LAST LOOK

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View - JANE FRASER

CALL me shal­low, call me self­ish, I’ll an­swer to both. But there is some­thing deeply heart­warm­ing in nos­ing around a smart shop­ping cen­tre, the kind of place where you might bump into Imelda Mar­cos shop­ping for shoes, or some­one equally fa­mous for her feet or hair­style.

Syd­ney’s Dou­ble Bay used to be that kind of place and now, sadly, its gone rather to the dogs. I blame the large mul­ti­pur­pose shop­ping mall in an ad­ja­cent sub­urb that has spread its ten­ta­cles across the east­ern sub­urbs of this city. Per­son­ally speak­ing, shop­ping malls — which are prob­a­bly en­croach­ing on a neigh­bour­hood near you — make me break out in an ugly rash that fright­ens even my chil­dren.

Dou­ble Bay used to be the Rodeo Drive of Syd­ney; Syd­ney, as we all know, is sim­i­lar to Los An­ge­les, with­out David Hock­ney and earth­quakes ( touch wood). Both are — were — sub­urbs of re­lent­less re­tail, where most of the women in pur­suit of per­fect hap­pi­ness via a pedi­cure would have to live for an­other 2000 years to ac­quire the non­cha­lance of old money. Fat, in th­ese precincts, was con­sid­ered a crime.

Things went pear- shaped when they closed down the Dou­ble Bay cin­ema, one of the fo­cal points of this shop­pers’ mecca. At the same time they in­stalled park­ing me­ters, which are ugly and in­con­ve­nient and at­tract grim- faced men and women bran­dish­ing ticket- books.

What used to hap­pen on a Satur­day was very much a rit­ual: you’d buy a movie ticket early to avoid be­ing stam­peded by hordes of lo­cal flat- dwellers of a cer­tain age, and then you’d do a lit­tle brows­ing in what used to be the best book­shop in Syd­ney, or in one of the many phar­ma­cies where the shelves were full of unguents and magic med­i­ca­tions and stom­ach- acid soothers, or per­haps in a newsagent to buy the per­fect birth­day card.

Af­ter the flicks you’d eat In­dian or — if you were feel­ing par­tic­u­larly flash — up- mar­ket Ital­ian, where you’d bump into lots of older sung he­roes or younger men, care­free fish­ers of women, and you’d re­tire to bed feel­ing quite sated.

Now many of the shops are empty and cheaper, gen­der- spe­cific clothes stores and real­tors are hang­ing up their shin­gles. Shop­girls sit dis­con­so­lately in the park with their take­away sushi and cof­fee in card­board. The posh and oomph has gone from the place, and I sus­pect this is all to do with hav­ing no spe­cific meet­ing place; we all like a feel­ing of be­long­ing.

Some years ago a friend who owns a re­tire­ment vil­lage no­ticed that none of the old peo­ple was so­cial­is­ing: they kept to them­selves, sit­ting gloomily in their rooms. A brain­wave struck him and he built a bus stop in the grounds — no buses, just a cou­ple of benches — and be­fore you could snap your fin­gers they were all out­doors, blink­ing wildly against the sun, and the seats were soon full of pen­sion­ers. The cin­ema was our bus stop.

fraserj@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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