In my first year of uni, I met this guy who really made an impression on me. Initially, there didn’t seem to be anything particularly exceptional about him. To me he seemed to be the typical ‘inner-city living, white boy’. Every day he wore a different coloured Ralph Lauren shirt, with a pair of tight chinos and boat shoes.
I’ll never forget, one day, he turned around and actually spoke to me, which was something that I never expected to happen.
“You’re from the west?” he asked me, his voice dripping with what seemed to be a mix of disbelief and disgust. “Isn’t the west like the hood? It’s filled with immigrants, right? They should all go back to where they came from.”
In that moment, I don’t think I could have been any madder. Tempted to make a comment about his English heritage and how technically he didn’t belong here either, I bit my tongue, reminding myself that I too have convict blood in my veins. Despite having kept my mouth shut, his words stuck with me on my two and a half hour trip home to the western suburbs.
I was born and bred in the west, meaning Western Sydney is all I’ve ever known. So you can imagine my shock when I got to uni and most people had never even heard of any of the suburbs past Parramatta. Not to mention the shocking stereotypes that seemed to come along with being a ‘westie’. I’ve been asked if I know people in gangs (I do), if I’ve ever seen a shooting (I haven’t), and if I can pass along the numbers of drug dealers (no comment on that one).
I don’t want to be that person who goes on and on about how we’re more than the stereotypes placed upon us, but right now, I’m totally going to be that person. It’s true. I mean, sure, I might own a pair or two of Nike TN’s, I probably overuse the word ‘wallah’, I support the Western Sydney Wanderers and, okay, there have been more shootings in my area than the number of fingers I have.
But at the end of the day, that’s not what the west is about. The west is about being different. It’s about belonging to a community no matter where you originally came from. It’s a mutual understanding of struggle and broken English, and it’s the mutual love of charcoal chicken.
To this day, I haven’t forgotten about that guy I met at uni. And so, Ralph Lauren shirt wearing, casual racist of a boy; if you’re reading this, I just want to apologise.
I’m sorry no one has ever showed you what the west is really like. I’m sorry you don’t know the west the way I do; you don’t know its colour, its culture or its life. You don’t understand how the ill-planned street scapes and high rise apartment blocks in the middle of bubbling suburbs all come together, like the veins of one big body. You don’t know a life of high vis vests and long train rides to get anywhere remotely close to the city.
And so if you can see this, and if you remember me, come find me.
Let me take you to the west.
Maybe I can teach you a thing or two.