Thursday, October 7, 2010

Suburb No 51: Alexandria

The penultimate suburb is... Alexandria, four km south of the CBD. In contrast to last week when
I took the dartboard approach, this week was a very conscious choice. After a reader suggested
Alexandria I did five seconds of research and came across a compelling reason to include the suburb
- it was here that many of the bricks were made that built the suburbs that I've just spent 50 weeks
exploring (in the former brickworks, now part of Alexandria's Sydney Park). How could I not?

While I have visited Sydney Park before, it's always been at marching pace, delivering a child to

a party or on a mission to find people for the Art & About Banner Gallery. I'd never wandered
aimlessly, just for the hell of it. Never made the trek over to the wetlands area. And I've certainly
never nosed around the former brick kilns or chimneys that played such a starring role in building
Sydney. Here was my chance.

Aside from that, I didn't have high expectations. There was the Mitchell Road Antique and Design
Gallery and I'd probably find some nice old industrial bits in the suburb too. That would be about
it I thought. To my great delight, I was wrong (see Part 2 and 3 for example).

Okay, some history. No doubt the Cadigal people enjoyed the forest of turpentine and ironbark
trees in the area until 1788 rolled around. Their home was then renamed Alexandria after Princess A,
wife of King Edward VII. By 1943, the suburb was the largest industrial district in Australia, churning
out everything from bricks to aeroplanes in the 550 factories. Industrial with a healthy dose of Chinese
market gardens to keep people in greens.

Today Alexandria is still largely industrial with pockets of surprisingly quiet residential. Having said
that, you can almost see the place changing before your eyes. Warehouses morphing into trendy business
complexes. Chic apartments springing up all over the joint. And at least three excellent cafes who
wouldn't be caught dead offering a sticky bun or lamington. The price of progress I guess.

Let's stroll.

Part 1: Sydney Park, birthplace of bricks that built the burbs

After being planted with fruit trees and grain crops by a First Fleeter, the area now known as Sydney Park

became a mix of brickworks, manufacturing, warehousing and gas storage. Over a period of 100 years,
from the 1870s until 1970, the brickworks gouged out huge pits in the ground, using the clay to
make bricks - bricks that ended up being mortared into the buildings around Sydney's suburbs.

When the brickworks closed down, the enormous clay pits were filled in with rubbish. Then around
20 years ago the enormous rubbish tip was covered over with rubble and soil - and voila, Sydney
Park, 44 hectares of rolling hillocks, kiddy areas and wetlands to lose yourself in. Even the loos are
an unexpected and inspiring space. Don't you love it when a city gets it so right?

bricks r us

the bricks that made the bricks that made the burbs :: 1

the bricks that made the bricks that made the burbs :: 2

After inspecting the chimneys and kilns (and cursing the fact I missed out on seeing/hearing
Stephen Vitiello's 'The Sound of Red Earth' fill three of the former kilns with life in August this year)
I went exploring. 

cruising at altitude :: 1

cruising at altitude :: 2

taking the dogs for a cycle

hat on a hill

Tony and weary Hamish

best mates

gets windy on the hillock (Michael Snape's 'The Trail')

another world - wetlands :: 1

another world - wetlands :: 2

Not everyone I met was just lounging around. There was a whole world of pain unfolding on one of
the hillocks with women doing boot camp. And then there was Charles, taking advantage of the wooden
walkways over the wetlands - to tap. Hard. Without annoying the neighbours. 

world of pain

tap tap

After that I wandered back to the kiosk and loo area on my way to the playground. All three spaces are
filled with inspiration and ideas. Most wonderful.

k is for vandal proof kiosk

bathroom with a view

baby Mable, three weeks new

hands up who loves walking in Sydney Park?

after one beer ... after ten

child friendly with an edge

Part 2: 19th century China in 21st century Alexandria

What the? was my first reaction. On a busy street somewhere in Alexandria I looked up to see just

the very top of a temple-ish looking building behind a brick wall. Scooted around the corner
to investigate. Whoa. As I walked through the red gate on aptly named Retreat Street I crossed
from 2010 Sydney into a small 19th century village complex somewhere in China. A clump of plain
white buildings with Chinese kids playing on a road maybe 50 metres long, while old Chinese
sat chatting outside their homes. And that temple-ish looking building? The Yiu Ming Temple,
the only one dedicated to Hung Shing in Australia, tucked away in a corner down the end
of the street.

What makes it such a surreal, time-travel trip is that this isn't just a temple for occasional worshippers

to pop into. This is a temple in a 'village' where Chinese people live as they once did 130 years ago,
give or take a few modern conveniences. In fact, I read somewhere that "as many village temples
in China no longer exist, this intact example is considered to be of both local and international

Built in the 1870s by Sydney's Chinese community, and restored in 1998 after fire, the temple is

also unusual in itself, combining Cantonese design with Federation era Australian details.

Now here's the thing. If I had engaged in serious research - beyond Wikipedia, for example - I may have

'discovered' the Yiu Ming Temple and village in a guide book. How much more exciting to discover
it in the way I did, to come across it completely by surprise and to see it for the first time 'in the flesh'.
It doesn't matter that millions of people may have already explored it - just stumbling on it, I felt
like the first person to discover it.

So maybe a spoiler alert is appropriate at this point - avert your gaze for the next section if you'd rather

see this fascinating little pocket of Sydney for the first time under your own steam.

19th century life in 21st century Alexandria :: 1

19th century life in 21st century Alexandria :: 2

Eric, Maisy, Emily and Baby X

19th century life in 21st century Alexandria :: 3


19th century life in 21st century Alexandria :: 4

19th century life in 21st century Alexandria :: 5

19th century life in 21st century Alexandria :: 6

19th century life in 21st century Alexandria :: 7

eat your greens or you won't grow big and strong

Emily on a toddler's bike

happy in anyone's language

Eric and Maisy, after the rain

smile at the lady with the big camera

Part 3: Piazza Belmonte

A few days later I came across another surprising corner of Alexandria. From 19th century China I

travelled across the seas and forward in time to 20th century New Orleans - as brought to life in
a small cul-de-sac in Alexandria on Belmont Street, or as the locals like to think of it, Piazza

Yiu Ming Temple, this wasn't an altogether stumble upon. Friends who recently moved
to Alexandria told me about the cul-de-sac in Belmont Street where the locals often congregate
for mini-shin digs. As it happened, there was going to be one when I was 'in town' and maybe we
should go see. So we did. Fun. Very fun. We left with a new appreciation of the power of cul-de-sacs
to create community. Not to mention hell awful hangovers (not me, them - the party finished at
6am the next morning).

a colourful corner



no neck is safe on Piazza Belmonte

er, jelly shot Mr Ku Klux Clown?

South Sydney belle

Ben and Ella

Ella, Ben and cousin Lucas

hey Jacob, come on outside, it's not as scary as it looks


Now remember the vampire dude?

a dentist's dream

When he's not vampiring, he's John, artist and resident of the old butchers on Piazza Belmonte


Unfortunately it was too dark to shoot inside the rooms where many of his impressive portraits hang.
But here's a few glimpses inside a home filled with whimsy and not a single hint of IKEA.

ma, he's gone a little nuts with the ceiling don't you think?


artist in residence

Part 4: Two cafes and a pub

I tortured my gluten-free self by stepping inside the Bourke Street Bakery and La Cachette Coffehouse

and Bakery (they each offer just one GF cake and if you're after savoury, there's zip). 

frilly tarts

Damien and Jean, Bourke Street Bakery

urban jungle

the French quarter

There's a handful of pubs to choose from - I chose The Alexandria where I met lovely security man,
James, born and bred in Fiji with an Indian dad and a mum part Samoan, part Irish.

amber liquid :: 1


if Paris Hilton disguised as Che walked in, would James throw her out?

amber liquid :: 2

neighbouring walls, worlds apart

Part 5: Random ambles


alphabet house

light, there are so many ways to love you

mail and letters

a nod to Alexandria's canal

surviving, just

Casa di Mario, casa di mystery

regal red

Alisha and Dave in the Regal

Beauty in Alexandria? There's brick loads of it in Sydney Park. I had expected to find beauty in the
industrial side of the suburb too but I got side-tracked by my 'trips' to China and New Orleans
(and to Mitchell Road Antique and Design Gallery, a deadly place if you like fossicking around
for hours on end and have a penchant for desirable knick-knacks).

See you next week for the 52nd Suburb!


  1. I don't really want next week to come. Sorry.

    Your photos are flawless as usual. Is this the first time you haven't used captions? It makes the photos really stand apart on the page, which is great. But your captions were a great part of the picture too.

    I especially like the photo with the girl in the striped dress this week. If you slide the page up and down the stripes make it look like she is walking! that just me?

  2. Oh, whoops. Never mind! My page mustn't have loaded I have the captions! Whoo hoo - a reason to have another look!

  3. Hey Jo - No, you were right! Blogger has been playing up - just spent hours fixing it up. Veeeeeeeeeeeery frustrating - but captions are now up!!


  4. I only just found you... Will we really be saying goodbye after #52. Nooooo. Or do we move to Melbourne? jx

  5. Great stuff again Louise ... loved the bricks, the Rolf Harris artist dude with the fallen madonna with the big boobies, and two more shadows/reflections of the Louise action stance !

    Terrific !


  6. Good of you to include the playground of my childhood the old brickworks my Dad worked there as a brick maker until one of his fingers was severed in a brick cutting machine! He then became a brick carter. Our old house used to be where the entrance to the dump is. One to go! Which suburb will it be...we will have to wait another whole week to find out!

  7. Too bad it's almost done!! Enjoy your last suburb!

  8. Our lovely Alexandria looks a picture, thank you for coming to visit us

  9. This was brilliant, Louise. We've recently returned to Hobart after 11 years in Sydney and going to Sydney Park was one of those things we never got around to doing. Thanks for the virtual tour - it was fascinating. Say it isn't so and that you'll start another 52 suburbs after next week! Please...Jane

  10. Lovely - used to work there. Fabulous for lunch time strolls. Was thrilled with the "Elite" - my first car!

  11. How sad only one to go and I only discovered your blog recently. I will have fun backtracking to No. 1.I absolutely adore your photos and hope to be able to do something similar one day.

  12. What a breath of fresh air Louise.

    Thank you.

  13. The brickworks are always impressive from any angle but I also really liked the costumes in this one.

  14. dear all - thanks so much for all your comments. As for finishing up next week, I think I'm in denial - I'm not really thinking about it because I don't want to finish either. I mean, I do in one sense - just for a break - but after about two seconds I reckon I'm going to be itching to get back out there. Anyway, I have a month to make the book - that should focus the mind! And then after that, who knows.

    Louise xxxxxxxxx

  15. Can't believe you're almost done. I've thoroughly enjoyed your journey, despite finding this blog rather late. It's been great exploring Sydney with you :)

  16. Louise,
    Your blog is one of the best things on the internet! Your photography is amazing, but not more so than the stories you tell with it.
    I cant wait to buy the book!

  17. Any chance we can just call it 152 suburbs???

  18. I've been following your blog since the first couple of suburbs.
    I live on Belmont St and was at the street party!
    Small world and great coverage.

  19. So, so lovely! I don;t want next week to come around! I feel we all need to be debriefed after a long campaign! Especially you Louise! Is there going to be a wrap party? :0)

  20. dear lou,
    I've got to say that I am so so impressed by the quality of your photos (and yes love the captions too), but as an avid photographer myself, I've drooled over your shots; one after another! Composition, colour, cropping, subject choice and how you're able to work with them to their best, use of f/ stops superb... and on it goes.
    Thanks for the journey x

  21. PS: is that a 10-20mm f/2.8 (or there abouts)?

  22. Love the Casa di Mario - which road was that in? The reds are fantastic together!

  23. first ever boyfriend,17 year old lovely Nick the Greek lived there, in Buckland St as did a few of his friends from "Clevo", or Cleveland St Boys' High.(me, just a girl from the North Shore)...very chic now..thankyou for the trip to another fascinating part of my home town.Louise.

  24. @ Nat - Casa Di Mario is on Mitchell Road between Harley and Maddox Streets, just a few doors down from the Parkview Hotel.

  25. dear all - a wrap party sounds like a damn fine idea!! What do you think? It may have to wait until I've re-surfaced from writing and assembling the book. So early November - I'll name a place and anyone who feels like dropping over can. That'll give me something to look forward to when I'm chained to the computer for that month.

    As I said earlier, I'm not even thinking about this project ending right now - I'm still doing Suburb No 52 as it is - and it is possibly just too sad to contemplate. But - it will lead who knows where...

    L xxxxxxxxxx

  26. Like all the others above Louise, I too am sad to see the 52nd suburb, (but excited too). I already have plans of to whom I will purchase the book for, including myself.
    This week I loved Hey Jacob and Light, so many ways.
    See you next week.
    Di x

  27. What to do after the book? I've just driven along the Hume Highway, and the thought came to me that 52 towns might be worthwhile. We stopped at Holbrook for coffee, still on the highway but not for much longer. Lamingtons, cream buns and vanilla slices are available in many country towns, and the buildings to match. It might take more than a week a town of course, unless you buy a caravan and station wagon to pull it, going on the road for a year...

  28. And some sneak peeks of the photographer herself ... coming out of the shadows as the journey nears its end?

  29. Hey Louise,
    I was just looking at 51 Alexandria and thought "thats my favourite" one so far. And then I started to look back to do a quick comparison....I have just been on a 2 hour journey back over the past 51. I CANNOT pick a favourite as they all have their big heros! You have shown us that the norm can be truely beautiful. I am waiting with baited breathe for #52 and am already missing this regular visual feast.

  30. chuuuuuuuuuuuuuur bo

  31. The last picture is of me and my boyfriend. I love this website! It made our day having our picture taken in the Val :)

  32. Absolutely beautiful work Louise! You certainly have a gift.