This is a review of NSW Writer's Centre's live event, Weird Sydney.
Woolahra Library was gifted an intriguing set of presentations on the weird and wonderful aspects of Sydney last Thursday, at Weird Sydney, hosted by NSW Writer's Centre. The event aimed to explore the lesser known aspects of Sydney: The series of presentations were opened by local luminary Vanessa Berry, who promised there would be “No talk of the property affordability, of the beauty of the harbour,” and instead heard of the overlooked, the under-discussed, and the scarcely known.
Berry dissolved all fears that the evening would be a dry, academic one, with her humourous presentation in which she told us with perfect dead-pan that the numerous suburban water towers of the city were 'Moon temples,' and that Macquarie Street's Il Porcellino statue was actually the pet boar of Matthew Flinders, who named him 'Captain Goodvibes.' Vanessa Berry runs the blog 'Mirror Sydney,' which documents the actual oddities of the city, but delivered an imaginative presentation which warmed the steadily giggling crowd to the night.
Following Berry was Peter Doyle, author of City of Shadows, a collection of “police forensic negatives,” which “casts a fascinating light on the shadowy underworld of Sydney between the wars.” The audience was treated to a fascinating, and at time, quite haunting collection of historical photos gathered from police records. Half-familiar streets were shown, with a focus on Sydney's con-artists, including that of Eugenia Fellini, a transgender man who, at the time, was charged for cross-dressing. Perhaps the highlight of this segment of Weird Sydney was the photos of unnamed loiterers found in a stolen camera in a cave. The photos, depicting 'rocker' youths posing by a river, were memorable not only for the humour depicted, but, as Doyle said, the timelessness of youthful rebellion.
Next was Chris Mikul, author of 'Bizarreism' and 'The Eccentropedia,' who enthralled with stories about Sydney's near-legendary eccentrics. Primarily, we were told of the Trolley Man and Beatrice Miles. The Trolley Man was a shadowy figure who, from the '60s to the '80s, walked the streets of Sydney, always with his trolley. A homeless man, he was often asked to give interviews and, the one time he agreed to one to talk about his life, he was nowhere to be found. We learned of Bea Miles, an enormous and homeless lady-eccentric who, in the '50s and early '60s, would become renowned for spouting Shakespeare for a small fee, reading up to three books a day in the State Library, and throwing herself into the passenger seats of taxis, demanding that she reach her destination for no payment – Once, when she was refused, she reacted by pulling the taxi door off of its hinges.
To close the night, Michael Wayne treated us to a selection of photos from his blog, Past Lives From the Near Future. Past Lives is a blog which captures Wayne's explorations into the weird and forgotten parts of Sydney, and his photos did indeed capture a more austere, eerie eccentricity about the city than the earlier presentations. However, each of them excelled in demonstrating that in this city, the streets are filled with pasts that are tell stories that deeply contrast the 'beautiful but banal' image of Sydney in the popular imagination – All one has to do is look closely.
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Cameron Colwell is a writer, critic, and poet from Sydney, Australia. He has appeared on a panel at National Young Writers Festival, has had work published in The Writer's Quarterly, Heaps Gay, and The Star Observer, and was the 2013 winner of the Mavis Thorpe Clark award for a collection of short stories. His Twitter is @cameron___c and his work can be found at www.neonslicked.wordpress.com