Dear Sydney: I’m Breaking Up With You

Features. Posted 1 week ago

Laura La Rosa


Image: collage by the amazing Freddie Houman. Image Source.

Sydney, it’s over between us. It’s not you though, it’s me.

Actually, it is you.

These are just some of my parting words for a city I adore, but one that I am happily farewelling despite having lived here my entire life. I wish I could say I have mixed feelings about this decision, but I’m counting down now because in a few weeks’ time I will pile the remains of my culled possessions into a hired van then head off for a new life in Melbourne.

Greedy landlords, sky rocketing property prices, a culture that veers towards the stressed and the selfish, and the remnants of a disastrous Baird era merely picked up and pushed on with by his successor – these are just some of the reasons it’s over between us.

My relationship with Sydney has become rocky to say the least and underneath all that love is a volatile dynamic that tests my wellbeing time and time again. Once I made the decision to leave the idea of staying seemed impossible, but it begged the question of why I’ve held on for so long when clearly this arrangement between my known hood and I has been anything but healthy for some time.

I suspect it’s all been in the name of attachment and not much else. A bit like not wanting to part with your favourite set of flannies long after they’ve reached their expiry date; their ever sagging demeanour and growing number of crouch holes are countering your love for them and slowly getting the better of you. It’s abundantly evident that no amount of contingent patchwork is going to provide sufficient coverage, or in the case of residing, no amount of justified means of having somewhere warm and harmonious to lay your head at night. And at what cost? For me, it has become unfeasible to continue living here, yet like so many of us I have held on and tried to make it work. I persisted, despite perished hems, leaks, cracks, and the sad knowing that such habitats do little to serve and comfort those who seek to lovingly occupy them.

And let’s not even mention WestConnex and smashed avocados. Or shall we?

Just how the price of unripe or prematurely rotting avocados that probably never even saw sunshine in the first place, has become a reluctant subscription for all is beyond me. And why such silly nonsense instigated by the wealthy, calling on millennials to justify their preference for the ready-made and smashed kind still overshadows the very real loss imposed on homemakers in the face of a greedy, programme-hungry government is just as baffling. Did I mention WestConnex?

Much like my deteriorating jarmies, this city holds a known and planned obsolescence at the forefront of its envisaged future from those who cunningly steer its course – a future that seeks to benefit investors and real estate agents while pushing us everyday people further towards poverty and hardship.

If you don’t believe me, buy an avocado and then cut it open. Its contents are a punt at best and a conditioning of expected risk at worst. You may get lucky, but you will need to lay down your dollars and good will in order to find out. Pay up and enter at your own risk. A bit like signing a fixed term rental lease and then warily waiting for the truth about its insides to slowly reveal itself on a not so dry day – mould and mildew, anyone? The stench from mouldy pipes is another gross reminder of what you so foolishly were willing to fork out, perhaps simply to avoid isolation for the sake of your wellbeing.

And should you dare bring home a $6 avocado only to discover it is in fact rotting from its interior, well this just serves as a further jab at your unwillingness to invest sensibly; suck it up and stop being so indulgent would you. Eat more omegas they said. Look after your respiratory health they also said. And overdraw your bank account while doing either or both of these things in the meantime.

I doubt readers are still sceptical, but if you need data to back up my case, just ask the ombudsman how well our government is putting our hard earned taxes to use (hint, you could start a substantial amount of sun-filled, ethical avocado orchards with those dollars; you could even buy the land). Instead, these public agencies insist on concocting business cases for poorly constructed programmes under the guise of ‘needed’ infrastructure, so long as it creates the perception that they are pushing papers, being ‘agile’, and therefore doing stuff. Even if that means steam rolling our beautiful and tightknit communities in the process, at least those funds been allocated accordingly even if their scope is blown out and then hushed despite ongoing public scrutiny and protest.

Anyone that works in the project realm will be able to shed light on the monumental wastage – not to mention displacement and heartache – caused from community destroying beasts such as WestConnex (dare I mention it again). Just this week it was revealed that the NBN movers and shakers spent $437,000 of taxpayer’s cash in coffee. Coffee! And if you’re somewhat tuned into your local change agents and their blindsided antics, you’ll too become familiar with their insistence on digging their funds-driven heels in despite the catastrophic repercussions that follow. Pollution, congestion, and the uprooting of people’s communities, businesses and homes – there is no stopping them.

I love Sydney, but it has become ever more difficult to live here. If like me, you’re single, over the age of 30, and not too keen on living with four other misfits amid overflowing bins due to an unspoken housemate standoff and/or unnecessarily loud sex noises, then you’re screwed.

I did try and find the loopholes though. Around this time last year I gave up Newtown’s beautiful leafy streets as well as my Saturday morning visits to Carriageworks and traded all that for the Northern Beaches. I’ve been here ever since because I thought I could beat the system, find a sanctuary, and become a triumphant case study for how it’s not all doom and gloom. “The salty air and tranquillity will become me”, I declared!

The reality, however, is more like the sound of excavators permanently embedded into your eardrums. In fact, it quite literally is that sound – day in, day out. Every time I think I’ve walked far enough to find a quiet spot to sit and be and maybe catch a glimpse of that beautiful ocean, you can bet that my accompanying soundtrack be one of an obnoxious building site. Freshwater’s once quaint streets are now an investor’s smorgasbord, allowing any old Joe with an architect and a dream to rip up a character-filled dwelling and make way for the bland, the beige, and the new. Or the profitable and the ugly depending on how you see it. And in order to do so, residents who don’t necessarily go to a 9to5 job, residents like myself who care to enjoy the benefits of working from home, get to endure the continual noise pollution for months on end.

One particular day saw me phone old-mate-excavator to ask nicely how much longer the noise would grace my home environment for. “I’d say another solid week and we should be done with all the loud stuff”, he promised. Four and a half weeks later and I’ve constructed an unlikely and slightly batty kinship with the noise. My eye twitches more than it used to but I now possess an arguable immunity to the banging, drilling and dreaded top forty radio stations that the tradies seem to think residents might appreciate at full volume. As it turns out Tay Tay isn’t that bad.

Still, it beats living in a dark, damp and freezing one-bedroom basement in Newtown for a whopping $400 a week. And it certainly beats sitting in that particular landlord’s living room and asking them nicely and awkwardly while you try not to sit on their dog or break anything what they might be able to do about all the mould growing on your belongings. And it sure tops having them stare back at you and pretend that you didn’t just ask that. Noise pollution is surely better than having rich folk who own your life answer your queries in the same way that a politician deflects their overt breaches of human rights. Add to that an air of aggression and a tone that warns you not to push the point. I’m sorry that your mattress has grown mouldy fur all over it, but what did you expect when you agreed to live here for more than half your income per week? Geez.

But what’s worse? I recently caught my current landlord snooping and having a good squiz of this inside of his property, the place I currently call home, on a day he thought I would be at work. I was on a phone meeting and in my infamous flannies when he stuck his head in my window, perhaps just to make sure that the tenant who pays rent meticulously on time hasn’t decked the living room out with ten bunk beds or burnt down the place. I then gave him a serving via the property manager who reminded him of the law and my right for basic privacy to which he apologised. He wasn’t that remorseful though because not long after, a solid eight weeks out from the lease ending, and I was sent the heads-up in the form of a letter of an inevitable rent increase. Nowadays, no matter how good a tenant you are, savvy landlords will overlook such attributes and squeeze another few bucks a week from you. Because they can. If their great tenant leaves, there are another ten great lots queued up and ready to go.

And so, it is goodbye to New South Wales and hello to Victoria for me. I will leave my Northern Beaches rental-come-building-site for Melbourne’s city outskirt suburb of Footscray. My new abode will cost me $123 a week plus bills and includes high ceilings, lots of natural light, a sunroom, a backyard lined with big old fruit trees, two lovely housemates, and a greyhound called Voula. I am told Melbourne Winter is harsh and that I best be rugging up and investing in a good brollie.

I will miss my Sydney friends, sure. But I shall keep them as well as make new ones of the Victorian kind. And perhaps my slightly slower, more affordable Melbourne lifestyle will see me being able to actually spend time with those friends. Surely lower rent means I will not have to work copious hours of overtime just to get by. And if I do choose to work too much, it will be because I want to not because I’m forced to. And hopefully I’ll have a few left over dollars each week to enjoy myself with little case for having to justify me doing so. Sort of like the way you’d expect a standard mandate of privacy and respect from your landlord and government – such basic rights need not be fought for.

That’s the Melbourne dream anyway – a mix of good vibes and plenty of opportunity so they tell me. And if the kindness shown by those already living there who have insisted on helping me find my feet is reflective of the city’s overall sentiment, then I for one cannot wait to get down there and start over.