Songs From a New Place

Selected poems from Australian poet Sue Cartledge

Category: Newtown

Sounds of Newtown

Dog's eye view2

I wrote this poem to enter in a competition for poetry about your local neighbourhood. It didn’t get anywhere in the comp, but I was quite pleased with it.

The last three lines need some explanation for people who haven’t lived in Newtown (Sydney, Australia).
1/ The Post Office clock has been stopped at 25 to 3 (2:35 pm) for the 22 years I’ve lived in or visited Newtown. There may still be some elderly residents who can remember the clock chiming the hour and half-hour.

2/ Unlike other inner-city, Inner West suburbs, Newtown doesn’t suffer from aircraft noise. When the second runway for Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport was built in the late 1990s, the flightpath went directly over several inner western suburbs. Here in Leichhardt, I get the squeals, whines and roars of take-off and descent roughly ten times an hour. Newtown, being slightly to the east of the flightpath is overflown by planes at cruising altitude drifting silently overhead.

Sounds of Newtown

I hear the carillon’s chime as I walk

in the early morning through the uni grounds;

in the park, the fountain tinkles, ducks wake with a snort

pigeons chatter and magpies, aping angels, give praise

traffic roars down Broadway, sirens blaring

dopplering towards, then past, as bus brakes squeal

I hear footsteps clattering on the pavement:

high heel boots rattatat, sneakers patapat, ugh boots flop

the flip-flap of thongs

the whine of a bike wheeling swiftly by

a scooter’s squeal, soft rumble of a pram

pedestrian lights chittering go go go!

I hear coffee machines spurt and gush

chatter and laughter, clatter and clink

tinny ipod doof-doof, mobile phones, urgent calls

beeps and murmurs from ATMs, beggars’ pleading

car doors slam, dogs yap and yawn, babies squall

I hear no chimes from the post office clock

no roar from the planes high in the clouds

no word from my lover.

© S Cartledge 2011

A note about the picture: the Dog, standing proud atop the public noticeboard at the intersection of King Street and Enmore Road, references the area’s nineteenth and early-to-mid 20th century industrial history. Many of the men living in Newtown, Darlington, Enmore, Erskineville and Macdonaldtown, were engineers, metal workers, and labourers at the Railway Workshop at Eveleigh, which built and maintained the steam, then diesel and electric, locomotives for the NSW Government railway system.

The Workshops closed in 1988, and the magnificent buildings are now venues for concerts, festivals and art exhibitions. The Dog was  designed and built by a former Eveleigh metalworker. Photo © S Cartledge 2005

I write about Newtown in the 1970s in my other blog, Horror Headlines from daggy old Newtown, telling the stories behind the poems in my verse novel Newtown Voices.

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices.



Newtown Voices

newtown cover marlie copy small


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.

You can learn more about Newtown Voices, including how to buy the book, at Newtown Voices. And you can read many of the true stories behind the poems at Horror Headlines from daggy old Newtown.