Rollin’ Stock

My attorney advised me not to get sick. She patted my fevered brow and told me to lay off the synonyms, put down the allegory and retreat from this cataloguing of quirk.

Ignoring her advice, as one is wont to do in the face of a rampaging word habit, my verbal strength failed me. I found myself surfing a wordless wasteland, devoid of Australiana, though certainly not culture-less: I discovered hot purple lint beneath the bed, a significant crack in my favourite liquor jug and a preoccupation with gossip of the lewdest nature. The Tin Lid and the Cowboy learnt to approach bestowing Who magazines and gin, with caution flickering in the whites of their eyes. And we have run out of cheese.

But fear not. The search is back on, laced with vim and promising Australiana in spades.  The Secretary is braced for intrepid retrieval; she has purchased new pointy pencils for her scribblings and is wearing double band aids on her potential bunion blisters. My attorney is relaxing on a beach with a molotov cocktail, grooming herself with a small Spanish man.

All is good in the world.

I have found a dinosaur, kitted out in kitten heels, a behemoth whose wears its continued relevance as a shiny badge of pride on the latest Prada sleeve.

Straddling the criss-cross of tracks at Redfern Station, Carriageworks to the north, loco yards to the south, Eveleigh is a flirting anachronism that melds past, present and future.

The Eveleigh Locomotive Workshop is decked out in pop-bright flags that herald Innovation, Heritage, Sustainability, and Community, the tenets of a modern reincarnation. Once the powerhouse of a vibrant steam industry, Eveleigh has evolved into a paradox; it is an industrial museum, threaded with memory and steeped with the souls of the past, while at the same time a bright-eyed bustle of innovation, the Australian Technology Centre, chock full of businesses with names like elcom; ac3; and thoughtweb.

The Tin Lid taking it all in

The most recent arrivals are flouncing fashionistas and doe-eyed interns who traipse across a landscape once reserved for hardened men, in teetering heels attached to smartphones. The media has arrived…

Built in 1887, Eveleigh championed the power of steam, forging, stamping, pressing and bolting metal into the rolling stock that powered the halcyon days of Victorian industrial development.

Rows of pounding machine shops lined up to be fed from the fires of the foundry, the hammer and press of the forge clamouring long into the dark. It was a place of fire and pain, steel and sorrow.

Remembered in black and white, courtesy of our perspective on the past and the pitch of the coal that coated everything, the characters that brought Eveleigh to life are long lost to our modern world. Cloaked in navvies humour and clad in flat caps, steel boots and itchy wool, these men embodied the grind and grist of non-automated workforce. They were the face of the headlong hurtle to the six o’clock swill, a flutter on the nags and a meat pie ‘n’ sauce on a Sunday.

It’s a long way from iPad-clutching cashmere suits and dolly-birds in vermillion sipping double-shot-skinny-soy-caramel-lattes (“hold the sugar, I’m watching my weight”).

Contemporary buildings peer out suspiciously at the heritage-listed loco shops from behind fortified slatted fronts, their eyes narrowed in distrust..

Or is it envy? The incidental architecture jars painfully, with sharp lines that jut, a scope that is stingy, and a lack of wildlife in the lobby. The arches at Eveleigh are vast, arcing high above me, the space filled with sound and memory, scrabbling birds and thick cobwebs.

In the blacksmiths bay a working smith, thick dreads snaking down his back, is busy striking metal into shards of russet and gold before thrusting molten steel into icy water and disappearing behind a curtain of steam. The Tin Lid is most impressed, casting his Charlie and Lola book onto the ground over and over in sheer admiration of this worthy skill.

This is a place where three worlds overlay each other, a shadowy resonance beneath a glossy facade stapled onto an arresting history. Naturally that includes CCTV…

The dross of over a hundred years of operation has been carefully scraped away to reveal a sterile, staid beauty, yet still present within the glossy corporate facade are elements of the past, a reminder of a previous life, though ATMs crouch expectantly in corners once reserved for the gaffer’s office:

Vast bolted pieces of the obsolete sit redundant in the windows, as if gazing curiously into the present. The trundling beep of cherry pickers and scissor lifts, the clink of a teaspoon and the sharp bite of Ajax serves to remind me of the prosaic nature of Eveleigh now. The cranes and hydraulics lie idle, the tracks no longer lead anywhere, and there is a eerie calm, interspersed with busy cutlery and whirring cash machines…

The strict Victorian austerity of this era is smoothed out, softened by the buildings’ evolution, but in places the past peeps through, a stark reminder of the brutality of Eveleigh’s history:

In memory of the fallen

As you wander further away from Innovation Plaza, an air of desolation and dereliction lingers, somnolent workshops lie empty and dark, their windows smashed, the small information signs have become extinct and there is barbed wire to deter.

It is here that the past is closest to the surface. Here you can smell and taste another world and best understand the proud history of Eveleigh and then men who worked here.

The path from past to future is never easy. Eveleigh manages to maintain a sense of pride and purpose and though the innovative adaptive reuse program is far from the gristly origins of the loco yards, it is also a long way from any further encroachment by the developers and the concrete crawl that typifies them.

Auburn’s got my back

In an effort-soaked quest to stick curious fingers in Sydney’s darkest recesses I find myself rifling through her secrets, tiny sparkling gems of Australiana my prize.

Equipped with an obliging stub of pencil, a crumpled notepad scoured with unintelligible marks, the tin lid (on occasion) and my trusty secretary, her aura of advice billowing gently, I am armed with inspiration and a tousled map from 1974.

As the crow flies, Auburn’s got my back, standing firm at the ever-shifting front between east and west. Just a dead-man’s hand from Rookwood, calm in the lee of the snarled western city arteries, Auburn is named after Oliver Goldsmith’s poem The Deserted Village, which describes the English version as the “loveliest village of the plain”. 

First impressions are less kind. No plains. No villages. But the threads of humanity have woven an exquisite pattern here, a tapestry of colour, creed and custom that sparks life into the air around me. I know that feeling. It’s the feeling of being able to breathe life, taste life and touch life in a single sensory moment.

The scent of sharp, earthy coffee snaps around my nose, fresh mint, cigarettes and scorched meats smear together in a smoky pall and the streets thrum with noise. Old men cluster around tables laden with thimble-full glasses stained with grounds, their prayer beads jostled in time with the conversation; a giggle of head-scarved girls peeps out from a milk-bar intent on attracting the boys’ attention; and statuesque African women, the bodies and hair swathed in peacock-bright tribal print, are silently, strikingly, beautiful. Joining the throng we eat and drink:

and jolted with caffeine spin out further into the streets. Our search is over before it has begun: the secretary, exhibiting a distinctly un-secretary-like intent, has barrelled into the Hot Sale furniture warehouse and is enthroned upon a glam-rock bed ensemble from the late 1970s. A quick flick of the peripherals and it is clear that we are in the heart of Australiana. Plasticky covers crackle with promise, shiny pvc glimmers in the dust and the air is stained with nostalgia:

Hot Sale furniture

Glam rock bed throne

Nostalgia mirror

Nearby a jewellery shop is gilded in light, the bright glint of yellow gold visible from a distance. Invited to “look, try” this is as close as I get:

All that glitters...

Though closer inspection was required for this message, a homily I am sad I cannot understand:

Cursive beauty

Turkish, Syrian, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Somali, Bosnian, Iraqi, Iranian, Afghani, Pakistani and Sudanese communities call Auburn home and the taste of these cultures is rich and diverse. Cardamom, clove and cinnamon marries with the crisp sourness of cherries and delicate rosewater. Rank meat sweats in the open, unidentified greens are an array of shades from Persian to pistachio and the aromatic elegance of earl grey tea swirls in the mix. In a deliciously retro supermarket shelves of products line up for inspection and include these such childhood stalwarts:

Gima supermarket

While the Wing Fat Meat Market spruiked lesser known fare:

In this Persian inspired wonderland complete with accents of Middle-Eastern devotion, Asian diligence and African pride, the backstreets tell a different story. A lost space between the comforting human chaos of the strip and the genuine peace of the burbs, the roads we found all lead to the highway and were teeming with lost 4WDs.  Here there are jargon-juggled “medium-density housing solutions”, tired facades and stereotypes. Sheets stretched taught across windows are poor substitutes for curtains:

This is another Australiana, borne of necessity. It is a suburban paradise choked in skeins of diesel and tangled in expectation. A world of tacky stereotypes and wary glances, the rumble of our fast-paced world is just metres away, belching, farting and stinking. Residential backstreets should be peaceful, full of the sound of children laughing, their indulgent parents watching from the step – this a modern suburbia that challenges its very self, encroached by storming six-lane highways, shopping malls and strip lights.

Yet I left Auburn with a bright smile courtesy of this,

a monument to the weatherboard revolution of the 1920s, wishing well front and centre; and this:

a poor-man’s mansion with a shroud of shade.

Auburn is a surprise. Abayas abound and I sense my alienation from a culture I am yet to understand in full, yet I am made so welcome and the language of the streets is hypnotic, the soft cadence of sofra, burke, baba fuat, birfazla enveloping me in another world.

I will be pursuing my secretary for the following expenses:

Mountain tea: $2.70
Earl grey tea (in tin): $2.40
Cool op-shop shoes: $2
Sour cherry juice:  $1.50
An almost excessive yet utterly delicious lunch: $12