Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Suburb No 38: Bonnyrigg

Tourists don't come to Sydney to visit Bonnyrigg. I'd bet money on it. But more's the pity. Because
this little known suburb, 36 km from the city centre, is intriguing - something the Sydney Harbour
Bridge nor Opera House, as iconic and wonderful as they are, cannot claim to be. 

I stumbled on Bonnyrigg completely by accident. I was actually headed for Fairfield. Took a right
instead of a left and there I was. In the religious hub of the universe.

At first I had no real impression of the place, except that there was a huge plaza and an even
larger Bunnings. But when I discovered that in one very short street there was a mosque, a temple
and a church - and that just around the corner were three more temples, and four more churches
- I had no choice but to make Suburb No 38, Bonnyrigg.

Scottish by name - and very little else - Bonnyrigg is an absolute work in progress. Once an important
Aboriginal meeting place, then market gardens, it is now covered with 'new' housing development,
with more to come. But I almost didn't see the blond brick, so taken was I with all the religious
houses - where else does a mosque rub shoulders with a church and a temple? So much rich culture,
in the middle of nowhere. How, why - a stickybeak was in order...

Part 1: Day One

It was wet. Never great, my navigation skills are even worse in the rain. So as I said, through
no grand design, I ended up in Bonnyrigg. Head buried in my ridiculously small street directory,
cursing the rain and my crappy sense of direction, I looked up to see a most unexpected sight. 
A golden temple reaching up into the heavens.

I don't know about you but I can't resist a mid-suburbia temple. They're like UFOs that have landed
from outer space. You just have to stick your nose in don't you?

The actual temple - the Cambodian Buddhist Temple - was shut so I scuttled around the side to
find three monks inside a hall eating their lunch. So peaceful - until I shoved my camera in front of
them. They took it well, for the most part. One in particular - Nakin - never stopped smiling.
Made me think I really should meditate more often.

Watt Khemarangsaram temple in rain

Savon, Nakin and Sopheak at lunch :: 1

even the flowers are saffron :: 1

Nakin and Sopheak at lunch :: 2

one grimace, one smile, not bad

I finally left the monks in peace. At this stage I still didn't know this was just one of many temples,
or that right around the corner was a mosque. So off I went, peering through my rainy windscreen
at Bunnings, then the plaza, then...a Chinese Presbyterian Church, next to a Turkish mosque,
next to the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple. 

Bonnyrigg Turkish Mosque in rain

Vietnamese Community Centre in rain

both rise heavenward

I was intrigued but none of the places looked very open so I continued driving. Then I passed
yet another temple, the Lao Buddhist Temple. I could see signs of life and entered. Sensing a mad
woman in their midst, the monks humoured me by unlocking the temple for me to look inside.

wisdom is always having a brolley handy

out of the rain

his home

That was Day One. I had to go back.

Part 2: Day Two

Sunny. Scanning my street directory I noticed there was a temple listed on Humphries Road,
Bonnyrigg, somewhere I hadn't been the day before. Can't be I thought. Until I went there and
realised yes, this was yet another temple. In fact, one of the largest Chinese Buddhist temples
in the Southern Hemisphere, housing 37 bronze buddhas - the Mingyue Lay temple. 

making an entrance - the Mingyue Lay Chinese Temple


Cambodian kids at the Chinese temple

first you pray...

then you play

fire and water

I left the temple, a head full of incense, and headed for the Bonnyrigg Turkish Mosque. There weren't
many people around but I was told I'd meet a lot more if I came back for breakfast the next day. 
Breakfast in a Turkish mosque, between a church and a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple - I'm in.

Part 3: Day Three

Arrived for breakfast at ten. The place was bustling. Sat on a table of visitors, including someone
from the neighbouring Vietnamese community - I was amazed to hear this was the first time he'd
met his neighbours, after living side by side for close to 20 years. I also learned that the reason for
such a rich cluster of religious houses in one spot was that years ago, the Department of Housing
had offered land to any community groups who wanted it. 

The Imam talked about the need to respect all religions and then it was time to explore the mosque
- and climb up inside the minaret. 

breakfast at the mosque

mates :: 1

mates :: 2

mates :: 3

inside the minaret

A game of pool followed by prayer.

mates :: 4

pool then prayer

prayer time :: 1

two sides of the Imam

prayer time ::2

The Turkish people I met at the mosque were incredibly charming and I loved every second of my 
visit there. Around lunch-time I said my goodbyes and popped next door - first to the Chinese
Presbyterian Church and then to the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple. Both were winding up but I 
managed to take a few snaps.

next door to the mosque, a church

next door to the mosque, a temple


You might think I'd had my fill by then. But no. The Cambodian Buddhist Temple was just around

the corner and I was curious what happened there on a sunny Sunday. Answer - dance rehearsal.
I also bumped into the smiling monk from the day before - bless him, he didn't flinch when I asked
for more shots and just kept smiling. Through gritted teeth perhaps but still.

wild sky

dancers :: 1

dancers ::2

dancers ::3

Keo, 82

Wunlay, 73

lovely lady

monk stalking

Part 4: Compare and contrast the religions and cultures of Bonnyrigg


Imam and Buddha

beads :: 1

beads ::2

beads ::3

beads ::4



neighbours : Buddhism and Islam :: 1

neighbours : Buddhism and Islam ::2


Cambodian Buddhism and Chinese Presbyterian

Chinese and Serbian

food for thought

Part 5: I see saffron everywhere

autumn colours


all smiles

even the flowers are saffron :: 2

Part 6: Religion is everywhere in Bonnyrigg

I dropped into the local garden centre because the Buddha statues caught my eye. While I was standing
there looking at them, a family came over to have a chat. Cambodian Buddhists, the dad was telling
me how much he loved his two Buddha statues he'd bought earlier.

religion in the garden :: 1

religion in the garden :: 2

As the storm clouds gathered once more, I drove over to the park to check out the place where
Aboriginal people used to gather. There's a skate ramp there and I went over to have a chat - with
devotees of the skateboarding and BMX freestyling faith. 

from Equador

the religion of freestyling :: 1


the religion of freestyling ::2

Then it was time to go. But not before one final surprise - another church.

church, parkside

B is for beautiful Bonnyrigg. Well, parts of it anyway. Yes, I only had eyes for the good bits but there
are so many good bits, it's hard not to. Aside from that, Bonnyrigg feels like one big experiment -
I wonder how it will all turn out.

See you next week.


  1. Louise, you've really captured here what I love most about Sydney: a truly diverse city of many cultures living in complete harmony. I never knew it but perhaps Bonnyrigg is the "real" Sydney I remember and miss. Bravo! This particular set is I think my favourite of your "people" shots so far, and I look so forward to 52suburbs each week.

  2. Wow! This truly was a fabulous post. How generous of everyone to share such lovely moments with you and then how generous of you to share such lovely moments with us. Thank you!

  3. Lovely post - great pictures and a theme with a lot of heart. Well done, you make me love Sydney again and again. Check out my blog so you can explore Cockatoo Island - another Sydney gem.

  4. Loved it, you got the people as well as the place - not just their photos but their voices as well.

  5. Ahhh, Sydney. Thanks for showing us a place that some of us dont understand, let alone visit. It's now on my list of 'must dos'.
    My faves this week:
    Even the flowers are orange:1
    Vivid - its pyrostegia venusta!!

    Di x

  6. Wonderful, Louise!
    While I have loved your great photos of the boutique localities, I get really excited when I see your post is of the less known areas of Sydney. Fantastic! Thank you.

  7. Thank you Louise!
    It was such a pleasure to read this post and see the communities existing alongside each other - to hear of the Iman teaching of acceptance of all religions (may all religious leaders everywhere take his example!) and the fact that everyday people are so aware of each other's presence.
    I must pay tribute to the way your blog brings the deeply human and multifarious faces of Sydney to life. I think the harbour is inarguably spectacular, but it is not exactly 'enriching' to be shown yachts on the harbour time and again and hear endless talk of real estate, glitz, money etc. That doesn't bring soul to a place. or alone make a city great.
    Sydney can be many things and I do love that you bring this melange of attributes, cultures, ways of being in the world to us in such a visually stunning way!

  8. U truly are talented. Keep up the great work. Commendable

  9. Loved this post. Such an interesting suburb and lots of beautiful images.

  10. It just goes to show how much there is in our own backyard to explore! One would travel the world to see all those cultures in isolation... thanks for bringing them to my desktop in my lunch hour Louise.

  11. Wow! One of my favourite posts. You always dig deep and go beyond the surface. Like others, I love seeing areas of Sydney that are a mystery to me. Seeing so many different cultures and religions co-existing in a peaceful way is really inspiring. This city has its faults but it has so many great things going for it too.

  12. Dear all - I'm so thrilled you loved it as much as I did. I'd really recommend a visit out there in person (first Sunday of every month the mosque invites visitors for breakfast) to get the full sensory experience - I can still smell the incense and taste the olives. Your lovely comments make all the 3am finishes truly worthwhile.

    Louise x

  13. Loved the colour in this post. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us all,

  14. It's quite moving to see so many cultures in a part of Sydney that I hardly know - so different to the North Shore where I grew up, where people just bury their heads in the sand! Thank you Louise for exploring Sydney and bringing the 'real' Sydney to the masses!

  15. Louise,
    I only discovered your 52suburbs project this week. I love how you are reflecting the richness and diversity of Sydney people and places.

  16. thank goodness you took a wrong turn, that was a delight for all of us!

  17. what a lovely idea, i am started reading your blog and enjoy it emmensely. your photo's are beautiful. thank you!

  18. Whammo! Pow! What a ripper! Thanks, and peace.

  19. you must do a coffee table book! such a great material, so entertaining, and images are stunning! please...

  20. Coloufully cool Louise...loved it...

  21. Absolutely fantastic post - your bet one yet!! Keep it Up - We're loving it!

  22. I'm new to your blog and am absolutely smitten with it. What an insightful look you've given me into the Australian suburbs. I thought I knew burbs pretty well but you dig so deep and make it such an exciting place to see through your eyes. WOW!

  23. Sometimes things are meant to happen and obviously you were meant to take this "wrong" turn and find this delightful place. Although I'm not religious in the regular sense, like you, I find these houses of worship intriguing and, as an artist, beautiful, what with all those flourishes and columns and color.

  24. Lesley Unsworth - Place ManagerJune 18, 2010 at 12:17 PM


    I am lucky enough to work as the Place Manager for Bonnyrigg. Louise you have really captured the spirit of this growing town so well.

    If anyone wants to know more about Bonnyrigg I can be contacted on

  25. wow. my favourite so far. your view of sydney suburbs goes beyond just seeing. the monk's smile is true beauty.

  26. Louise,
    Your blog has succeeded where so many others have failed i.e. getting me to come back and read regularly without having to bookmark it as a favourite on my laptop. What I like about it most is the way you provide images for the eyes to feast on without the need to photograph products and "things" like many of the likeable design blogs do.
    Also your 52 suburbs project coincides nicely with my own suburb research that I must do in order to decide where in Sydney to live in a few years time. My husband works in Parramatta and we live in Kogarah so at some point in the next few years we need to reduce the commute. I'm sure your posts will be very helpful in my research!
    Thankyou :)

  27. dear all

    Such fantastic comments about this entry, it's interesting to see what strikes a nerve with people. I doubt I'll ever forget the feeling of arriving in Bonnyrigg, with zero expectations - only to stumble upon so much life and emotion.

    Louise x

  28. Charley

    there are lots of lovely new homes for sale in Bonnyrigg....

  29. I might live in Paddo now but I grew up in Bonnys... and it's where my heart will always be. Love yer work mate. Peace.

  30. Such beautiful photos! I particularly loved the compare and contrast labelled 'autumn colours''s said that the Buddhist monk's robe is the orange colour because when people see orange leaves, they know they are going to drop from the when people see the monk's robe, they know this is the last life for them.

  31. Well done
    an original & incredibly artistic work that leaves one wanting to look at the next image...& the class presentation...where will your book be available from?

    Local Westy ..Babs D (arts purveyor & supporter)