Sydney’s a fine place to be queer and in love, writes poet Freya Daly Sadgrove.
I lived in Te Whanganui-a-Tara- from January 30, 1993 (aka birth) until May 2, 2022. The longest I’d been away, before now, was four weeks. But now I’ve been away for… seven or eight weeks. And counting. This is because I have moved to Australia. I left for the only reason I’d ever willingly move away from Aotearoa: love, duh. I’d always entertained the thought of expanding my horizons a bit at some point, but I doubt I ever would have gone through with it for anything else.
Mine is a pandemic romance. I don’t think we anticipated it still being a pandemic romance two years on, but here we all are. Bec and I got together in April 2020, when we were in separate countries with locked borders. Huge call, but I remain deeply pleased about it. We didn’t touch or look each other directly in the eyes (only directly in the laptop cameras) for nine months. Then we saw each other for eight days in Australia, then it was another four months of video calls, then a full two weeks together, then separate countries again. The plan was that I would go for another visit in August 2021, but something very amazing happened instead, and thank goodness it did, because the Trans-Tasman bubble had popped by the time August rolled around.
The amazing thing was that Bec turned up on my doorstep in June. She came to surprise me with a week-long visit, and ended up staying for 11 months, which was totally dope and lesbian of her. The plan was always eventually for me to move to Australia, because who in their right mind moves in the other direction, unless to come home? New Zealand is not exactly the land of opportunity for Australians. But Bec accidentally moving in worked out wonderfully for me, because I still had some things to get done in Aotearoa, and long distance is so 2020.
Now we are in Sydney, on unceded Gadigal land, subletting an apartment in an extremely nice area that is handy to the CBD and the Inner West. The rent is steep, but it’s pretty much the same as a one-bedroom apartment in central Wellington, which is kind of nuts given that this is Sydney. God, the amenities! I’m swimming in them. There are five cafés and an art gallery downstairs. There are two malls within 10 minutes of our place. Because I’m from central Wellington, I really love malls. I used to have to wait until my sister felt the occasional urge to journey out to Queensgate (I can’t drive). Now I can go and feel disorientated and slightly ill whenever I want to. Which is all the time – it’s a small price to pay for a Sportsgirl and a Lego Store and a Kmart in the same building.
A lot of my friends from Wellington moved to Melbourne years ago. People still like to say that Melbourne is the Wellington of Australia, and Sydney is the Auckland, but I fail to see it. A friend said to me recently that the whole idea is really just based on café culture from the ’90s, which I felt was astute and funny of her. Sydney doesn’t remind me of Auckland at all really, apart from a comparable half a square kilometre in the middle of the two CBDs. To me, Sydney’s a lot more like Wellington, in that it is extremely pretty and has “hills”. This city is obsessed with putting “Hill” or “Hills” in the names of suburbs if they contain a slight rise, which is really cute.
Melbourne has lots of cool people, but it is unforgivably flat and the streets are lined with trees that smell like sperm. Once, I was caught in a flurry of petals there and it was very dreamy until I breathed in. Disgusting. Sydney streets are lined with huge trees that smell of trees, as is proper.
I love to wander around these lush streets. One of my favourites is called Dick Street (haha, Dick Street). The people living there are letting their extremely tall Jurassic-looking plants grow further and further out into the lane, cars be damned, and it feels really nice. Nature is healing on Dick Street.
Sydney’s iconic terrace houses are also a delight for me to gaze upon, although a friend who lives in one tells me they’re damp as hell – but that’s just a sweet reminder of home. Also, as a Wellingtonian, I get a thrill seeing bricks everywhere. Whenever I go out, there is a new huge building for me to exclaim “bricks!” at. What if they have an earthquake? But they just don’t; it’s so random. I can’t relate to countries that don’t straddle fault lines. But it turns out I dig bricks!
Further profound and important differences I have noticed here: the kebabs are really meaty. They are mainly meat. Bec said the kebabs in Wellington were unusual because they had “so much other stuff in them”. One thing she was correct about, however, is that KFC’s potato and gravy is significantly better in Australia. Top-shelf stuff. Genuinely edible. Australia should be proud. But hot water here smells really weird. Every time I have a shower, I am like… sniff, sniff, what on earth? No one so far has been able to explain this to me.
Lastly, it is my solemn duty as a New Zealander to stan native birds, and although I dearly miss the guys back home (have I been watching YouTube videos of tūī just to hear their call? Yes), I am fully charmed by the large, raucous locals. I love to hear a raven make its angry baby noise while staring me down with ice-blue eyes. I delight in the sulphur-crested cockatoos with their big cartoonish faces. I particularly admire the noble ibis, or “bin chicken”, which roam the streets hugely and anciently. Such a powerful vibe. Also, as we all know in Aotearoa, bats are manu, too, and the massive flying foxes that parade through the sky here after dusk take my freaking breath away.
As a notorious simp for Pōneke, I expected to feel pretty homesick as soon as I got here, but I haven’t had time. There’s simply too much partying to be done. One thing I didn’t expect was – how to describe it? A new sort of comfort with myself. I wonder if being in one small place for my entire life meant my personality was getting a little ingrown. I can be a bit over the top at times, and for the past few years in Wellington, I was spending increasing amounts of energy reining myself in. I don’t feel like I have to do that here. It probably has to do with the amazingly warm welcome I have felt from Bec introducing me to Sydney’s queer community. The vibe is: be as much yourself as possible. I can feel my personality and my drive and my whole damn life expanding; I have so much room to breathe. In this huge city I am beginning to feel huger, and I am stoked as hell about it.