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Hornsby Police Youth Club

December 5, 2010

I started keeping a diary in the late 1990s. Anything I write that’s based on memory from this time I can go back and check in the relevant journal. As it has been a habit I have kept for so long, I have developed various rules for the books – I only write in black pen, and the diary is not for notes, it is for memories only. So they have a regular appearance, neat lines of black handwritten text.

When I am writing about something that happened before I started keeping my diary, however, it is a different experience. I have a good memory, but it can be hard to trust it when there is nothing to check it against. Telling a story from my past before the diaries can be difficult, like describing a dream, as each detail I write seems to side step the truth. It’s fun, though, to drag something out of my memory and write about it.

I wrote the following story for All the Best, a story show about Sydney that broadcasts every Saturday morning on Fbi. The show’s theme was North, the first of four shows about the compass points. If there’s any compass point I know, it’s north. I lived there until I was eighteen. After I moved to the inner west, I found that people like to tease me because I grew up on the north shore, so I stopped saying where I was from and evaded the question, or lied, when asked. Then one day I felt confident enough to stand up for myself – everyone has to grow up somewhere. Despite the north shore’s reputation as being conservative, somewhat dull – rich and boring – and leafy (a favourite media adjective, which seems to imply something about leisure and wealth, or maybe concealment), there were plenty of things I loved about living there. I loved and hated it in equal measure, but doesn’t everyone feel that way about the place they grew up?

I decided to make a story about going to all ages shows at the Hornsby Police Youth Club. My early teenage years were all about yearning. I felt so alone most of the time, so to find that there were people like me was a great relief. I have no relics from this time, however. No photographs, nothing I wrote at the time, not even the clothes I wore back then. All of it is gone and the only thing that I still have is myself – my body and my memories, as murky and biased as they may be.

It’s heartening to think that for all my anxiety about recording the details of my life – writing so much down, feeling regret for photographs not taken- that it isn’t necessary to do this at all. If it’s important enough, I’ll remember it anyway.

Hornsby Police Youth Club

It was easy to be different as a teenager in the early 1990s, especially if you lived on the North Shore. But even the most standard forms of subcultural rebellion – being a punk or being a goth – could be a lonely existence.

Not particularly convinced by the normal world of hockey games, shopping trips to Chatswood Westfield, or pizza and video nights with the girls which whom I suffered year nine with, I was more interested in buying black clothes from op shops and listening to community radio shows that played obscure, angry or just unusual music.

On Saturday mornings I’d escort my sister to ballet lessons in the Masonic hall in Lindfield. Once she was safely inside the hall, performing the slow exercises to plodding piano, I slipped out the door and went to the newsagent to buy the NME. I returned to sit among the Country Road kit bags, and the ballet girls’ discarded shoes, and read about bands like Huggy Bear, Half Man Half Biscuit or Sheep on Drugs, and tried to imagine what they sounded like.

When I lay in bed at night I imagined the exciting life that other people were leading, elsewhere in the city. They were playing in bands and having fantastic parties while I was listening to the late night suburban soundtrack of faraway trains, and dogs barking. On Friday and Saturday nights I stayed up watching Rage with the sound down low, so I wouldn’t be found out and told to go back to bed.

I didn’t know how I could join this other world, it seemed inaccessible to a suburban girl like me, no matter how much eyeliner I used or how many tie dyed petticoats I wore.

In the world before the internet, finding out about things you were interested in was much more difficult. I kept vigilant, waiting for an invitation to join this other world.

One day, being driven along Beecroft Road by my mother – perhaps we’d taken the dog to the vet, or my sister to a piano lesson – I spied two goth boys walking through the park. Both had thick thatches of dyed black hair and I followed their skinny black figures with my eyes until the car turned a corner. I wished so fervently I could have jumped out and followed them.

Then, somehow, I came across a hand drawn ad for an all ages show at the Hornsby Police Youth Club. I hadn’t heard of any of the bands, but the flyer had the right look, and I told some half-truths to be allowed out for the evening. I wore my favourite band t-shirt of the moment – The Meanies – and the doc martens boots I had tried very hard to wear in as quickly as possible.

I didn’t know what I was going to find there. The Hornsby Police Youth Club was on the street that runs alongside the train line, near the bowling alley where I’d spent numerous less promising evenings. I had recruited my friend Rachael, always a good sport, and blessed with more lenient parents, to come along with me.

As we went down the stairs, to the room where the bands were playing, a sharp, angry guitar chord was like a sudden rainbow. We entered a room that must have had inside it every weird kid from the north shore. The kids with mohawks, the kids wearing the band t-shirts, the kids with nose rings and coloured hair. In front of the stage, which was a small raised area at one end of the room, a group of these characters were slamming into one another in a small but violent moshpit.

After standing watching at the edge of the room for a while, I felt brave and flung myself towards the group of people in the moshpit. I was jabbed by punks’ elbows and shoulders, knocked around like I was a lottery ball. Then my face entered the thick black web of one of the goth boy’s hair and I inhaled the hairspray smell of it. Even though I didn’t get to follow them that day, I had found them nevertheless.

After this night, I went to many shows at the Hornsby Police Youth Club. Sometimes I’d leave to go exploring with punk strangers I was always too shy to properly befriend – the goths were too terrifyingly cool. Or we’d sit on the fire escape under the bowling alley, with the crash of the ball smashing into the pins above us as we talked or smoked cigarettes. One time, the show was in the afternoon, and I had the weird experience of seeing the usual punks jumping on a bouncy castle in the Club’s carpark.

These shows weren’t exactly my salvation, but they did give me hope. Even on the North Shore, there were other people like me.

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