Western Sydney writers share their places in the heart

Felicity Castagna and Michael Mohammed Ahmad are among the five authors who will lead a  discussion about the newest literary heartland — western Sydney — at the Sydney Writers Festival Parramatta event The Centre of Sydney. Here they share their thoughts on writing and the suburbs they call home.

FELICITY:

What will the Centre of Sydney discussion focus on?

The Centre of Sydney will focus on the recently published books of five young writers who grew up in or live in greater western Sydney;  Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Lachlan Brown, Luke Carman, Felicity Castagna and Fiona Wright.

In a night of storytelling, moving images and provocative discussion about their books these authors will take their audience deep into the communities of western Sydney where their texts are all set.

Between them these authors have received the Dame Mary Gilmore Poetry Award and been shortlisted for The Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, The Blake Poetry Prize, The NSW Premier’s Award and the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year.

What is your favourite place in western Sydney? Why?

Parramatta, of course!

 At the moment I’m spending a lot of time wandering around the region near the Parramatta Ferry Pier with my son. I love the contrast between the new luxury apartments and the beautiful colonial buildings and the old fibro houses and the housing commission. Also, the contrast of the quiet mangroves and the busy nightclubs and businesses behind them. To me all these contradictions make it a quintessentially Parramatta place.

What sights and sounds are western Sydney to you? 

Cars full of young men cruising with their music up loud, the McMansion housing estates, people sitting on plastic chairs on their front lawns watching the street, everyone from greater western Sydney dressed to the nines and parading up and down Church Street on a Saturday night, men cheering at the football, charcoal chicken shops, super-sized houses of worship, endless highways...

I wanted to be a writer when...

I started reading books.

You know you’re a writer when ...

Everything is always fodder for a story.

What do you think of some news organisations’ decision to champion western Sydney in their reporting?

While I’m all in favor of championing western Sydney I am also very skeptical of media outlets ... who have recently run articles about the great achievements of many people in this region. While they are completely right that we have amazing people achieving wonderful things here, I don’t think the people of western Sydney have forgotten that these two media outlets have thrived on sensationalist and demoralizing accounts of the ‘horrible stuff’ that goes on in this region.  Perhaps, like our politicians, they have suddenly realized that the region has a huge amount of people (consumers)?  According to the media only scum bags and heroes live here but there’s plenty of other people in-between.

MICHAEL:

What will the Centre of Sydney discussion focus on?

Over the past ten years, Giramondo Publishing has been committed to creating a literary voice for the western suburbs of Sydney. The five writers who will appear on the Centre of Sydney are the first in that voice. The Centre of Sydney will focus on the journey, as individuals and as a group, to bring our stories to the page. The discussion will also, hopefully, explore the exciting shift we are seeing at the moment – that Western Sydney is rising, a heartland of Australian literature.  

What is your favourite place in western Sydney? Why?

On the rooftop of a Bankstown car park, because it is where I first promised Jane that I would find a way for us to be together.

What sights and sounds are western Sydney to you? 

Western Sydney is the people, who prove to me that Australia is not a white country, that it is colourful, and rich in a black history.

To me western Sydney is the sound of the Lebs, who talk like they’re trying to eat their own words, but that’s just to me, because I’m a Leb.

I wanted to be a writer when...

I realised I wouldn’t live forever.

You know you’re a writer when...

I don’t think you ever really know. Most people who call themselves writers seem pretty insecure about it.

What do you think of some news organisations’ decision to champion western Sydney in their reporting?

To be honest I haven’t really picked up on any championing of western Sydney in the news so far, but if this is the case then I’m very pleased to hear it. I believe it’s long overdue. Western Sydney represents Sydney’s largest population, and specifically the largest populations of people from Indigenous, refugee and migrant backgrounds. I always say, ‘If you want to know what and where Australia is at the moment, look to the western suburbs of Sydney.’

The Centre of Sydney is a free event on May 21, 7pm-8pm at Information and Cultural Exchange, 8 Victoria Road, Parramatta.

Bookings: info@ice.org.au.

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