The Godfather: Peter Corris on Sydney Town
I’ve spent a good part of my life in Sydney, perhaps 20 years or more, and seem always to have returned here after sojourns away. Although I am devoted to Sydney, you might say I’ve philandered to other places. I’ve owned houses here, rented others, been employed, and the city has provided material for many of my books. Two of my children were born here and six of my seven grandchildren. But I didn’t get here on a visit until I was well into my 20s.
As a reader of Australian fiction and later as an historian, Sydney always loomed largely in my imagination – Cook, Banks, Phillip, the First Fleet, the harbour, the ruination of the Indigenous people; the Bridge, Bondi Beach, Johnny O’Keefe, Kings Cross.
On a visit in 1966 I landed in Kings Cross and, coming from a sedate Melbourne suburb, was amazed at the combination of shabbiness and glitz. I liked both and resolved to live there if I could.
A trip the next year with my first wife found us lost in the outlying suburbs. We called an RACV service to guide us to our destination, where we’d been told we’d be welcome. We weren’t and had to look for short-term accommodation, which we found in Bondi. Not a good choice as both of us had postgraduate scholarships at the ANU and we intended to spend most of our time at the Mitchell Library. Clearly we were ignorant of the geography and a bit desperately adrift in a strange city.
But we were accepted and, when I attempted to pay the deposit by cheque, the clerk said, ‘I’d prefer the cash.’ We went to a bank for the cash and for some time after joked that this was characteristic of Sydney mores.
It’s 50 years ago and my memory of the stay is misty as to detail but sharp as to appreciation. I remember the thrill of being able to drink in a pub after the sun went down, being able to nip out for a drink at interval (remember interval?) at the pictures as we called it then, just because we could. Bondi lived up to expectations: there was nothing like it in Melbourne and in winter it was still warm. The trip across the sparkling water from Circular Quay to Manly seemed like a cruise to another world. The resources of the Mitchell Library dwarfed those of the La Trobe Library in Melbourne and seemed imbued with the contentious spirits of Manning Clark and MH Ellis. Patrick White, we knew, lived in Sydney.
It took me almost 10 years to live in Sydney but then, as I’ve written in other columns, good things started to happen – a good journalistic job, success as an author, admittance to a slightly bohemian literary world that suited my temperament.
Although it took me a long time to locate permanently in Sydney, my heart has been here since 1966 and, as Rod Stewart growls, ‘never will I roam’.