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HomemitwocentsSuperficiality or Substance

Superficiality or Substance

Too often we judge a person by the city they hail from or a city by the attractions it promotes. Yet when you look beneath the surface, there’s often plenty of substance to appreciate, writes Geoff Lawson.

Its official, Melbourne has vaulted long-time favourite Vancouver to become the world’s most liveable city, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Survey. But try telling that to residents of Sydney, which ranked a pathetic sixth place in the survey released late last year.

Geographic snobbery exists the world over. Travellers – whether overseas, interstate or in adjoining suburbs – are usually greeted by locals with the query “where do you come from?” Yet as we race into an increasingly global village, the answer is often far from obvious. Physical appearances and accents no longer provide a clue we can count on.

Aliens with West Australian accents can get the same question when entering the ‘eastern states’ (as anywhere east of Ceduna is referred to by the Sandgropers).

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it enjoy the view

When interrogated, I always answer: “I live in Sydney but I come from Wagga Wagga”. That may be because I don’t want strangers to think that I am actually a Sydneysider, or perhaps Wagga Wagga has a much more intriguing ring to it… either way, it’s a conversation prolonger. My hometown name came from Wiradjuri tribe language meaning, “Place of many crows” – and believe me, there is no shortage of the dark carrion near the banks of the murky Murrumbidgee.

Sydney vs Melbourne

I’ve been a resident of Sydney for over 30 years (since I moved up from the bush to study at University of New South Wales) but I’ve never bought into the Sydney versus Melbourne rivalry/slanging match contest, a-la. ‘bleak city’ vs ‘emerald city’, ‘four seasons in a day’ vs ‘harbour city’, ‘Aussie Rules’ vs ‘Rugby league’. Speaking of which, south of the border they call all foreign football codes ‘rugby’ – one would hope there is a growing awareness that Rugby Union and Rugby League are different codes since Melbourne has professional franchises in both and the rugby league franchise has been extraordinarily successful… but I digress. The ‘surf scene’ vs ‘latte scene’, ‘sand belt golf courses’ versus ‘coastal links’ – now that’s a win/win!!

The rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne has always been there, long before Federation, when both cities vied for the top job then settled their differences by turning the rural backwater of Canberra into the nation’s capital.

Tim Freedman has written some brilliant lyrics but the most poignant could be written about his hometown of Sydney – “You gotta love this city for its body but not its mind”. Sporty, funny, arty, boozy, indolent, 12 months of outdoor climate, full of itself – are some of the more common descriptors for this heady city, although I never hear residents of Mt Druitt, Blacktown or Campbelltown painting their suburbs as such.

Melbourne spruiks its culture, theatre, boating on the Yarra and windblown Port Philip Bay. I don’t dispute either location marketing its epaulettes. Both towns are worth a visit, it would be a waste of real estate if they were the same.

That said, I have to admit that when I used to visit Melbourne in the late 70’s to play cricket I found it very much cut from the ‘bleak’ cloth (but incredibly more alive than Brisbane or Perth at that time). No cafes or restaurants open on Sundays (fairly common all over Australia back then) and pubs that opened 12-2pm and then 4-6pm – not very welcoming if you happened to play cricket until 6pm each day! It’s interesting to see that in the great cycle of life there are strong moves to return to those licensing hours!

Johannesburg vs Cape Town

The last time someone asked the whereabouts question was when I was in South Africa back in December. I was way down south on the west coast in
Cape Town and then in Johannesburg, the country’s financial capital. Like Sydney and Melbourne these two behemoths aren’t very fond of each other. Much like the rivalry in terra australis the argument revolves around superficiality versus substance.

Sydney has the harbour and Cape Town its imposing, impressive Table Mountain, but neither Melbourne or Johannesburg can boast such natural wonders. It’s something that generates enormous jealousy from competing cities. Melbournians accuse Sydneysiders of avoiding work in favour of long afternoons on the harbour.

Jo’burgers reckon Capetonians are lazy, easily distracted because they are always admiring the view – you cannot AVOID the view!!!

Even when you’re sitting to watch the cricket at Newlands stadium, your eyes cannot help but drift constantly to the backdrop. To state that it dominates the city scape in western province is like saying Bradman could bat a bit.

It’s one to put on your bucket list: sundown on Table Mountain watching the sun set over the Indian and Atlantic oceans having a beer and a chunk
of biltong on the warm rocks.

Jo’burg was built around mountainous, featureless slagheaps of the gold mines, which produced the Krugerrands. Together with De Beers diamonds, the Krugerrands drove the South African economy. A sprawling city with no memorable geography, Jo’burg is all about industry and indeed industrious people. The multinationals have their headquarters there, not down south. The Johannesburg airport is the big one, the hub where most international flights arrive and World Cup soccer finals were held.

Soweto (a shortening of South West Township) is the megalopolis that once fringed Jo’burg and now has over three million inhabitants itself. Nelson Mandela grew up there and the inhumanity of apartheid was fought from its shanties and dusty streets. He went on to spend 18 hard years on the prison of Robben Island admiring the view of Cape Town. More British or European than African, in contrast to the industrious Jo’burg, that city is often referred to as ‘colonial’ and one inhabited by lazy locals.

“You can’t get a decent job or promoted in your career in Cape Town,” an African-lifer from Gauteng Province (formerly The Transvaal) once informed me in a strident Afrikaans bark.

There’s Plenty to Love

Beauty versus pragmatism, Johannesburg versus Cape Town, Sydney versus Melbourne?

It reminds me of another Tim Freedman line…

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it enjoy the view.”

The view of Sydney Harbour and Table Mountain may be genuine wonders of the natural world, but that’s not to say that Melbourne and Johannesburg have anything less to offer – as the Economist Intelligence Unit has clearly pointed out.

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – it’s the substance of the city – that counts. So enjoy a latte in Lygon Street, set sail on Sydney harbour, admire the mountain in Capetown or take in a Test match at Jo-burg’s Wanderers… because if you look hard enough, there’s plenty to love
in every city within our modern day global village.

Geoff Lawson OAM is a qualified optometrist and an ambassador for Optometry Giving Sight. He is a former Australian cricketer and the former coach of the Pakistan cricket team. In 1990 he received an OAM for services to cricket and in 2002 was given the Australian Sports Medal.