I’m a wanderer more than anything else. Every couple of years, I get itchy feet, and want to see different horizons, walk on different shores, talk to people I’ve never met before. I grow tired of the same skylines and vistas, the same roads and streets, the same parks and trees, and start planning my escape. I’ve seen a fair amount of this world, but for some reason, Sydney is the earth to my moon, and my decaying orbit always seems to end up bringing me back here. And why not? There are worse cities in the world.
I spent a lot of my youth around the eastern beaches, and that still feels like a strange kind of home whenever I return, although each time I do return I recognise it less and less. I say strange because there’s a feel to it that’s like an old friend from childhood, that you haven’t seen for twenty years. They’re the same person, but there’s a space of twenty years between you that you can’t bridge. Gone is the sleepy Coogee that I knew, where the only danger was getting in the way of the bouncers at the Palace, and instead, it’s been replaced by a bewildering smorgasboard of trendy cafes and tall apartment blocks. I used to like to walk down Beach street, but it’s a frenetic place, these days, and I’m not sure my wandering to the beach, longneck of Coopers in hand, would be received in the same way. Renato’s is still there, and the Cafe Congo, although they look a little more tired, a little older, compared to the shiny new shops beside them. I guess we all do. The crowd is gradully changing, too: it’s become something of a place to go if you’re young and trendy, but, like a fading prostitute – and like Bondi years before it – it’s already past its best, and there is nothing left but the slow descent back into what it was originally – suburbia, and row upon row of red-roofed houses. Sure, they’re houses that nobody can afford these days, but it’s still suburbia.
I lived for a little while at one end of Melody St, and I saw little restaurants open, and then, with all the inexorability of the surf at the beach, close down again a few short months later. I would take my washing to a laundromat next to a corner shop on the next street over, where the Chinese owner would dutifully wash my judo gi for me. A couple of years ago, the laundry was gone, replaced by a Thai restaurant. Last time I went back, that had disappeared to, instead hosting a strange combination of bar and cafe. I’m not convinced it will last any longer.
There used to be a park with a playground on the beach before they redeveloped it. I remember it not because I played there, but because I used to hide there with friends from school, out of sight of noisy visitors, and drink Two Dogs cider – or was it alcoholic lemonade? There’s no accounting for the tastes of youth. I remember the alcove near the surf club where we used to take girls to kiss, deep in the shadows, where you were less likely to be annoyed by drunken idiots who decided that midnight was the perfect time to go for a swim. I remember the rock pool and the time we decided that we were going to walk around the headlands from Coogee to Maroubra – and how we almost got washed away in the surf.
There are worse cities in the world.