Wednesday, October 05, 2005

doubting thomas

When I started to become a taxi driver this time, back in December of last year, on my first day at the school Andrew handed me a Sydway, subtitled Greater Sydney & Blue Mountains Street Directory inc. Picton, Helensburgh & North to Hawkesbury River. I love this book. So much so I will not ever leave it in the car, preferring instead to bring it inside every time I park. Actually, while I always take it out on a taxi shift, I don't usually carry it with me in my own car because I mostly know where I'm going and more or less how to get there. What I love about it is that EVERY STREET is in it. It's like the solution to any mystery can be found here ... I'm aware that only urban geographical mysteries can in fact be solved there, but I have quite a lot of those these days, especially now I am consumed by Local History. However ... one geographical mystery that has intrigued me ever since I came to this town will not be solved with reference to Sydway, although there is in it ample evidence to support the claim of ... mystery. The first street I lived in was Thomas Street, Chippendale. Number Nine (say it backwards ... ) I was astonished one day soon after moving in to find in nearby Ultimo another Thomas Street. And then another in adjoining Haymarket. Sydway lists 27 Thomas Streets and that's not counting the Thomas Places, the Thomas Roads, the Thomas Avenues, the Thomas Lanes nor the solitary Thomas Way. And this pattern of repeated use of a few names is re-repeated, not just in the Sydney metropolitan area but throughout Australia. The Goulburns, the Elizabeths, the Victorias, the Wentworths, the Edwards, the Georges, the Jameses, the Darlings, the Philips ... go on and on. And on. And that's just a few English names. But this is perhaps the point: esteemed and loquacious author Thomas Keneally was in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day wittering on about the fact that Sydney is a Georgian city. Though I find Tom's chipmunk avuncularism hard to take (reminiscent of John Howard's chipmunk deceptionism), he's right and I think in that identification a solution to the mystery of the repeating names might lie; not least because they all have a whiff of the stark descriptive realism of Cook's names which, as time has passed, often reveal a strange poetry: think of Inscription Point, on the southern head of Botany Bay. Think of Botany Bay, for that matter. That repetitive use of street names, in Sydney as elsewhere in this almost-fictive land, seems to suggest that individuality has to be sought elsewhere, not in the nominal but in the - what? The emotional? It could just as well be the experiental. The callers of jobs on the old taxi network would say Thomas Street, Paddington in such a way as to suggest the kind of thing that might happen there was qualitively different, to the nth degree, from what might occur in Thomas Street, Ashfield. Except there is no Thomas Street in Paddington. There is in Ashfield, but. My boss, Chinese Bob, lives just off it, in Alt Street. In a cleft that's christened Alt. I might have to give him a call sometime soon.