For all the talk of fun in the sun, night-time glamour and an enviable lifestyle, there is a darker side to the Gold Coast. On society’s fringes, in the heavily populated and impoverished housing commission estates and dustbowl subdivisions, life’s struggle offers little to envy. Omega Park is one such estate, a place of want, crime, drug use, discontent and disaffection. In this bleak existence, the Omega Park kids kill time by playing spotlight and sticking together; the adults kill time by killing brain cells with dope and booze. This is not the Gold Coast of the tourism ads and postcards, but is a representation of the cold reality of every modern city.
Omega Park is multi-faceted work that switches between the past and the present. In a dramatic opening, Damian “Dingo” Patterson witnesses Jacob Box’s death in a car crash, the result of long-simmering tensions between Omega Park’s residents, known as “Parkees”, and the police. As Jacob dies in the wreck of an old Torana, the passenger, his mother Leo, flees the scene and triggers a stand-off and rioting between the police and Omega Park residents.
Even though the novel opens with his death in a car accident caused by an aggressive high-speed police pursuit, it almost immediately returns to Jacob’s earliest years. What we subsequently learn of his childhood would indicate he had little chance to be anything more than a crime statistic. Jacob has never lived anywhere but the estate. His drug-addicted father burns to death in a house fire, his mother takes up with the nasty Peter John Smith, who constantly threatens Jacob with violence and attempts to lure him into his criminal schemes. A bright but unambitious boy with a talent for science, Jacob is dragged into a way of life that is much harder to escape than it is to adopt. Despite this, Jacob is one of nature’s aristocrats: a street-savant with enough nous to stay out of serious trouble and enough charisma to bend others to his will.
It is a more ordinary boy, Dingo, who shares the narrative’s other half. Dingo is a recent arrival to Omega Park. His family is there by circumstance (an injured father who is unable to work) rather than birth. Dingo’s family life is more settled. His mum drinks herself to sleep while his dad reads Stephen King and smokes dope – but they are loving, committed and sentimental parents, alert to Dingo’s needs and worries and concerned to give him freedom while steering him away from the wrong crowd.
After Jacob’s death, Dingo has his own problems. Unable to surf due to a lock-down of the estate, he is mesmerised by the fierce boys who nightly challenge the riot police. Gradually he is drawn into the lives of his young neighbours and is compelled to share in their hatred of the police and their struggle against the prejudices of those who despise the “Parkees”.
Ultimately, that Dingo is a keen and talented young surfer makes all the difference: he has access to the essentially meritocratic Aussie surf culture. Jacob who can count on one hand the number of times he has been to the beach picks Dingo for a temporary resident when they first meet. He tells the younger boy, firmly but gently, that, while they share a street address, they come from different worlds. But Dingo is sole witness to Jacob’s last moments, he sees the unmarked police car, hears the crash and this makes him something of a celebrity among his furious and grief-stricken peers. Dingo, gentle but impressionable, hovers on a precipice as tensions between the estate’s youth and police reach breaking point. Dingo is Omega Park’s voice of hope; in him there is reason and promise. Dingo might just escape.
In many ways, Omega Park is a suburban war story featuring battles fought on social, economic and even philosophical fronts. This modern bildungsroman is the gritty and tragic tale of two boys trapped by circumstance; where every decision contributes to embracing or escaping the life with which they have been burdened; where every encounter is a potential step further into an undesirable future.
This synopsis is based on reviews of Omega Park written during August and September 2009 in the following publications: Bookseller+Publisher Magazine, Australian Literary Review, Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail, Adelaide Advertiser and the Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin.