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Sydney's Apocalypse now: fear and loathing in Bondi jungle

By Peter West - posted Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Young people seem to be having indoor fun a lot more lately. And outdoors too, if my eyes are not deceived, on the beaches and in the parks. Learned academics are talking of a "baby bounce in the inner city".

We heard recently that Sydney's schools are bursting at the seams and headed for unheralded expansion.

Articles talk about the State schools, but there are also noises in the press about the expansion of private schools, and the consequences for residents. There have been angry, agitated arguments about the need for a new State high school, where it will be, and who pays for the land.

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Catholic schools, too, are expanding in a wide range of locations.

Around almost any school around 3pm on a school day there are masses of cars, often bulky four wheel drives which are apparently necessary for parents in their desire to prevent children from walking unsupervised. I can think of three large high schools within two kilometres of my house which have bad traffic jams at school opening and closing times.

This is a problem experienced also in Brisbane and I'd expect, Melbourne.

The high cost of child care is only one reason why people are so keen to get their children into school at age five or earlier. Meantime, there are many different ages for school starting. When we lived in Canada my youngest started school at age 6. And went to school only from 9 till 12. But economic pressures - increasing food costs, the rocketing cost of housing, gas and electricity, and the ever-pestilent GST - means young parents need to get both partners working and children taken care of as fast and as cheaply as possible. We have an explosion of more and more young kids in the eastern suburbs, and probably in the whole central part of the city from La Perouse to Strathfield and Manly.

Sydney's high house prices are well known. There are routine stories in the press before and after the weekend talking of amazing prices, prices which exceeded expectations. You might almost imagine that these stories were written by real estate agents eager to find more people wanting to sell their houses.

We are becoming like rats shoved into a diminishing and noisier cage. One amusing development was a story in the Herald detailing the increasing noise from planes over the eastern suburbs. Noise "targets" were announced by the regulators of air space. But the targets have never been met. The usual spokesman was found to say (no doubt with a sincere smile) that the airport "worked closely with communities to mitigate noise". People in some suburbs said that they could not talk on the phone while planes thundered overhead.

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Alas, within a week someone was found to write a story denying all this, saying that the noise was nothing more than a faint hum.

We must have imagined that whining, grinding noise that can come overhead every 8 or 9 minutes. The racket of helicopters thrumming overhead at 8am last Sunday was not anyone's fault except someone's need to watch a marathon, though I thought briefly we were already in a re-run of the movie "Apocalypse Now!"

More and more developments are proposed on what was public land, or semi-public. An example is the strangely-named Twin Towers proposed to be erected on Waverley Bowling Club.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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