Romantic heroine

Toting dancing shoes and a sultry smile, the Bestie is in the mood for sport, which in itself is unusual as she has a less that polite attitude to all things sporting – unless you include wagers or card-sharking.


The Tin Lid, however, knows exactly what’s going on. In his bright little mind, dancing is sport, as is snorkelling, lemonade drinking and Lego. And he is ready to roll:


Overlooking Varna Park in the rarefied suburban sweetness that is the east, Bronte Women’s Bowling Club* is proudly defiant – she wears her hair well styled, pinned and primped to perfection with not a strand out of place, and her stance is impeccable, that of a romantic heroine glancing over her shoulder with a knowing smile.


She is well attired too: a cloak of faded glory, lawns that fan out like a fluted skirt, and undergarments that are both appealing and restrained, like patterned bloomers…

Exhibit A: The Queen


Exhibit B: Bain-maries in military formation beneath a natty bunting string


But as every open space – no matter how slim – from the coast to the inner west is now prime real estate eyed by slick-set developers with lupine snarls, clubs have been forced to become increasingly creative in their multi-purposing. And this old lady is no exception.

Childcare centres, markets, gyms, alfresco dining spots, community gardens, yoga on the green, outdoor movies, corporate events, Christmas parties, weddings, barefoot bowls and – heaven forbid – bocce**, these old ladies are dancing a fine line between commercial reliability and wrack and ruin, with many forced to sell off their skirts to pay their way.


At Bronte, a large-scale development glares over one fence, and a childcare centre and car park creep closer at the edge, a phalanx of shiny vehicles static in the face of the grassy endeavour in front of them. Yet she remains resolutely old-fashioned, this grand old dame, brandishing glamour and grit in equal measures.


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And while Cobar Memorial Services and Bowling Club has to suffer the indignities of a remote control car track carving up the now-bald third green, at least here the hydrangeas are stout and the view is winsome.


To keep afloat, clubs have been forced to be more open and innovative too, allowing social and (gasp) temporary membership. At Bronte the whites are off, kids and dogs are welcome, the bar is manhandled by a large man dressed wholly in nylon, who, while less than effusive, sells cold beer cheap, and the bistro is expertly pan-handled by a Greek couple who kiss as much flesh as they batter…


Perhaps the bubbler has seen a little less use of late, but the tablecloths have a military precision, the chairs are safely corralled (you can’t trust early 80s chairs, they are thoroughly deviant), the dance floor is shining in anticipation and the carpet is busy making a profound statement on late-20th century fashion clashing.



As for the Ladies, it is a nebulous light aqua dreamland that might possibly have swallowed my mind whole…

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The Cowboy reports in with sherbert-scented amenities and flanks of shiny trophy shields mounted on pine, and the Tin Lid has found not just a fish tank but a flower for the Bestie’s hat and an uncanny ability to throw coasters.


But the main attraction here is the promise of sprung boards skiddy with talc, the hammering of twanging ivories and the bellow of a double bass, courtesy of a rollicking swing band and West Coast swing dancers who spring and catch each other in a flurry of laughing movement.

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Unsurprisingly, the six-year-old is impressive, which further adds fuel to our fear he may be set for a career in musical theatre. Not such a bad thing perhaps, but the practice years may leave their mark as anyone who has heard Dammit Janet! sung at full volume every hour on the hour will know.

His performance, which includes cronking, crumping, wrist-flicking and stomping, fortunately, avoids twerking or interpretive moves, but he is readily awarded a shout out from the vocalist and free ice-cream from the cheek-grabbing Greek mama in the kitchen.


From tattoo-flecked bodgies to toe-tapping nanas, this joint is jumping. I find a middle-aged woman backing out of the Ladies with tiny sheer squares of silk beneath the soles of her shoes. It’s to protect them apparently, and save them for the dance floor. This is a serious business, with big-panted sensibly shod dancers twirling in metronomic rhythm, beaming grins breaking across their faces like wild surf.

The Bestie describes the Bronte Bowlo as “like a dated photo that forgot how to fade”, and while this makes me ponder exactly why I am the one writing this and not her, she is spot on. Caught in the eddies of time, this institution, once strictly staunch and glowing white, has learned to adapt.


It welcomes everyone and offers the world – smiling faces, cresting sound and an open space in this sickeningly crowded city. It offers respite and respect, alongside a staff that proffer litres of tartare sauce and assistance with your cardi, should you need it.

It is a haven of sight and sound and well-battered flesh, laced in the gentle premise of community spirit, a space to meet, eat, play and dance.

It offers sport for all.

I can remember when they were daggy places inhabited solely by pensioners and alcoholics there for the cheap drinks. Now lawn bowls clubs are the place to be. Take off your shoes and get into some barefoot bowls. It’s the perfect sport for dudes; you can smoke and drink while engaging in “sport.”

Dave O’Neill, SMH

*Bronte Bowling Club is not gender specific: both men and women make up the members. The signage was just too good to resist.

**Lawn bowls is generally accepted as Anglo-Celtic, bocce is Italian, boules is French, and there is fierce rivalry between them. Although in times of crisis, anything goes.


A tour of the heart – Redfern

I got a call from my secretary.

Come in, sit down, let’s talk

she said. Uh oh. This looks bad. It can only mean one thing. Delete. Delete. Delete.

Seems my draft posting of our journey to the heart of Redfern was a little bleak, the darkened reaches of my imagination flicking the mud too far. Kinda like a small kid ‘playing’ with a skink… right up to the point the skink stops playing due to a lack of legs.

So I have revisited the draft with glee in my heart and I reckon another journey to peer closer beneath the carpet at the fluff is in order.

Here it is:

Redfern is a scabby-kneed old tart, her wise eyes brimming with a raw, indisputable  knowledge. At her heart is a community that stands strong and true, descendants of the earliest mobs on Gadigal land, and a tangle of characters who breathe life into the endless asphalt of the inner city.

Her’s was always the party to crash, a raucous orgy of social consolidation, an urban wonder dome  trimmed with every cut and colour. Obed West, who hunted with the Aboriginal community in the early 1800s wrote the following description in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1882:

Nearly all over the present Redfern grew luxuriant crops of geebungs and five-corners… Boxley’s Clear was a great rendezvous… [for the Aboriginal community] one of their great feasting grounds as well as the scene of many hard-fought battle… the Governor gave instruction that no waddies or spears were to be brought within a mile of the boundaries of the town [so] the clearing at Redfern, being nicely adjacent, was chosen [by the tribe] as the place of meeting for the settlement of disputes, in lieu of the Racecourse [Hyde Park]… The portion of Redfern, known as Albert Ground and Victoria Town, as well as the vacant paddocks opposite Elizabeth Street [Redfern Park] was known as Boxley’s Lagoon… Round the edges of the clear were the camping grounds…

Today her patina is a little speckled and worn thin. Her crepey skin stretches and sags to envelop a loyal crowd still seeking her warmth and her once booming heartbeat stutters a little with the more prosaic sounds of life on the streets, the grind of the rubbish trucks, the groan of last orders and the clack-clack of high heels as they commute to work.

But the old girl is getting a facelift, a splash of vermillion lipstick to accentuate her laughter lines, a sparkle of gilt to brighten up dank alleys  fetid with piss and sorrow.


Coloured facades for the face of the towers

Like male dogs marking their territories the developers have swooped, buying up swathes of land to rebuild the inner city dream. This is the new face of Redfern:

New kid on the block

Shaded by giant gums, set back in wide-lined streets, it really is the face of sophisticated, centralised living. It is described as:

“A sustainable social housing development [that] has provided a greater mix of social housing in Redfern-Waterloo and has been awarded a 5-star Green Star rating”.

But the old girl will always have deep secrets that writhe uncomfortably in her bowels. Directly opposite these new buildings squats a square of land, home to derelict houso blocks that are crumbling into the dirt scratched up around them. There is an air of neglect, of dark regret and untold tragedy.

I have no idea what happened here but fear drips down my neck as I glance through the hurricane fencing. These pictures can’t convey this but the air is uneasy and the space seems constricted, trapped.

The terrace that was destroyed in 1959 to make way for the housing commission block

How it looks today

The reality is that some of the urban renewal that forges ahead throughout the inner city pays little heed to the past. While there is a perceived desire to update and improve these old neighbourhoods, sometimes the stains are indelible. And here the ghosts swirl close to the surface.

Dead Christmas

And just when the gloom deepens I stumble on a memory that does justice to the bright light of Redfern’s people:

Mum Shirl

Mum Shirl was the founding member of the Aboriginal Legal Service, Medical Service, the Tent Embassy, Aboriginal Children’s Service and the Aboriginal Housing Company. She was a prominent Aboriginal activist committed to the justice and welfare of the Aboriginal community. She was also widely considered to be everybody’s mum…

Murals abound here, a living memory of the activism and cultural pride that thrives,

Smiling face

and Poet’s Corner can’t help but make you smile, its strange beauty the result of its incongruity and the presence of a thriving community garden at its feet, coiling and tangling with green hope in this chattering urban grid.

Poet's Corner

The politics of urban space are virulent and Redfern exists in an uneasy alliance of deprivation and accumulating excess. These pockets of memory, slithers of a long-forgotten soul are part of the patchwork, woven in and tied tight. Long may they remain so.