Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Suburb No 40: Kirribilli

I was thrashing about, trying to decide which suburb to do this week when suddenly, overnight,
Australia got a new boss. A new PM and Australia's first female one at that. I started thinking
about Julia Gillard's life and how it would change. Where, for example, would she live I wondered.
Which put Kirribilli in my mind, Kirribilli House being the official Sydney PM pad.

That was it. Suburb No 40 decided. Because potential new Kirribilli resident aside, I realised
I have done a pretty good job of neglecting the 'North Side' and overdue to pay it a visit. I was also
curious if my perception of Kirribilli would change once under the 52 Suburbs microscope - which was,
a sort of 'non-suburb' made up of one PM and scores of uber-professional types living cheek by jowl in
either the myriad apartment blocks or grand terraces.

I love that I say that when until this week I haven't stepped foot in the suburb for a decade. In fact,
in the last ten years the most I've done is whip through the main street on my way back from
North Sydney Pool. So what did I discover when I actually got out of my car, walked around and met
the locals? That Kirribilli is home to an incredible mix of people, from the 102 year old man who lives
in the area's public housing estate, to the nation's top polly. And that as salubrious as the address is, right
on the harbour, next door to Sydney's most iconic landmarks, there's a sense of community there that
wouldn't seem out of place in a small country town. 

Some facts: Name comes from the Aboriginal Kiarabilli, meaning top fishing spot. First residents
were the Cammeraygal people. Admiralty House began life as Wotonga in 1840s. Ensemble Theatre
started up in 1960.  

Let's wander.

Part 1: Greenway

My first morning in Kirribilli. Walking along the small shopping strip, wondering what I can find to
interest me in the place, I ran into Isabella. As I took a few shots of this charming 70 something,
she explained that she was from Armenia originally, but now calls Greenway Flats home.

I must have driven past Greenway thousands of times - as you drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
heading south you can just see the top of it peeking out. But until that moment with Isabella I'd
never been curious about it.

Built in the 1950s, Greenway is a public housing estate, named after the convict architect Francis
Greenway. I learnt this within five minutes of arriving there, having run into Debra Leigh, a long time
resident and author of a small book on the history of the place. As Debra explained, most of the
308 apartments are inhabited by people who pay 25% of their Centrelink payments in rent to live in
one of the most expensive suburbs in Sydney, many with million dollar views of the Opera House and
Sydney Harbour Bridge. One was a 102 year old man who managed to live on his own. Kids weren't
encouraged because of the design of one of the four building's stairwells. And there was a vegie patch
out the back. Now I was curious.

Isabella, I like your ensemble

Greenway residents

Blocks A, B, C and D: Greenway

not everyone has a million dollar view

home :: 1 - Nigel and Debra

home :: 2 - great-grandma and the finches


rooms with a view

the vegie patch

I left Debra and her husband, Nigel, at around 1pm and returned later in the day to revisit the vegie 
patch. There I found another long time resident, Shane, the main green-thumb behind the leafy delights. 
In the 15 years he's lived in Greenway, he's been busy turning crappy dirt into rich soil.


the fruits of Shane's labour

maybe one day I'll be a garden gnome

golden days


Having never been interested before, I was now itching to find out more about the hundreds of 
people who call Greenway home.

That night I was able to partly satisfy my curiosity by reading Debra's Voices of Greenway, a collection
of the stories of various tenants, some of whom have been there since 1953. Not surprisingly life 
at Greenway has changed a great deal over the last 60 years.

Part 2: The other half

After Greenway, I walked over to visit Admiralty House and the new PM's Sydney home, Kirribilli House.

Forget about the environment, the mining tax or the election - the big question is, will Julia redecorate?

politics behind the picket fence

the red-heads of Kirribilli

neighbours :: 1

neighbours :: 2

neighbours :: 3

neighbours :: 4

You can't see much of Kirribilli or Admiralty House from the road so I walked down to explore a 
small reserve perched on the water's edge. There I met Christine and Mark, knee deep in weeds. 
Living in an apartment nearby, they have volunteered to look after the reserve, transforming
it from overgrown and underused to a popular place for quiet reflection.

everyone's backyard 


Part 3:  Market day

The Kirribilli Markets, on the last Saturday of each month. Tucker, jazz and vintage frocks...

raspberry :: 1

jagged lines :: 1

raspberry :: 2

jagged lines :: 2


getting hitched in the church across from the markets

the usher and his corsage

'bacino', small kiss

Part 4: School

Two schools dominate the suburb, Loretto Convent and St Aloysius' College. Lunch-time is just a sea

of royal blue down the main strip as they consider their options - Thai, Japanese or at worst, a 
sandwich from home.

dine in or out

the schoolboy and the barista

a sea of blue :: 1

crowns all round

behind convent doors

a sea of blue :: 2 - Francesca

a sea of blue :: 3 - Annie

Part 5: Margaret's place

On my last visit to the suburb I wandered down to check out Kirribilli Wharf. Middle of the day, crappy

time to take shots so you'll have to imagine - view of the harbour, people milling around waiting to
catch the ferry into town.

Walking back up the steps towards the road, I noticed a small cafe-ish looking place right there on

the wharf. I say cafe-ish because Kirribilli Wharf Cafe, run by Margaret, isn't really a cafe. More like her 
second kitchen that she just happens to open to the public. And when I say 'public', I mean more an 
assortment of locals that drop by on a regular basis. To catch up on eachothers' lives and debate the
matters of the day as much as to refuel. And guess what? Gluten free cake - and not the normal GF
cake you find around the place - this stuff is fantastic. So much so I had cake for lunch. Two slices. 
A starter of raspberry and ricotta, followed by a main course of carrot - cake - all gluten free. Bloody 

Margaret said I could take some snaps - as long as people weren't encouraged to come - "they often

expect something else". It's not your average cafe I'll admit - but who wants average?

a sunny corner of the world

'the painting is by my friend, Diana Watson'



what's for lunch?

Part 6: Features and flora



blue and brown

art deco


wallpaper and terrazo


Part 7: On the water

sea and shells

seven seas


Is there beauty in Kirribilli? In the way the suburb winds around skinny streets, in its charming old
apartment blocks and in the sense you get that if you needed help, your neighbour would rally to the
cause. No matter how different you might be.

See you next week.

(Ceramic cups in the first image, amorelita@live.com.au)


  1. Beautiful shots. I love the thriving vegie patch in the housing estate and the little cafe on the wharf. And the juxtapositions as usual are wonderfully ingenious, right down to the blue-grey shimmer in the sunflower and window pane.

  2. oh little schnook
    well done yet again
    glad to see someone else is still up

  3. Some of your best shots so far. This post has a real feeling of Sydney. Can we have some more from the 'neglected North' please??

  4. hi!
    i really love your blog! you take so many pictures! that's really great! and so much work.
    visiting some residents is a really good idea i might follow one day.
    if youÄd like to visit my blog:


    lotsmof love from germany!

  5. WOW- definitely worth the extra week wait.

  6. Lovely shots as usual but as someone who has lived there, until very recently, for 15 years.
    I think you have captured a very one-sided view of Kirribilli; an old worldy/art deco/suburban aspect, which definitely exists but is just a small part of Kirribilli’s innate charm.

    [Perhaps venture there from Thursday through Sunday evening to enjoy how the short strip of tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants spill out onto the pavement and ignite energy and fervour with crowds of epicures queuing for tables...]

  7. LOve your work, you make me proud of my city and suburbs. What a good eye for details and a good heart. Keep it up.

  8. Hi Louise

    Faves this week - there are a few!!
    Neighbours 4
    Jagged lines - pelargoniums
    Jagged lines 2
    Francesca ...she's just beautiful

    And all of them really.

    Thanks for sharing your lovely work
    Di x

  9. Louise - love your blog! My father told me something a long time ago that I thought you might like to know: In the early 1950s, my father used to do a morning milk delivery run in the eastern suburbs while at university. The man he worked with told him, with awe in his voice, that the Greenway Apartments was so big that it was just one milk run!

  10. Thanks for concentrating on that most Australian of virtues: that the harbour and views aren't just for the rich. Bravo, Louise.

    I've said before this would make such a great TV series on SBS.

  11. Love you blog (as I've commented on in the past) - but also particularly love hearing about the GF delights along the way!

  12. Hi all - Thanks so much for your great feedback.

    To Anon's point about it being 'one sided' I guess it is - I'm not trying to necessarily paint an entire picture of any one suburb but rather focus on the things that attract my eye - or my heart. It's a search for 'beauty' and of course beauty is a highly subjective thing.

    Matt - Love the story about the milkman!

    scream4noreason - Bring it on!

    Louise x

  13. Absolutely gorgeous photos & a fantastic insight into one of my favourite little corners of Sydney. Love reading your blog. Come North! I vote for Lane Cove next!

  14. Lovely textures as ever - so visceral.

    Did you get a tiltshift or macro lens? Or are you just making miracles with that 16-35?? :)

  15. oh I live in kirribilli!! And I just love every minute of its artiness and beauty. Here I make Spoonful (a publication about happiness - www.spoonfulzine.com), I meet a my friend (a fabulous illustrator) for tea who lives just round the corner (Kareena Zerefos) and we all enjoy yummy chocolate at coco chocolat, the cute new little chocolate shop.

    Fabulous little place here ;0) Thanks for the beautiful images!


  16. Finally, you've headed to the much ignored lower North Shore. More please!

  17. dk - No tiltshift or macro lens - just pushing the lovely 16-35 to its limits!

    thea - Glad you like it!

    Anon - I'm not ignoring you, promise! Just that the premise of the blog is to explore the parts of Sydney I had zero idea about - mainly the west and south - but I will visit a few more northern suburbs because even if you think you know somewhere, the moment you put it under the magnifying glass, it opens up and reveals itself to be much more complex than you thought.

    Louise x

  18. Awesome post about the best neighbourhood I ever lived in. It's been nearly 10 years, but the few times I have been back (to get calamari & chips or a square pizza!) I've noticed the main strip has changed so much. Like most things, it's nothing like it used to be.You've managed to capture the elements that make this suburb so timeless. Thanks for reminder.

    When I was a student at Loreto I got busted for jigging lunch at the Kirribilli Wharf Cafe. I had to forgo my shift at Billi's Cafe for Saturday detention in full school uniform.

  19. whats next after you do the 52 a couple of suggestions for newer ones the rocks that is gorgous coogee maroubra and for northern subs collaroy pal beach ive swam at collaroy love the ocean pool there coz its wheelchair acessable roselands a suburb that people used to think so far away so close i go to day programmes there you dont have to do all these but ashifeld would be good and the rocks and coogee and of course collaroy and the nrothen beaches connels point carss park to

  20. i went to kirrabilli with school a few years ago we tried to draw sydney the way it would of used to look in the old days i was in a special unit due to my physical disabilities i have charge syndrome i beleive it gets mixed with milsons nelsons point because it is so close we went to both

  21. Siobhan - Thanks for sharing your memories. Saturday detention sounds fun!

    Ellen - I don't know exactly what I'll do when the 52 are done. Can't really imagine ceasing to explore but I'll need to devote a month or so to getting the book ready for publishing - after that, who knows! Thanks for your suburb suggestions Ellen.


  22. great post! margaret linked to me to your blog, recommending i check 52 suburbs out,
    as a kirribilli resident i think youve done a very interesting expose on a historically rich suburb...

  23. Utterly charming - I visit Kirribilli most weekends with my Dad - I know it pretty well and it was lovely to see it all under one roof like this (so to speak!) Although, having said that - I didn't know about the tiny reserve! Will investigate further on that! (it's not the one right next to the Harbour Bridge on the sea front by any chance?) Thank you again!

  24. Beautiful photos - you have such a great eye for a pretty, different, unusual shot.

    I loved Kirribilli, Surry Hills and Potts Point in particular - as they are so familiar to me - so good to see them through a different lens.

    This will make a lovely book...

  25. Have just discovered your blog (thanks to the Herald). You have a great eye - they are wonderful photos and I love the info you put with them - it gives the photos context and extra "life"

  26. Rose - Thanks and glad you like it! Say hello to Margaret for me.

    Sam - Go explore that reserve - it's at the end of the street that Kirribilli House is on.

    Nicky - Thank you!

    Yvonne - Welcome aboard and thank you. Hope you cab stick around for the remaining 12 suburbs.

    Louise x

  27. I saw the story about your blog in the newspaper today. It reminded me that I hadn't visited in a while. Keep up the good work. I love seeing other photo blogs about Sydney.
    Sydney - City and Suburbs

  28. I also saw the story about your blog in the herald and thought I'd pay a visit, how lovely! I'd really like to purchase some of the postcards of my suburb but you featured it last year, do you still have old images in stock?

  29. Hi I love your photos. You have a beautiful angle for seeing and recording beauty in eaveryday things and people. I also live in Sydney and find this very inspiring.

  30. excellent as always, a surprise in my inbox!

  31. I've lived in kirribilli for ages and this is doubly nice looking at it through such fresh and observant eyes... you've really dug out some beautiful little nooks from my surrounding streets that i never even paid attention too! Love love your photos - all of them - very great blog!

  32. J Bar - Thank you!

    Laura - Thanks and re-postcards, I've never really organised that very well, mainly as I haven't had the time to devote to it. Sorry about that.

    Colette - Many thanks, so glad you appreciate the beauty in the everyday.

    Anon - Thanks!

    objects of whimsy - miow!

    emily - I love the daily smudge! So nice you could visit over here. And I'm glad you're enjoying seeing your burb through other eyes.

    Louise x

  33. OK, so I officially want to visit Kirribilli now and if you haven't been approached to turn this wonderful blog into a book then something is not right with the world!

  34. I lived in Neutral Bay for a while... I was somewhat of a begrudging North Shoreite... I felt I was an inner westie at heart. But I slowly came around to life north of the bridge and I found Kirribilli was a lovely neighbourhood to explore on weekend walks. Beautiful photos as always!

  35. Loved your Kirribilli entry especially, having lived there for 3 months earlier this year. Particularly fond of the Kirribilli Cafe mention and pictures - to remind me of many mornings and weekend breakfasts having great coffee, conversation and exceptional food at Margaret's. A memory of Sydney living that I'll always treasure - and somewhere I can't wait to get back to on my next visit. Julianne, London

  36. I love Kirribilli.


    art exhibition and prize.

    its at the church where the wedding shots were taken :)

  37. Hi. you dont know me. ahha and i dont know you..
    but these photographs are so artistic. i love how you put together !

    <3 loveeee hehe.