It is no secret I live in Sydney – or that I love living here. We’re temporarily up North at the moment, but my real ‘hood’ is Newtown, the crazy artistic, socialist neighbourhood that is slowly gentrifying as the uni students begin to earn better salaries. I love the characters I’ve come to know in these ten years. First is the tattoo-ed man who walks his long haired guinea-pig around on a leash. Then there is the coalition of indigenous digeridoo players who pool their earnings at the end of each day to hit the Newtown local, sharing yarns over schooners until they decide to stagger back to sleep on the street and start the day again. There are an endless sea of pierced faces and shaggy-dogs, and tired eyes searching for a resting place. In amongst it all Newtown fits into the wider picture of Sydney, serving its function as the Thai eatery capital and a transitional artery north into the CBD.
The city is organised around the Harbour. It’s fantastic for boating but somewhat impractical for driving – to travel North, you must use the magnificent Harbour Bridge (or Tunnel but after watching the movie “Daylight” we don’t). One of the most pleasurable experiences of my life is traveling back into the city via the Freeway. At the very last corner, the entire Sydney Harbour opens up… until you are facing “The Bridge”. The Freeway acts as an enormous amphitheatre, with a glistening watery stage – deep blue in the daytime with white yachts dotting the waters and bobbing up and down, and a sultry black in the evening reflecting the visible starlight.
In the centre of this delicious landscape is a little island. It is to the island that my eyes usually go, and on to thoughts of the layers of society below the contemporary sky-scrapers of North Sydney. Pinchgut is an island fort, correctly named Fort Dennison. It is now an extremely expensive wedding venue. However, the legend is that convicts were placed in the centre of the harbour in stocks, with bread and water rations and publicly humiliated for their indiscretions… I know I’m a little “unique”, but I often think about Sydney as a convict city, and imagine red-coated Englishmen on their horses up and down Bennelong Point – and an unfortunate convict character tied out at Pinchgut. Every eye in the vincinity would have seen even from a great distance that the islands’ stocks were occupied. Indigenous Australians were tied to Pinchgut, as were Irish insurgents., and starving English peasants, sentenced to transport to Australia for petty crimes to evade a public hanging, were tied up in the Pinchgut stocks. And Pinchgut even became a symbol for the Australian psyche, our deep suspicion of authority ready to emerge at any point…
It makes me think of the ways that we ‘discipline’ people to create social cohesion. Let me explain: tcities are a product of all the people who are in them – the characters, the individuals, their people. Everyone wants to live in a society which works according to their own ideals – but some are more free than others to outwork these ideals. We all have desires for our city. Some desire to build bigger and bigger towers, and propel their business to greater and more prosperous heights. Some desire a home for their families to actually talk over the dinner table. Some have lofty hopes, some have hidden unwhispered dreams… Back in the late 1700s, the redcoats had clear hopes of maintaining property laws, ensuring their rum stash was not pillaged, and geting back to their families in England with a lump sum they could retire on.
If we transgress these hopes… or the rules of our society… then what?? …. Pinchgut?
As a leader, I think about this constantly. May GRACE be the word written over every action, every thought every interaction as we together struggle with the weights that so easily entangle us.
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”.