, have the worn skin of years spent laboring in the sun and they more frequently wear shapeless fleece tracksuits in public.

So if you are planning on a tree-change to the outer-urban fringe, as several of my friends are, remember this:

1) Once you leave the urban property market, you may never be able to re-enter it.
2) If you’re moving to save money, and you only go an hour or two from the city, I doubt the relatively small savings on your cost of living and/or your mortgage will be worth the trade-off. This goes double if you are planning to commute from your now distant location.
3) The thrill of a move away from the crowded, over-priced, hectic lifestyle will eventually wear off and you may then regret leaving the diversity, opportunities and energy a city usually delivers.
4) People who love you will miss you.

If you really must swear at your children…

I don’t think there is ever a need to swear at your kids.

And judging by the looks some of my friends give me, I am no soft touch as a parent.

Really, if you’re using the F-word to express yourself to a toddler, you may be too lazy/full of rage to realise it will teach them little more than how to say the F-word.

That said (or not), I would like to condone this classic take on a bit of bedtime reading.

Samuel L. Jackson Reads ‘Go The F**k To Sleep’ [VIDEO]

It’s Tarantino meets Miffy.

You should probably only listen to this once the kids have actually entered R.E.M., unless of course, you’re a soft touch and your kids already know Jackson’s work.

[LANGUAGE WARNING]

No Nespresso, by George

A friend recently asked me what I think of Nespresso. It
was a great idea, asking me, an opinionated coffee addict with an
interest in marketing and happy to turn my steam wand on any
conniving multinational!

It's all so simple. It's also landfill.

That
said, no, I do not like Nespresso. And here’s why. The concept of
Nespresso, Nestle’s foray into the domestic coffee machine market,
is to give people a perfect cup every time by pre-determining your
entire experience. For a brand to go to this level of sanitising is
absurd and seeks to create a kind of culture akin to the Soda
Stream (you always knew who had one and if you were, as Ii was, a
have-not). Now, I’m no slow-foodie but when I buy coffee it’s whole
beans, by the kilo, and I like being able to meet the roaster or
check the roasting date. If I became more educated I might also
notice the country of origin. At the same time, while cafes in
Sydney are all posting hessian coffee bean bags on their walls to
show they’re connected to the source, Nestle is taking the farmer,
the wholesaler, the grinder totally out of the equation and
vacuum-packing your daily hit without even a hint of personal
interference. Simplicity replaces engagement. It’s the MAC of
coffee, and nearly everyone else is a PC. For my money, this is absurd
and a brilliant exploitation of the consumer desire to have it all
with minimum effort and with the least time taken. It’s cynical. An
end-to-end controlled coffee experience aimed at the well-off and
by a company who have nearly managed, with all their Hollywood
firepower (see ad below) to dissociate themselves from Blend 37, no, I mean Blend 43.
Three possible
reasons you would buy this insipid device:

  1. You
    really like George Clooney,
  2. You have more
    money than time,
  3. You don’t want to get your
    hands dirty (by grinding your own beans, emptying out the grinds,
    having to choose what coffee you buy etc)

The worst of it is that once you buy the (rather pricey) machine
you are tied into buying their coffee
only at their prices, meaning they can
charge whatever they want and you have to cough it up. A guy I work
with – who falls easily into category 2 above – has bought a
Nespresso machine and tried to defend their cosy pricing regime.
“I just go in and get five
boxes (of capsules) and I have enough to last me ages!” It’s all
pre-ground, pre-roasted, pre-fabricated. And there are different
beans and blends, but guess what that means; with a Nespresso
machine, your separation from the coffee production process is now
so complete that Nestle’s system now controls not where and when
and how you buy your coffee. It’s all very clever. When you buy
more expensive capsules you feel you are getting their best
beans… but are you? You can’t check anything. It could have been
roasted months ago. But, like most purchasers, my friend now buys a
cheaper type of pod because what seemed reasonable at first is soon
dropped in favour of a more affordable cost-per-cup. The problem
is, “the cheapest pods taste like sh-t!’, he tells me. So, he is
forced into buying a higher cost pod to get a reasonable flavour
coffee. The store sells the machine telling buyers they can enjoy
coffee for as low as $0.50 per cup. But my friend says to drink
something bearable it’s now it’s closer to $1 a cup. And he has no
control over any part of the process. According to a Wikipedia
reference
, Nespresso’s cost per serving is up to three
times higher than that of alternative brewing methods. What a
treat. Sign me up, George!

Clowns for Jesus

Clowns indeed.

Apparently the Trinity is a three-ring circus

I have a major issue with how badly Christians do PR, or public relations.

As part of this, I have always been bemused at Christians claiming celebs as their own; Ian Thorpe, Steve Irwin, Peter Garrett, Evanescence, Justin Bieber

Christians, of all people, should not need another role model.  And I think, if those people ever did come out as believers, or become outspoken Christians, it may not end the way Christians want.  Look at what hypocrisy Bono represents to most of the world. And remember the band Creed? It’s the reason they invented the word ‘god-awful’.

But there is something much funnier about people coming out who even Christians don’t really want waving the Jesus flag.

Especially if you once considered them to be doing Satan’s work.

Today I found this story, in the UK’s Guardian, which appears horrifying, amusing and sincere all at once.

Insane Clown Posse: And God created controversy

America’s nastiest rappers in shocking revelation – they’ve been evangelical Christians all along.

Read the full, confounding, profane interview

I haven’t ever followed ICP – certainly not enough to be abbreviating their name – but as someone who was a music journo for a few years for teen magazines (Juice, Recovery, Blunt) and later Channel [V], I interviewed metal bands like Slipknot, Coal Chamber, Queens of the Stone Age and others, giving me good evidence that the men making spine-shattering noise on stage are usually reasonable and thoughtful guys backstage and if you met them in the street, they’d be dedicated dads who love their mum. It made me sick. It was the reason I got out of the music industry. No band had anything to say, they couldn’t back up their lyrics and they were hopeless reflections of the powerful presence they became on stage.

Is this good because it proves they are human? No. Is Insane Clown Posse exposing their heart and faith a good thing for music? No. Is it good for the truth to get out, sure, but if Christianity calls for love above all things, what were these band members thinking? Not a lot, I reckon.

Finding out that all rock stars were normal people did my head in. I had bought into it heavily as a teen and all it did was multiply my cynicism about the music business. It proved to me  the often sensational onstage antics are just that, theatre.

Slipknot (pictured with non-fan) drew heavily on ICP’s look when they appeared on the volcanic rap-metal-horrorcore scene. They upped the ante, flinging themselves around the stage, attacking instruments, often literally, all while wearing masks that, no joke, they sewed themselves.

When I met the band, I had come into a Kings Cross hotel expecting to meet crazed clowns who talked like diesel engines but here I was getting lectured to on performance art by a 40ish man who would otherwise be a school bus driver.  He went by the name “6” but he was actually Shawn Crahan is one of the founding members of Slipknot.

The group – who recently lost one of their masked members to drugs – readily admitted to me that the personas they took on was all bluster. It was all an act to sell tickets. That was news to me. I didn’t think they were murderers but I at least wanted them to be expressing some righteous anger at the world, the rock’n’roll ethos that says things aren’t right but we can fix it.

It was news but I couldn’t print it. Nor could I print the fact that they nearly all had kids they were missing back home as they sat in a hotel lobby sipping tea and speaking to the press.

I had to play my part and so I hid the truth in an article that made the most of their swearing and full-on performances.

But I am getting off track.

What the hell is going on with ICP declaring themselves Christian? Until now, they’ve incited violence, debased women and done as much for promoting a healthy idea of sex as Hitler did for racial harmony.

But now,  it seems, “They’ve only been pretending to be brutal and sadistic to trick their fans into believing in God.”

Trick? You can be tricked into joining Scientology when they call it Dianetics but tricking the kids into following Jesus through angry and misogynist lyrics proves the only thing heavy about them is their makeup and it appears to have seeped into their small brains.

(Plus, it does so many weird things to the concept of predestination I dare not try to understand it.)

But then, much in the story suggests they don’t really know what’s going on.

“A giraffe is af—ing miracle. It has a dinosaur-like neck. It’s yellow. Yeah, technically an elephant is not a miracle. Technically.”

They have proved themselves to be insane, and clowns and we know they’re not a posse because THEY ARE WHITE.

Technically, this can’t be good for Christianity.

Blue Mountain mist and myth

I love the Blue Mountains. It’s the closest thing I have to a second home. I get misty-eyed driving down its long streets on ridge-tops and going to garage sales on foggy mornings. Both sets of in-laws live there, I still run into people I know wherever I go. I regularly stay in Blaxland or Wentworth Falls and have twice done house-sitting to get away from the city. It’s an escape, plus, it is where I enjoyed most of my childhood.

But there’s a problem – things haven’t changed.

It’s been 15 years since the audacious Winmalee High Class of 1995 set off into a world with many more ethnic types and much less concrete than we had seen for six years.

Which brings me to my first troubling point – it’s no less white than it used to be.

In our class, we perpetuated a myth that our school was ‘the most racially pure’ in the state of New South Wales. I always thought that any small school in far west NSW would win that contest because we did have the occasional student of Asian or Aboriginal or Indian extraction.

It's not a picket fence this house needs.

But the lovable towns of Springwood (where I lived) , Blaxland , Glenbrook and Leura all paint a picture of an Australia largely untouched by anyone who isn’t Anglo or at least an Anglophile. Sure, there’s an occasional Thai restaurant and the Chinese eateries (the kind that have been there since 1981 that still serve deep fried dim-sims worthy of any good food court) but where are the deeper changes that would occur if the culture was more mixed?

I’m thinking of seeing more non-Anglos on council, discussion of cultural issues in the paper beyond how can we stop a new servo setting up, ads for community events that are for Korean Food Fests or Tongan church services. Currently, the Gazette – the local paper of which I am a big fan – is filled with people whinging about big-chain supermarkets, complaints of too many trucks, plus ads for knitting workshops or for Alcoholics Anonymous.

And that brings me to my second disappointment. I feel as if the place is not coming up in the world, it’s possibly going down. This observation – and that’s all it is – could come from a few things…

  • Is it a lack of money coming into the area (not that Woolies aren’t trying!)? Glenbrook and Leura’s house prices certainly shot up five years ago and I expected other suburbs to follow. That didn’t seem to occur. No big industry is setting up here and attracting skilled professionals. The primary focus remains tourism and that’s fed largely by a dysfunctional highway forever under construction. The trains, still running once an hour as they did fifteen years ago, are made up of the same skanky carriages that prove the state government couldn’t care less. Areas like North Katoomba appear on the slide into social disrepair and the same might be said of Bullaburra or Mount Riverview. They feel isolated and run down just as, I imagine, do many people who live there.
  • The council doesn’t seem to be keeping up. In the areas I just mentioned, you will find streets with years-old graffiti, parks with cyclone fences erected in the eighties. As a result, no one uses these parks. The RTA isn’t helping as large strips along the highway are overgrown. I keep spotting the kinds of desolate, rubbish-strewn vacant blocks that evoke the dodgier parts of western Sydney.
  • The dodgier parts of western Sydney are the new residents of the Blue Mountains. This observation is one that has been confirmed to me by more than one long-term resident. It’s purely demographic and could well be the result of real-life issues like rising house prices forcing people further west. So the problem here is that employment, services and a community optimism that could lift people into better attitudes and greater aspirations is not there. It possibly starts at the teenage level. There was certainly little to do when I was that age. I see they now have a skate park. Lucky that didn’t take twenty years.

Let’s be honest, I didn’t totally fit in to the landscape of the Blue Mountains, like some do. I wanted to be a rock climber but didn’t have the stamina nor the tolerance for sore, cold fingers. (It is the perfect pastime when you live in an area of cliffs, lookouts and bushwalks.) I didn’t like to drink, which was how many friends chose to spend their time. But I was social. I just wanted to hang out. My options? The pub or the pub, and that has barely changed.

I am now an inner-west snob. I love my cafes and I refuse to go somewhere that doesn’t understand ambience is just as important as a good coffee. Springwood, for its part, has one place known for great coffee and it’s a take-away in an ugly-as-heck arcade. It makes most of its money off real estate staff. The other cafes appear run by middle-aged women who think a throw rug and a few steel chairs is what will keep people buying more focaccia. Focaccia! Blaxland has this chronic. Glenbrook is doing slightly better (see photo).

Coffee from MASH in Glenbrook. Beans locally roasted. Also, try the Moroccan Eggs.

So what can be done? I need ideas if I am going to sit and whine on a blog.

  1. Council shake-up.
    BMCC is afraid of big business and it’s killing the area. This, I should note, is a complete switch from my previous view. I still hate what McDonalds, Coles and Woolworths represent. But Blaxland did improve after Maccas came. (It even gave me a job when I was genuinely desperate. Gee that place lives of needy, naive fifteen-year-olds.) Yet the town centre didn’t die. Sadly, the local take-aways didn’t die as they said they would. Seriously, the best coffee in Blaxland is now served inside a TILE SHOP. Someone bust out an Aldi or a Target or – heaven forbid – a Gloria Jeans. (UPDATE: Winmalee now has both Target Country(!) & Gloria Jeans)
  2. Break the monopolies.
    Nearly every shop on Macquarie Road is owned by one of two men. The shop owners call it ‘the cartel’. They charge what they want and reject who they want. It’s why so few shops change and you get money-for-nothing shops like TWO DOLLAR DAZZLER shops and horrid new-age/greenie/tie-dyed-ponchos-are-us shops as they are the only ones able to make rent. It’s trashy, people only buy it because it’s cheap and it dumbs us all down.
    The bus company was Pearce Coaches throughout my school years and a lack of competition meant an annual fight between parents, schools and Pearce about why there were not more routes. I don’t know the situation there now but it still looks like one company calling the shots.
    Real Estates are monopolies up here too. Local Real Estate mogul Jim Aitken must own every second house and unfortunately, he has enough cash to start opening cafes – INSIDE HIS REAL ESTATES. Buy a latte … and a battle-axe. WTF! (His latest effort is the realisation of a ‘25-year-dream‘ to get a massive panorama of Australiana painted inside his Glenbrook cafe. It is hideous. He must be stopped. Did anyone tell him Echo Point – a real panorama – is up the road?

  3. Start with Katoomba.
    Katoomba’s main street has a few interesting points but the rest is all nostalgia. The Paragon is a dark and overpriced cafe some people love for its olde worlde charm. For a real buzz, they should look over the road to a weird shop selling Catholic iconography as if it’s still 1950. The Clarendon, The Carrington… There’s a Lifeline shop which seems to get what the other op-shops can’t sell and there’s Macarthurs. Macarthurs has a Mad Barry’s frontage but inside it is a mish-mash DIY antique store run by some mischievous oddballs who expect $650 for second-hand replica European sofas. To their credit, they tell me they plan have big plans for a mezzanine and a cafe with mountain views… if anyone ever buys a sofa.
    Katoomba is the area’s real tourism hope but the main street has seen very little of what transformed Echo Point. As a result, most traveler scoot to the Three Sisters then head out-of-town. No time spent, no local culture experienced and no memories of the real Blue Mountains to share with friends.

Where I grew up, the people were friendly and, thankfully, they still are. This should be the real impression left on visitors to the Blue Mountains and one the residents are proud of. Yet with many aspects of amenity already lost, from dingy parks to bored, boozing teens congregating in neglected town centres, the Blue Mountains may soon have very little to lay claim to… except that it is one of the most racially pure areas in the state.

And even that one’s a myth.

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