In the USA, you are defined by where you went to university. In New York, it’s where you live (Upper West and Upper East, & Soho are where it’s at apparently) and in Sydney it’s all about what high school you went to and where you live. But this poses the question “Does where you live and where you went to school really define who you are?”
Ask anyone who’s moved to Sydney from a rural area, from another country or from interstate and they’ll tell you that it’s hard to make friends in Sydney. Well it’s hard to find friends who are locals and willing to extend the arm of friendship to a few newbies or out of towners. It’s a clicky place and to quote my lovely sister who tends to make up her own words from time to time there’s a sense of ‘snobraderie” about Sydneysiders (think opposite of camaraderie).
Having only lived on the lower and upper north shore, attended a private girls school and more recently moved to the Hills district, I’ve both practiced the this woeful snobbery and been a victim of it.
I recall living in Kirribilli in my early 20’s and working with a few people who lived in the Hills, I thought they were mad, certifiably mad for wanting to live somewhere that I classified as needing a passport to get to.
Back then I could get from Hornsby to Surry Hills but had no idea where anything else was. And I didn’t care. To me, the Shire was another planet where bogans and anyone who didn’t like multi-culturalism or Asian people lived, the Northern Beaches were for anyone who wanted to smoke weed all day, the West was somewhere I would never venture because, well, I just wouldn’t and Eastern Suburbs was broken into three groups. Old Money and New Money and No money. Old money had it all and lived in the Point Piper/Vaucluse enclave. New money was in Bronte and the no money set lived in Bondi and surrounding suburbs and were try hard wankers, the social set and people who wanted to have money but had very little. Naturally to me, the North Shore was the centerpiece of my world and I wasn’t going to leave in a hurry. I too was a wanker of epic proportions.
But then I got married and had kids. Oh how a bit of maturity and perspective changes everything. All of a sudden my lovely little semi-detached home in Willoughby, a comfortable 7kms from the city was too small to accommodate our growing family. After secretly searching online in my preferred suburbs of Roseville, Lindfield, Chatswood and Killara, I quickly discovered that my desire to have our growing family grow up with their own bedrooms, a huge backyard and a pool and perhaps more than more than one living area meant that I had to look outside my 26 year comfort zone. And it was the best thing I ever did.
After discovering that I didn’t need to pay $3million to get the house of our dreams, it was within our reach, just 30kms further out, I was convinced. We ended up buying the first house we saw in the Hills District. “Why on earth would you want to do that?” screamed mostly colleagues (my friends completely got it) “are you sure you know what you’re doing?” said others and the best one was “uh oh, you know you’re moving to the bible belt” almost as a warning that they weren’t so sure about people ‘out there’ and that I would be converted to Hill Song in no time. Apparently I just wasn’t the ‘type’ to move ‘out there’.
I too had reservations when I moved here, I thought I was going to another world and that I would never really like it, it was just sensible and affordable and I was petrified that I was going to have children who grew up saying ‘goin’ and not ‘going’.
How wrong was I.
Out here I discovered an amazing group of people and new friends who were like us, professionals/at home Mum’s who didn’t want to be slaves to mortgages their entire lives. With the M2 making the trip to the city only 25 mins (ok, not in peak hour which can be up to an hour or more) it was closer than I thought. They wanted to work to live and not live to work (my own definition of this is unbalanced but I do like having friends with a good work/life balance).
Most Mum’s could afford to stay home with the kids and going out for dinner with friends wasn’t a treat, it’s just what they did. It wasn’t the land of horrible people who were neglecting their children to spend money on the pokies and it wasn’t a place where you had to prove how much money you did or didn’t have. In fact it just didn’t matter, no one gave a damn about money, what you did or didn’t do. You simply had to be a good person and people would like you. In fact, it was so affordable out here that I was surprised how often families collectively went out for dinner together or invited you over and didn’t ask you to bring a thing. I rather enjoyed the relaxed nature of living ‘out there’. Big families weren’t scoffed at or frowned upon so I felt a tad normal with my large brood.
After living ‘out here’ for a few years and going back to full time work, I was amazed how many people then said to us “now that you can afford it, will you move back to the North Shore?” By this stage I’d firmly entrenched myself in the community, school and the kids were happy, healthy and enjoying life. I wasn’t going to uproot them, ever. I was happy, but something had changed, I’d realized that there was honestly an impression that we were ‘out there’ because we couldn’t afford to live closer to the city. The impression was that it wasn’t a choice but a necessity.
I too had once thought that where I lived defined who I was and my status in the world. Now, my perception has changed. This in no way implies that everyone else living on the North Shore, Eastern Suburbs or Shire looks down on others, but as a society, most of us would be guilty of thinking people living in another area are a certain ‘type’ of person.
Whilst the property market itself is certainly about Location Location Location, there are good people and bad people in every part of the world.
We shouldn’t define someone by where they live. In every part of Sydney and Australia there are amazing people with great values, strong conviction who are good parents and are doing their best to either make ends meet or make their mark on the world. Where they live should not define who they are. Who they are should not define where they live.
If we all let our guards down just a little bit, we’d understand that we have a lot more in common with a lot more people than perhaps we’re led to believe. My mind has been changed after years of making friends with people from all over Sydney and understanding that, at it’s most basic, we’re all just people and the general ‘wank’ we put on top of the ‘where do you live’ question is usually a quest to find common ground or to be able to define someone as a certain ‘type’….I wonder if we would find more in common with others if we said ‘How old are your kids?”, “What do you enjoy doing on weekends” or “You’re at a dinner party, you can invite any 6 people in the world, who would they be” – I dunno, it’s just a new way of getting to know someone without stereotyping them by the question of ‘where do you live?’.
I leave you with a rather comical cartoon that went around on facebook and email recently about what various parts of Sydney think of other parts of Sydney – comical, frightening and oh so true….