Sydney: on one hand the glittering jewel in the crown of the Australian tourism industry, attracting millions of visitors each and every year. On the other, the teeming quagmire of traffic, nanny-state laws and rampant commercialism.
Yes, this paradox is one we’re all too aware of, but its rendering within the pages of Apathetical Sydney: A Parody from Paul Chappell and Josh Whiteman (with illustrations by Will Vink), might make you laugh out loud and realise that even with all its fabulous flaws, you’ll love the place anyway.
Apathetical Sydney is a decidedly adults only tour of the harbour city, celebrating all of its glorious foibles and contradictions with honesty and dark humour.
Those without youngsters in their lives might not be aware of Alphabetical Sydney by Hilary Bell and Antonia Pesenti, the classic which inspired Chappell and Whiteman to write their book. It’s an altogether more wholesome A to Z adventure for children through this neck of the woods. Chappell and Whiteman’s parody borrows the same simple couplets, replacing the innocence with barbs of cynicism.
The minds behind the book also form Brand + Story – a creative partnership focussed on advertising campaigns. This intimate understanding of what makes Sydneysiders tick – and what ticks them off – helps Chappell and Whiteman’s unique guidebook work on a macro and micro level.
For example, M for Mortgage Stress and P for Parking Fines – one could argue that these are issues that have taken root in most big cities around the globe. But L for Lockout Laws and V for Vivid? Like them or not, these phenomena are purely local.
Apathetical also takes in the full gamut of Sydney’s history. The letter G explains that, “The Gadigal are Sydney’s first daughters and sons.” J covers the adventures of James Cook, “Others came first but the white guy gets the glory.” Letter O sums up the checkered past of the Opera House, as well as the contemporary controversy that surrounds it in a single, powerful couplet: “Jørn Utzon was blackballed, his project derailed, Now today’s bureaucrats put the sails up for sale.”
The subversion is underlined by Vink’s illustrations. Childlike amalgams of digital and hand-drawn Sydney scenes make for a kid-friendly aesthetic. The subject matter, however, encompasses road rage, blizzards of cocaine, botox syringes piercing the forehead of an Eastern Suburbs influencer and the superior smirk of a private schoolboy.
So is this book for people who love, or hate, Sydney? They say that familiarity breeds contempt and there’s little doubt that if you’ve spent a lifetime in this town – or any town for that matter – the relationship can be strained. Ultimately, Apathetical Sydney celebrates the city’s myriad contradictions, but helps us not to take the frustrations too seriously: “‘Cos where else could we live? In Melbourne? Get fucked.”
Apathetical Sydney is out now via Penguin.