Classic Car on Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

Not Just Hipsters

Although I’ve never really been “into” cars, there was a car on Bourke Street, Surry Hills today which stopped me in my tracks. I don’t know what kind of car it is, I don’t know when it was made, but I recognise good design. And so, as I made my way to buy a new pair of jeans from a nearby shop, I stopped for a moment, gave the car a once-over, and took a photograph.

Minutes earlier I’d had a “I love Surry Hills” moment. Even though it’s the middle of winter, the weather’s fine, and it was great to see so many people seated outside the Bourke Street Bakery and The Book Kitchen enjoying life. Then, as I wandered up Bourke Street, I reflected on the transformation that’s occured there. When I arrived in Sydney, it was a busy main road. Now with cycle ways, it’s a lovely quiet street that you can walk along happily enjoying the trees and the architecture.

Surry Hills has changed significantly over the last twenty years. When I first moved in, it was pretty rough. My family were concerned I’d moved into the area, remembering a family member who lived in the area back in the 30s and 40s when it was desperately poor. There are still large pockets of poverty in Surry Hills now, but there’s now an affluent class as well.

Despite the cliches you hear about the place: single, middle class hipsters, wankers yaddah yaddah, Surry Hills is culturally and economically diverse. There’s a huge amount of public housing a few hundred metres from my place. Across the road from where I live there’s a lovely park where there’s always lots of kids.

Which brings me to a video I spotted the other week which, frankly, rather annoyed me. I won’t bore you with a lengthy critique. I’ll just tell you, there’s a lot more diversity in Surry Hills than you’ll see in this video.


Monica Z

The last couple of weeks have been reasonably busy, and so I haven’t managed to immerse myself in the Scandinavian Film Festival as I’d hoped. There was one film, however, I definitely wanted to see on the big screen, having previously seen it only a small screen: the movie about the life of Swedish jazz singer, Monica Zetterlund.

I’d first heard about Monica twenty or thirty years ago, as Frida from ABBA had described her as one of her idols. The story of a jazz singer from a small country town who, in 1960s Sweden, has to find a balance between career and family is a theme in both their lives.

In the time since, I’ve come to know and really enjoy Monica’s work. I think my favourite song of hers is her Swedish language version of “Take 5″: it’s a great tune, sung with passion and energy. The film explains this particular song, and many of her others, comes from Monica’s desire to sing (mostly in Swedish) about things in her life. The film details a meeting with Ella Fitzgerald, where Ella, quite directly tells her not to sing about New Orleans and other such things (the staples of 1950s and 1960s jazz), but about stuff she knows.

Monica’s own experiences of travelling to New York are documented in the film: an early disastrous performance where the show was shut down because her backing musicians were black; and a later more successful show that brings her family and friends to tears. The film documents a difficult relationship with her father who lives in the small town of Hagfors. “Do you have any idea where that is?”, I whispered to Grant. Later, over a drink, we looked it up, locating it in the middle of Sweden, towards the border with Norway. There’s a really funny scene in the movie (which I won’t spoil) about Monica’s personal vow never to return to Hagfors.

I really loved this film. It’s a great story. Great music. Features great performances. And has beautiful cinematography which deserves the big screen. I really hope the film gets a broader cinematic run in Australia.

PS: After watching the movie we went out for a drink and a chat. We joked we should have played the “Monica Zetterlund Drinking Game”. It’s the game where you watch the film and have a drink every time she does. You would end up pretty sloshed pretty quickly. She liked a drink or 25,000, it seems.

The Eternity Man

For a week or two, I’ve been in search of a video to use at the “Tribute to Colin”, to be held in a couple of weeks on what would have been his birthday. Colin was one of those featured in a copy of a 1994 documentary about Arthur Stace, the man who wrote “Eternity” on Sydney foothpaths for many years.

The documentary originally screened at the Sydney Film Festival in 1994, and later on the ABC. Colin featured in the documentary as the actor who sang the song about Arthur Stace in a SUDS production (Sydney University). With many thanks to the film-maker, Susan Mackinnon, I’ve obtained a copy of the documentary, and I’m sure this segment will make a wonderful contribution to the tribute.

Not Completely Frozen

It’s about half way through winter, I think? And so I thought I’d reflect on my personal challenge this year: not to use artificial heating.

There are two levels to this. First, the idea that I can keep my electricity bill down by simply putting on an extra layer or two. Second, the idea that I might be able to do something small to “save the planet”. The second one is probably the greater for me, as living alone, my electricity bills, generally, aren’t too expensive.

And you know what? So far it’s going pretty well. Tracky dax, a pull over, and a doona over my knees in preference to sitting around in shorts, a t-shirt, and with the heater isn’t that hard to do. I’m lucky as my apartment is protected by those above and those below, and so it’s never usually too hot or too cold.

But even so, an extra layer of clothing is absolutely fine in the context of mild Sydney winters. Hey, I’ve walked on a glacier in Iceland. I’ve been in Sweden where it’s been minus 23 and I’ve been warned not to go out at night, in case my eyelashes freeze together. I’ve also been in Sweden in sub-zero conditions where the bottom of my jeans became damp with snow, and I’ve needed to go back to my apartment to warm up slowly to avoid frost-bite. In contrast, overnight temperatures of 5-10 degrees are pretty mild, and so putting on an extra layer is not that hard.