A Response to Tim Dick’s Clickbait – Is Sydney Full Of It or Is It A City Of Tall Poppies?

Apparently Sydney is full of snobs, according to Tim Dick’s article in the SMH last Sunday, ‘Sydney, You’re So Full Of It!” Dick was attempting to draw such a generalist broad brush conclusion on the back of a pub in Paddington banning hi vis work gear. Fancy that. An inner city establishment in a large city has a snobby dress code.

We can’t really seem to win. When New York pubs have dress standards, they are edgy and sophisticated. When Sydney does it, its snobby. When it suits the masses, Melbournians in particular describe Sydney as a veritable backwater, with barely a club, pub or fine dining establishment worth visiting – and yet apparently when one pub in the swankiest part of town introduces a dress code, the entire city is full of snobs. Of course, a few years back during the Cronulla riots, we were a city of racist bogans. Haven’t we come a long way since then!

READ ABOUT: TIM DICK’S ARTICLE

I’m the first person to avoid a pub with a dress code but Dick’s article smacks of inter city rivalry; he may as well have simply printed “The MCG is way better than the SCG!” or “Brisbane beaches are heaps better than Sydney’s!” He supports his thesis by citing evidence from Auburn Deputy Mayor Salim Mehajer’s wedding. Mehajer, however, is also a property developer, and a very successful one at that. It’s not a surprise that he’d have a lavish wedding, and its most definitely not unique to Sydney for a wealthy developer to go all out for a special occasion. In fact one could argue quite the opposite of snobbery; here in Sydney the affair made front page news because of its scale. It appears grandeur is not something the Sydney masses as entirely comfortable with.

I don’t know Dick’s background but the article reads as if it was written by someone that has never actually lived in Sydney. It overlooks many of the city’s local mores, nuances and history.

He says “The Governor’s mansion was built in the east and the convicts headed west.” I suppose he hasn’t done the primary school trip out to Government House in Parramatta – in Sydney’s West, right near where I grew up. This is where Govenor Macquarie and his wife preferred to spend their time during his Govenorship between 1810 and 1821. Macquarie was in fact famed for inviting emancipists to tea which was much frowned upon by English aristocrats of the era. And nowadays the ‘West’ as Dick calls it is a huge and vibrant part of Sydney’s urban culture. Like the city itself, it’s a diverse beast. While it is my opinion that one dimensional characterisations such as those in Dick’s article are over simplifications of something far more complex than ‘East’ vs ‘West’, if he did have a point it would be that a small part of Sydney’s Inner West is snobby. But then, I guess similar statements can be made of every big city.

READ ABOUT: SNOBSVILLE, STRAIGHT NORTH OF THE BRIDGE

Dick also draws inferences from the beaches, and the uproar over council amalgamations and the new train line proposed for Manly. Trust me, most of us are jumping up and down with excitement about both of these developments. Though there are a small number of complainants from the ‘Insular Peninsular’ (because Sydney Siders are good at laughing at themselves, even those of us from the beaches) the argument has nothing to do with class or snobbery. Many opponents of the council amalgamations are councillors themselves because, let’s face it, many of them will be out of a job. The rest of the opposition comes from those that have bought the politics of said councillors, and have been conditioned to believing that the plan will somehow mean less services. To be honest, I’m not surprised no one wants to amalgamate with Warringah. The council has been dismissed several times in recent years under allegations of corruption.

As for the train line, I would guess the outrage, (small as though it has been), has more to do with tribal surf culture than anything else. It wouldn’t matter if the train was bringing visitors from the East or the West; they don’t call themselves insular for nothing. It’s a local joke that people from the beaches don’t like to travel off the coast, and they don’t like to mix with us foreign folk north of Mona Vale and west of Forestville. Traditionally the beaches have been working class suburbs, and its only in recent years that property prices have changed the demographic make up of the area somewhat. But the Peninsular has always been insular, and most residents of the beaches will attest to that.

And then we come to the biggest furphy of all – the education system, and in particular the schools on the North Shore. Let me pause for a moment to remind readers that I write Snobsville – a serial about people living very snobby lives on the North Shore. Straight North Of the Bridge. Its full of ‘wankery’ as Dick calls it – and complete satire. I get the feeling that Dick, however, didn’t get the joke.

READ ABOUT: THE LATEST SNOBSVILLE EPISODE

He quotes Christina Ho’s recent research which found that a significant portion of students with Asian backgrounds are attending selective schools. As many as 75-95% of students from selective schools have Asian backgrounds and many (if not most) attend coaching in order to achieve entry. Fellow SMH journalist Anna Broinowski called it ‘tiger parenting.’ What Dick failed to disclose is that this is a choice of many parents from an Asian background to proactively work to get their children into selective schools, and not the snobbery of private schools in choosing not to admit students of a non-white background. And to be honest, if its anything other than that, it’s not snobbery. It’s just plain racism.

The truth is Sydney is huge – both geographically and ideologically  – and has as many different sub-cultures as there are poorly planned one way streets in the CBD, (and there are many). This heterogeneity is a strength, not a weakness. It’s part of what makes Sydney unique. And though I personally think that a city descended from migrants and convicts, (I’m equal parts of both), doesn’t need it’s pubs to have dress codes, there are just as many people that want to class up the joint with swanky bars and posh nightlife. But then I have worn ugg boots about a hundred and fifty times more than I have worn heels this year.

It’s not possible to draw a conclusion about a city of nearly 5 million people from the action of one pub in one tiny part of the city. Take it from someone that writes a satirical serial about snobbery. Broad brush statements like ‘Sydney is full of snobs’ mischaracterise all of us and ignore the intricacies of what a city has to offer.

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2 thoughts on “A Response to Tim Dick’s Clickbait – Is Sydney Full Of It or Is It A City Of Tall Poppies?

  1. As a relatively recent immigrant, I’m of two minds about this. I read the original article and do find the argument fairly reductive (particularly about the restaurant banning high-vis … shock, awe … a dress code in a restaurant?!? Boring.). But, I do have to admit that when moving here, I did find some Sydneysiders (BROAD generalisation ahead) to be a a bit concerned with appearances and engaged with their own cliques. It didn’t always feel like the most welcoming place to someone without the advantage of a group of girlfriends I’ve had since school – and this is one of the most common complaints I hear from other expats. I remember many of the young people I worked with at my first job comparing which private school they’d gone to, and sharing stories of people they knew who would only associate with private school grads. As an American, where non-religious private schooling is pretty rare, that was baffling to me.
    That said, my first landing point in Sydney was 9 months in Elizabeth Bay, and I couldn’t high tail it out of there fast enough. On the North Shore (gasp – “snobsville!”) I found people to be more relaxed and we’ve found our niche of down-to-earth and welcoming people.
    I think one HUGE part of Sydney’s culture that the article doesn’t take into account is how much of Sydney’s population is immigrant, thus making it impossible to apply a reductive broad cloak of generalization over the city’s presumed “culture.” That snobby attitude may (and I’d argue *does*) exist in a segment of the citizenry, but he’s omitted a such a massive part of the population that his points can’t be taken too seriously.

    1. I love this comment! I would certainly agree that there are parts of Sydney that can be appearance focussed. But I suppose you get that in a lot of big cities too. The thing that sort of stuck out to me is that Sydney is always kind of referred to as Melbourne’s daggier cousins, so reading this article it seems that Sydney-siders really can’t win. And the comment about the high levels of immigration in Sydney is an excellent point. But I do agree that we have this weird system where most private schools have a religious doctrine of some kind, and that the private school network can be completely overwhelming.

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