Ibook go-to as well).
But as Nowra makes clear in this book, the pub, its regulars and the suburb they belong to are far more important to him than the profiles suggest. This isn’t merely somewhere he comes to meet his daily quota of four sauvignon blancs.
This is Nowra’s second bio of a Sydney suburb. Kings Cross: A Biography (2013) was more a eulogy for the suburb than a celebration of it. But Woolloomooloo is a heartfelt paean to the little suburb that could.
Founded as Wallamoolloo Farm in 1793 — the original Aboriginal word has gone through “many permutations because no one could agree on a uniform spelling” — the Loo, as Nowra refers to it, has been reviled for much of its history, its residents subjected to endless moralistic opprobrium when not simply ignored and left to rot.
That it remains a community, a rarer thing in Sydney than is usually acknowledged, is a credit to those who have made it their home and stamping ground. Its continued existence, Nowra argues, is less a blight on the city than a upraised finger to those who would, and have tried to, crush it.
Like the suburb itself, this book is a bit of a mongrel, merging history, walking guide and memoir.
Or perhaps memoir isn’t quite the right word. For while Nowra’s experiences feature heavily, he isn’t exactly writing about himself. He’s rather sketching his friends — the Old Fitzroy’s Motley Crew — and countless other Woolloomooloo: A Biography By Louis Nowra NewSouth, 334pp, $34.99 local characters he knows. Many of his closest drinking buddies are afforded short chapters of their own, to the extent that the book’s subtitle could well have been a plural.
The other chapters oscillate between more or less straight-up history and street-by-street descriptions of the suburb. In the introduction, Nowra frames these latter passages as musings born of old-fashioned flanerie, which is a nice idea as far as it goes, though anyone unfamiliar with the area, and even some who know it well, may eventually begin to feel bogged down in these descriptions of the map.
But Nowra’s historical passages, and those sections of his walking tour that he leavens with his research, sing. For the most part, the songs in question are nasty little ditties so grisly that one wonders what horrors the author has left out. Indeed, for much of its length, Woolloomooloo reads like an omnibus of true-crime stories that today’s lockout wowsers could only imagine. The tale of poor Sarah Ogle, who was born to an abusive publican and his intellectu-