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AJ stands at the intersection of Taylor Square with progress pride flags and the busy street behind him he wears a long denim coat over al all black outfit
Photograph: Katje Ford

Find Sydney tough to crack? Here's how I found this city's soul

Comedian AJ Lamarque shares his intimate understanding of why Sydney truly is 'Mixed Race'

Alannah Le Cross
Alexander Lamarque
Edited by
Alannah Le Cross
Written by
Alexander Lamarque

Sydney is Mixed Race – and I don’t just mean that this city is multicultural (although that is also true). Sydney is Mixed Raced in the sense that it continues to live in a complex rhythm of navigating different identities simultaneously. It’s equally as artsy and vibrant as it is corporate and barren. Beautiful and lush yet also comprised of ugly ‘Ikea-kit’ high rises and vacant office squares. It’s brand new whilst also being on the land of the oldest continuing cultures on Earth. Sydney – it’s a complicated city.

But being complicated is something I can relate to as someone who is also Mixed Race. Well, multiracial but who’s counting (me, I’m counting). To explain, my heritage is British, Indian, Chinese, South African and Jamaican. I was born in London, which you can tell because people have a habit of hearing my accent and then regurgitating the following line: YoU sOunD liKe yOu’Re fRom LoNdOn”. Trust, it never gets old. If you’re wondering how one human ends up with all those cultural legacies, the simple answer is colonialism. I suppose in some twisted way I owe my existence to colonisers (geez, I really should book my next therapy session). My whole journey through life has been spent frantically darting between cultures, societal pulls and overwhelming imposter syndrome. This is why, when I moved to Sydney officially in 2015, I could relate to its “complicated” nature.

AJ Lamarque in Taylor SquarePhotograph: Katje Ford

At first, I encountered Sydney’s barren side. Two years after the rollout of the lockout laws, it was one of the only cities in the world where you could walk through the CBD on a Friday night and easily be forgiven for thinking it had been abandoned. Despite Circular Quay including two of the most recognisable landmarks in the world, you could shoot a zombie apocalypse film with ease and never have to worry about people getting in the shot. And I say that from a place of lived experience, as someone who was an extra for a zombie film in 2016 that was shot in and around the Quay. 

Then I started working. Stocking Havaianas deliveries at Olympic Park; being an extra at Fox Studios; keeping my head low in a coked-up marketing firm in Redfern; and then a nutritional company in the Cross that lacked any knowledge about nutrition (seriously, the lack of laws regarding the science of nutritional products in Australia is shocking!). And through those eclectic roles, I met Sydney’s workaholic side. Main hustles, side hustles, step-hustles twice removed, Sydneysiders love a hustle. And I don’t blame them, considering the fact most people need all their family to die (and to have been wealthy) in order to buy a tiny apartment in a cheap new build complex. 

When I moved to Sydney officially in 2015, I could relate to its “complicated” nature

After a few years, getting a friend group, going out and finding all the hidden bars and nightlife, I finally met Sydney’s vibrant side. I think years of a conservative government consistently trying to kill off all “unsanitised” forms of art and nightlife (i.e. anything but the opera and ballet) gave Sydney an appearance of hollowness at face value. Anything remotely cultural, in a diverse sense, has to hide to survive, in many ways much like how those same “family-valued” politicians try to hide their Grindr apps on their phone. (But don’t worry pollies, us gays don’t gossip, so your secrets are safe with us.)

Through my introduction into the gay scene, I discovered Sydney’s debilitating superficial side. The side that worships muscles, blonde hair and white skin. The side that only wants ethnic fellas if they can fill the thug-top fantasy (seriously, if I wear joggers, a white tee and a gold chain the attention these guys give me is exponential). The side that won’t look you in the eye as human – a common look on Oxford Street that only those who experience it will relate to. It's a sad surface that leaves none happy and muddies the incredible legacy of Sydney’s Queer scene, the 78ers and those who fought for the rights we have today, the community groups that welcome all who need, the health orgs that provide medical help where most doctors can’t – ultimately, Sydney’s incredible pride.

AJ Lamarque stands at the rainbow crossing in Taylor SquarePhotograph: Katje Ford

But when you crack that layer and dig beyond the surface level, you meet Sydney’s real side. The much bigger yet seemingly hidden meat (cheeky!) that is diverse, multifaceted and caring. You meet artists, activists, quiet café readers, museum dwellers, dog walkers, joggers, elders, business owners, dreamers and beyond. All the things that make you realise that this city contains people, community and even dare I say, a heart. 

While your own kind of community is difficult to actually find as soon as you arrive in Sydney, I promise that if you give it time and show up, you'll find it. As a comedian, writer and event producer nowadays, I can attest that the hardest part of putting something on in Sydney is often just getting people to get dressed and leave the damn house. But in a world where stability and consistency seem like folklore, it’s definitely worth the time and energy to go find that scene. For once you do, you’ll realise that things might not be so isolating after all.  

Anything remotely cultural, in a diverse sense, has to hide to survive

Do I think Sydney is perfect? No. But what is? Perfection is a myth created by those hoping we’ll get too bogged down with self-loathing to ever be a tall poppy. A sentiment I think Mixed Race people are more aware of because we grow up constantly reminded that we are imperfect. We sit in the unattractive Venn diagram of cultures that no one really desires. But what we lack in perfection, we make up for in openness. We accept the paradoxes of our existence because, despite being “diluted”, we are real and we are magnificent. We are as Black as we are White, traditional as we are progressive, mixed as we are pure. And, in the long and short of it, I understand Sydney on a much deeper level. Because just like me, Sydney is Mixed Race. 

AJ Lamarque is a rising comedy star. A proud Mixed Race, queer comedian, AJ has garnered a formidable reputation as a skilled writer, a charismatic performer and a strong community leader. You can listen to AJ on his podcast Floof with AJ Lamarque and follow him on Instagram and TikTok under @ajlamarque.

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