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In the summer of late 1959, aged eight, Dutch-born Rolf de Heer arrives at Sydney’s Berowra Public School, speaking almost no English. He is the son of an electrical engineer, who had first relocated the family for work to Padang, in a European jungle enclave. Following civil war in Sumatra, the family find themselves at Western Sydney’s Scheyville migrant camp, before settling in Hornsby in the city’s north.

The third eldest of six siblings, Rolf forgets his Dutch and will pursue studies in French, Latin, German and philosophy, but within a couple of years, thanks to voracious reading, tops his English class.

Pick a side: Melbourne or Sydney? AFL or NRL? That older bloke with his lifetime career in league football and its material and carnal privileges, or his scorned lover with her youthful allure and video-enabled revenge on social media? The playwright, novelist and actor Brendan Cowell suggests our sympathies might alternate as the act unfolds.

Melbourne Theatre Company is about to premiere Cowell’s latest play, The Sublime, the story of two footballer brothers – one plays AFL, the other NRL – and a young woman whose iPhone proves capable of destroying not only a career, but entire power structures. The “beautiful hatred” between cities and codes will play out.

All Sorts: a love letter to Sydney,
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all they are, all they could be ...

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