“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. We are just about to touch down in Sydney. It’s a gorgeous seventeen degrees outside, and we’re expecting a flawless twenty-two today on the harbour. The conditions are ideal for yachting while listening to Phil Collins, sipping on wine spritzers in immaculate white slacks or staging the best Olympics ever.
Would you please return your collars to the upright position. Welcome to Sydney.”
I was there this weekend for a wedding – the sun was gleaming off the water, lovely fluffy cumulous clouds amassed in a perfect ‘V’ on the horizon, a light breeze riffled the Coogee pines and tow-headed children played in the shallows as though preparing for a photo shoot for Target.
I had a wonderful time. But the place just cracks me the hell up.
What is notable about Sydney these days is not the white sails of the Opera House, nor the Deco fabulousness of the Harbour Bridge, nor the meandering hills, valleys and wee historic walkways everywhere, nor the lush national parks right in the centre of town, but how UNBELIEVABLY PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE everyone is about Melbourne.
It hits me around the face like a big, smug harbour view every time I arrive. It’s as though the more gratuitously Sydney is praised, it has to be in inverse proportion to totally slagging off the city of my birth and place of residence. The phenomenon is not actually receding any more, it’s getting funnier and funnier.
I’ve had the following identical conversation the past three times I’ve been there:
Sydney local (apropos of nothing): You’re looking very Melbourne today! So Melbourne!!
Me: Why thank you! And might I say you’re looking very cream/peach/aqua! Your teeth devastate me.
Sydney local: I love Melbourne. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. I go there all the time!
Me (thinking why don’t you live there then): Really? Where did you go last time you were in town?
Sydney local: Ooooh, everywhere. We went to this great restaurant in St Kilda. Then we bought fantastic fresh produce at the Victoria Market (starting to read from a booklet called ‘Things to do in Melbourne’ by John So). And the little laneways! You just turn a corner and why, there’s another little bar! Or some public art!
Me: It’s true, we rock. Have you ever been to Brunswick?
Sydney local: Where Brunswick Street is? Oh yes, marvellous. Just like Sydders in parts.
Me: No no Brunswick the suburb. Where, er, Sydney Road is.
Sydney local (laughing in a superior fashion): Indeed, no! I must say though, next time we go, we’ll be bringing our entire wardrobe. SHIT weather there. ABOMINABLE. In the morning the sun was out! Then it rained – then hailed. Then there was a hurricane.
Me: I suppose white does go see-through in the rain. It’s a bitch to keep clean.
Sydney local: PS your beaches suck.
Did you see what happened there? A backhanded compliment, lobbed high into the air then driven home right at the end.
Perhaps I should attempt an explanation for the non-Aussie readers. Here’s a potted history off the top of me head:
Sydney has long enjoyed a reputation as Australia’s premier city. For yonks it’s been the place you send your foreign guests for an inexhaustible supply of views, ‘activities’ and men like Bill Granger, pictured. And for yonks, Melbourne has long enjoyed a reputation as Australia’s crappest city. Due in no small part to the fact that the media has traditionally taken delight in taking the piss out of our little grey southern home (a place a whole 800 km south of Sydders, hence the fact that the weather’s a little different).
I can assure you that as a teenager there was nothing to do. We used to go into the empty city on the weekends and roam around like wild dogs. There was something like one pub, which would close at midnight. People still reminisced about the 1956 Olympics. Or the Gold Rush. Everyone was embarrassed to say they were from Melbourne.
Then Jeff Kennett happened. Schools and hospitals were closed down, public transport was privatised and a casino and a Grand Prix opened up. Victoria went from being $9 billion in debt to somethingorother in the black in the twinkling of an eye. Some thoughtful cove changed the licensing laws, so that any fool with $300 in his jeans pocket could open up a bar the size of a cat carrier. Not only that, but you could stay out well past 3am. All the interesting, kooky properties in the city that had stood empty for so many years were rented out to people with a degree in stencil art who could make the sort of cocktail you invent at 5am when all the best booze has been drunk already.
All of a sudden everyone wanted to live in Melbourne. There’s quite an amusing article here, which I found after Googling ‘Sydney wankers’.
Meanwhile back in Sydders, the pokies – those destroyers of culture, atmosphere and soul – became a feature of nearly every pub (in Melbourne, the pokies stayed largely at the casino, or Tabaret venues you’d never want to go to in the first place). There’s more to it than that, but from someone who enjoys a drink, a swear, and a wardrobe full of warm black clothes, that is the god-honest truth.
Despite this recent history, Sydney locals still display this kind of bizarre hysteria when talking about their home. I was once there for New Year’s Eve, standing atop a building in expectation of the famous ‘Sydney fireworks’ (they let off fireworks up there as often as you and I let off gas). And one woman was beside herself with excitement. She howled and screamed, and threw her arms towards the conflagration. She drummed her little stilettos on the ground, she ran in circles and capered about. Much nonsense was spouted:
“OMG………..so exciting!!……….beautiful………..no-one does it like we do……..…this is the best fireworks of the BEST CITY IN THE WHOLE WORLD!!”
A Spanish friend and I looked at each other silently, our glance saying everything. We stood on hand ready to call the ambulance, but she pulled through. But I think the last comment highlights what I’m trying to figure out here.
It’s not enough for the Sydneyites to rejoice in their admittedly stunning city. Oh no – not only is Sydney gorgeous, but it’s pronounced to be bigger, brighter, more radiant and easier on the eye than anywhere else in the world. But they do not stop even there – a comparison must be drawn – in contrast everything else must look just a little bit shit.
What is with that?
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. We are just about to touch down in Melbourne, where the local temperature is…….wait for it……..are you ready….eight degrees (groans and murmurs of passengers). We hope you enjoyed your time in Sydney, where eye contact only happens via reflective surfaces in bars, people like Bill Granger and Baz Lurhmann are heterosexual and it never rains. Stay warm.”