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.


  1. one of the best so far. The real Australia. Take note fcked up politicians.

  2. nice. I used to walk past some of those places after catching the train home from work when i lived in harris park. my fav store was the fruit store & the one with all the tacky garden decorations out the front - it looked just like palestine stores

  3. Louise, I keep meaning to say how much I admire your 'potted history' of each suburb. Today was the best description of your journey ever!! Loved the Crest, and the light therein.
    'See' you next week.
    Di x

  4. Oh I love it...

    Quick! Go to Berala, and then my childhood is complete. There would be few Sydney-siders that could claim to have been there...or even know where it is.

    I just can't wait to see this all in print. So very beautiful.

  5. Wow this is truly extraordinary. Hello Julia? Hello Tony? Please have a look at this blog and get real. Beautiful pics Louise.

  6. You never fail to impress! Love it!!!

  7. Excellent Louise ... you have captured Granville-on-Sea, health resort of the West ... luv the tatts, art deco and you know, upfront stuff ...

  8. That was great! Thank you! :0)

  9. Anon - Thanks!

    kath - I missed the garden store. And now I think of it, there was a great tacky religious icon shop too I meant to visit - oh well, next time.

    PhotoSynthesis - Thank you so much.

    Di - Thank you, it takes a bit of time putting the history together so glad you appreciate it.

    Jen - Er, I had to look Berala up too! Thanks for the suggestion. I really need another year to do all these great places don't I?

    frogger - Thank you. It would probably make the polies' heads spin I agree.

    Julie - Thanks!

    John - Thank you!

    Sam - And thank you!!

    Louise x

  10. you are so wonderfully positive & this shows through your photography...i love your story on granville - all pics made me smile and think how lucky we are to live in such a diversely cultered country.

  11. love your pics - don't stop at 52!!!!!!!!!

  12. Brilliant shots once again. Love the old Crest Cinema. It's an awesome building.

  13. another great suburb an d i love the pics of everyone specialy the tgongan woman there is allwasy criticsm about islanders i feel but tonans have a heart of gold well the few ive met have one of the carers at the resptie i go to is form there she lives at stmarys who knows looked like her in one of those pics would of been funny if it was maybe i should ask her LOL shed probly know of them anyway she did tell em a small island like that you ofte3n know eveyrone when i asked her if she knew of soemone i was in with in hosp years ago and she does the best breaids on my hair love it and yes i was in hosp alot with a lovely fam to just the best people so loving and caring and im allways happy when i c them i think my carer at respite could tell ytou how loud i am when i c her with my pump on the night shift LOL

  14. Definitely one of your best yet, probably because your sense of intrepidation was apparent at the start. It made me realise how hard it must have been to get a lot of the shots in other suburbs...having the confidence to approach people off the bat hoping they are happy to be snapped...You must have thought all your Christmases had come at once when you came across Ray Ray!!!

  15. That just sums up Australia - a mix of many older cultures, all bringing their own flavour to make Oz what it is today. I think we're all a bit emotional about the end of 52 'burbs!

  16. Dont u dare stop... whats your next project going to be? frm carly

  17. Wonderful shots which bring out the best of the people and sights in Granville - faaaaantastic!

  18. The photo of Alice was, true to your usual form, breathtaking. I'm with the others - why stop at 52? I think you should just add a 1 to your title (152 Suburbs)...it still has a good ring, and hardly anyone will notice!

  19. I've only just discovered your blog when you are nearly through!! I will just have to go back and read bit by bit.

  20. Had my grade 6 formal at the Crest Ballroom in 1968 and attended a wedding reception there the same year.

    Lived there as a kid from 1961 - 1969. It was quite an ok suburb then too a bit grotty in parts but generally ok. Lots of nice houses and gardens. The old RSL on Blaxell Street had lots of activities to keep kids busy. Returned a few years ago and was quite shocked. It does need some help. It still appears to have its urban cosmopolitan image and to me that will always be Granville!

    In the 1960s went to school with lots of old Irish catholic family kids, Aboriginal, Italian, Turkish and Greek kids.

    Remember Paul Hogan at Granville Swimming Pool in the 1960's doing a great job looking out for the many kids who in those days went without their parents to have a swim. They seemed very long hot summers in the suburbs in those days.

    It was great to see what has been happening since my time there. Thanks

  21. Lovely..I live in Granville...its a great suburb...you missed the lovely new works down the median strip, the town hall which is beautiful, and the monument for the train crash.

  22. Wow. You managed to make Granville look great. That is quite a feat!

  23. NOOOOOO!!!!!!
    damn we are up to number 50 already that means 2 to go then what??
    I have loved looking at this series of photographs and pointing friends to it as well.
    What will we do without you???? You could keep going you know 24 cafes.....30 laundrettes.....6 Arthur Murray dance studios......15 barbershops......10 churches.....10 mosques....

  24. Fantastic! I lived near Granville 1988 - 1994 and have worked at Granville TAFE over a period of nearly 20 years. You have really captured the flavour of what is a fantastic melange of cultures. Made me really proud and pleased someone is looking at the beauty of the place. Did you know that there's a Lebanese Bakery just up a lane way there that is famous all over Sydney for it's great bread? People come from everywhere to buy it. The Lebanese Cake shop facing the railway line is also famous. Did you do Auburn? I'll go look now...

  25. I grew up in Granville (1974-1985) and I have many fond memories of the area. Once, I jumped from the high diving board at the local pool. A pool attendant, who I believe to be Paul Hogan, chastised me for doing so. I cannot be sure it was the comedian, but it looked a hell of alot like him. Tom Uren (former local Federal member and once deputy leader of the Labour Party) was my next door neighbour. It was an incredible place to grow up and I often reflect on that. The area has changed considerably and yet stayed the same. I do not pass through Granville often, so it is nice to compare my memories with your picture article. Thankyou for sharing your experiences.