Friday, October 30, 2009

suburb No 9: Blacktown

What did I know about Blacktown before I ventured out there this week? Only that a 52 Suburbs 
follower suggested I visit it for a ‘real challenge’. Cripes. What if I returned sans snaps? What if 

couldn’t find a single interesting angle, appealing pattern or, god forbid, artful tattoo to photograph?

The weather was conspiring against me too – at the very least a clear blue sky would offer some colour,

some interest. But no, just grey blandness everywhere in Sydney earlier this week. As I rocketed along 
the M4 in search of a suburb so obviously bad they couldn’t even give it a colour, under an equally 
monotone sky, I felt sure I was doomed.

Enough of my internal agonies – the facts:

• The Warmuli, Gomerigal and Wawarawarry clans of the Darug people lived in the area until the 

arrival of the Europeans in the 1790’s

• Governor Macquarie, more pro-Aboriginal than his mates, established Blacks’ Town in 1821 and 

granted land to two indigenous men

• In 1862 the suburb became known as Blacktown. Semi-rural until it took off in the 1950’s when the

railway line was electrified

• Blacktown still has the largest Aboriginal population in NSW, as well as immigrants from the 

Philippines, India and Africa (Sudan, Liberia)

• There are some historic buildings dotted around in nearby suburbs of Mount Druitt, Rouse Hill and

Prospect. But in Blacktown itself, there are only two: a former school that’s now the Visitor & Heritage 
Centre and an old church, now home to the Blacktown Arts Centre.

How was it? I won’t lie. It was pretty tough going. At one stage I was more interested in what to have 

for lunch than what to photograph.

But then something happened. Lured to a public hall in the centre of town by the smells of spicy food I 

chanced upon the Community Expo 09. Doesn’t sound like a riot I know. But compared to the 
characterless suburban streets I’d just driven around, desperately waiting for something to catch 
my eye, it was gold.

The room was filled with colour and movement. Bollywood dancers performing at one moment, 

didgeridoo booming out the next. I met Africans from Sierra Leone, Sudan, the Congo and Liberia. 
An afro-Brazilian. And Martin (skin name, Jupurula), the didgeridoo guy, from the Gamillaroi tribe of 
northwest NSW…

Jupurula and his didgeridoo


tribes, old and new

aren't we all?

taming nature

from Sudan to Sydney

skin deep

street art (mural on utility box and hair twists)

one of the lucky ones

red brick in Blacktown

mother and daughter

lace and roses

the colour purple

row upon row

how does your garden grow

say cheese

we're all connected

past history



Beauty? Blacktown didn’t jump out at me as a place blessed with beauty of a natural or built 
variety. In the town centre 99% of the old has been replaced with not so good new, much of it 
looking in need of replacement itself. As far as homes go, I didn't spot any McMansions thankfully 
and the old weatherboards and fibros have some charm, enhanced by a rose bush or in a couple
of cases, well tended gardens. But - there’s also a lot that’s appealing about a suburb that can 
accommodate vastly different cultures and traditions, providing much needed sanctuary from 
less tolerant societies. To my eyes Blacktown represents hope and is full of life and colour - you 
just have to search for it.

You might like to visit...

Blacktown Visitor Information and Heritage Centre
, Flushcombe Road, Blacktown.

A wonderful sounding play on at the
Blacktown Arts Centre about the experience of being 

Sudanese in Sydney, My Name is Sud. 19-21 and 26-28 November. Bookings, 9839 6558.

See you next week. 


  1. What beautiful photos! Such a great idea too :o)

  2. This project is amazing. I look forward to it every week. Thanks!

  3. its been quite a while since i have been so inspired by anything. this is just amazing. FTR - i was born in blacktown and my grandparents still live in seven hills and have done so for about 40 years

  4. I'm so happy you took my suggestion on board! Truth be told, I tend to avoid going to Blacktown even though I don't live far. But I've never seen it look like this! You are a genius.

    You took up the challenge and you succeeded. Love your work! :D

  5. Your photos are great, as always, and I really love your blog, but I got no sense of place this time round. Good sense of people, but no sense of place at all. Nevertheless, don't want to be discouraging or critical, as I love what you're doing. Just a bit of honest feedback.

  6. People make a place though don't they..? I think looking at the actual population of some of the suburbs of Sydney does say a lot more about them then the buildings.
    That said, I wouldn't have minded some celebration of the faded suburbia as well.

    Oh I love this blog!

  7. Jamie
    Honest feedback is always welcome so thank you. I agree with brownhairblueribbon that people help to make a place and that was definitely my experience in Blacktown - I really don't mind to offend anyone but if I'm being honest the place itself is kind of nondescript - which is tricky to convey visually. However, I've added a few more images that may or may not help convey a sense of place.

  8. Too early in the morning clearly - in the last comment I meant to say I really don't ''mean" to offend anyone not I really don't "mind" to offend. Just in case I offended anyone with the comment about offending... you get the idea.

  9. Just discovered your blog -- what a fantastic and original idea! Your photos are beautiful...

  10. Anna in Atlanta, GA, USAOctober 31, 2009 at 3:09 PM

    Louise, I love your project. Once upon a time, I lived in Glebe, dated a surfie from Cronulla, would have given anything to live in Bondi and found my true love from Dundas. Do you think you could spare a post to tell us about your camera and how you make such fantastic photos?


  11. Hi Anna
    Love the story of your life, suburb by suburb! I'll try and do a post soon about the process - in the meantime, my camera is a Canon D40 with a Canon L series 16-35 mm lens.

  12. I agree with brownhairblueribbon that it would be nice to see some more of the faded suburbia of Sydney. But it's great to see how multi-cultural Sydney really is! And I love the way you pair images together and wondered if you plan the shots that way, or does it just happen when you put the post together? My fav is 'past history' with the 2 semi-circles - perfect!

  13. Nat
    I would have shown more of that 'faded suburbia' in Blacktown if I could have found it! I scoured the suburb in the time I had and what you see if what I saw. Anyway, it's inevitable that some suburbs will be more about the people than the built environment and vice versa. As for the diptychs and how that works - I rarely plan to find a partner for a shot but somehow I seem to end up with lots of 'pairs' - I reckon it's the sub-conscious at work. That and the fact I am attracted to certain shapes, colours and textures so I'm going to end up with similarities. Then I just use them to try and tell mini stories - like piecing together a puzzle. Or sometimes I pair two shots up because I just like the look of it. The joy of being your own 'boss'!

  14. I love your concept of getting to know the suburbs of Sydney. I moved away from Sydney 30 years ago and it is great to see how the suburbs have changed. I keep images of my childhood and how Sydney was when I was young in my mind. Along with the stories about the Sydney of my grandparents and their grandparents right back to the first and second fleets. Memory is one thing reality another. I look forward to following this new story every week.

  15. I heard you today on the radio (702) and I just had to visit your blog straight away! I love your photos and look forward to visiting a different suburb with you every week! Thanks so much.

  16. I love this blog !!
    I grew up in blacktown in the 60's & have never felt the urge to return .
    Thanks for taking me back ,your pictures are beautiful.

  17. have just come across your blog and am finding it utterly fascinating, I just wanted to say how amazing a smile is when it utterly transforms the face!! (say cheese)

  18. Firstly, thank you for creating such a great blog. I have spent the last couple of years scouring a different suburb almost every weekend myself, as I feel it's really important to know where you live. The idea of photographing my experiences actually never dawned on me, so you have inspired me very much!

    I grew up in Blacktown and moved away when I was about 21, only to move back again at the age of 23, when my partner and I bought our first house.

    Believe it or not, I moved back somewhat because of the beauty of the area. There's something about waking up to wild birds sitting outside your window and laying in the sun in the vast & spacious backyards that most of the older-style homes are blessed with, not to mention the comforting noises that come along with living in the 'burbs, such as neighbours mowing and the little old man that lives next door who serenades the rise and the set of the sun by playing his harmonica. It sounds like home to me. And maybe that's why I see the beauty in it - it's home.

    Blacktown is a hard one, as the borders of the suburb itself are very vague. There are so many amazing historical sites, but are they technically in Blacktown, or just Blacktown City Council? Hard to tell.

    I do recommend a visit to the suburb of Prospect, which is at the southern border of Blacktown. It's home to the beautiful (and surprisingly large) Prospect Reservoir and the Royal Cricketer's Arms, a pub first licensed in 1880.

    Sundays are a good time to visit as the swap meet is just down the road at the drive-ins - definitely a place to photograph some interesting characters!

    Another recommendation is Casula, right next to Liverpool. It's the home of the Casula Powerhouse, a great art & performance space and it's just begging to be photographed:

    Thanks again for a great read! xx.

  19. Sam - Thank you and yes, the difference a smile makes is well demonstrated here isn't it? Beautiful.

    Ria - Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I love the serenading neighbour! Next time I'm out that way I'll visit Prospect as you suggest. And I did pop my head into Casula - the Powerhouse at least - when I did Liverpool as a suburb. Hope you can stick around for the rest of the journey.


  20. thank you for including Blacktown on your list of 52 Suburbs :)

    i live within the council area, and it's nice to see it depicted in a positive and beautiful way through photographs.