Growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, I couldn’t have been happier.
The Hawkesbury was my own little world. I attended a Pre-School down my street, followed by a quaint public school around the corner, and finally, a Catholic high school just a few blocks away. I stood beside friends from Pre-School at my high school graduation. Everyone really did know everyone.
Weekends were spent swimming in the Hawkesbury River, eating ice cream in Windsor’s historic Thompson Square and riding our bicycles through the local nature reserves. I was proud of where I lived and I was truly adamant that one day, I would buy my own home in Windsor or Freemans Reach.
I was proud of – and content with – my Hawkesbury heritage.
Then I encountered Sydney. And snobbery…
Suddenly I realised, after 20 years of naive bliss, that I should be ashamed of where I came from.
Embarking on university life in Ultimo and Surry Hills I began to gather quite the collection of charming responses to my ‘infamous’ Western Sydney postcode. Each and every time I met someone new – a student, a co-worker, a tutor, I was asked the same questions… which included their own ignorant and bigoted answers …
“What do you even do for fun there?”
“I bet it’s very dangerous to walk around at night.”
“So, when are you going to move away from the west?”
“You’re smart. Isn’t everyone stupid in Western Sydney?”
The fear of reactions like that led me to start lying about where I came from.
Over time, I found ways to avoid revealing just how “west” I am. I would use ambiguous locations, like, “just past the hills”. And I knew never to mention suburbs like Windsor, Penrith or Blacktown when describing my location, because I’d been shown that being a Westie was something to be ashamed of. Who’d want to be a stupid, undesirable bogan?
I would opt instead for more “desirable locations” like Castle Hill, the Blue Mountains, and Rouse Hill.
Every city and postcode has reputations and stereotypes that are printed on its residents. But in the west, we are tainted from birth, like a true blue Westie’s “Aussie Pride” bicep tattoo.
The postcode prejudice that people have written about really does exist. At the time of the release of SBS’s controversial Struggle Street documentary, the ABC reported several stories of Western Sydney residents, who had to fake their postcodes on resumes to get a job.
At a time where I’m starting to think about life after college, postcode prejudice definitely adds to my stress. Will I be able to land a media job with my postcode weighing heavy on my shoulders? Or should I just stay at home, and live out the life Sydney seems to think I have in the west…
Even if I do land a job, I know it will be spent enduring jokes from co-workers about stabbings and the lack of things to do.
No, fuck that. Where I live and have grown shouldn’t define how society views me. Nor should it define my self-worth.
People who discriminate against the west and its residents fail to recognise the benefits my friends and I enjoyed growing up in that tight-knit community. I have fond memories of growing up in the West. I have met beautiful people from all walks of life, made friends for life, and had a childhood that was just as fulfilled and happy as any other child in Sydney.
If being from and living in the west means being shamed with the bogan, westie brush, then so be it. Call me bogan all you like. I’m proud of where I come from. And if you can’t beat it, you may as well embrace it.
Jessica Staveley is editor of The Newsroom.