Monday, September 19, 2005


Hi there.

My name's Ben Peek and I'm one of the guest bloggers here at VanderWorld.

There's going to be about nine introductions soon (and I mightn't even be the first), so I'll try and keep it simple. I live in Sydney. I'm an author. I have a novel coming out next year called Black Sheep from Prime Books and I've a bunch of short fiction around. In addition to this, I keep a blog called The Urban Sprawl Project, which I keep updated fairly regularly. Blogging is all about being fluid to me, so you'll find, over there, a whole lot of ideas being tossed around. Some stick, some don't. It's a bit different to what you're going to get through here from me, since due to the number of people involved, I figured I might as well have some sort of link in my posts.

The Urban Sprawl Project was the name of a zine I published about four years ago. It was a little black and white thing that was a mix of photography and prose, fussed together by a designer more talented than I, and which aimed to map various parts of Sydney and explore cultural myths and the spatial nature of the city. In a stroke of pure genius, if I may say, I decided to give the zine away to people living in the area I wrote and photographed, thus ensuring that I would make no money and never build a readership. Shockingly, it didn't last long, but the ideas in stayed around and I ended up at the University of New South Wales, doing a doctorate, and writing a novel about Sydney. Reassuringly, it's kept me from making any real money, thank fuck.

But the other day I was reading Jeff's post on Peter Carey's 30 Days in Sydney and it got me thinking about the old zine. Carey's book is quite good, actually, mostly because Carey is the kind of author who rarely puts out a bad book (though he has, most recently in Wrong About Japan). The sin of Carey's Sydney book, however, is that it skirts an entire part of Sydney with ease. It happens like this:

"We tooled along the charmless de-natured landscape which is the Parramatta Road.

This is Sydney, declared Sheridan, throwing his empty Coke can in the back of the seat. The harbour is peripheral. The harbour is not a place that anyone can afford to live. Parramatta is the geographic centre of Sydney.

This is not an attractive drive, Sherry."

Parramatta. The Western Suburbs. Carey's self admitted geographical centre of Sydney gets six pages in two hundred and forty eight page book. Six pages for where half the city's population lives. Six pages for where I grew up. Six pages for where I live. Six pages for the mass of culture and human meat that forms the backbone of Sydney. Six pages for part of Sydney that no tourist will be going into unless they're lead there by a native.

So I thought about the old zine. It was a fun thing to do, really, and there's nothing like walking through a city with a camera in your hand to reintroduce it to you, and I figured in the spirit of Jeff going off to Australia, and a bunch of Australian's being here, that I'd take a tour through the Western Suburbs of Sydney. Well, a part of it. My part of it. It's impossible to know a city intimately; it's too big, too sprawling, too fragmented. Indeed, a city organises it in your head through fragments. You piece them together and, somehow, they form the whole. So with that in mind, the next week and a bit, I'm going to tour the areas I grew up in, the population centre of a city has been mythologised as violent, uneducated, primed with drugs, and full of racial violence.

Everyone has a personal relationship with the city they live in and that's certainly the case with me and Sydney. What you're going to get over the coming days is my autobiographic structure of it and this means that I'm not speaking for anyone. They've got voices just like me.


(Ben Peek is a Sydney based... Jeff's Evil Monkey: I think they got that. Ben: Yeah, probably. I'll pimp later. Jeff's Evil Monkey: Offer them money. They like that. Ben: ...what are you even doing here? Jeff's Evil Monkey: I didn't get taken to Australia. Jeff said I was a disappointment now. Ben: Shit, Monkey, that's-- Jeff's Evil Monkey: It's because he beat me too much. Ben: He beat you? Jeff's Evil Monkey: He used me up! I tried to tell him, I tried, I said, "Daddy, don't beat your Monkey!" but that just made him go harder. Ben: ... Jeff's Evil Monkey: Yes? Ben: ...Fucking Monkey.


At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Clare said...

Stunning picture, Mr Peek. I like the idea of a city blog, and will be interested to see your version of another Sydney - the one where the people live.

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anna said...

Beautifully put, Ben.The vast bulk of Sydney is that fascinating visually ugly sprawl,that arguably melting/seething pot where people wouldn't know Peter Carey from any other funny-looking bloke. It is where you don't find tourists, and certainly no "John Dory in poncey restaurants."

The flattening of his vision of society due to the limitations of his hosts/companions, gives a skewed picture that is dangerous, as in this quote. "we generally do not like religion in this town, are hostile to God-botherers and wowsers and bible-bashers." That view negates the great growth of wowserism and US-style evangelist religion, an important dynamic in Australia today. I hate it, the quoted speaker hated it--but rather than nodding over his glass of red, and reporting, Carey should have ventured out and seen for himself (or met a few politicians for a wowser lunch). To give an example, where I live in the countryside three hours south of Sydney,when we first moved here 16 years ago, someone said of the neighbouring farmers, "They're Christian, but they're okay." Now the area has a revival camp, and the local council starts meetings with prayers to Jesus.

The hardest thing for an expat to pick up is the changes that society makes that people in his social circle don't want to recognise, so don't legitimate as true.

The problem, often, with famous people who write travel books is that they stay mentally, physically, and socially, only where they can feel comfortably fawned upon.

btw,I loved Carey's collection, Exotic Pleasures.

At 6:26 PM, Anonymous benpeek said...

clare: thanks for the kind words. there'll be photography in all my posts, and hopefully they'll stay interesting. i hope sydney stays interesting, too.

anna: yeah, you're right about the religion. carey's book felt very much like it had been written by a guy who lived in the states and had only an old memory of the city. if he'd spent any time at all, he would have sene the rise of religion, and especially of places like the hills centre.

which, now you've reminded me of it, i might go out there and photograph.

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