Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Suburb No 50: Granville

With only three suburbs to go, the pressure was on this week to choose a burb of some  significance. 
But never one to bow to expectation, I decided to pick ‘any old’ suburb for the third last. It wasn’t quite
as random as throwing a dart at the map, but almost. I casually scanned the suburbs and thought, 
where have I never ever been nor really want to go? After some perusal I settled on Granville, 
22 km west of the city centre.

The only bell it rang was something about a train disaster. Other than that, I knew diddly. Which made

it an excellent choice – no reason to go – but would I find one once I’d gone? In other words, would
I prove my theory that if you look hard enough you can always find something of interest and beauty?

Admittedly I’d only walked 100 metres before I decided, no, there is nothing here of interest nor beauty. 

Main street looked pretty ordinary at a glance. Very first shop I poked my head in the lady was so agro
and rude it was quite surreal. First person I asked to take their photo walked straight past me. Hey, I 
felt like saying, I’m at the end of a long project, I’m tired and emotional, just cut me some slack.

Then I gave myself the little pep talk I always administer when things look precarious. Something along
the lines of, get over it, you’ve only been here five seconds, how slack are you? Not exactly compassionate
but it always seems to do the trick. I took a deep breath and kept walking.

And here’s why I love this project so so much. Before too long, I’d found a decent enough piece of wall

to scrutinise and photograph. And by the time I bid the suburb farewell three days later I’d begun to 
understand how Granville ticked and was turning into a fan.

In particular I love the way the various cultures that inhabit the suburb transform a fairly nondescript
main street into a moving spectacle. Giggly Lebanese girls all dolled up for their formal, awaiting the
stretch Hummer. Hundreds of Tongans kitted out in national dress for a 21st. Burly men kicking back
with hubbly bubbly in the same café as a Pakistani Imam enjoying his afternoon coffee and cake. African
schoolgirls gliding down the road on the longest legs you’ve ever seen. Hunky Lebanese body-builders
in tiny tops on parade. And one older Asian man who I ran into twice, each time sartorially elegant in 
pin-stripes, tie and befeathered hat. This is Sydney 2010, I thought – and I like it.

Some facts. Aboriginal land for most of time until the British arrived. Originally known as Parramatta

Junction, it was renamed Granville in 1880 after a British earl. Once harvested for its wood then when
that was gone, dairy cattle had a go at its grass.

And it turns out my ‘any old’ suburb is actually quite noteworthy for reasons bad and good. Not only is

it the site of the worst rail disaster in the state’s history (in 1977 a train derailed, killing 83). In 2000,
the Lord Mayor of Parramatta called it “the most urban decayed area in Sydney”. Not sure how the
subsequent ‘regeneration plan’ is going but I guess you could call Granville a work in progress.

But while Granville may not be the prettiest thing going, it still retains a handful of lovely old buildings,

including one kick-ass art deco beauty. And no one can accuse it of being bland, with its wildly
different cultures. Oh, and Paul Hogan grew up in Granville. Now that’s got to be a plus right?

Let's go Granville! 

Part 1: Men in hats

Well, hats, caps, turbans or hoods.
As seen on all corners of South Street, Granville's main 
shopping strip, on men from all corners of the world.

looking North on South - from Asia

from India

from Pakistan - Omer and Harris

Then there was the hooded one, Ray. As I was snapping away happily, Ray told me a 
little about himself. From New Zealand originally, he'd just got off work as a labourer - 
and just got out of jail too. What to do? Running away would've just looked silly. But 
ask the man what he got done for, that seemed to make sense. "Er", I asked as casually 
as I could while continuing to snap away, "dare I ask what for?" What was I thinking? 
What if he said murder? Ray eyeballed me and said, "For driving without a licence man!"
I barely managed to stop myself from congratulating him and moved on. 

from NZ - Ray :: 1

from NZ - Ray :: 2

Ten minutes later I was taking a few shots of some African girls when suddenly Ray 
jumped into the shot. When he left I asked the girls if they knew him. "Oh yer", one 
said, "he's Ray Ray." I may never forget Ray Ray.

Ray Ray :: 1

Ray Ray :: 2

Part 2: From high-school formal to Tongan 21st.

There's a function centre on South Street called the Grand Royale. Used to be called 

the Chateau Blanc, and then the Hoyts Castle Cinema back in the 1940s. It's one of two
interesting old cinemas built during the 40s in Granville - but while the former Crest 
Cinema has survived intact (see Part 7 below), this one has only managed to retain a 
small part of its original facade. 

from another time

On Friday late afternoon, I met a group of very excited Year 12 girls standing outside the Grand Royale

Dressed in various shades of red/pink satin with curls aplenty, this mainly Lebanese gaggle were off to
their Formal that night and were waiting for the stretch Hummer to arrive.

Formal fashion :: 1

Formal fashion :: 2

Formal fashion :: 3

Then the next day in the exact same spot I stumbled on a huge congregation of Tongans
celebrating a 21st birthday inside the function hall. Poked my head in to see masses of 
people, some of the young ones scurrying about dressed in national costume and large
amounts of baby oil, and large straw mats everywhere. Hello Tonga.

island girl

extended family

my auntie

pointy red things

A little later I spotted a young Tongan woman walking back from the function with her 

family. Wrapped in matting, I assumed she was wearing national costume like the others
I'd seen - but learnt that her ta'ovala skirt was worn because she was in mourning. 
Tongans wear the ta'ovala on special occasions for an entire year after a close relative 
has died as well as keeping to a wardrobe of black. 

Coming from a culture with very few traditions, I just love that. And how incredible 
that their traditions have survived not only hundreds of years but also the transplant 
to a new land - and are alive and well in Sydney suburbs.

mourning suit

Part 3: Emne and Sarah

What would this woman, Emne - 


- have in common with this woman, Sarah?


Well, despite their radically different appearances, it turns out that they come from 
the same area of Lebanon and now live in the same part of Granville. And they're best 

best buddies :: 1

best buddies :: 2

Part 4: More faces on the street

I was chatting to
Khaled, the owner of the local video shop, when his brother, Bilal, turned up.

brothers - Bilal and Khaled

all your Christmases have come at once if you're after videos from the Middle East

hidey hole for warrior types

A few metres down the road I met two body-builders. Sam from Lebanon, Terry from Palestine. 
Both must spend a lot of time in the gym.

Terry and Sam :: 1

Terry and Sam :: 2

Terry and Sam :: 3

Across the road at the El Sweetie cafe, I met the owner Janet - and as none of the burly
blokes wanted their photo taken with the hubbly bubbly hookah affair, she stepped in.

Janet and her pink hubbly bubbly

from Cook Islands to Lebanon

Aside from the hubbly bubbly, Janet's cafe also offers a fine array of Lebanese sweet 
things and good coffee. At least that's what the Imam said. From Pakistan originally, 
he was there having afternoon tea with a fellow Pakistani.

Imam has avo tea

an Aladin's cave of sweet riches

Part 5: Ali and Mayssar

Around the corner from the main street I met a Lebanese married couple outside their 
home. Wife and husband, Mayssar and Ali, have been married for 52 years and have 10 
children and 40 or so grand-kids. Mayssar can't speak English and I can't speak Lebanese - 
but I got the idea she found it amusing when I asked her husband to come over and put 
his arm around her. 

come on over Ali

Ali and Mayssar :: 1

Ali and Mayssar :: 2

Ali and Mayssar :: 3

Part 6: From Guinea, Africa, to Granville, Australia

Across from Mayssar and Ali's home I met an African family walking back from school. 

A quick head-count gave me a figure of seven. The eldest was the 19 year old sister, 
chaperoning her little brothers back from Granville Public School with the other four 
in tow. 

Had I realised the official language spoken in Guinea was French, I could've 
attempted more of a conversation, but as it was the sister managed to explain in her
few words of English that they've just recently arrived from West Africa to live in 
Granville. Can't even begin to imagine how strange it must be for them.

from Guinea to Granville - family

from Guinea to Granville - Alice

from Guinea to Granville - John and his little bro

Part 7: An old beauty

Born as the Crest Cinema in 1948, reborn as a bingo hall, and reborn once more in 2006

as the hall of the Lebanese Australian Blouza Association. Lucky that its various incarnations
have all had short names - so that each time the new name could fit on the roundels. 
From HOYTS to BINGO to BLOUZA (yes, I know, the last one has six letters so the sixth 
roundel must be new). Should you need a ballroom to dance in, you can rent it out.

I love this building and am so happy its many features have survived, from the exterior 
roundels to the interior decorative plasterwork, light fittings and ticket box in the foyer.
So romantic as my daughter would say.

I know there are probably too many images but I can't help it. I was standing in traffic 
taking shots of the exterior when the owner happened to be driving past - "Want to go 
inside?" he said. Do I what. 

an old beauty :: 1

an old beauty :: 2

dressed to dance

sunlight dances in :: 1

sunlight dances in :: 1


get your tickets to see dancing in the ring

an old beauty :: 4

Part 8: A few randoms



nice shirt

Part 9: An image that sort of sums up this entire suburban adventure

who needs to explore outer space when you have the suburbs?

Beauty? Well, you know I found the Crest beautiful. But I also loved the colour and movement down
the main street, thanks to the ability of ancient cultures to adapt and thrive in the suburbs.

So that was Suburb No 50. Only 51 and 52 to go. I feel a mix of excitement and sadness. 

See you next week.