‘Back when I was a student in Tasmania, I went out for a while with a Croatian boy. He took me to a dance one night and there were some Yugoslavian boys there too. I think all the girls were Aussies. I started flirting with the Yugoslav boy because he was making eyes at me and then the Croatian boy pulled out a knife and said to both of us, “You do that again, and I’ll stab him.”
‘That really scared me. I was a very naïve, 18 year old but that stayed in my memory all those years. I decided I wanted to find out why were there Croatians coming to Australia and why did they hate Yugoslavs so I had to do the research on that and find out.
‘I moved to Newtown 20 years ago when I left Tasmania. I was married to an ex-Newtown boy. He’d told me so much about the place; I knew I wanted to live here. When I got here, I fell in love with it and felt really welcomed.
‘I spent my life as a journalist and for the past eight years have been working on a book of verses called Newtown Voices about four characters that live in Newtown in 1978. Two of the characters are locals – a deputy editor of the weekly paper and a lesbian living in a squat – and two of them are newcomers including a Croatian migrant with a tragic past who I based my experience as a teen on.
‘From the book, I’d like people to take just a little bit of history about how Newtown was in the 70s but also get a sense of how much it’s the same – apart from the horrible crimes and violence back then. Essentially, the people are the same. A lot of the buildings and streets are the same. It’s almost like it’s a timeless place. There’s something about Newtown that doesn’t change when the buildings refurbish and the place gets gentrified – the people who stay in Newtown make it. There’s this ongoing spirit that doesn’t vanish.’