Peter M Howard ::

Dream City

30April2009 [photography]
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In which I find a city that isn’t a City, and only really exists in a dream of itself

I wrote the following piece while staying in Surfers Paradise, in late April 2009. It is illustrated by photos taken to document the city and the time. (More photos are available in the album — Surfers Paradise 2009).

The ocean. The horizon. Open vistas. The ocean is big, rough, unknown, dangerous. It holds the same attraction as does space, but here you can’t see the stars.

Swim Near the Flags

But the city here doesn’t feel right. It feels tacked on, next to the sea, which every day takes a little piece of the city’s foundations away.

Holding up the City

As though aware that it’s only here temporarily, the city itself is stuck in a time warp, or in some collective dream of what a Paradise by the sea might look like. But it’s just stuck as a dream, hasn’t quite become real.


Part of that dream is hedonism, certainly, but you end up with an old casino full of old people, with a couple of streets that feel like a watered-down, tackier (imagine!) version of Kings Cross.

Orchid Ave

You get sections of the city ripping off Melbourne’s laneways, and though they’re nice enough places, they feel forced. You get old hotels that relied overmuch on a particular motif, or that are old and brown and visibly decaying.


That’s not to say it’s all old and dying — the city’s in a constant state of redevelopment. There are shiny new buildings just built and models and renderings of more to come.

Building a New Era

But when you look at the map and see the thin little sand-bar that the city is built upon, and you look out to the east and see the waves crashing in and the rip carrying the sand away to the north, the city feels ephemeral, liable to be swept away at a moment’s notice.

The Island

Ordinarily, a city (or any other shared, social space) becomes a place by virtue of its shared lives and experiences. With this transformation, a Spirit moves into the place (I haven’t yet determined if this spirit is generated from the place or comes from elsewhere and elsewhen). But being a city built on sand, this City hasn’t been able to put down its roots, hasn’t been able to develop the sense of place necessary for a Spirit to call the City its home. Without this key transformation, it feels empty, and- well- like a mirage on the sands.

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