Friday, October 2, 2009

suburb no. 5: Cabramatta

I got lost once. Okay, maybe twice. But that was the truck’s fault, obscuring the turn off sign at 
the critical moment.

Thanks to my navigation errors I had plenty of time pelting along the M5 to reflect on what I knew 
about the suburb of ‘Cabra’, located 30km from Sydney’s CBD. It wasn’t a long reflection – good 
Vietnamese food and evil drug gangs. That was it.

Way before lemongrass and crime arrived in Cabra the Aboriginal Cabrogal tribe lived there for 

oh, 30,000 years. Hence the name - 'Cabra' is Aboriginal for fresh tasty water grub, and 'Matta', a 
point or jutting out land mass.

Fast forward to the 1950s and ‘60s when post-war immigrants from Europe got busy setting up 

business in the area. The Vietnamese, fleeing the Vietnam War, followed them in the 70’s, along
with refugees from Cambodia and Laos. Many other nationalities were to join them so that today 
Cabra is Australia's most multicultural postcode with 120 nationalities and nearly 70% of the 
population born overseas.

The result is an amazing melting pot, literally; the suburb seems to bubble over with spicy, fragrant

Asian food and freshly baked croissants and baguettes, taunting your olfactory nerves at every corner.
So I got the food bit right. Not so with the whole scary gang thing. Apparently that was then and this 
is now and it’s all much improved.

Anyway. Cabra is pretty interesting. Worth a visit – or three. That’s how many times I ventured out 

there this week, first to the Moon Festival and then twice more, to snap away and eat and use the 
five words of Cantonese I know. They laughed. I laughed. Then it was time to go.

Cabramatta, Part 1: Moon Festival

A big deal in the Chinese calender, to celebrate the moon shining at its brightest. Legends include a 
story about an Emperor’s wife who floated to the moon and that moon cakes were used 
by revolutionaries in the Yuan Dynasty to secretly communicate messages.

woman on the moon

spot the moon

moon cake

moon sparkles

double happiness

Cabramatta, Part 2: The food

Spicy, aromatic goodness wafting out of Cabra’s many restaurants…endless displays of the freshest
greens…scary looking ‘Lucky’ butcher shops. 

before and after

bowls of goodness

feed the soul

not for some

not your average watermelon

red and yellow, fire and earth I

red and yellow, fire and earth II

Cabramatta, Part 3: Multi-everything

The gateway or Pai Lau in Freedom Plaza, is a symbol of harmony, democracy and multiculturalism. 
‘The World is for us to share and respect’. Different beliefs...

to share and respect

Maori from head to toe

all welcome

rich in spiritual life



different gods

to help you sleep

Cabramatta, Part 4: On the street

circles of life

why not

trend setters

a loud pant


Cabramatta, Part 5: Patterns and colours, because I like them





Cabramatta, Part 6: The Italian barber

Slam bam in the middle of all this Asia I stumbled into Little Italy. Italian born Angelo, the barber 
and owner of Paris Style Barber Shop, has been tending to the tresses of Cabra residents for 40 
plus years.

You don’t have to imagine what his shop was like all those years ago. It’s exactly the same, like 

it has been preserved in formaldehyde. From the black and white flooring and flock wallpaper, to 
his amazing collection of 45s (records) and Italian Mickey Mouse ‘Topolino’ magazines, it’s so old 
Italy and so unexpected.

What has changed is the clientele, from mainly European way back when to mostly Asian nowadays. 

Angelo charges $15 for a flat top but the nostalgic trip back in time is free. 

Paris Style


40 years on (Angelo on the far left of the photo on the left, 40 years ago and today)

45s and magazines

a boy and his dog

black and white

Did I find beauty? Yes, in the rich traditions and stories of survival, adaptation and integration. 
In the pastel coloured fibros that beat the pants of their new brick neighbours towering over them. 
In the aesthetically pleasing cuisine. And in Angelo's time capsule of a barber shop. Most definitely 
in the barber shop.
Next week, the suburb of Eveleigh. See you then.


  1. Wow. So much fun. And so beautiful. Thank you.

  2. i agree with miss buckle :) i think this is my favourite blog right now. love it.

  3. Oh Louise - just when I thought you couldn't beat your previous suburbs! These are so inspiring - since finding your blog I find I am looking at my own suburbs and surrounds differently. Thank you for that and the gift of your photos .

  4. MissBuckle, captain kk and Kate - thank you for your lovely comments! Makes me so happy that people enjoy this space and are inspired to look at their world differently.


  5. Your capture of unnoticed beauty, amazing. They've really opened my eyes. I'm so glad my friend introduced me to this blog of local photography, you are truly talented.

    One day I might set out on a treasure hunt to trace your steps....

  6. You have got to think about making this into a coffee table book when you are done. It is just amazing.

  7. Thanks Trent, I'd be tickled pink if I could make this into a book. Who knows.


  8. This post is awesome!! Great images...glad I found your blog :)

  9. Just heard you on FBi. Love the idea. Will check you out every week.

    Looking forward to the book !

    James @ North Ryde

  10. Just amazing. There has to be a book in this. You have an awesome talent and I am loving your blog. I'm coming to Sydney next week and I will be looking at it with new eyes.
    Thank you for this fascinating tour of the Sydney sights.

  11. Your blog and photos are absolutely fantastic! As others have said, it is a real eye-opener about Sydney. I also grew up there but never ventured out into many further flung areas. I would love to have time to come back and explore some of the places you have photographed, as each area has its own flavour, atmosphere and personality. You really should consider creating a book once you've covered all the 'burbs. Well done!
    Natalie Singh

  12. I have been living in the Uk for nearly 18 years now. When I get homesick for Oz I just want to remember the little the colour of the houses, the trees, the blue of the sky the quirky street life and people. You have managed to capture so much in your photos...the images are simple yet evocative. Thankyou for giving me such a wonderful trip down memory lane....If you do consider publishing a book I will be buying it! x Therese

  13. Bloody marvelous! I lived in Sydney for 30 years and never once went to Cabramatta. Cant wait to see what you can do with Zetland, Toongabbie, and maybe even Roselands?

  14. .......and also, you're making Sydney seem something I never found it: interesting.

  15. What a beautiful, hyper-vivid post – really lovely, detailed and captivating! I grew up in Cabramatta, so it is interesting to see how much it has (and hasn't) changed. I'm also glad you went beyond the cliches of Cabramatta being one big pho noodle joint, and showed more of the character of the suburb than the tourist-brochure stereotypes. Looking fwd to your next postcode exploration, Louise.
    Lee Tran

  16. Oh my! What a beautiful blog! What a marvellous concept! And in my dear beloved city too... Now, I really must get back to Cabramatta for a visit. Your photos are stunning.

  17. this blog and your photos are wonderful - thank you so so much!

  18. Amazing photos! I look forward to taking the trip through a new suburb with you every week.

  19. I agree on the creating a book idea. I would love to have all these images in a huge glossy book on my coffee table! I love your blog; it is so inspiring. It makes me wonder how many beautiful images I could find in my little town!

  20. Thanks again for the beauty, and the memories. Love love love your sense of colour, your juxtaposition, your framing, your finding of beauty in the unexpected.
    So lovely to see photographic works that take my breath away again.

  21. Your photos are incredible. I love the Lucky Butchery one.

  22. i finally found the photo you took of me at moonfestival. i'm the guy with the orange moehawk :)