It was an innocent kind of childhood, growing up in the city of Campbelltown in Sydney’s South West. As kids, we spent our afternoons racing around our cul-de-sac, dumping rusted bicycles on the grass to run in for pikelets and jam with the neighbours. I usually had grass stains on my knees from playing touch footy in the park across the road. That was before the older boys set up camp and tried to cut a deal. They wanted me to swap my new bicycle for a block of sandstone they had, unbeknownst to them, stolen from my very yard.
I had my first date at Dumeresq Street Cinema when I was 12. I had one boyfriend sitting to the left and one to the right. We watched iRobot for $5 and one of them tried to put his arm around me. I remember spending the duration of the film with my elbows firmly planted on my knees, choc top in hand, terrified of letting his arm touch the back of my neck. I wore pink butterfly earrings Mum helped me pick out from Diva. There are bigger cinemas in town nowadays. Their movies cost $22 a ticket and you can pay more to have white wine delivered in recliner chairs. If we go to Dumeresq Street, it’s only to watch the “Ballard’s Meat, bloody good meat” commercial. It’s become a legacy.
Down the road, a ceramic pig sits tall and proud on the corner of Campbelltown’s busiest intersection. Pig belongs to Tim’s Garden Centre, and he’s been the social commentator of the town for 10 years. The cars milling at the lights always know to look out for Pig’s gossip. He gets the news out quicker than the Macarthur Chronicle, with or without the appropriate use of apostrophes.
Sometimes Pig gets “pig-napped”, but the sign assures us that he’s probably off on an adventure. I’m sure Tim Pickles has been through many ceramic pigs.
When I was a teenager, the bridge that connected Macarthur Square to the Macarthur train station was always populated by emos with studded belts and fingerless gloves. They were likely listening to My Chemical Romance and Escape the Fate through tangled headphones, fiddling with their facial piercings and shuffling their black fringes over their faces. Nobody knows where the emos are now. Probably writing poetry on Tumblr.
On the first day of my new high school, after I’d left the previous due to bullying, someone in my class wrote their name on the table with an aerosol can and lit it on fire. The teachers spent more time disciplining than teaching the curriculum but that was okay. Some of them let us go to McDonald’s during our lunch break, which inevitably led us to Appin Bakery for a pie and down Mount Ousley to perve at the tradies at clock off.
When Todd was killed out the front of a party when we were 16 that shook things up. People kept saying the conflict was due to graffiti or girls or something. Either way, the community was torn.
Graduating Year 12 was difficult because there were people from both sides of the conflict in the room. They were tough looking characters with tattoos and a kind of unwavering loyalty that was to be admired. Not everyone got an applause when they were handed their graduating certificate.
As of 2016, only 47% of Campbelltown’s population over the age of 15 had completed Year 12.
As we hit puberty, the never-ending and comfortingly dark street beside Mount Carmel High School became the place to explore a lover’s body. That was at least until a police car pulled up and shone a light in the steamy car window, the light bouncing off pale bottoms and the soft skin on the inner thighs. You’d give the officer an ‘it’s consensual’ nod before baring your tits and waving them goodbye.
‘The Raby Walker’, the butt of too many jokes, sparked many conversations on Facebook about mental illness and respect. Whenever you’d drive to Minto railway station you’d be sure to see him in his stride. Sometimes people took photos of him and the Raby Walker Facebook Page would post it. The Raby Walker is still around; Mum’s called the hospital a few times over the years because he keeps running out into traffic.
On the rare occasion I’d stay out late in Kings Cross (before the lock out laws set fire to the industry), I’d catch the night rider home. The trains stopped running at midnight. The bus was always peaceful, with drunk teenagers dozing in the laps of their friends or lying across the seats, the suburban lights licking at the windows in the blur that comes with a big night. Sometimes we’d forget that the taxis wouldn’t pick us up from Minto station because it was “too unsafe” and we’d find ourselves ringing our folks, praying for a lift and a patient, sleepy voice on the receiving end.
There are a lot of places to eat in Campbelltown. Hooters is best for wings. If it’s your birthday, they’ll make you spell your name with your arse while you’re standing on a chair. They always say “Welcome to Hooters” when you walk in. Rashays is where you go if you want to leaf through a menu the length of a Bible and drink soft drinks from 2L glasses. If you’ve got a sweet ride with good subs and a spoiler, it’s more about the carpark. McDonald’s Woodbine on a Thursday night is the place to be, if you’re interested.
I remember the first time I went to a social occasion at a friend’s house in a wealthier part of Sydney. I cried into my mum’s shoulder the morning of, ashamed of my second-hand wardrobe and my lack of knowledge about makeup and fashion designers. She took me shopping and we bought a whole outfit – a conservative red dress from Dotti with a little black belt, small black heels and matching earrings. She lent me her black handbag with the pearl clasp. The first question I was asked by a girl at the party was “So, how many of your friends are pregnant?”. We were both burdened by ignorance.
There used to be a suburb called Claymore in Campbelltown. They’ve knocked most of the housing commission down now, rebuilding and changing the name so that new buyers can’t research the history of the place. It was full of houses with boarded up windows and sheets for curtains, front yards littered with glass bottles and ripped furniture, flag poles with the Aussie flag flying tall and proud.
In 2009, the Rosemeadow Riots left six men with gunshot and stab wounds and a mother of 15 children alongside six other families being served with eviction notices. I remember catching the bus down to Wollongong University years later and hearing stories from those who had experienced it. I heard a lady talk about hiding under a bed with her kid while she watched people waltz through her place with a bat. One of my best friends lived there. Her little brother once asked if my family was poor because we didn’t drink Coke at the dinner table.
I once confided in a friend that my family was struggling financially. He told me my parents were selfish, that they could have tried harder to earn more money so that I wouldn’t miss out on school excursions and international travel. His father was in gaol for financial fraud. I told him a kiss goodnight from my dad and a home cooked meal from Mum every night was all I could ever want. I didn’t feel like I was missing a thing. Dad let go of his business when I was born to work in a factory from 9-3 so he could be there for breakfast and dinner, to be there to ask about what I learnt that day and what my friends’ names were. Mum went to university when she was 40 because she got a scholarship and ended up the Dean’s Scholar. Even when she was studying and working, she managed to cook my sister and I cookies and cupcakes for school. No school excursion could have taught me about sacrifice and hard work in the same way.
Growing up, I felt pride watching the teen mums on my social feeds blossoming into kind and smiling parents. Watching their children grow as we did. Celebrating their first steps on Facebook as we celebrated our first jobs or our first cars. We knew that the vapid stereotypes didn’t do the hard work and sacrifice of being a teen parent justice.
Now, I’m watching friends make something of themselves: being the first in their family to go to uni, scoring record deals in the Aussie hip hop scene, buying a house and land package, starting plumbing businesses. Others I can see falling between the cracks, slipping into the cycle of the system.
For those of us who grew up here, Campbelltown was so much more than its stereotype: kids with rat tails and flanno-wearing, mullet-donning dads; muffin tops and tights-as-pants and ugg boots covering foot tattoos; re-growth and fake nails and neck tattoos; Southern Cross vinyl stickers on the back of Commodores and on the calves of young men. It was also home to the house that was full of the love and sacrifice of two parents who showed me a world that I could contribute to.
It’s winter in Campbelltown at the moment. Pig’s wearing his flanno and talking about the weather. It’s nice to be home.