Back in May 2017, my verse novel Newtown Voices was published, and launched at Better Read Than Dead bookshop in Newtown (Sydney). In September, it was launched in Tasmania at Petrarch’s bookshop, Launceston.
Set in the late 1970s,Newtown Voices looks at life through four characters in an environment of poverty, crime, bombings, corruption, racism and homophobia – and disco dancing. Though Tom, Jaroslav, Harry & Buzz are fictional, much of what they talk about in their poems is based on hard news of day in their inner-city suburb.
Life in Newtown 40 years ago wasn’t easy for anyone, except the ‘big boys’ running gambling clubs and brothels and other illegal activities. Corruption, stand-over tactics, bombings, horrific murders paved the big boys’ way to riches and power.
But for the small fry, the poor, the single mums, the latchkey kids, the homeless, the ‘abos’, and the ‘wogs’ and ‘dagos’ life was a daily struggle. The articles in Newtown’s weekly newspaper that I translated into poetry reflected the social challenges and changes that many Australian cities and larger towns faced through the 1970s.
In a way, Newtown Voices is a series of “songs from a new place”, inspired as they were by my experience of living for 12 years in Newtown, having moved there fresh from Launceston,and falling in love with the place.
Because it’s a verse novel, the poems are all fairly long. Too long to post in full. Here’s the first part of ‘At the Disco’, told to us by Harry (Harriet):
At the Disco
Newtown RSL, Enmore Rd. Newtown
Saturday, July 1, 1978.
On Saturday night Tom and I went
to the disco at the RSL – ‘the Rissole’,
he calls it, though I’m sure he gives
it a ruder name. We went to see New
town’s ‘Dancing Dynamo’, Terry Dixon,
who’s supposed to be better than John
Travolta, even, showing off his new
Moves. There were comps too for people
who fancied themselves disco devils. I
wore Buzz’s white flares, which I’d taken
to the laundrette with my stuff, a stripy
crop top and my boots—getting shabby
but with a nice high heel. We had a beaut
time. Tom’s a great dancer with a real feel
For the music, and I was really getting off
on the beats. It was huge fun. We came
second in one of the comps. In the break,
while the Dynamo was strutting his stuff,
Tom brought me a beer and some salted
peanuts. We make good team, you an me,
plonking them down and sitting close.
Things get nasty after Tom’s opening remarks, they quarrel about Harry’s “boyfriend” and she rushes off home, weeping.