Sydney is having a weird, wet summer. A year or two ago I would have felt gypped. It’s usually so bright here that old Sydneysiders tend to have a squint. But now I’m stuck inside writing all the time and I don’t really mind. Actually I think rain suits the neighbourhood, rusting all the corrugated iron and sluicing the dirty gutters.
I’ve lived around here almost three years now and I love it. Yesterday I was drinking at the corner pub with a friend. There’s a pub on just about every block in the inner suburbs. Takeaways are expensive – about $15 for a six-pack of cheap beer. Longnecks are a little cheaper, but still at least 150 per cent of the price of equivalent beer in New Zealand. I don’t know why, tax or liquor licensing, but it means drinking at the pub is not much more expensive. So they’re everywhere and start to fill up from lunchtime. There are two within a minute’s walk of my place, and at least five more within ten.
The one on the immediate corner is undoubtedly the seediest but it’s between my place and my friend’s so we often end up there. It has a captive clientele with two storeys of ‘studio apartments’ above it. My friend introduced me to one of the inhabitants yesterday and as it got crowded he invited us upstairs.
A South Sydney ‘studio apartment’ is a room in a boarding house. You share the bathroom and maybe a kitchen, though it’s common for the landlord to not bother with the kitchen and you are left with whatever appliances you can plug into the wall to supplement a diet of kebabs and chips. It’s a man’s world, women tend to leave as fast as they can. (I lived in one of these places for a few months until Raych joined me over here.) WordPress hasn’t sorted out scratch’n’sniff yet so you have to use your imagination: mouldering carpet and stale smoke.
But that’s the smell of history. I’d say this place above the pub would have been there at least a hundred years. The one I lived in was once a Glebe mansion, probably converted in the 1930s. Today the clientele is pretty cosmopolitan, one-third immigrants, one-third local students and young labourers and one-third what you might call seasoned men of the streets. Our host was one of the last category, a guy with some serious charisma, a happy punter who gets beer bought for him all the time by young guys like us keen to hear about his talkback radio revelations. And this guy has the king of views, which these photos don’t begin to do justice to, from an outsized balcony some people would pay hundreds of dollars a week for if it wasn’t rotted through around the edges. He didn’t mind me taking these photos over the rooftops, but warned me not to step where the wood gets dark.