One thing came quickly to mind when it was announced Richard Tognetti, who is by a fair margin Wollongong's most famed musical product, and one of its most successful exports in any endeavour, was to be given the symbolic Keys to the City in recognition of his achievements.
Of course, his ascension to a position as probably Australia's greatest contemporary violinist, and his elevation of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, came first.
Tognetti was in his twenties when appointed the ACO's artistic director, in 1989, and it established an identity as an innovative group which didn't wear tuxedos, which stood rather than sat. It had captured a new generation of listeners for string music, and then, as soloist, arranger, and director, he took it further, to the point where the ACO is recognised as one of the nation's finest ensembles. And most concert tours include, at the start, a performance at the Wollongong Town Hall.
That's what the rest of the country knows. But for Wollongong, with the announcement also came memories of the vitriol directed at Tognetti when he spoke straight about his Steel City upbringing to the [now-defunct] magazine Country Style for their series "my country upbringing". Wollongong apparently was "country".
He was panned - in the pages of this newspaper - for saying in that interview that the Wollongong of his youth had a "dark, troubled" side, for saying the city had not been "beautified", for suggesting a violinist was bullied at school while a football player may not have been.
Beautified? It wasn't anything that hadn't been said before, or since, by business leaders, entrepreneurs, expats. Unlike other cities - Newcastle is a good example - Wollongong never had its big-money boom which resulted in grand buildings. The city's non-resident billionaire is content to let Crown St's concrete horrors stand. And given a history of clergy abuse in too many local institutions, the "dark side" - back then - was inarguable.
This was nothing new. Tognetti had told the Mercury in 2009 "I have been consistent in my criticism of Wollongong ... I just think it deserves much better." Most leaders in the Illawarra's main city have sung a similar refrain.
"To criticise a place often means you care for it," Tognetti told Weekender. "It was a bit strange the amount of cannon fodder [I became] at the time. There's a thing about maturity - you cop the flak. If you criticise New York, no-one even notices. It shows it's a small town, with some slightly paranoid people - at the time."
In trying to understand the ferocity of the reaction, it's hard to get past the fact Tognetti is a violinist. If Lenny from Tumbleweed, the famed 90s-era heavy rockers, or Wayne Gardner, the motorcycle champion who received the Keys in 1987, said the same, it's hard to imagine that reaction. A violinist is an easy target. Elitist, priggish, superior - the insults are ready-made.
"I was taken aback," Tognetti said. "I've got broad shoulders but I was taken aback about the amount of criticism that was fired back at me. It sounded like the defensiveness that comes from a small and slightly paranoid town. And I hope that is changing. But that's just a sort of psychosis in a way. The fundamental truths, I don't recoil from them, and I don't recuse myself from standing by them."
Psychosis is not a disease but a symptom. It's a condition characterised by a disconnection from reality - as are blind patriotism, hate, and the kind of nationalism that creates "My Country Right Or Wrong" bumper stickers.
The irony. The "darkness" Tognetti cited was, more than anything, a reference to the city's former mayor Frank Arkell, who along with previous mayor Tony Bevan, and a disturbing number of priests at local Catholic schools, were exposed as pedophiles. Arkell was known as Mr Wonderful Wollongong for his tireless promotion of the city.
"What a strange dark chapter in Wollongong's history that was," Tognetti said. "It shouldn't be forgotten. And he [Arkell] was the biggest trumpeter of Wollongong - almost like Aunty Jack: 'Wollongong! Wollongong! Wollongong!'
"Everything I said is ... incontrovertible. It would be nuts to argue with it. When you throw it back at me I don't say those words were taken out of context. They weren't taken out of context. I wasn't going to say 'Wollongong! Wollongong! I love Wollongong!'. The big difference with me and other Wollongong-ites is that I keep coming back. And I take a f***ing orchestra!
"That's why I said those words. They came out of a love for the place, not a rejection of the place. I meet people all over the world who say 'I come from Wollongong and I never go back'. Apart from the fact my folks, and brother, and friends live there, I would go back in any case."
Like family, it's possible to love a place, while not necessarily liking everything about it. And most of Wollongong's civic leaders have been speaking for years, via various summits, conferences, and strategies, about how to revitalise the city. Tognetti says the past must lead towards a future.
"Is the place developing? Well the northern suburbs are extraordinary. I would argue that the overpopulation of the southern suburbs, that they could put more thought into town planning. But I say all of this because I do love the place, and geographically it's just exquisite.
"Where the escarpment meets the sea, you've got this little town nestled in, with that dark, brooding escarpment. The beaches are extraordinary; it's just close enough to the megalopolis of Sydney. It's poised to be a really amazing town. In the context of that, my comments should have been taken as a wake-up call. The worst thing you can hear [in response] is 'no way, we're the best'. Yeah. Just because you've got nice beaches doesn't mean the city is necessarily a great city. We don't need more carparks and cheap apartments."
More than anything, Tognetti is proud of helping save the Wollongong Town Hall - now a landmark performance venue, which hosts the ACO regularly. But in 2008, with the city council sacked after findings of corruption, it faced demolition. Tognetti played an impromptu show for a packed house - those who were there say this was the moment the council administrators, in the audience, made up their mind.
"I just couldn't believe what [they] were about to do with the Wollongong Town Hall. I was angry and my anger remains. That was the Town Hall, and we saved it. In Wollongong, that's my proudest achievement."
It almost didn't happen.
"I was actually surfing that day when my mum rang, and you know, you always say no to your mum, the first time. She said 'you've got to come down'. I said 'no - [my impact] would be like a teardrop in an ocean'.
"She said 'please come'. I literally had just gotten out of the water. I was expecting ten people and a dog, but the place was packed. It would have been just shocking for the psyche of the city. That they even considered it. Lest we forget. I gave a little speech and played something. I didn't organise the rally; I just happened to be there. But I was part of the protest ... and we won."
By giving him the keys to the city, Wollongong has said it's ready to embrace what one of its star children wants to unlock.
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