Note to readers: While I am taking a short posting break, I do want to maintain posting my column on the due date. This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 24 February 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.
Whatever my sometimes complaints about Sydney, there can be no doubt that this is a city of enormous beauty and variety, as well as sometimes ghastly ugliness.
Thursday last week we went to the St George Open Air Cinema at Mrs Macquarie’s Point. An annual event, the site sits on the edge of the water looking over the harbour to the city and bridge.
The gates open at 6.15, with the film starting at 8.30. Between these times, people eat and drink on the site or picnic nearby in the Botanic Gardens. As night falls, the screen is raised and the film begins.
Then, on Sunday, we went to a birthday lunch at the Boy Charlton Pool on the other side of Mrs Macquarie’s Point overlooking Garden Island and Pott’s Point. Not as visually stunning as the first view, but still very attractive.
I have known Sydney well and for a very long time, probably better than many who have lived in the city their whole lives.
Sydney is a very fragmented city, a sprawling patchwork quilt increasingly divided by geography, ethnicity and culture into individual domains that rarely meet even when together.
I love this diversity.
We used to live at Rosebery. For those who don’t know Sydney, Rosebery is just 6.4k south of the city centre, about ten minutes by road.
This was a small industrial suburb whose residents were primarily Greek migrants who entered the country in the first wave of post war migration. The house we lived in had older Greek couples on three sides, while one of the Aristocrat poke machine factories was just across the road.
Rosebery was in fact poker machine central when we moved in, with three major Aristocrat plants in a few blocks. Two other smaller poker machine suppliers had offices nearby.
Aristocrat’s location was quite convenient from my viewpoint, since at one point I was providing Front Line Management Certificate IV and Diploma level training to staff from Aristocrat’s R&D Division. I could just walk down the road.
Rosebery was also on the edge of shopping central, the collection of factory outlets that stretch down Botany Road and some adjoining streets. Sass & Bide’s head office itself was just down our street, with huge queues of girls stretching along the block each time there was a sale.
This location, from my daughter’s perspective, was a very good thing!
At weekends, the streets were sometimes clogged with buses bringing women from Sydney’s outer suburbs on day trips to sample the various factory outlets. I hadn’t seen this type of shopping tourism before, and found it quite fascinating to watch.
Over the nine years we lived in Rosebery, we watched the suburb change.
To the north, the wave of inner city gentrification and associated medium density development marched steadily out from the city. By the time we left, this wave had penetrated to a few blocks from our street.
Aristocrat closed its plants, moving to North Ryde, while the big RTA facility in nearby Rothschild Avenue closed.
House prices doubled as Sydneysiders discovered Rosebery’s convenience, passing a million dollars for a small three bedroom house. Rents increased by more than 50 per cent.
Eastlakes lies next to Rosebery to the south west, a ten minute walk from our old house. Now we enter a different world, for this must be one of the most ethnically diverse spots in the country.
The Eastlakes shopping centre is Chinese owned and comes complete with Chinese shops and script. There is a small Buddhist temple at the rear entrance.
In the park nearby, young Muslim men from the nearby public housing flats sporting mullet hair styles congregate in the park. There is much inspection of cars and engines.
On the benches inside the shopping centre and in the cafes at the front, older Greek men sit and talk, passing the time of day.
Inside the centre, the checkout operators at the Woolworth’s supermarket come from a dozen nationalities. Girls in headscarves operate check-outs next to Chinese or Indian staff.
An older Greek staff member chats in Greek to the aging Greek customers. A young Indian man tells me about his study plans.
Multiple worlds, all in one city in close proximity. Herein lies part of Sydney’s fascination.