In his most recent book, Woolloomooloo: A biography, author and playwright Louis Nowra sets out to discover why the word ‘Woolloomooloo’ is still ‘a shorthand for notoriety, social despair and criminality’. Eschewing conventional historical method, he undertakes his research from the ground up, walking the sixty-three streets of that much-maligned suburb just east of the Sydney CBD. With a nod to Baudelaire, he describes himself as a flâneur, someone who observes the life of a city while exploring it on foot. It proves to be a very effective method.
The narrative is divided into four strands: memoir, history, the suburb’s major streets, and recurring themes. This structure, with chapters alternating between the present and the past, highlights one of Nowra’s main themes, namely, the indelible impact of Woolloomooloo’s past upon its present.