AS A GUEST on a western Sydney community radio program recently, I noted the ease with which the young radio jocks – each born and raised in the city’s west – referred to themselves as ‘Westies’. They transformed the pejorative term into one of identity. The Westie was a creation of the 1960s and ’70s as young, working families were encouraged westward into the newly built, rather austere public and private housing subdivisions on Sydney’s urban fringe. It was a term of division and derision, and became shorthand for a population considered lowbrow, coarse and lacking education and cultural refinement.
The phrase became iconic after Michael Thornhill’s 1977 social realist film The FJ Holden. The classic Westie was a male of Anglo-Celtic origin who lived in the vast, homogenous flatlands west of the city. The checked flannelette shirt symbolised his attire and vandalism, cheap drink and hotted-up cars his behaviour. ‘Westie chicks’ had a secondary status – much like the ‘surfie chicks’ of this misogynistic era – they were considered tougher, albeit more dimwitted than their beachside sisters and more prone to teen pregnancies. Westie became a rhetorical device to designate the ‘other’ Sydney: spatially, culturally and economically different from the more prosperous and privileged Sydneysiders of the north and east.
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