Australian anthems: the Go-Betweens – Streets of Your Town

The Go-Betweens in 1988. Photograph: Steve Pyke/Getty Images There are certainly more overtly Australian songs than the Go-Betwee...

The Go-Betweens in 1988. Photograph: Steve Pyke/Getty Images
There are certainly more overtly Australian songs than the Go-Betweens’ Streets of Your Town. Hell, there’s even a more overtly Australian Go-Betweens’ song – it’s called Cattle and Cane and it’s one of the most strangely beautiful moments in their strangely beautiful catalogue. But I didn’t grow up in northern Queensland among cane fields, walking home in a rain of falling cinders after leaving my father’s watch in the school showers, so I’m not writing about that one.
Firstly, you need to see the video for Streets of Your Town. There were two. One featured the band playing and a kid running around in slow motion. You need to see the other one. Whenever I hear Streets of Your Town, it’s the images from this video that play in my head – slabs of bright blue sky behind terrace houses, telephone lines, clock towers, apartment blocks and train stations. There are glimpses of the Sydney harbour bridge, overhead tram lines in Melbourne and buildings in central Brisbane. And lots of sun glittering on water.
Even when I first saw it in 1988, I thought there was something nostalgic about it. Now, of course, it looks even more so – the red rattler trains; the old-style buses; the fact that Grant McLennan is alive.
Robert Forster once described the Go-Betweens’ music as “that striped sunlight sound.” Streets of Your Town perfectly encapsulates that description. The song and the album it comes from, 16 Lovers Lane, were written over summer and autumn in Sydney in 1987-88, after the band had returned from living in England for five cold, damp, lean years. Like George Harrison singing about coming out of that long and lonely winter in Here Comes the Sun, you can hear the relief, as if they’ve opened the blinds and let the light wash over them.
Streets of Your Town may not be the greatest Go-Betweens song, but it’s probably the catchiest and best-known – the sparkling acoustic guitars, McLennan’s propulsive melody, Amanda Brown’s sweetly cascading “shah-ah-ah” backing vocals. It sounded to me like that first true day of an Australian summer, when you hear cicadas buzzing and there’s a whiff of frangipani in the air.
It also sounded like a certain hit. Part of me felt a bit cheated, because I’d loved the band for so long and now they were going to be all over radio and TV and I’d have to share them with everyone else. But my knack for picking hits is woeful. Streets of Your Town never even troubled the top 40. In fact, it peaked at a miserable number 70.
Ironically, years later it did end up being used quite successfully for commercial purposes, as the theme song for Prime Television and in an advertising campaign for the Courier-Mail. Unsurprisingly, neither used the line about the butcher shining his knives and the town full of battered wives.
In December 1989, less than 18 months after Streets of Your Town was released, Robert and McLennan broke up the Go-Betweens, which broke up McLennan and Brown’s relationship, which broke the hearts of saddo fans like myself. It was the end of the band, the end of the decade and, for me, my friends and a generation of Australians whose extended adolescence had been soundtracked by the Go-Betweens, the end of our 20s.
When I looked at the video again to write this piece I noticed something. That train platform where Forster gives John Willsteed a high-five? It looked familiar. That street they’re walking along right at the end? Even more so. I paused the video and got chills.
It’s raining today, so after I finish writing this I’ll leave my office and instead of riding my bike home, I’ll catch a train. I’ll walk down the same street as the band did a quarter of a century ago. I’ll turn into that arch at Macdonaldtown station just as they did on that day, Grant looking a bit self-conscious as he smirks at something John is saying, Amanda glancing to her left and smiling at both of them, Robert and Lindy both lost in their own little worlds.
You see, the streets of Streets of Your Town are the streets of my town.


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