Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Giving the latest fairy floss just one more spin
In fourth class they’re writing a speech: “The Power of Words. Discuss.” My heart leaps. Words are what I love. Not only is the pen mightier than the sword. Not only do words mend and break hearts, bend and fracture history, shape and steal souls. Not only are they the utensils of choice for popes and tyrants, poets and presidents, lovers and assorted glorious madmen; for Caesar and Shakespeare, Luther and Luther King, Lincoln, Churchill and Obama. Words delight, transport and transcend. Words quicken our noble core. They are the angel part of us, our rope ladder to god. Pictures? Sure, pictures are dandy, but a word – I propose while peeling spuds – is worth a thousand of them. It’s a bold claim, possibly over-bold, but you get the point. For me, words are kind of it.
Which is why word abuse fills me with a wild, helpless fury. I don’t mean bad grammar. It’d hardly pay to spill milk over grammar these days. I can overlook misrelated participles and split infinitives, even in people paid to know better. I can tolerate “however” used for “but” or “which” for “that”. Or sentences that start with conjunctions or end with prepositions. All that I’m fine with. In fact, I like it; breaking the grammar rules still has the tang of naughtiness for me.
So what does qualify as word abuse? What is it that sucks the life from language, dulling its glossy coat and tossing its corpse onto the stinking heap of despair? Bullshit, in a word. The deliberate use of language not to approach reality but to hide it.
This, be it corporate bullshit or art-world bullshit or political bullshit, is all the same. It’s small talk in the airless front room of our lives, polite morning teas with the vicar, breakfast meetings with power couples, motivational speakers flanked by pomp and flowers at polished wood daises, euphemism of all kinds. It’s also false promises.
Like Clover’s “new” 2030 vision for Sydney. And yes, I venture into this territory in full, trembling knowledge that Australia does not like a naysayer. That “visions” are as much the flavour of the moment as they were in St Catherine’s time, that as much time and considerably more money has gone into this particular rainbow fantasy as into Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, and that popping or even grounding the pretty bubble may make baby cry.
So be it. There are things baby should know. It’s not that the ideas are bad; many of them are fine. To have St Mark’s Square at Circular Quay would be brilliant. (Although the proposal looked more like a piece of communist East-Berlin-on-Sea and, in any case, I have my doubts about removing “Joe’s Road”, which offers one of the finest driving experiences in the country and perhaps the best railway station in the world.)
Healing the wound behind Central Station, building over the tracks to reconnect the street-grid and giving Prince Alfred Park its rightful generosity of spirit is a good and obvious move. To redirect the Western Distributor underground, ensure no house is more than three minutes’ walk from serious parkland, ban cars, focus on bikes and add great luxurious dollops of fast, clean, efficient public transport. All good.
It’s not even that they’re not new. Just because the same ideas, tree for tree and tunnel for tunnel, bulked up former lord mayor Frank Sartor’s Living City Vision in 2000, his Living City Vision in 1992, former lord mayor Jeremy Bingham’s 2020 Vision in 1990, former lord mayor Leo Port’s Civic Reform vision in 1971 (and a few others in between) doesn’t make them bad ideas. On the contrary, it shows these ideas have stood the test of time.
It may make you spit that hundreds of thousands of your rates are lavished on each regurgitation, paying consultants who almost certainly know more than their political masters about how long a gap is needed between iterations of an idea, in order not to be caught. Then again, spent or otherwise, it’s not like your rates are coming back to you, right?
No, the real reason you should get mad about this many-splendoured fairy floss is that, unlike the stuff at the Easter Show, it doesn’t just melt on your tongue and disappear in a fleeting feelgood moment. The 2030 vision will melt and disappear, yes. Mainly because – except for the dozen or so cycle paths already built – the entire exercise sits well outside Sydney council control, in some cases even outside state control, and with the bill in the billions (half a billion for the Cahill alone), who’s going cough up for squares rather than hospitals?
Yes, the fairy floss is designed to disappear, all right. Just not immediately. Not, in fact, until after September 13, which is – oh my fur and whiskers, so soon? – election day. Meanwhile, for all those believers in the pretty stories of cultural ribbons and car bans, planet earth and I have a one-word answer. Spin!