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Must See Masculinity City

The burnt out, boarded up buildings that line its desperate main thoroughfare, Hunter Street, would give tourists the impression that they had accidentally stumbled into a war zone. They would be half right. How Lonely Planet came to vote Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, #9 on a global list of ‘must see’ cities for 2011 beats me, but I do love the delicious irony. I mean, surely the edge is the appeal and yet, for real, being genuinely afraid that at any moment you might be pummelled to death for looking too smart, too gay, too cocky, too anything, might be stretching the concept of  ‘adventure tourism’ into incredulity. This is a bleak city, where desperation sits side by side with rage and where generation after generation of working-class males were raised on the expectation of nothing, and got it hand delivered to them, in spades. If ever hegemonic masculinity had a demon child, this is what it would look like, the pure embodiment of masculine ideals even as those ideals drive so many men into the bottle, a fist or over the cliff into the sea…

  1. November 5, 2010 at 6:12 am | #1

    Well, well. When were you in Newcastle last? It is not so bleak a picture. The Rainbow Visions GLBTI Festival launched it’s week of cultural activities this week, for the ninth year in a row, with local council support. Doesn’t sound too anti gay to me.
    I have lived here for the last eight years and find the people here to be fair, honest and hard working and not a city of ‘desperaton’. I think you might have been educated here and it sounds like the city was different then.
    Newcastle has a lot of attractions for young people who read Lonely Planet, they love it here.

    • November 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm | #2

      My ongoing connections to ‘Boom Town’, as I once heard it ironically described, go back at least 40 years and encompass five generations of my family’s history here in Australia. I have observed that since the 1970s, major structural changes in the heavy industry base that had underscored Newcastle’s previous, relative ‘prosperity’, left many of its citizens caught in a harrowing process of what would become inter-generational deprivation. That was, of course, a common scenario for similar cities around the world at that time.

      What distinguishes Newcastle from most of those other cities is that the powers that be at local, State and Federal levels here, ignored the imperative for urgent, social, cultural and economic renewal. They fundamentally let the city die and its citizens, to fend for themselves. That decades after the first shops closed and the first hoardings went up, giving the CBD an eerie wasted look, like Beirut or Belfast at their worst, little has actually changed. Pockets of wealth popping up on the foreshore only heighten the degradation of all that inner-city decay.

      I am not surprised that many people in Newcastle seem so frazzled and shell-shocked, angry and bitter. They have been truly and sorely ripped off. Most especially, I feel for all those young men stuck in the sprawling trailer trash suburbs that ring the city, and down to Lake Macquarie and up to the Hunter Valley. The Australian myth of ‘egalitarianism’ perhaps never looked so exposed as when applied to the drastically diminished life chances that men in these torrid wastelands get. I wish that things could be better…

      Oh, and am glad to hear that fags and dykes are asserting their right ‘to be’ in Boom Town, although your comments remind me of that article written by Steven Tomsen and Kevin Markwell (2009), about the alleged high incidence of homophobic hate that permeates Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras…

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