Monday, April 6, 2009

Paul Sheehan, Noise, Hot Air, the Airport and rice boy douf douf

(Above: the noise machine)

Paul Sheehan tells us breathlessly that he's been waiting and waiting for the movie Noise to come to Australia, in his grumpy old man rant of a column A pox on this city's aural blight.

Strange, it's been out on dvd in the rental stores for weeks, if not months. Guess he's not really breathlessly waiting, he's just wanting to rip off the storyline, which features Tim Robbins, attacking car alarms and noise in general.

Sheehan faithfully lists all the known noise blight suffered by the average urban person - the tradesmen beginning drilling and hammering at 7 am, the maintenance staff using leaf blowers, the road-hogging buses, the boom boxes, the deafening thrum of helicopters used by the police, military and TV networks, and above all, the passive-aggressive peace-killer known as the car alarm.

And above all of them of course is the drone of 747s and 737s and Airbuses and smaller planes as they regularly line up over the western suburbs and make their way into Macquarie airport, there to be disgorged and clipped by Macquarie Bank for their trouble in landing at the worst airport in Australia.

Say what? Not once does Sheehan mention airport noise? Well we know what that means, we know where he lives. He lives in the eastern suburbs, like a ponce, a snob, a bloody git.

What a sook, what a pathetic sook. Until he lives under an airport runway in the inner west of Sydney he doesn't know anything about big city noise. Nothing, nada, zip.

The usual excuse offered up of course is that people who live under a runway knew it was there, and acted accordingly. This isn't always true - when we moved into our area the runway we now live under, thanks to our wonderful federal government (and especially that concerned Sydney architect and noble citizen Paul Keating), didn't exist. 

It came as a bonus because federal governments of all stripes have refused to establish an international airport outside the Sydney basin to service Sydney, and instead preferred to hand over a monopoly interest in the current Sydney airport to a bank (somehow considering this competition) so that the bank could clip its customers with the ease of a shearer in a fully automated shed.

You can scan all of Sheehan's article, and the only reference to airport noise is contained in a speech by Clover Moore which glancingly mentions aircraft noise while concentrating on vehicles, construction, neighbours, business operations, entertainment, modified vehicles with powerful sound systems, aged buses, helicopters, noisy parties, and leaf blowers.

Funnily enough, I can't remember the last time we heard a helicopter - not surprising I guess when you live under a flight path, so there's a blessing. Guess it's all you suckers with a harbor view that suffer. Poor possums. 

And out the front we have a rat run road where all sorts of people get caught like rats in a trap at peak hour, and railway buses trundle up and down on weekends, as City Rail regularly turns itself into City Bus. And rice boys with what we call in this column their duff duff sounds (as opposed to douf douf), but others might think of as boom box glory.

About three hundred yards away, the western suburbs railway line throbs and pulses on a regular basis, with trains making  a gentle roar as they hit the bridge, which doesn't have the kind of noise reduction provided in the track bedding either side of it.

And you know what? Most of it is passing and transient, about the only curse reserved for the Harley Davidson dude who decides 5 am is the best time to rock off to work.

It's not so bad really, the hum and throb of a big city. It's bizarre actually to expect four million people to live in funereal peace and quiet.

I like the noise, and whenever I go back to the country now, while I love the clear, clean, wholesome air, with the dew already beginning to sparkle on the ground in the sun's early morning  autumnal glow, I'm always seriously disturbed, shocked come sun up ... as the bloody noisy birds begin their yammering and cawing and crowing and crooning and making out, and don't stop until it's time to start their breakfasts.

Ah it's magical, the country, but the city has its own magic, as it comes alive with all the noises, as adrenalin surges through people and they begin their daily celebrations of being alive.

Now tell me people how often does a douf douf car park outside your house in the eastern suburbs and play music all night? No, it's usually just a part of the passing parade. You might get upset by the stupidity of the people inside driving themselves deaf, a folly they'll only find out about when they hit their thirties or forties. You might wonder about the size of their penises, inversely proportional to their later ability to hear, but that's their problem, not yours.

As for leaf blowers, the only time we cop one in our concrete and tar ghettoes is when a city council worker turns up to tend the inappropriate droppings of the inappropriate species planted by hippie councils thirty years ago, and now full grown into monstrous urban gum tree catastrophes.

Sheehan, in what passes for a light hearted stab at humor, blames his wife for two recent bouts of urban noise - a car alarm that goes off, and a couple of gardeners hired to tart up the rear courtyard for a birthday party.

But that's rather the point. People incidentally and accidentally make some noise, and most of it passes fairly quickly (except for the young druggie loons who lived next door and partied hard on a regular basis, and so had the cops always visiting them, and the neighbours across the road egging their windows until they finally left).

Moore and Sheehan collectively rabbit on about how hard it is to do something about city noise, and the maze of government regulation, and zero co-ordination, and the need for a co-ordinated approach and a single agency to handle all noise complaints and compliance.

That's right another agency. Another bloody bureaucracy. The sort of thing Sheehan can rail about when they do nothing about his complaint about the noise emanating from council garbage trucks in the early morning. Unless he's complaining about reliance on every more sprawling, power hungry and delusional government, and the endless growth of power hungry bureaucracies. And what's the guess its headquarters will be in the eastern suburbs?

Sheehan works himself up into a lather about the heroic Moore and her cavalry charge of one about noise, and how even as the city becomes more compressed and crowded, the growing din in the streets is met with, until now, a resounding silence in Parliament.

Well actually guys until you live under a flight path, you can't talk about noise because you know nothing about noise. While typing this little screed, a dozen or so planes have flown overhead, drowning out the music on the radio. And you know what (and this is heresy in the inner west) there's something to be said for having an airport very close to home. 

For a start, I love to go outside in the morning and count the rivets on the planes as they roar overhead. Try doing that in the bush. We used to rush down to the railway line to see the one passenger train go through town at 11 am. Talk about excitement (well to be fair when it was steam trains, it was exciting). And then there's the convenience, being able to treat air travel like a commuter extravagance, if you've got the readies of course.

But back to the airport.  What was always the sensible solution for Sydney never happened - an international airport out on the fringe, clipping the tourists and giving maximum benefit to rorting taxi drivers, while the inner airport remained available to domestic travelers. Not one politician in power in the past thirty years or more had the guts the class or the vision to implement it. And the worst of them Labor, content because they knew they had control of the west (until those pesky greenies came along, and now Carmel Tebbutt's in real trouble, but that's another story).

Don't try to enroll inner west dwellers in your 'anti-noise' party, Clover Moore. Been there, done that. Listened to the anti-aircraft noise party, and the bleatings of the state Labor party, and the furtive mutterings of councils, all fiercely dedicated to silence, except of course their own.

No, no, no. Here's the solution. Let all of Sydney sound like it's under a flight path, and let's see how ya'll like it. Me, I just crank up the music in the car, roll down the windows, and share the joy ... especially when visiting the eastern suburbs ...

And meantime, I vote to send Clover Moore and Paul Sheehan into exile in the country. If it was good enough for Cicero, it's good enough for them, and it'll certainly reduce the hot air component of city life. And then let's see how well they cope with the yammering birds, and the cooees, and our terribly loud and nasal country cousins ... Now if you'll excuse me, I've got rivets to count ...


Nick D said...

I hate noise, but looking for the lack of it in the big smoke is, as you say, loony. And also the countryside is noisy in its own way, as you point out. My grandmother moved from a busy city road to the bush a couple of years ago and said she missed the traffic. And Venice is always fascinating for being a city with very little vehicle noise.

Light pollution though is something that was harder, for me, in Sydney. Not seeing stars from horizon to horizon was a big downer at night. There's something about a big open sky, it nourishes something.

dorothy parker said...

Nick, I'm with you. The light comes with the fear of the dark, and the cut purses and cut throats lurking therein. If you're out in the bush in central Australia, and look up at the vast number of stars amazingly visible, and see them in 3D stretching off into infinity, you know that in the trade off between city living and country wonder, a lot's been lost. Just as the Hay plain is unnerving to some but wonderful to me.

You can hate noise, yearn for Chris Whitley's Big Sky Country, just don't expect pious silence in a metropolis full by definition of noisy people and noisy machines, or expect to see the sky in a bright lights big city. Now when I go back home, or even to Adelaide, I get a shock at being able to see off to some kind of horizon. In the end, you become a city rat, unless you cling to the sea for some visual relief.

Every time I see a rice boy boom box vehicle it makes me laugh with joy. Such an absurd, surreal sight (and sound). It ain't the stars, it's the mud below, but it's the fun of being in the city ...