There is a yoga mat lying on the floor behind a desk where a large desktop computer sits pride of place, overshadowed only by a record player in the corner of the office-sized room. The space is minimal, purposeful and quiet. Welcome to Anthony Macris’ studio at Parramatta Artist Studios.
“Sitting down is terrible for you”, Macris says with a laugh as he looks at the yoga mat. “I got into yoga about 10 years ago because as a writer I was just sitting down all the time and it was surprisingly really exhausting. It’s helped a lot and now I do it most days as a break.”
A four-time published author and Associate Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney, Macris has taken a year of leave from lecturing to work on his next book here at the Parramatta Artists Studios.
“I’m writing a book that is semi-autobiographical with a little bit of creative license, of course. I grew up in a fish and chip shop in Brisbane: we were the Greeks from the fish and chip shop. Its’s based on that growing up experience. “
Each year 14 artists take up an annual residency at Parramatta Artists Studios on Macquarie Street in the Parramatta CBD, an initiative of the City of Parramatta supported by Create NSW. It might be unusual to some that as a writer he has a residency in the studios, but he couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to have his own space to create.
“If you’re an artist, however that looks, you’re often by yourself a lot. Sometimes you come in here and just see something that one of the other artists is doing and it just gets your head buzzing, especially if you’re a writer who really likes images and visual things like me.”
“I might be a humble writer amongst the other artists but I count myself one of them.”
Spending four days a week in the space since his residency commenced in December 2017 has allowed Macris to get further into his book than he would’ve been able to at his home in the suburb of Dundas. At home, he and his wife Kathy raise their son Alex, who lives with severe autism, a journey he wrote about in his first non-fiction book When Horse Became Saw.
He gestures at his computer pointing at the word count of his latest novel on the screen which reads in at just over 34,000 words.
“I’ve broken the back of it – that’s the hard bit. It doesn’t mean it’s easy now, but I feel proud. I’ve done that here and I’m really happy.”
“For the first time I needed a space away from the house to be able to do this and it’s been a godsend. I couldn’t have done this without it - I would’ve had to rent a flat, or commercial space I can’t afford. This is absolutely brilliant, it’s so important to be fostering the arts like this.”
On how he found out about the studios, he credits award-winning Western Sydney author and founder of the Finishing School Collective, Felicity Castagna, whose invitation for Macris to read at an event at the studios lead him to apply for his residency.
“In a healthy culture the writers, the artists, the filmmakers, the poets, the weavers, the thinkers – they all talk to one another and take a little bit from each other and that’s a really exciting culture.”
“Through that initial event I met some artists and from there the network started growing and here I am! People like Felicity are gold and deserve all the support in the world.”
Macris calls Parramatta Artists Studios part of the cultural “engine room” in Western Sydney and is convinced that it and other grassroots organisations are what make up a community’s true cultural life.
“A community has to have a cultural life. Everything is now dominated by going to the cinema which is fine; we all like movies. But that’s not a cultural life, it’s only part of one.”
“You need something living and breathing, where the writers and artists are working, meeting and assisting each other. Parramatta has that here.”
Macris’ time at Parramatta Artists Studios has been a return to Western Sydney for him, following the completion of his PhD in Creative Writing in the early 2000s at what is now Western Sydney University. On his favourite Parramatta location, the answer is instantaneous and he gestures at the record player on the table in the corner.
“I’m a vinyl tragic as you can see. I love going into the Queensland Arcade to go to Beatdisc Records – it’s like heaven to me. I have to stop myself from buying new ones because I have to sneak them in at home to hide them. My wife is fine with it but is sort of like… ‘another one?!’. It’s the best.”
Both his return to Parramatta to work on his book at the studios, as well as living close by in Dundas have has reminded him that some perceptions of Parramatta exist that don’t reflect his own experience of the region.
“A lot of people still don’t understand that there are a lot of good things coming out of here in Western Sydney, from the university to places like the studios. Living in Dundas as well… it’s got fantastic bushwalking, community and you can get just about anywhere in Sydney from there.”
“My first day here at the studios was just great and wandering around the city, I felt so relaxed. Kids are always playing in that fountain (in Centenary Square) and there are all of these interesting and quirky arcades to explore.”
“It’s a really mixed, exciting, multicultural area and I love it.”
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Main image: Anthony Macris in his studio, Parramatta Artists Studios. Photo: Jacquie Manning