Thursday, August 5, 2010

suburb No 44: Hurstville

Hurstville. Last time I went I was a lanky kid in a white skivy and flares, clutching a bag of multi-coloured
popcorn in one hand and my dear old nan in the other.

Growing up in Hong Kong, we'd come back to Sydney to visit relies every few years. My brother and I
would always spend a few days at my nanny's place in Hurstville (before she moved to Collaroy). 
My memory can be pretty shocking but I vividly recall so much about those times. Nan's generous
nature and easy laugh. Sitting in front of TV at 6am watching Lost in Space. Visiting Roselands
shopping centre.

But I could not remember for the life of me where she actually lived in Hurstville. With my mum long
gone my family struggled too. Finally my brother had a flash - Carrington Avenue. While he couldn't
recall the number he remembered it was within 50 metres of the main road.

So this week, decades after those childhood visits, I headed south-west to Hurstville. First stop,
Carrington Avenue. I was so excited to have finally made it there but after scouring every inch
of the street, and speaking to someone who's been there for ages, I realised that her little house
had probably been demolished long ago. 

It was bitterly disappointing - yet I don't really know why. I miss my mum and my nan so much
- but if I had found the little house, would it make it any better? 

What made the visit to Hurstville even more nostalgic was that it's now a sort of mini Hong Kong,
the place I grew up in, from ages 6 to 16. So even though it's so changed from the Hurstville
that my nan knew and that my brother and I had visited as young kids, it was very familiar, in a HK
sort of way.

Anyway. Apologies for the hand-wringing but I wanted to let you know the back story to my visit to

Suburb No 44 (which by the way means double death in Chinese - eek!)

And now for some back story of the suburb itself. 16km from the city, name a combination of 'forest
wood' and 'town'. People wise: Eora, then British, then Greek and Italians, Macedonians, then
Chinese, and more recently New Zealanders.

Let's look.

Part 1: The Chinatown of the South - the people

Although Hurstville now accommodates dozens of different nationalities, the place feels predominantly

Asian, largely due to all the Chinese restaurants and shops on the main street. My nan wouldn't
believe her smiley eyes.

an all white Australia long gone

the east of the west

growing up Australian in Chinatown

Lily Chen and her grandma :: 1

Lily Chen and her grandma :: 2

helping the young ones grow

the chinese Baby Bjorn :: 1

the chinese Baby Bjorn :: 2

baby transport, the traditional way and the modern way

the chinese Baby Bjorn :: 3


Derek, 85, a Chinese Scotsman :: 1

"I'm a great grannie"

his only health issue at 85

YK, 83

Part 2: The Chinatown of the South - the food

Confession - not a big fan of chicken feet or shiny red meat. So even though Mr Chao BBQ Bar has

a permanent queue outside it, I can't tell you how good it is because I didn't sample the wares.
Yum cha, on the other hand, I love but can't do, being gluten free. So no reports about Mr Chao
Seafood Restaurant and its famous yum cha either. But again, judging by the feverish crowd
waiting a turn, it must be pretty tasty.

yum cha r us

ready for steaming

empty for just a moment


waiting for a table - Rebecca - "often I'm the only Anglo in the place"

waiting for mum outside the BBQ shop :: 1

a permanent queue

waiting for mum outside the BBQ shop :: 2

Part 3: India in Hurstville

At the former Hurstville Entertainment Centre, admiring the 1970s beaten copper panels and green

tile combo, when I noticed an ornate swan-like, flower-covered thing inside (a doli). Turns out there
was to be an Indian fund-raiser that evening, launched with a bride being carried into the building
on said doli. Indian community big in the area and would I like to come back to see it?

copper and green :: 1

copper and green :: 2

copper and green :: 3

a marriage of cultures :: 1

a marriage of cultures :: 2

a marriage of cultures :: 3


that's entertainment :: 1

that's entertainment :: 2

Veda, 69 years young

that's entertainment :: 3

that's entertainment :: 4

India and China, superpowers of Hurstville

Part 4: Macedonia in Hurstville

Having enjoyed that little bit of Bollywood on the Saturday evening, I headed back to Hurstville

the next day - to stumble upon a Macedonian pre-wedding celebration in full swing. I later learnt
that the Macedonian family's neighbours included Sri Lankans, Greek, Croation, Lebanese and
Chinese. And the name of the street? Australia Street.

a street of people from all over the world

flying the Macedonian flag on Australia Street

the wedding dance before the wedding

and the band played on

off to church - Lydia :: 1

off to church - Lydia :: 2

Part 5: More multi-cultural Hurstville

'children of the world' , Hurstville Public School

Rebecca, half Lebanese, half American

PJ, "half Filipino, half Australian"

Demi and Ray, Greek

Part 6: Community Garden

Slam bam in the middle of Hurstville's densely built-up northern side, there's a large block of land

dedicated to a community garden. I met a Chinese lady there collecting and preparing her vegies
for dinner - but as she couldn't speak English and I can only manage one to ten, hello and thank
you in Cantonese, we spoke in hand gestures - and did just fine.

community garden - and kitchen

high-rise and the vegie patch

back to your roots :: 1


back to your roots :: 2

growing wild

Part 7: The old and the new

There are new apartment blocks, villa townhouse types and large McMansions aplenty in Hurstville.

But there's also a handful of heritage listed buildings as well as a few survivors from the 70s.

fire, fire!


circles of life

hat ladies: Zoe and Miles Franklin

Part 8: The nanny files

My mind filled with memories of my nan, I couldn't help stalk a few real life grannies too. I don't

think I was too scary.

Mary, 77 - "I used to like it but it's too busy now"

Claire, 85 - "I've seen my best days love"

remembering a gentler time

when I'm 64

I left Hurstville, filled with images of births, deaths and marriages - in a variety of ethnicities.

That was the beauty, right there.

See you next week.


  1. Oh I kept meaning to suggest Hurstville (where I live). You certainly put a lovely filter on the suburb, haha (in a good way). I find the hustle and bustle of the centre a bit too much at times (and I am only 33).

  2. I grew up in the Hurstville area - one of the many Asian kids like the ones in the photos and I fondly remember taking the bus home from primary school sitting under the very bus shelters in the background of the photos of Mary and Claire - it's wonderful to recognise some familiar places (though I was hoping for a few more photos of Hurstville Public School - my old primary school!)

    Mr. Chao Seafood Restaurant was a Yum Cha and dinner staple when I was younger so I can say the taste is very classically Cantonese, though there seems to be a lot more people to be accommodated for than in the early 2000s and late 90s. But, having grown up amongst the hustle and bustle of the town centre, I do have a large degree of affection for the seas of people.

    Thank you so much for the pictures - they are beautiful and there's something very, very special about this batch. But that might just be me ;)

  3. Belinda - I was hoping some current Hurstville dwellers would see this post. It's busy but at least you can't accuse the place of being a sleepy suburb with nothing going on!

    Lae - So glad you like the images and that they bring back good memories. I did actually visit your old school - a few lovely old buildings - but the mix of kids is the real delight. I wanted to include them but couldn't as the school is dealing with some controversial potential change right now. Maybe next time around!


  4. I lived in a youth refuge there and now Im wondering if its still there, I must have a look when Im back in Sydney. Great post Louise! Hurtsville has certainly changed. I'm hoping you will do Roselands, can you believe the opening of the shopping centre was broadcast on tv!!??

  5. Gorgeous post. I think my fave so far. Wish Tony Abbott would go for a walk there and see the real Australia.Congrats Louise. Just beautiful.

  6. I live in California, USA, and enjoyed this journey you have shared.

  7. Australia Street - a perfect snapshot of Australia

  8. Hurstville - last time I was there, it was to visit the Head Office of St George Building Society. You can't bank on anything staying the same ... again Louise, great shots and juxtas.

  9. Hi I'm a minister at a church in Hurstville and it's fascinating to read someone else's perspective on the suburb. Our congregation of about 150-180 people has about 16 different nationalities.

    When you go to Hurstville primary school there are very few non-Asians. A great school.

    Thanks - really enjoyed this post.

  10. scream4noreason - How times have changed huh - Roselands opening on TV! Kind of sweet really.

    Anon - Glad you liked it. And yes, it does make you wonder if politicians really understand the reality of multicultural Australia - or Sydney at least.

    Suzanna - Hello in California! Glad you're enjoying the tour.

    Ray - Amazing mix on Australia Street.

    John - But what's the other saying - the more things change, the more they stay the same?

    Kevin - 16 nationalities - must make for interesting times. The school had a really nice feel I must say - and yes, incredibly Asian. My nan wouldn't believe it!


  11. hurtsville the place of the hills i call it when i go there with cpp and i get lsot in the westfields there we couldnt find a way out once a lovely lady had to shwo us and think she didnt even no her self LOL

  12. Hi Louise. Fabulous mix of texture and colour as always - love it!! You must have been thrilled to see that incredible Indian ceremony - what an opportunity!! And I really love the portraits of gorgeous Mary. Her face tells a million stories right there. I'm out with my camera this weekend and again - thanks for the inspiration. Dayna. x

  13. The duo of baby bjorn and blossom is beautiful - all those pinks. Lovely post!

  14. Terrific post on a suburb I'm quite familiar with. You've captured it well.
    Sydney - City and Suburbs

  15. For those of us who live on the Northern Beaches, your suburbs posts are a real eye opener. Pretty much the only 'asian' people here,in Newport anyway, own the Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants!! I guess the time will come, but for now, I am enjoying the diverse cultures you depict in your truly fabulous posts. Thank you, as usual.
    Faves: Blossom, Patterns and those blue eyes belonging to Mary!!
    Di xx

  16. I liked YK 83 and the baby bjorns ... you have a very '50s eye ... nice style to this blog.

  17. Ellen - 'place of the hills' - like the description

    Dayna - I was so so lucky to see the Indian do - and yes, Mary of the blue eyes and well lived in face - mesmerising. Hope you had fun with your camera!

    Nat - Both baby and blossom are so beautiful aren't they?

    J Bar- Thank you!

    Di - It is hard to imagine the Northern Beaches becoming multi-cultural to the same extent as somewhere like Hurstville. They are so very anglo right now! Happy to provide a look into the 'other' Sydney!

    Julie - Thank you, glad you like it.

    Louise x

  18. wonderful posts Louise Im loving the snapshot of all the different suburbs. Your narrative is always special I love looking at the suburbs through your eyes.

  19. Thank you so much for this, and for your Summer Hill essay too. I grew up near Hurstville, moved to Summer Hill as an adult, and now live many thousands of miles away in Austin, Texas. This was the most beautiful way to virtually visit home. Your photos are exquisite, and your eye is flawless. You've given me a new way to see old things.

  20. objectsofwhimsy - thank you - and glad you enjoy the narrative too.

    Philomena - SO glad I could revisit your old homes for you. And thanks, that's high praise indeed.

    Louise x

  21. please come to Oatley too!
    love your work!!!

  22. im not sure why but i got a little teary reading this one! i think the way you captured everyone was just absolutely beautiful, and i loved the mix of cultures and the nostalgia of you going back to find your grandma's place... one of my favourites :)

  23. mimi - Glad to hear I wasn't the only teary one! Thank you, really appreciate your comments.

    Louise x

  24. Great series, I love Hurstville, lived here 30 years, with 5 years away and couldn't wait to get back. Going to be here now until I leave horizontally :-)

    I did a stack of photos of the streets especially Forest road when I got a new digital camera in the late 90's, must drag them out sometime.

    Now the shameful "Supacentre" has been replaced by Hurstville Central around the station, and the bus interchange is in in, connected to the station, the place looks great too. I love the hustle and bustle of the streets scape here.

    Even tried to learn some Mandarin from a friendly neighbour but it is hard to get it to stick in my head :-)

    I'd not consider living anywhere else, the variety is just what I want.

  25. I have just discovered your blog and I love it! I grew up in Mortdale and Bexley located either side of Hurstville; my Gradfather grew up on Queens St in Hurstville and attended Hurstville Boys, Mum still lives in the house that my Great-grandfather built in Mortdale so we have a strong attachment to the area. Hurstville has changed a lot over the years and I love how it has evolved into the cultural melting pot that it is today. Thank you for portaying it so beautifully.

  26. Your photos are really awesome and I am amazed that you got to go to so many unusual functions like weddings and celebrations. I grew up in Hurstville as a child in the 1980s and it has changed from being a more multi-cultural centre to being predominantly a chinatown outside of the CBD. It is extremely busy, but that is partly due to the one way direction of traffic on Forrest Road along Westfields.

    You covered all nationalities except for anglo-saxon Australians that contributed to the history of the municipality there from the as early as the 1900s until the current time which was disappointing. The old fashioned cake shops, barber shops, toys shops and video shops that use to be existant in the civic centre, street front and shopping centre are long gone replaced with 1000 Yum Cha restaurants and cheap Asian goods and tailoring. Your photography I guess is covering the current time period of now but maybe there are historical pieces you can take photo's of next time that depict the history such as the old council chambers that is now 'The Bank of China'.

    I think your website is a cool idea and a great project. Keep doing what you are doing!


  27. I too grew up on Carrington Avenue in the 1980s. There were houses at the Forest Road end of Carrington Avenue where your grandma's house was but they were all demolished to make way for apartments. I remember going to Blue Light Discos on a Friday night at the Hurstville Entertainment Center.

  28. I grew up at 55 The Avenue, Hurstville and often drive down the street, to try and remember my childhood, racing billy cars up and down the street with my brother, the old bootmaker and Mrs. Bloss's shop on the corner of The Avenue and Cross Street. I still remember the smell of leather from the bootmakers and Mrs. Bloss's shop was like an aladdin's cave. My old primary school, Hurstville Public I attended from 1960 - 1966, we were all white kids. There was one chinese restaurant in Forest Road where for a treat, mum and dad would take us there and we ate curried prawns and rice. The 10 pin bowling alley in Hudson Street, the old Hurstville Bowling Club - the greens are now where the community garden is situated. The beautiful park that I walked through every day to and from school is nearby - ah, the memories.