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New South Wales Sydney



© Warren Fahey


Between 2003-2005 Warren Fahey surveyed the folklore associated with his home city of Sydney. He relates the background of the project, survey fields, procedures, outcomes and some observations on collecting in Australia including some examples of Sydney folklore.

Sydney 1829

Sydney 1829

Sydney, Australia’s largest and oldest city is recognised as brash, bold and beautiful. It was, of course, our first European settlement and for that reason carries a certain amount of colonial baggage reinforcing older myths, superstitions, custom etc. Folklore thrives in every city and Sydney is no exception. To set the scene for this article I will draw upon some examples of Sydney folklore and explain my rationale in embarking on such a program.

Sydney’s residents are referred to as Sydneysiders and, by rural people, as city slickers. Those with a country property are often called Pitt Street Farmers. The city’s urban sprawl residents, some 4.4 million (1), are generically described, depending on their turf, as Westies (anyone west of Concord); Hillites (anyone from the Hills district (Baulkham Hills, Beecroft, Pennant Hills etc), and if you’re anywhere on the northern peninsular (Newport, Mona Vale, Avalon, Palm Beach etc, you’re living on the ‘insular peninsula’. If you live anywhere near Sutherland you come from the Shire, and anyone north of the Harbour Bridge lives in the ‘barbecue belt’ or on the North Snore – another demeaning reference to the gentrification of the northern suburbs.

Some suburbs are also singled out – Paddington is ‘trendy’, Balmain ‘arty’, Darlinghurst ‘young’ and Mosman, as a further insult to suburban gentrification, is known as ‘God’s waiting Room’. Sydney’s ethnicity is reflected by the names given to various suburbs: Leichhardt is Little Italy as is Stanley Street, Darlinghurst; the Spanish Quarter consists of just two streets in the city; Chinatown, representing the oldest ethnic group, spans a whole network of streets; Double Pay (Double Bay), Bondi Junkland (Bondi Junction), Nose Bay (Rose Bay) and Belleijew Hill (Bellevue Hill) reflect the east’s high-priced shopping areas and the latter two adding a racial slur related to the high concentration of Jewish life.. The high percentage of Chinese residents and restaurants in Chatswood results in the leafy suburb becoming Chatswoo or Chatswong and, across the city to the west, we find Cabramatta as CabraNam or Vietnamatta, reflecting that suburb’s large Vietnamese population.

Of course, ethnic ghettos are not new to Sydney. Newtown was once considered ‘Little Greece’ and Paddington was Little Portugal. Suburbs with high gay and lesbian populations also cop nicknames with Oxford Street known as the Golden Mile or Pink Highway, Elizabeth Bay is Betty Bay, venerable Potts Point becomes Poof’s Point, Surry Hills is Slurry Hills and one high-rise block, situated in Paddington’s so-called Vaseline Valley, is known as The Hanging Gardens of Fabulon, because of the abundance of washing hanging on the balconies. Many suburbs are abbreviated so Woolloomooloo becomes simply The Loo, La Perouse Larpy, Kings Cross the Cross, Darlinghurst becomes Darlo or, as an infamous piece of graffiti stated, DarlingItHurts, and Parramatta becomes Parra.

Oddly enough, residents of the eastern suburbs have not been named apart from having a reputation as ‘snobs’ and coming from the East, as if it were a mysterious Asian port. Those of the east freely use the pejoratives yobbos, ferals and bogans to describe their neighbours, especially those living in the outer suburbs.

Sydney’s landmarks also have colloquial nicknames: the Sydney Harbour Bridge is The Hanger, the Opera House is known simply as the house, Bondi Beach is either Kiwiland (because of its large New Zealand population) or Bondage, Bondi, of course, is …far from Manly. The next beach from Bondi is Tamarama however it is more likely to be referred to as Glamorama because of the so-called ‘beautiful people‘ who swim there.

Cornstalk growing in the colony. London Punch 1850

Cornstalk growing in the colony. London Punch 1850

The Cornstalks (that’s what colonial New South Welshmen were called) referred to Sydney as the ‘city of three G’s’- girls, glass and grog! Many would say Kings ‘Bloody’ Cross still represents those three G’s, adding a fourth G for grass (marihuana) or, if one were to believe Underbelly, G for ‘glassings’. Jokes and stories about Kings Cross usually receive wide circulation because the place is still mysterious and edgy. A typical joke reference is Kings Cross Tennis’– when you walk down the street it’s “Fifty, love. Forty, love. Sixty, love”

Sydney became known as the Emerald City after the playwright, David Williamson, used the term for his 1987 play of the same name. Mind you, considering L. Frank Baum invented the Emerald City in 1900 as the fictional capital of the Land of Oz, it was quiet a brilliant reference. In the words of the poet: “Where people go expecting their dreams to be fulfilled, only to end up with superficial substitutes and broken dreams” (Oh, so Sydney!). Some suggest the reference is linked to Sydney having a ‘jewel of a harbour’. This would also explain why Sydney is often referred to as ‘the harbour city’ (despite the fact Australia has numerous ‘harbour cities’). The most prevalent nickname for Sydney came from early rhyming slang: “I’m going down to steak ‘n’ kidney”.

Colloquial expressions are popular – The Hungry Mile (1930’s dole queues stretched down Hickson Road), Some references are very old like Bay of Biscay (an old bullocky reference to the pond area corner Parramatta Road, near Sydney University, where drays would often get bogged in mud), No go zone (from the evening bell that warned residents not to go towards Paddington’s barracks at night) and Poverty Point (probably 1930s reference to the corner of Hyde Park near Park Street).

Insults are popular too: He wouldn’t know if it’s Pitt Street or Christmas, He’s a Woolloomooloo Yank (an Australian who acts like an American), She’s so ugly the Bondi tide wouldn’t take her out, He’s a dial like Luna Park, He’s up King Street (ie broke – King Street is near the Law Courts) and He’s a Hyde Park Bushman (ie knows nothing about the bush), More front that Mark Foys (or Anthony Hordern). Kings Cross is often described as having more nuts than the Harbour Bridge. Sydneysiders go up to the Cross and walk down Douche Can Alley (Darlinghurst Road).

From a folklore perspective it is obviously interesting as to why we need to create these descriptive names for our cities, suburbs, landmarks and inhabitants. Considering our love for diminutives like barbie for barbecue,Woolies for Woolworth’s and the abbreviation of most first and last names where cricketer Shane Warne becomes Warnie or ABC Radio presenter Ian MacNamara becomes Macca, I guess it is not really all that surprising. Even I cop Wazza or Wocka! There is also a thought that by giving suburbs etc an affectionate colloquial name is to humanise them, make them more approachable.