Dr Strangetown: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and ‘Love’ Blacktown (Part 1)

Something about this just isn't t-shirt worthy...

Something about this just isn’t t-shirt worthy…

Nothing has ever quite intrigued me as much as American ‘hometown patriotism’. Differing from the overbearing George Bush Jnr-style nationalism of the 9/11 era, this form of geographical pride ranges from the small towns to the big cities. It’s not uncommon to see people proudly profess their hometown pride by adorning their bodies with city-themed t-shirts, tanks and sweatshirts. The ‘I Heart NY’ shirt is a wardrobe staple on the East Coast, while for the Southern Californian, at least one item of clothing is sure to have a classic surfer-esque beach print. But what has intrigued me further, is the fact that it only seems to work for American cities and towns. Why are Brooklyn beanies and Compton snapbacks so much cooler than a Hobart-embroidered sweater? The fundamental question of our time…

A few years back, my local council attempted to induce some of this American-inspired pride amongst the Western Sydney suburb of Blacktown. Within a few weeks, Blacktown’s infamous Main Street was decorated with ‘I Heart Blacktown’ banners and the odd sticker affixed by young hooligans to the occasional telegraph pole. The bumper stickers, however, weren’t so much of a hit. Only on rare occasions did I notice such a sticker proudly stamped across a car bumper, and that was usually on late model government cars as they left the Blacktown Council car park. The ‘I Heart Blacktown’ enviro bags evoked a similarly lacklustre response, reserved for use by pensioners during their weekly shopping errands.

As a 17-year-old high school student at the time, operation ‘I Heart Blacktown’ represented little more than a contrived attempt to repair the area’s widely known image problem. Upon announcement of the campaign, I took to social media and swiftly seized the campaign’s comedic potential. Contrasts were quickly drawn between the hugely popular and even trendy ‘I Heart NY’ campaign, while the criticisms voiced by TV personality (and Eastern Suburbs resident) Deborah Hutton drowned out any lingering praise. It was clear: Blacktown’s morale-raising attempt didn’t stand much of a chance.

This wider sense of contempt towards Blacktown was deeply embedded in my own psyche from adolescence. For years, I refused to consider myself a Western Sydney native and instead clung onto my infant years spent on NSW’s Mid-North Coast. At social gatherings and parties, the stock-standard icebreaker question of “Where are you from?” resulted in me subconsciously bypassing my 17 years in Blacktown and consequently recalling the few hazy memories from my infancy. To this day, on social media, there’s also little trace of my Blacktown inhabitance, with the ‘Hometown’ tab on my Facebook profile proudly listing my birthplace of Port Macquarie. I’ll change it, but maybe when I celebrate my 20th anniversary as a Blacktown resident in 2017…

The word ‘bogan’ had not entered my vocabulary until I was well into my teens. Used to describe a (typically Anglo-Australian) ‘working-class’ person of uncouth character, the ‘bogan’ is the Australian equivalent of the American ‘redneck’. The epitome of unsophistication, the bogan is bad, brash and Blacktown-dwelling. The ‘bogan’ quip has since become a main weapon in the Sydney turf wars, deployed from the arsenal of rival Northern and Eastern suburbs residents. In Sydney, the boundaries of the North, East, South and West are clearly demarcated by the land’s natural topography of coastline, rivers and mountains. In this landscape, anything west of Parramatta is declared as bogan territory.

As I approached adolescence, media-fuelled representations of the bogan deepened the shame I felt growing up in Blacktown. Even if I wasn’t categorised as bogan myself, it was my fellow supposedly criminal neighbours that were. And it was through mere geographical association that I too, became bogan….

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