You are here: The great escape

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Words || Amanda Burgess

I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life living in a small town 100 kilometres south of Sydney. It’s called Albion Park Rail, and it’s nestled between the mountains and the lake. Albion Park Rail is known for satanic murders in the 90’s, traffic jams and the creepy abandoned milk factory that I’m shocked hasn’t been burned down yet.

Growing up in regional Australia is tough. There’s nothing to do once school is over. There’s no jobs. There’s not enough support for people who don’t quite fit in. There are rampant drug problems, violence and crime.

It’s a two-hour train ride into Central Station. I know this trip better than I know myself. Most of my mornings these days begin with a 4:30am wake up, a 5:30am train and an arrival at Macquarie Park around 8:30am – without a chance to stop to breathe in between.

The South Coast line curves around the coast, slowly merging into the Royal National Park and up through to the Shire. I have vivid memories of my 16-year-old self, finally allowed to catch the train to Sydney by myself on the weekend.

My friend’s parents criticised my mother for letting me leave the area without a parental escort. I loathed the ocean, the mountains and the way the train always smelled like death on a Saturday morning. I envied everyone I knew that was lucky enough to live near the city.

I couldn’t wait to get out. Most kids at my high school only went to the city once or twice a year, sometimes not even that – I couldn’t possibly think of anything worse.

I would catch the bus each morning to my high school just up the road from the lake that was infested with bird lice, and by the end of the week I would catch the train to Sydney and go to punk shows with my HSC notes in my backpack.

My walls and journals were adorned with trinkets and memories from Sydney. It was literally a shrine for the city of my dreams. In my head, Sydney was a wonderful place. A place where I was free to be myself, experience art and music. I wanted nothing more than to walk the streets of Redfern and Newtown by myself, visit the art galleries around the city on weekends and see live music every week. I’d have a job in the radio industry, a terrace house and no longer experience the crippling effects of nostalgia for a place I’d never truly experienced beyond weekend tourism.

When I graduated at the end of 2015, I never made the move.

I’m still here, making the train trip four times a week into the city. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to love the lake, the creepy abandoned milk factory and mountains that surround me.

When I see the state of Sydney now, maybe I didn’t miss out after all? My favourite venues are empty, my favourite streets are unaffordable and I’m tired.

Sometimes, I wonder if Sydney ever really was how I imagined it. I often think about how different my life would have been if I’d ever made that move three years ago.

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