Real estate agents and the crime of locality theft


Sydney City of Villages signI ran into Roy again the other day. He's the Vietnam veteran I met at my front gate a few months ago.

He was, as he explained then, a 'walker' — the formal designation given to the men and women who, as he put it, 'traverse the courts, roads, closes, circuits, avenues, lanes and parades' of this small coastal town delivering the local papers. 'You don't find anything as bloody mundane as a "street" round here,' he said with scathing accuracy.

After we'd greeted each other, I observed that he wasn't carrying a bag of papers.

'Gave it up, mate. You out for your morning walk?'

I explained that I was walking into the township — about three kilometres — where my wife was attending some sort of meeting, after which we planned to have a cup of coffee together.

'D'you mind if I walk along with you?'

Of course I didn't mind, on the contrary. And so we set off towards the beach and the esplanade that meanders around the bayside to the tight group of shops, restaurants, Post Office and Real Estate agencies that make up what the better class of resident likes to call the 'village'.

'I prefer "township" — it's more Australian,' I said, when Roy scoffed at what he called 'this "village" nonsense'. But I could tell he had something else in mind. Roy is one of those people who does not walk and chat. If he wants to make a point, he stops. And if you don't stop with him, he puts an arm out like a footballer to shepherd you and hold you up. So, within sound but not sight of the sea, we paused. Magpies and currawongs tunefully tossed their greetings and warnings from tree to tree while he stared at the grass that pleasantly passes for footpaths in these parts and visibly gathered his thoughts.

'You know how there's something these days called identity theft?' he said.

'I do,' I said. 'Electronic theft of credit card numbers, online personal details, that sort of thing.'

'Exactly. Well, I reckon there's also a phenomenon you could call locality theft. Have you noticed that thanks to real estate agents and their advertising this village or township, or whatever you want to call it, has had dot com added to its name? It's not Point So-and-So any longer, it's Point So-and-So dot com. In other words, mate, our community's name has been hijacked by a commercial outfit for its own commercial purposes. It's changed from being a community with a name to a domain on the internet. It's all over the billboards. Now, I don't claim to be the last word on this internet business, far from it. I'm flat out just sending a few emails. But I reckon that's a form of theft. Who said this mob could pinch our name? When did they ask us?'

This was a long speech for Roy, and he was so moved by his own argument that we had actually resumed walking during his outburst and reached the esplanade. A sharp headwind grabbed at us as we turned towards the town. Roy stopped again, leaned on the sea wall, oblivious it seemed to the slice and heave of spray-laden air and the hiss of the crashing surf and, looking out to the troubled sea, said, 'Well, what d'you reckon?'

'I reckon you've got a point, certainly,' I said, 'but I'm not sure what we can do about it, unless we write to the local paper. Why did you give up delivering the papers?' I said, with a command of the non sequitur that rivalled his own easy mastery of unconnected narrative.

'Well,' he said, 'when I started, I liked the idea of doing lots of walking, and I enjoyed looking at gardens and houses that I wouldn't otherwise have seen. But the pay was, well, derisory.' He savoured the word as if he had only recently added it to his personal lexicon. 'And, to tell the truth, I felt a bit second rate lugging papers around at my dignified age.'

Out in the bay, as we strode along, a container ship nosed towards the Rip with the pilot boat in attendance butting and plunging in the swell.

'They can have that lark all to themselves, as well,' Roy said, waving an arm seawards.

'It was a matter of personal pride?'

'Not only that,' he said, stopping again as we watched the ship slowly negotiate the Rip. 'After a few months, always walking alone, I started to brood a bit. You know. Regrets. The paths not taken, as the poet said.'

'"There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,"' I said, matching him in the poetry-quoting department.

He grinned. 'Well, I'll be off. Your wife will be wondering where you've got to,' he said. 'She'll be looking for you all over the dot com.'

He gave a mock salute and set off on the return journey with the wind at his back.

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is honorary professor of English at Flinders University and an award winning columnist and biographer.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, urban renewal, commercialisation



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Existing comments

Interesting commentary, but do not overlook that this "locality theft" generates increased profit and therefore increased taxes. We residents of north east Toorak east (referred to as Balwyn many years ago) have no issues with it.

Mike | 21 August 2015  

I reckon there’s also a phenomenon you might call personality theft. Peer pressure, especially media pressure, pushes us all to adopt the latest 'fashion' in dress, speech and even morality. Some of this is reaction to out-dated customs, but it goes beyond that, and stifles opportunities for personal development in many areas, such as, in past eras allowed new insights into life as it could and should be lived.

Robert Liddy | 21 August 2015  

Well said, Brian and Roy. I'd choose 'township' any time. The same goes for 'paddock' instead of 'field'. I suspect that these days most people haven't lived in a country township. Do you suppose journalists and real estate agents read too many English children's books when they were young?

Jean | 21 August 2015  

Well, when did a community become a dot com address? I understand that some of us struggle with keeping up with the technologocial prowesses, but the virtual world is not the real world. And a community is, well, a community.We still need to link up as human beings, take time to hear each other's stories, and smell the roses. And if we don't our own personal world, and the world at large, become a sadder place. Identity theft? Begin with identity, that's a good start. Our identity is a social construct and we all contribute to it, and benefit from it. Technology comes a long way behind, if only we were wise enough to realise. Being divorced by your computer is no way as sad as divorcing from your family or your community.

Eveline Goy | 21 August 2015  

The local group of shops in my suburb is not as big as a town, it is the smaller version, a village. We had a field growing wheat, quite big, and a paddock for the horses, which is a much smaller area.

Jane | 22 August 2015  

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