04 April 2009

Strange strange times.

Living in Australia is sometimes a little like living in the past. We get movies and books a few months later, and a lot of news doesn't quite make it here. Usually, it doesn't feel that long ago; it just feels like maybe 2003 because all the hipsters are listening to the Postal Service here.

But other times, it feels very very strange. The last couple weeks, it's felt more like...say, the 1950's. We've had a spate of violence; a man was bashed to death at the airport during a brawl between rival gangs. Ah, you're thinking, "Nija, gang violence isn't a thing of the past." I know. But... they're motorcycle gangs! Men on motorcycles raging through town and wreaking havoc.

So here's what happened, according to the Sydney Morning Herald: three men were coming back from a "social thing" in Melbourne. One of the three was the president of the Sydney Hells Angels, the other was a member of the gang, and the third was just the president's brother--not a member of any gangs. They were ambushed by members of the Comanchero bike gang, and the brother was killed.

There's a huge racial component to the whole story, and the Sydney Morning Herald, ever the bastion of good journalism is happy to promote that angle, citing an unnamed source "close to the bikie community" saying this:

"The incident bolstered opinion in the bikie community that the Comanchero and Notorious were "rogue groups" that were not viewed as genuine outlaw motorcycle groups. They are out of control. They have a very strong Lebanese presence. They have a very strong leaning towards a much more radical approach."

Of course, the president of Sydney's Hells Angels has also been "...quite parochial in relation to patriotism...very vocal about the things going on in the Middle East, terrorism coming into Australia ... and on following the Australian way."

Wait a minute. Genuine outlaw motorcycle groups? What's an ingenuine outlaw motorcycle group? A strong Lebanese presence--is the source trying to say they're more violent? Thanks SMH! Why bother with an obligation to objective journalism, anyway?

Then just this past Monday, you would not believe it. The whole city fell apart.

There was a shoe factory fire in St. Peters-- they still don't seem to know why this happened. The really odd thing to me is that Sydney still has a lot of industry right in the middle of the city; whereas it seems like most industry is pushed out to the far far suburbs in Atlanta. You have to go to all the way out to Gainesville to see a lot of factories. That's partly why this city sometimes feels so trapped in the past to me.

And, on the very same day--there was a huge power outage that went all the way from the CBD to the Eastern Suburbs, which has rendered more than a third of Sydney's emergency alarms useless.

But then, there was a gas explosion on the 29th floor of a fancy apartment block in Bondi Junction--they think this was a ruptured gas pipe. This is where Sydney feels just like Atlanta; right next to all the ugliness of factories and public housing, you have huge million-dollar condo blocks springing up, a burden on the roads and the waterways. This is where Sydney is absolutely in the present, in 2009, where the past looks nostalgic and I can feel sad for the buildings that have been knocked down to make carparks. It feels incongruous to be able to bicycle in only thirty minutes from the 1950's on one side of the city, to the 2000's on the other. I know Sydney won't always be like this. Eventually, the whole city will have to catch up, because that's what capitalism does. But right now, the city seems almost broken in two, half-paralysed, a stroke victim struggling to be symmetrical.

Some people think the bike gangs were to blame for all the chaos last Monday; some think it was random chance. I think it was the sound of a crumbling city, choking in the grasp of very strange times.

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