30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
I lived in Newtown, a suburb in Sydney, for many years.
It was the best part of Sydney, for me, when I lived there. Bands, pubs, cafes, gigs, Thai food, coffees, record shops, video shops and more. It was the alternative hub of Sydney. I was a Newtown kid through and through, having grown up close by and having hung out there after school for years.
Newtown is divided by a big upside down “Y”, forming the three main streets – King Street, South King Street and Enmore Road. At the place where all three meet is Newtown train station.
I really wish I could show you Newtown. I could show you around.
Coming out of the train station we’d turn right down King Street, the main street of Newtown.
– past where there used to be a great Vietnamese bakery where I used to get Vietnamese pork rolls for a couple of dollars.
– then Bank Hotel, where Claire slapped me one rainy night and I had a dinner with all my cousins once.
– Tree of Life where a friend worked, that new gelato place, and round the corner from Egg Records, where I found Wilco’s AM on vinyl and bought old Mojo mags. I can still see Jason outside, smoking.
– The sex shop I went into once on a very awkward first date.
– Civic Video where I learnt so much – whether it was Sopranos or Truffaut. Being Newtown, it was a chain video store with the best arthouse section you’ve ever seen.
– Across from that weird courtyard with the big mural of the Aboriginal flag and the words “I have a dream”.
– Thai Pothong, which won awards for food but I refused to go to out of loyalty to Doy Tao.
– The Post Office where Amy and I shared a PO box when we dreamt of changing the world with acoustic music nights.
– Jester’s, which was once Shakespeare’s Pies and before that McDonalds – still the only McDonalds in Australia to close due to lack of business. Go Newtown!
– Café C, my favourite. I would order a country breakfast with some extras, and called it the alt-country breakfast.
– HUM, where Baz worked, and the newsagent where I bought all my travelcards and other bits.
– Better Read Than Dead, where I would devour the music section, buying so many books.
– The cute café, which had great soups, that was part of the Dendy Cinema, where I saw billions of movies.
– Fish Records, where Casey and Jo met and fell in love, while I was browsing Randy Newman records.
– the cramped small IGA supermarket, where they kept moving the bread and eggs and the whole layout all the time, but the carpark was good for making u-turns down a one way street.
– Happy Chef, my favourite eatery ever. Get the Spicy Beef Noodle Soup. I did, three times a week for around 7 years.
– Followed by my bank, the Westpac, near the Old Fish Shop, a café that was always full because it had about 5 seats.
– Mitre 10, where I would try and be a tough guy and buy home hardware, and where Saul bought a chain for a Halloween costume.
– So many more bakeries and second hand clothes shops, including the one where I found my pointy brown stage shoes that I still love.
– The pawn shop that always had cool stuff because even Newtown cast offs were interesting.
– Across from Twelve, which used to be called something different, where I would sit with friends after gigs at age 18, dreaming of moving to Newtown.
– Brown Street, where I remember sitting in the passenger side with Saul driving, and me trying to practise drumming on his dashboard.
– Elizabeth’s Bookshop which never seemed to close, which was so cool, buying a book at 1am, like in NYC. Except they never had much that was good.
– St Vincent De Paul’s charity shop, and the similar ones on the other side of the road, where I bought most of my clothes.
– So Music. My actual favourite new record store in Newtown, because of it’s huge Americana and Soundtracks section. And they would always recommend classic albums. They ordered in all those Sam Cooke SACDs I wanted.
– The bizarre gay bar that was Newtown Hotel, and Alicia’s house right on the corner there.
– Kuletos, that shitty cocktail bar. If I was there, something had gone wrong with my night.
– The Marlborough Hotel, where we sat out the back and tried to make bad jokes the night Jon died.
– Hi Fi Trader, where Adrian and I would look in the window, planning to buy that awesome stereo system one day but never did.
– Ice and Slice, the superior ice cream joint in Newtown.
– Past my old real estate agent, who were such nice people that when clients sent me bottles of wine for Xmas, I gave a bottle to them. They knew I was dumb kid trying to live on my own and helped me out a lot.
– Then we are in North Newtown, where Adrian lived and it was his part of the world. They had their own Thai food, supermarkets and all. It’s nice (especially the Vanguard) but lets turn around.
Left out of the station, down South King Street.
– The Town Hall Hotel (or the Townie). The whole suburb’s local. A million memories, being hit in the face by some dude because I was set up by a so called friend in a jealousy trap. Jono telling me about his fight with cancer. Many nights of trivia.
– Café Newtown on the corner, which Bruno always put me off. He saw me there once and asked if I was just eating car exhaust. I was.
– The strange small mall with a much better supermarket. Not sure the people there spoke English, which for some reason made it easier to buy condoms.
– The street where Shell and Ray lived. And I saw that girl from my morning train with short hair and red lips once, and I imagined she lived there too. I saw her once whilst on the way to a rehearsal, lugging a guitar and though “yes! She’s seen me with a guitar. She might think I’m cool.”
– My second flat in Newtown is here, above the tattoo place. Nigel, drunk and wandering home from the Townie would buzz me in the middle of the night for no reason. It was small but it was mine and I loved that little flat.
– Across from Newtown Theatre. 4 nights of You Am I and the Strokes changed everything I ever thought about music. I didn’t listen to anything new for several years. If the Strokes where what rock music was about, I wanted no part of it.
– That empty lot which was there as long as I remember. And the telegraph pole where I posed for a photo, next to a poster promoting a gig by our old band.
– That coffee shop where I’d get coffees for Craig before he’d pick me up in his car to go to work.
– Newtown School of Performing Arts. If only I got in. Life would be different.
– The café which was actually the Globe back in the day, where I saw Glide a few days before their singer ended his life, and where I’d be dragged to see a million Sidewinder shows.
– The Sandringham Hotel, or the Sando. So legendary. I missed the heyday, but it wasn’t too bad when I was there. I played a Gram Parsons tribute and someone told me I was the best act of the night – for some reason that compliment stuck with me. Paul and I promised to form a Jon Sebastian covers band here. A night drinking with Perry Keyes after the Born to Run reissue came out, and we talked about pianos for around 4 hours.
– the bike shop, the café that Chrissie’s husband owned, the laundrette that Dave used for decades before he bought my washing machine off me.
– That shop that just sold buttons, along with an array of antique furniture places. I would save just to buy a coffee table or a lamp.
– That big furniture warehouse where, for sake of time, I can’t explain why Alex and I lost a tennis ball there once.
– Near where Nigel and Lindsay lived. Nigel had the weirdest shower and a nice courtyard, but our relationship was really built on swapping DVDs.
– Pete’s Musician Market, pretty much the only guitar shop left, and it never had anything good. God knows I spent enough time there.
– Corner of Alice street. My first apartment. Jules waiting at the front door for me to come home. Jeff falling drunk on my sofa after playing Sloan songs all night for Sophie. My piano.
– Around the corner is where Andy lived, and Saul lived.
– Doy Tao, the best Thai food in Newtown. I had my birthday there, every year, without fail.
– The New Theatre, where I first saw Darren Hanlon, still the only time I’ve been in there.
– The second hand store where Amber and I found a vest for me to wear for a gig.
– The Union, where I had a drink with Kate before I left, where there used to be decent trivia. We’re now heading to St Peters so lets turn around again.
Finally, if we head kind of straight out of the station, is Enmore Rd
– The Hub, the big beautiful abandoned theatre. It’s supposedly owned by some woman who just wants nothing to do with it, yet wont rent it out. Such a waste.
– scary punk and heavy metal shop where I’d leave my pop fanzine and run out before I was killed.
– best shop name ever, the chiropractor called “Back Together”.
– Oportos. Portuguese chicken. Yum.
– The Turkish kebab place. You could smell it from my flat. Wasn’t all that bad.
– That film shop where I planned to buy around a million awesome posters but never did.
– Newtown RSL, or @Newtown, or Goldmans, or whatever they are calling it now. A million great gigs and moments. A million frustrating moments with the staff. I still have my Goldman’s card somewhere.
– The somewhat awful Blockbuster across from the brothel. Casey told me that you can spot a brothel because they always have the street number as the biggest sign, not the place name. People are looking for the address.
– Turning left at the place that just sells rock t-shirts is my last house in Newtown. A great place, and too much to go into here.
– Some truly strange shops. The Cat Protection Society, and that awesome 50s hairdresser that is used in so many photos it’s turning into a landmark.
– The bus stop where Paul drove past me once, alarmed to see me wearing shorts.
– The Enmore Theatre. Where I got up and played a song to a sold out room at age 16. Where I saw so many great bands. My favourite venue, probably.
– The furniture store, that proclaimed Urban Living. It closed down and the sign stayed, suggesting Urban Living was very minimalist.
– The Duke. The kitchen stayed open til 1am. You could see a band and get a proper steak before bed. Where I saw a pretty girl, who I was trying to get the nerves to talk to, suddenly started talking to me.
– Another Civic Video, this one wasn’t too bad. Conveniently, it was across the road from the only decent Indian place in Newtown. Curry and a movie, that happened a lot.
– Things repeat again. Another IGA, more cafes, more real estate agents. The only thing left to note is Scrambled, the lovely café where I made myself a home for several years. And the Warren View where Tim won a local Scrabble comp.
The question is – am I done with Newtown?
Last time I was there it was still similar, but not the same. A few too many trendy sneaker shops. And most of my friends have left there anyway. I’m not 20 anymore – should I leave Newtown for the next bunch of optimistic indie hippie hopefuls? Do I start something new, somewhere else? Or will I just find myself in Newtown all the time anyway?
Sense of place is so important. I am so much happier when I have that ‘home’ feeling.
It’s on my mind.