Cultural Comment Politics

Remembering the “New Sydney Push”

The Hook! And Some Context

I have been asked to write a post in recognition of the 7th anniversary of my most famous – and notorious – blog post, about the “New Sydney Push”. For those who don’t know what that is, I wrote two posts about a group of Sydney based media people and friends who had a connection with each other, and were making their way through the media landscape. The first post was about their connection to the first “Sydney Push” of the 1960s ; the second named the people I believed were part of this new “Push”. It was pretty widely read at the time, and generated a lot of gossip and reaction. The reaction, fallout and ramifications will appear – later. So if you want to skip to the juicy bit, it will be clearly marked. But first, some context for the writing of the posts in the first place.

That post has a context that needs to be revealed. I wrote it in the middle of Marking Month. What was marking month? One month, every year for 15 years, my daily work life was forever connected to exhaustion. Marking Month started as being August, but then switched to November when I chose to mark a different course. My work day was the best part of 15 – 16 hours (including transport), because every night (other than Friday) and all day Saturdays would be dedicated to marking the NSW HSC examinations. This is not to complain about marking month or try to elicit any sympathy. I needed the money in the early days, and then in the later times, I liked the job. I made lots of great connections and friendships through the job. I found it fascinating and useful for my main career. It still helps me, even in a different state.

As a result of Marking Month, though, I would come home. Tired. What a day I’d had, most days. At this same time, my main job had also exposed me to researching the original Sydney Push, to help a student write about the era in her creative writing pieces. My head was filled with all sorts of ideas and tiredness. And that’s when, one November night, I opened twitter and my feed was filled with the “Hennoween” trick on James Hennessy appearing in the New York Mag and my mind made the immediate connection to the original Sydney Push. The group who were all friends in Sydney and many desperate to make it big in one of the Big Cities – London in those days. And so the post came from that space. A tired teacher bemused by what they published in New York these days.

The main context behind the post was the fact was, I was still just some nobody teacher living in the Blue Mountains who only experienced most of these people on twitter. I was like someone on Gogglebox commenting on a show.

The Juicy Bit Part One – The Reaction

I was completely unprepared for the reaction to the first post. I came home from another 16 hour day to see my twitter account festooned with notifications. One of the reactions that amazed me was being hounded to “name names” by the ABC’s Mark Colvin. That was not something I was expecting from a post shot out after another long day at the marking coalface. My wife concurred with Colvin. They both had a point – that I had names in mind, so I might as well list them.

The List post was created largely from my own observations in about an hour, with a bit of help, to make sure I got it right. What I did not expect was the even bigger reaction after the second. Why were so many people so gripped by a list by some middle aged teacher? I was told that many group chats and DMs were being fuelled by The List. I doubt it would happen today. But I seemed to have hit a nerve, or a zeitgeist or something. Here were some of the other reactions that bemused me:

  1. People being dismayed that they didn’t make The List. Some time later, I was at a party a city pub organised by a friend from twitter. At that party, a writer for some media organisation told me in a slightly hurt tone that he was surprised to have missed out. The fact was, I didn’t know who he was. There were others, apparently, who felt slighted.
  2. Courtney Fry (@courtwhip) was amused that I didn’t know her name. There was a good reason for that – I only knew her by her username, and she didn’t use her real name anywhere I had seen.
  3. Some inclusions were questioned via DM.
  4. One fairly prominent person was furious with me for naming them, because they believed it “fed their ego”, as if media twitter at the time was a two sided battleground.
  5. People from outside Sydney, such as cartoonist Jon Kudelka being miffed at missing out on the fun, naming himself the “Hobart Push” for a while.
  6. Some years later, I read a comment of someone scoffing at me for quoting from Elizabeth Farrelly in one of the posts. Clearly this was someone who struggled with comprehension – Farrelly was a member of the Push and wrote their history as a first person recollection. (On a side note, Farrelly and her life journey is somewhat symbolic in itself of what happened to a number of people from the original Push.)

What also emerged from that time was that a lot of people shifted from being disinterested in me and what I had to say from my perspective to suddenly being interested. Not because they suddenly wanted to know what was happening in outer suburban Sydney, but because I generated Gossip. And I gained some twitter famous followers. I was also being congratulated (in DMs) for what I did, in naming / outing the clique.

I could also sense a lot of loathing of me that still exists to this day.

What is probably not known about me is that I thought the original photo was funny. An elaborate, well organised joke. But reading it on another level, as I tend to do, it was also revealing to me of the fine line of what is considered being performative and what is being authentic in Sydney. Hennessy clearly honed his image very carefully, and it was pretty obvious how he was doing it. (Maybe that was because he was from the Shire – they tend to be seen to be awkward by people who live in the East and North of Sydney) But all of them in the photo (at least the ones in the media or on social media) all put on their own personas and brands. Hennessy was as authentic as all of them, but still they sledged him and he loved it – and why not, it showed that he had commanded attention.

I still think the original joke was funny, but what astonished me at the time was its appearance in the NY Mag. But I have since come to realise that the NY Mag, like a lot of media outlets in the Big Cities, will publish pretty much anything. That was in contrast to the times of the original Sydney Push, where people like Greer and James had to work hard to get exposure in London, as well as actually go there.

There was another thing that perhaps was not realised / ignored at the time – the List wasn’t a Shit List. Apart from anything else, there were a lot of people who weren’t in that photo that I named. The List included many people whose work I genuinely admired, and was wondering where they would go next in their careers. To be honest, of course, there were people on that list I did not like so much, for a number of reasons.

In any case, it’s a good time to reflect on how they all went since that time – see if we can glean anything from what has happened in the media landscape in the last seven years.

The Juicy Bit Part Two – Where Are They Now?

The comparison with the original Sydney Push was probably unfair of me. Society, and the media in general, has changed profoundly since the 1960s. If you want to know more about them, Leroy Lynch has pushed some research my way. There’s this book review, and these two posts about them. It is interesting, however, to see the directions in which the members of this new “Push” of my imagination have gone since then. The New Sydney Push group were, like the original Push, ideologically flexible libertarians. Their tweets and career choices showed that they weren’t afraid to change their ideology if commercial and professional opportunities came their way. They have gone in many directions, both expected and unexpected.

These observations are written completely from the top of my head, just like the original posts. Based on my perceptions and observations of the media and twitter. No research was done, so apologies if I get stuff wrong or forget stuff.

Group 1. Guardian Writers (regular and occasional) – Adam Brereton, Osman Faruqi, J. R. Hennessy, Bridie Jabour, Liam Hogan, Dan Nolan, Erin Riley, Eleanor Robertson

Jabour, whose work I continue to admire, is still with the Graun, editing their opinion section (which I scour for school resources), is writing books, and living her best life, as far I can tell. Riley is one of the best people I have met through twitter. She works in professional communications, is about to have a second child, continues to challenge ideas and seems to piss off a lot of fragile male egos on twitter. Hennessy continues to make his way around media organisations and honing his Online Brand, though not with a grey singlet. Hogan, I have no idea about. He seemed to hate me more than most, but I didn’t really know who he was or what he did. (Or even why he hated me – I never interacted with him.) Robertson is still Online and happily with another member of the Push, Rupert. Nolan is still an Online Sledger, despite his advancing years. Brereton left social media under a cloud of accusations about his personal life and went into a Seminary.

Faruqi probably had the biggest rise of any of them – he went to Melbourne and carved himself a new career as an edgy political and cultural commentator, leading to the role as Culture editor for Fairfax. A significant part of that role seems to be him commissioning work from himself about his new status as a fan of the Sydney Swans as well as the need for a Bunnings closer to his home.

Group 2. SBS Writers and Presenters – The Feed Crew – Marc Fennell, Jeanette Francis, Andy Park (once upon a time), Patrick Abboud ; The Backburner writers (I know only the name of one of them – Jam Colley, sorry Backburner people, I do like what you do, but I don’t know your names)

The Feed was a good show – even if it wasn’t really directed at people like me – and it’s a pity that we no longer have it. Fennell continues to be a very good presenter and appears to be a lovely person in general. Jan Fran is one of the most talented people on TV (I really like her stuff on Question Everything) and needs her own show one day. Park and Abboud continue to work somewhere in the media, and I like what they do whenever I happen to see it.

Colley has also risen in the ranks since these times, experiencing a lot of success, such as writing for projects like Get Krackin (one of the best shows of recent times), and viral tweets that occasionally appear on my feed. Something I discovered recently about Colley is that he grew up in Penrith. Not that I have seen many tweets or pieces by him about life in the Riff, other than his support for the Penrith Panthers. But it’s good to have voices from those areas contributing to the media.

Group 3. Buzzfeeders – Mark Di Stefano, Rob Stott, Alex Lee, Mikey Nicholson, Lane Sainty, Jenna Guillaume, Mat Whitehead, Brad Esposito

Lane Sainty has had a journey more interesting than most – currently working in Arizona for the Arizona Republic. Esposito went to Vice Australia, which seems to be a pathway for a number of millennial media people. Whitehead – I’m not so sure about what happened to him. Nicholson works for the Advertiser in Adelaide and produces some of the funniest sledges of the Port Adelaide Football Club on twitter. Stott went to News, and writes in the same style he had adopted for Buzzfeed. Alex Lee also had a rise in the industry – she went onto hosting programs on the ABC and is very professional and funny in whatever she does.

Jenna Guillaume is another person I am delighted to have met in real life and has become a wonderful writer of adolescent fiction. Like seriously, read them, get your teenagers to read them. This is the English teacher talking here, not the twitter persona.

Mark Di Stefano probably also needs a paragraph to himself, largely because, like Clive James and Germaine Greer from the original Sydney Push, he made it to London. Things were going well for him, working for the Financial Times, until he was caught listening in on a video call being conducted by the Independent and Evening Standard – caught using his actual name and work email account, no less. He returned to Australia with a status less elevated than the likes of James and Greer. He now does shovel work for Mike Stutchbury – alongside people like Aaron Patrick and Rowan Dean – at the Australian Financial Review. One of his recent pieces was in praise of the head of Racing NSW, Peter V’landys, which seems to be the fate of most Sydney journalists eventually. I’m sure someone from the original Push would have written positive pieces about the horse racing industry at some stage in their careers. P.P. McGuinness, most likely.

Group 4. Freelance Writers – Elle Hardy, Lauren Ingram, Kate Iselin, Rebecca Shaw, @courtwhip, Kate Doak

I’m not sure what happened to Iselin. Shaw became a writer for TV and other media, and found love in NZ, which was a charming tale. Ingram, like Di Stefano, ended up in London, but has not had such a high profile existence there, writing freelance. Fry continues to work in the media (and I have read quite a bit of her stuff, so I know her name now!). Hardy went to the US and is using her considerable skills in being a probing and incisive writer about the Pentecostal movement. Doak now works for Channel 10 as a researcher, and acts as an example of one of the lower profile members of the Push, but one who continues to clearly enjoy her role in the media.

Group 5. The Hungry Beast Crew (I still mourn the loss of one of my favourite shows of the last few years) – Kirsten Drysdale, Dan Ilic, Monique Schafter, Nicholas Hayden

I still wish that we had some iteration of this show on TV. Its use of media tools was outstanding, and could be very useful for the teaching of the VCE English Language course. I admit I don’t know what happened to Drysdale, Schafter and Hayden, (except that I think Hayden is a producer?) I haven’t seen much social media mention of them.

Ilic, however, is another case. He continues to work with a range of social media tools to get messages out there, and his work to produce content with the goal of helping to unseat Scott Morrison’s government was impressive. As was his show with Ray Martin twisting with his public image.

Group 6. Researchers and others – Trisha Jha. @rpy, @swearyanthony

Trisha is still a good friend, and is these days a teacher in Victoria, having also worked as a Liberal staffer. Trisha has always had a consistency of ideology and the reasons behind that. I also agree with a lot of her views on education, especially in relation to what baby boomers have done with our profession. (Her inclusion on the list should have been a clear message to anyone that knew me well that this was never a Shit List.)

Rupert is still doing apps, I assume, while being with Robertson. Next There is still the best public transport app out there – better than any of the Victorian ones. And Anthony Baxter is still the same as he ever was, I assume. A unique individual.

Group 7. Junkee Central – Steph Harmon, Alex McKinnon

Harmon is the culture editor at the Australian Guardian these days. McKinnon has jumped around a number of Sydney based media outlets. Their work has been very relevant to me. My school used a McKinnon piece about vaping for a Year 12 Analysing Language SAC the year before I arrived, so I was discussing his technique usage at length to future year groups.

Group 8. Fairfax Writers – Michael Koziol, Sheree Joseph

I’m not entirely sure where Joseph works these days, but she produces very entertaining content on her twitter feed. Koziol, on the other hand, has risen in the ranks to be editor at the Sydney Morning Herald, using his position to do things like say why Sydney’s Dubai inspired theme park, Barangaroo, is such a great place to go. He also seems to have a pre-occupation with comparing Sydney and Melbourne. I seemed to have upset him in some way over the years. He was very happy when I moved to Melbourne, telling me on twitter that it was great that I was going.

Group 9. Post 2015 Entries. The Spirit of The Push

There’s a continuing spirit of The Push, with its group mentality and communal online banter exists to this day. There are many people online who embody it, and not necessarily from Sydney. Naaman Zhou from Sydney from the Guardian embodied their spirit, and has since gone onto working for the New Yorker. Jon Kudelka, like the Steve Buscemi meme come to life, still tweets like many of the younger male members. Nick Schadegg is the Dan Nolan of Adelaide, though funnier and nicer. Melbourne’s Jim Malo has been exhibiting a desire to build his brand in a male Push style. Ben Jenkins, from being on the fringes of the Chaser group, has continued to be on twitter and work on the fringes of the media, making videos about how Sydney’s real estate is expensive.

Jordan Shanks (FriendlyJordies) showed an interest in following the same media pathways as other Push people, but has realised that his brand was better built criticising the work of people in the Push. But overall, his style is very close to the twitter style of the men from the Push. There is not much of a difference. In some ways, though, it could be said that he has had more personal success than many of the others. He has also not had to work for a commercial or state media organisation – with all the compromises that entails – which gives him a freedom that few of them have. That’s probably part of the reason why they hate him so much. He leaves me cold, personally, but some of his work around corruption in NSW has been good.

Why Bother Doing This?

Aside from being asked by friends to do this post, the past year has sparked a lot of reflection on how I use social media. I have a lot of work to do in my chosen work path – more than before, which needs more attention. This is also a hard year in terms of two anniversaries. This year was the 10th anniversary of the passing of my mum. She passed away in the middle of my (reluctant) involvement in an election campaign. I still remember that I was still grieving, a couple of twitter people were laughing at me for losing the campaign that I didn’t want to win. It wasn’t their fault that they didn’t know I was grieving – it just showed me how twitter can make a terrible situation worse when there’s people on it just out to get you. “Ha, triggered” is a real thing.

That brings me back to this post. The people on The List are also real people who have lived their lives, and their stories are (for the most part) interesting and illustrative of the tenuous nature of work in the media.

The flexibility of ideology is still there, as is the libertarianism. Many of the Sydney Push members were very critical on twitter of the Victorian Government’s centralised, health authority centred approach to managing the COVID-19 response, while praising the NSW Liberal Government’s more economy-centred, libertarian approach to restrictions. This was especially the case with Faruqi, who build his brand and following in Melbourne on the back of criticising the Victorian Government almost as soon as he arrived in the state.

There’s a lot of good and useful output from a number of people who have pushed through with their careers. For those who have gone in different life directions away from the media, that’s all good as well – it’s interesting how life travels from a moment frozen in time. It’s not fair to say that any of the people have been “failures” (though there could be a fair case made for one or two to be considered as having made bad choices in their lives). They have had lives. And the best people to be judging the people are themselves, their community and time. Not some teacher or other random most of them only know on twitter.

Me and Social Media (No Juicy Bits Here)

I have diversified how I do social media, and it was fascinating to me how many people followed my Mill of Content project who would never follow Preston Towers. That’s probably because they liked twitter drama and hated PR Guy and the MFWs. I might reanimate it if I feel like it. It’s a bit like my use of the Preston Towers account. I used it when I feel as though I won’t get sad or angry using it. I have a love hate relationship with it and my wife says I will never give it up, which is true. One thing I have had to do is have a set of rules I apply to discourse. When I feel the time is right, I just shut down comments and move on. I don’t want to argue with people and be dragged into some kind of personal argument over trivial stuff.

Writing this also reminds me of what my father, who passed away 25 years ago, would have thought of twitter. He would have hated it and most of the people on it. People gasbagging about stuff they don’t know anything about. Mug lairs boasting about their meagre achievements. I have been both of those things, which makes me cringe on reflection. His whole focus in life was helping people in their local communities, being helpful, getting things done on a local scale. He was also someone who preferred to meet people one on one and build relationships. Not this parasocial imitation of connection.

That is what I have started to do in my new life in Victoria. I have work to do in my community, in my job, in my own life. That’s why I enjoy the twitter accounts that bear my real name. Be friends with the wonderful people I have met through twitter. But I will still use the PT account’s time line to look for media Content. English faculties in Victorian schools always need new opinion pieces and various examples of language use. I know where to find those. And many of them still come from members of the Sydney Push.

By prestontowers

I had been a teacher observing politics and the media from the outside for some time. I became a political insider, didn't like it much, and hightailed it back to watching it again. And still loving teaching.