tale of two Sydneys
a swag of work my bank account was flush and I was feeling slightly
guilty, so I agreed to do a freebie for a coalition of community groups
fighting a development proposal down at Cooks River.
sent a small deputation to see me so we pulled together a couple of
tables outside the Brushtail Café and they spread out some photos
and glossy brochures. They wanted to get the inside story on the proposed
North Arncliffe development, which, they told me, was threatening the
integrity of a precious bit of Sydney's history.
at this!" a lady called Nola said. "This is Tempe House. It
was built in 1836 and it might be the most beautiful Georgian villa
in Sydney. The garden stretched to the banks of the river. And this
little hill here is called Mount Olympus. What they want to do is build
twelve storey flats right up to the back of Tempe House here, and right
up to the banks of Cooks River here. It's just monstrous! There's not
much that's beautiful in our part of Sydney and we don't want to lose
did look pretty dreadful. Redeveloping the North Arncliffe rust belt
will make a few developers a motza. Building right to the river's edge
is pushing it too far.
Saturday I called up Abdul the cabbie and booked him a few hours. We
drove down to North Arncliffe and parked outside a car wreckers at the
back of Mount Olympus. I'd intended to slip over the chain wire fence
and have a poke around but there was a big grey limousine waiting in
Arncliffe Street. A uniformed driver was leaning on the bonnet. After
a few minutes a man in a nice suit walked out of Tempe House and got
in. Sometimes you get lucky.
tailed them to Sydenham station. He got out and Abdul dropped me off.
I followed the target across the road and queued up behind him to buy
a ticket from the machine.
me mate. Very embarrassing. I just need ... I got this bent coin in
change and the machine won't take it and I need $1.80 to get home. I'm
sorry to ask, very embarrassing ..." He showed me a bent coin.
are beggars with plausible little yarns like this all over Sydney these
days. I fished around in my pocket and gave him a couple of dollars.
got my ticket and followed the target down the stairs. In his $2000
Amani suit he struck an odd figure among the people thronging the platform.
It wouldn't take much to push most of them over the line that separates
just-scraping-by from dirt poor ... when the boom goes bust, as it inevitably
had five minutes to wait, but five minutes is a long time on Sydenham
station. Below the platform the edges of the line were crusted with
a thick layer of cigarette butts and papers and bottles. The asphalt
was blotched with trodden-in bubble gum and the paint was peeling from
the seats. An incoming 747 roared overhead, so low you could almost
see faces at the window.
got on a City Circle train and I sat behind him at the back of the carriage.
The sun was setting when we got off at Circular Quay. The city lights
were winking off the wine-dark waters of the harbour and the opulence
is a transient democracy about Circular Quay. The rich and the poor
mingle along the concourse and in the shadowy corners homeless people
sit on plastic crates with the patience of those who have nothing to
hope for. I followed him towards Campbells Cove and the democracy faded
with each step we took. By the time he walked into the Park Hyatt it
had just about vanished and we were in another Sydney altogether.