As I am sure you are well aware, the overhyped banality – oops thats dramality TV series The Shire premiered on Network 10 tonight. As much as you might want to ignore it, this sort of thing creeps into one’s consciousness as though by osmosis. Its certainly got Australia talking. In the weeks leading up to its glittering debut the show attracted acres of controversy, analysis and debate. Mumabulous loves a good bandwagon, so move over people I’m hopping on this one. Reality TV is low hanging fruit for bloggers but I believe I’m entittled to pluck away at this particular tree. You see readers – Dadabulous and I were both born and bred in the Shire.
I managed to escape 14 years ago by swimming accross the Georges River and buying a shoe box apartment in Chippendale. However like a giant squid the Shire grabs you with its tentacles and pulls you back in. I married another Shire escapee and now nearly all of my extended family are on the dark side of the Taren Point bridge. I never expected to come out swinging in defence of my hometown. The Shire and I have long had a love/hate relationship. What’s more, despite not being one of those who brays annoyingly about “Gods Country”, I’ve copped my fair share of the proverbial brown stuff about my origins. From Puberty Blues through to Sylvania Waters the area has been subject to (mostly good hearted) ridicule but right now Gods Country is struggling under the weight of the excrement being thrown at it. Hobbits and ex hobbits alike should band together to fight this onslaught!
Back to my dark past. My unease with the Shire began in the same place where most people’s neuroses stem from – High School. “Kirrawee Prison Camp” as I called it. I never felt like I quite fitted in. Perversely this has a certain amount of cache for an angsty teenager and I set about making myself a moving target for low level bullying. In the 1980s the beachside suburbs were awash with fluro colours, Billabong labels and baby oil aided sun tans. The sounds of Bon Jovi, Aussie Crawl, INXS and Cold Chisel rang out over the land. Here I was maintaining pale skin with the paranoia of a vampire (which ironically are so hot right now) and demonstrating my intellectual superiority by quoting Morrisey. “I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside” , “Oh Keats and Yates are on your side but you lose because Oscar Wilde is on mine”. ad nauseum. Whilst many of my peers worshipped Andrew Ettinghausen, I thought Robert Smith was God and expressed my religious devotion on my school bag and pencil case*. Oh yes, my posse of “mods” and I received some flak. I felt really “special” but I wasn’t. At Kirrawee High School anyone who didn’t meld with the prevailing beach culture “copped it”. Wogs, gays, headbangers, rappers, westies or conversely anyone a bit posh were shown no mercy.
I left school believing that the Shire was an unaccepting place. Over the years I wrote this off as teenage stupidity – aren’t all High Schools like that? Then the Crounulla riots hit and my misgivings came flooding back. Undoubtedly there is an element of “intolerance” in the Shire but its far from being the entire story. Sadly 11th December 2005 will always be a shameful blot on the Shire’s copy book. Especially since it really was a case of a very loud, drunken minority giving the entire district a bad name. Just as that unpleasant memory starts to fade, this silly TV series and its ridiculous caricatures make Shire folk like blithering idiots (which is better than racist thugs I suppose).
Unfortunately reality doesn’t make for compelling reality TV. The Shire is really just a bastion of middle class respectability. Its much like the Hills District (who also claim Gods Country status) except the Shire has awesome beaches. People choose to live there because of its leafy streets, the beaches, the National Park and the fact that you get far more bang for your property buck than the East and Inner West. Its a place where kids can happily go “free range” whereas there’s no such luxury in many parts of Sydney. As people move south in droves, the face of the Shire is changing. Thirty years ago you’d struggle to get a latte and Len Hongs Chinese Resturant was the pinnancle of its culinary offering. Now it has a thriving cafe and restaurant scene. Similarly the shopping is up there with the rest of Sydney. Miranda Westfield is a mecca. Yes the area has its faults – it is white bread and it is conservative. However it is populated by mostly honest hardworking people just doing their best to get by. Just like the rest of Sydney really.
* If my 14 year old niece needed any further proof that her aunty is a complete dork this must be it. Hi Penny.