About Matthew da Silva

 

Aren't we sweet? An idyllic childhood, it seems. But life on Sydney Harbour didn't feel special until about the time reading became something pursued for its own sake, with high school. In New South Wales, the state in which Sydney is the capital, you quit primary school aged 12 years or so and high school is for six years. At first it was just books about animals but it's not an incomprehensible leap from a veterinarian clomping across rural English farm paddocks or a naturalist sweatily quizzing the forests of sub-Saharan Africa to French Symbolist poetry. This did happen quickly enough but my mother worried and secured a book club subscription for me.

Spirited and precocious, my brother, who upped sticks and moved to the United States when I was still at high school, guided me to science fiction. There was the Amerindian ziggurat-world of Philip Jose Farmer, Anne McCaffrey's tiny dragons and toxic space flux, Ray Bradbury's echoing Martian plains, the intrepid upholders of domesticity of Tolkien, and Douglas Adams' wry takes on the present future. Objective rewards arrived in the forms of a sailing medal and prizes for French and art.

Living in a largely monocultural part of the city the matter of my name was problematic from time to time. Writing his memoir my father upbraided his father for apparent feelings of entitlement -- my grandfather Joao Luis' father was the police commissioner in Lourenco Marques, capital of Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique -- but in any case we were told early to insist on writing the family name the traditional way.

Skipping the nest

For the first year after commencing tertiary study in fine arts and French and Italian I live at a residential university college. The student newspaper is attempted but I don't have much confidence.

These days in the early 80s are very much part of an era of protest and inquiry. The long shadow of the 60s remains spread out on the urban landscape. Ripped jeans and heavy make-up are still a symbol of an individual's rejection of an entire political and moral order. The emphasis is on statement rather than fashion, but the droogs are emerging (that's what we call hipsters).

The photo (that's not me) shows an editorial meeting for a literary magazine called Neos: Young Writers in an upstairs room at Cornstalk Bookshop on Glebe Point Road, in the inner-city suburb of Glebe. Production relies on pre-set lengths of type that are pasted onto a paper grid with glue. It isn't until about five years later when I help a friend put together the pilot issue of his literary magazine that we use a Macintosh I borrow from my father.

But that would be after I enter the workforce. Still to complete is my fourth-year Italian thesis on Italo Svevo, a fin-de-siecle Triestine Jew who was a friend of James Joyce and possibly a model for Bloom, although I don't know this not having read Ulysses. My thesis is vaguely new historicist and attempts to link events in Svevo's personal story with characters and events that appear in his books. I graduate with second-class honours.

A 20-year project

For some reason I decide to chronicle this large demonstration that takes place on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, and involves both the gay-rights lobby and the Christian lobby. Possibly the clash of cultures attracts me. A more usual weekend routine for me is to gather myself mid-morning, drop by the newsagent and the pastry shop on Bondi Road, buy the necessary, and head down to one of Sydney's many eastern beaches.

On a weekday evening I might run along Bondi Beach a few times for aerobic exercise, or head down to the pavilion to take a karate lesson. Some Saturdays I head up to Paddington Markets to browse in the sunshine for an hour or two. At the end of such a day the Japanese trinket dealers congregate and with young people mostly staying in the country on working holiday visas we drink until the company fades into the night. It is at one such party that I meet a woman who becomes my wife, and a couple of years later we end up in Tokyo where I am working for a large company that manufactures, sells and services technology for automation.

It's a small publishing unit and I have many jobs: desktop publishing, feature writing, photography, news reporting, press releases, writing technical documents. When I return to Australia I continue with technical writing but also decide to return to university to study journalism.