Thursday, June 17, 2010

Suburb No 39: Arncliffe

Another happy accident. Last week, on my way to Fairfield (which turned out to be Bonnyrigg) I got
so lost that I ended up southish instead of west. My attempt at a 'short-cut' had failed miserably but
even with steam issuing out both ears I noticed the suburb I was lost in was kind of interesting
and that maybe I should come back and visit.

So I did. Arncliffe, as it turned out to be, is 11 kms south of the CBD, near the Cooks River and Wolli Creek,

named after an English village. Once a big market garden, now semi-industrial, with a huge new residential
area going up in what used to be North Arncliffe. Post the 'Aboriginal era' came British, Irish, Germans,
Chinese. Then Greek, Macedonian, Yugoslavian. And most recently, Lebanese.

Hence the presence of one of Sydney's larger mosques, Al Zahra. There's also a second, smaller mosque

that caters to more of a Malaysian crowd, and a handful of churches, including a Coptic Orthodox church

I had no idea about the mosques nor the Coptic Church when I drove through last week so it was kind

of weird after Bonnyrigg and its religious smorgasbord. Having said that, there wasn't a stick of
incense or glimpse of saffron to be found in Arncliffe - a little like Lakemba, this is Sydney in Muslim
mode - with a Christian Orthodox Coptic Church slam bam in the middle, just to keep things

Part 1: The mosques

Exactly a week after visiting Bonnyrigg's mosque, I found myself standing on another plush carpet,
surrounded by beads and prayer books. But instead of a grand room topped by a minaret, this mosque,
Masjid Darul Imaan, is housed in two small buildings, sans pointy bit. Any Muslim can pray here but it
mainly attracts Malaysian Muslims.

I met Abdullah and Ahmad outside the mosque - they were not there to pray but rather to study some

Islamic teachings, and were happy for me to take some snaps inside.

Abdullah and Ahmad

hitting the books :: 1

hitting the books :: 2

Said my goodbyes to Abdullah and Ahmad and headed off to find Arncliffe's second mosque, the Lebanese
Al Zahra. Unlike the Bonnyrigg Turkish Mosque and Masjid Darul Imaan, I wasn't exactly welcomed nor
free to photograph inside. Fair enough. From the front door this is what I saw.


Part 2: The Coptic Church

After the mosques, I drove around the corner to find St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church - and another
world. By now it was lunchtime and there was a whole load of people out the back, eating and talking.
I couldn't place their ethnicity and nor did I have a clue about their church. A few of the congregation
kindly set me straight and half an hour later I'd learnt that they were Egyptians and that the Coptic
Orthodox Church had a pretty dramatic history. Hundreds of years ago they were forced to leave Egypt
- it was either that or convert to Islam. Today, Coptics exist in Egypt but they don't have an easy time 
of it. So how does it work in Arncliffe, with two mosques around the corner and a largely Muslim suburb? 
Not surprisingly, there are tensions.

But on this day, the sun was out and everyone was smiling, including some of the most charming
and cheeky kids you could hope to meet.

Sandy and George at St Mark's


Sherry and Daniel


brothers and sister: Emmanuel, Isabella and Raphael

Part 2: Ladies of dough

There are two Lebanese bakeries in Arncliffe that are staffed by small teams of women who churn

out masses of delicious smelling baked goods, frustratingly delicious for my gluten-free self. These dishes
all have exotic sounding Arabic names but in essence they are variations on the meat pie, the pizza and
the cheese and spinach pastry.  

The first bakery, with the lovely Amane and Jamana:

Amane and Jamana

oregano pizza

kitchen whizz

torture for the gluten-free


The other bakery, just around the corner, makes much the same fare. Apparently Lebanese families
can bring their own mince mix to the bakery to be fashioned into 'meat pies' by the ladies who work there.
They just pay for the dough and whatever it costs to cook the pies in the super-hot ovens. One woman
explained that she has nine people in her home so it's too expensive to do it any other way. I was curious
about her large family and she explained that at the ripe old age of 41, she was a grandmother
to her 22 year old daughter's toddler - and they all lived with her. What with other kids and various husbands,
that was nine people. 

many mouths to feed

Part 3: The old and the new Arncliffe

My first impression on that first drive through Arncliffe was that this was typical 'old Sydney',

with an impressive church and plenty of faded suburbia. But there's a whole other side to the place,
the 'new' Arncliffe.

The old and the new:

St Francis Xavier Catholic Church (1911) + Al Zahra Mosque (1980) :: 1

St Francis Xavier + Al Zahra :: 2

St Francis Xavier Catholic Church (1911) + Masjid Darul Imaan

God is love, no matter who your god is?


St Magdalen Chapel (1888) + Father Augustine, St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church (1980)

attracting young families :: St David's Anglican Church (1934) + Wolli Creek housing development

Bill and Abraham

church and home

hitting the books :: 3

church and mosque

cottage and carpet

tiles and tomes

the old bakery and the new

St David's Anglican Church and Alzahra Bakery :: 1

St David's Anglican Church and Alzahra Bakery :: 2

tiles and temptation :: 1


tiles and temptation :: 2

tiles and temptation :: 3

tiles and temptation :: 4

Part 4: The colour orange

Just because.

orange :: 1

orange :: 2

Did I find beauty in Arncliffe? In the people as much as anything - I loved the Lebanese women in
the bakeries and the Egyptians in the church. But it's the only suburb I've ever been refused a shot of
someone's tattoo. Can you believe it.

See you next week.


  1. Lovely! The pairing of images(the tiles and cakes etc) in this set was the best yet!

  2. Thank you for a wonderful blog, inspired juxtapositioning and a prompt to look newly at my own town.

  3. A pleasure to look at your work Louise.
    Love the play of light and your eye for pattern and colour in the world.
    Also the gorgeous way you have interacted with people to capture their trust. In return they have given your camera beautiful open innocent eyes and smiles. A true window to the soul. Tks.

  4. Ahhh, thank you for bringing back a few childhood memories. I grew surrounded by all those yummy pastries and sweets. So much life in your images. I absolutely love what you're doing!

  5. Always the beatiful in your images.

  6. Lovely as always! (although now I am wondering about the tattoo...)

  7. scream4noreason - Thank you! Hmm, those cakes, curse my gluten-free body!

    Anon - To 'look newly' is a great thing, enjoy it.

    Dijane - I am always quite surprised just how open people are to me approaching them with a big camera. But then I enjoy each and every interaction so I suppose that comes across. It's almost always a fun thing and full of laughs.

    Justine - It must have changed so much though since you knew it as a kid?

    Fer - There's beauty everywhere don't you think, as long as you're prepared to wait and watch.

    Margaret - Actually I didn't even get a good look at the tattoo, it was was whisked away so quickly. Huh, their loss!

    Thanks all, so glad to see you're still sticking around at week 39 - only 13 more to go!

    Louise x

  8. Glad you enjoyed my 'hood. I just adore living here. At night I can smell cardamom pods roasting at my local shop for the spiced coffee. Two rusting chairs sit permanently between Kuwait Video and the halal butcher, alongside a burner and coffee pot charred from who knows how many years use.

    I just adore your images. I haven't gone back and looked at prior suburbs, but I'd love to see an artistic take on somewhere starkly tacky, or with faded anglo glory, like Sylvania Waters. I'm so looking forward to seeing all your blogs.

  9. love the diptychs of architectural features and pastries! :)

  10. Oh how wonderful! It is such a pleasure to see my childhood suburb (I only moved away a few months ago) depicted in all its diversity, in all its history and beauty... Your photos are nothing short of beautiful.

    I did a little ode to the back streets of Arncliffe (along my favourite walking route)a month or two back:

  11. Hi Louise
    Faves this week:
    Orange - gazanias
    Orange 2 - zinnias?
    And as someone mentioned above, the patterns and temptations - brilliant!!
    Northern Beaches soon?
    Di x

  12. Just me - You live in a pretty interesting place. Love the image of the cardamom pods roasting and the rusting chairs. So glad you liked the images.

    bowb - Thank you - I was practically salivating in the pastry shop, unable to satisfy my craving for sweet stickiness due to my gluten-freeness. Ugh!

    thewindhover - I enjoyed your ode to Arncliffe - I hope I did some justice to your burb.

    Di - Great feedback as usual - and yes, I have neglected the Northern Beaches so better make my way up there...

    Louise x

  13. Not the food, no it never seems to change. Which is good - it doesn't need changing ;)

  14. Loved Arncliffe this week! Thanks again Louise! I think I must go and check out that place with the "meat pies", they look SO delicious!

    I am heartened by just how multicultural, happy and harmonious Sydney seems through your lens. I think in many ways you are capturing the true Sydney, the life we live in the every day, not the media hype of the cronulla riots or accidentally mispoken words by those in the spotlight.

  15. I was waiting...and saw.
    the tiles and tomes is my fav, show how detail you are! I really long to visit Sydney end of this year, preparing and planning. Thanks again fo rteh sharing.

  16. Another great post. This suburb certainly has it's own flavour. Those breads look delish.

  17. so so so stunning. Your blog should be in the Austrlalian curriculum! Can't wait to see you spread into different states!!!! LOVE!!!

  18. Stunningly wonderful photos! I live in Arncliffe and have a blog : Postcode 2205 : - sadly I haven't done too much lately!

    Also have Sydney Daily Photo - and on Sunday 5 Sep will be posting on the Signal Station at Watsons Bay, and providing a link to your entry on Vaucluse. There's quite a few Postcode 2205 entries on SDP as well!

    Glad I found your blog - lovely!

  19. bai li cheng - Thanks for waiting - and so glad you like!

    Helen - Thanks - and I agree, the breads made my mouth water - so sad I couldn't eat them (gluten intolerant).

    I love Saturdays - Thanks! Good idea about adding something like this to the curriculum - a more realistic picture of Sydney and its people is needed.

    Sally - Thanks so much. Will check out your blogs as soon as I have a moment.

    Louise x

  20. Just stumbled on your blog via the Art and About link. Like Sally, above, I'm an Arncliffe girl and blogger (Sydney Meanderings

    Your photos of my suburb and the people in particular are stunning. I've been past the Malaysian mosque but haven't been game enough to go inside. I've also been refused photos by several people I've asked to photograph.

    Will bookmark your blog so I can check out the other posts.

    Best wishes, Ann.

  21. cool, please guidance so that I can create a blog like yours