Thursday, June 30, 2011

Times have changed

I was sorting some e-mails at work and I came across an e-mail from a childhood friend dating back to 2003 (when I was, as horrible as it feels admitting it, already a lot older than in my childhood). She’s talking about how the 1990s changed Stockholm into a place where you suddenly had homeless people on the streets, where gangs of youths would rob other gangs of youth and where you could get yourself into real trouble if you weren’t careful.

I don’t think it’s just my age but I think we did lose something in the 1990s here is Sydney too. It was as if innocence well and truly left an already jaded city.

When I first came over here in the late 1980s Australia was very much battling with the issue of the bicentennial and how it was viewed from the whites’ perspective as opposed to the Aboriginals’. This was a country that was about to go all out celebrating what had been the birth of a nation for some but the beginning of genocide and destruction of their lives and culture for others.

I first arrived in this country as a backpacker. Young, dumb and drunk a lot of the time I don’t think I took in too much of what was going on around me in Australian society. I just didn’t care.

I had just finished my engineering course and I was so glad to be done with studying that I just wanted some sort of relief or reward for all my hard work. I need to roam free for a while after having been locked inside a small box listening to some teacher droning on about a subject I was never likely to ever have anything to do with again.

Back then we trawled the pubs at night in the search of free music - the pub band scene must have been at its best at that time - and cheap alcohol. We partied hard and we had a lot of fun. We never ended up in any trouble.

We traveled in packs and we looked out for each which provided some protection. Us girls would arrive in Kings Cross escorted by a small entourage of British soccer hooligans. Most likely they kept us company because they wanted to get laid but I can’t recall that ever happening. These guys also used to bring a Japanese guy who they called Sushi with them as though he was some sort of mascot. Sushi owned the largest boom box ever seen. I swear it was almost half the size of him although he was of course not a large person even by Japanese standards. His ultimate charm was the packet of cookies he always seemed to carry with him so that he could offer people he met one. Cookie was probably the only English word he knew.

I remember one night after we had moved out of the hostel to rent a room off a guy in infamous Redfern to save money. We were coming back from the city on the train and instead of getting off at Central station we thought we’d be clever and get off at Redfern instead. Little did we realize that where we lived was closer to Central and that running around in the neighbourhood around Redfern station at night was not something one should do. (Google Eveleigh Street and you’re bound to get results that will tell you why).

Anyway, we got off at Redfern looking like something out of a tourist brochure and were immediately accosted by an older Aboriginal gentleman. He wanted to know what we were doing in Redfern that time of night. We told him and he immediately escorted us back to Redfern station, took the train back with us to Central station, made sure that we caught the right bus to where we needed to go and told us that if he ever saw us back in Redfern at night again he would beat us up himself just to make sure we didn’t get into any more serious problem. We learned something that night.

When I first moved to Australia I lived very close to Redfern station for almost 12 years. I never had a problem but now it seems that all areas of Sydney are worse than they used to be. Where I live now certainly is.

In Redfern, being so close to the city and also being so close to Kings Cross there was the inevitable drug trade going on. It was kept low and no one was too open about it simply because they didn’t want any trouble. I used to go to pubs and I had no idea there were drugs sold there until one night when the police raided the place and all of a sudden a good 60% of the patrons emptied their pockets and threw little baggies into pot plants that seemed to have been strategically placed around the place. No one was arrested that night but a few people went home poorer.

Today in the suburb where I live we have a different type of drug user. Your average meth addict is not subtle or able to hide their addiction. Them picking away at themselves is the first sign with scabs soon appearing on their arms and faces. The decline is rapid and so is the rate their brain seems to rot at. It’s really nasty stuff.

It has changed and it's got a lot nastier and colder.

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