The weather prediction is for showers. Hopefully they will be light. I am off to Rockdale. Another friend’s suggestion. Apparently, there’s an ethnic mix, an historic house and Balkan food. Let’s find out.
Rockdale is divided by the railway line. I’ll walk the Western side first. Once in Railway Street I stop to look around. Opposite, The Castle Palace Hall, built in 1926, is now a function centre. The Dhaka mini market supplies the Bangladeshi, Nepali and Indian community. Like nearby Deshi Hair, it is still closed even though it is already 10am. A number of premises are vacant and ‘to lease’.
The Masjid al Hidaya is hardly recognisable as a mosque except for discreet street front panelling and the name etched into a glass window. In Frederick Street, at least three similar small Mini Markets all cater to the same population groups. Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Nepali. I chat to the young man inside one. He tells me that the long green melons are used for curry and the striped green and white melon (snake gourd melon) is good with prawns or rice. Once the only shop of its kind, it now competes with others. Overseas born residents would feel comfortable here, finding familiar produce.
Back outside, I am taking photos when a man asks me what I’m doing. His facial expression indicates that he doesn’t think much of Rockdale. I on the other hand am finding it very interesting. Large older houses have been converted to share accommodation. A shirtless youth sits in a first-floor window, talking on his phone. A man watches me from his balcony. He resumes his tai chi and I move on. A woman passes by, dressed in dark blue trousers (salwar), a pretty patterned tunic (kameez) finished off with a blue scarf draped over her shoulders.
The Taj Mahal is still closed. A sign in the window lists products available including boerewors. Why would this shop sell the farm sausage from my childhood? A woman opens the door. She is from Durban, South Africa and sells curries and spices, as well as many products that I recognise from my childhood. Excitedly I look around rediscovering Zoo biscuits, Tennis biscuits and Boudoir Biscuits (finger biscuits as we called them), jelly tots and canned guavas. Vina tells me that she makes ‘real’ South African samoosas. I am thrilled to learn that they are sold at a market near my home. I leave with a few goodies, delighted that Rockdale has already turned up something so unexpected.
The Resurrection of Christ Macedonian Orthodox Church was destroyed by fire in May last year. All that remains is an empty fenced off block of land. A tinkle sound reminds me of when I heard a Hindu friend of mine praying, but perhaps it is just a wind chime.
There is a mixture of old poorly maintained houses, others under renovation and newer imposing double storey houses in this street. I realise that I have come too far. Instead of retracing my steps, I turn right along Forrest Road, where more shops stand empty, and follow the sign to Lydham Hall, my next destination. Built in 1860, it is closed today. One of the oldest homes in the St George area, it houses fine antique furniture on loan from the National Trust of Australia.
I am enjoying myself meandering along. The house named “Summit” is at the top of a rise and I can see Botany Bay with Kurnell in the distance. On a nature strip, I discover an olive, a fig and two apple trees. Gardiner reserve is quiet today apart from a few council workers. Up the hill, I admire an enormous fig it’s low branches spreading far from the trunk.
In Railway Street two women pass me speaking Arabic. Both wear head scarfs and long dresses, one black. Another woman similarly dressed but in brighter colours carries a picture of a map and a green and red flag. I learn later it is the Bangladeshi flag. A sign at a building site tells volunteers to sign in. I am about to turn back and ask what that is all about, when I see that the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses is being renovated. I am silently pleased that I did not engage in conversation. The Macedonian Church of St Petka is further on, on my way back to the commercial area.
At night, The Guild Theatre in Walz Street will have its name lit up with dozens of individual globes. Four nuns pass me dressed in pale blue habits. Their habits are not too different from the hijabs I have already seen this morning. Here, the stores have an Arabic flavour. There’s the Halal butcher and chicken shop and Al Sultan pastry. The shop selling shisha pipes is closed for holidays. A butcher’s sign interests me. “Carne sempre buona” is Italian (which I guess from my Spanish means “always good meat”) while the butcher is Macedonian. In years gone by there was an Italian partner.
I head to the other side of Rockdale where there is a buzz of activity. The stores along Princes Street are bigger and brighter. In the King Street pedestrian mall, groups of men drink coffee and chat under the awnings. I wonder where the women are. I explore a bit before ordering my lunch of spinach and cheese burek with a glass of buttermilk at the Balkan Oven Burek Café. This is typical Balkan fare, or so I’m told. A delicious quarter circle of filled light flaky pastry. The buttermilk is creamy and a bit tart. Not something I’ll drink every day. An Egyptian man has brought his friend here for lunch. It seems this place is well known.
There is nothing much that interests me along Princes Street apart from the unfortunately named “….Gout” Bakery and Ibrahim’s Pastry where the Egyptians have retired for coffee and baklawa.
Tiny Queen Coffee in a little arcade off King Street was full to overflowing earlier, but now I find a seat. The owner is Macedonian as are all his customers. They are very interested in me and we converse as well as we can within the limits of their English. I am enjoying myself and buy a bag of coffee roasted on the premises to take home.
There is one last place on my list. Bicentennial Park. To get there, I walk through a couple of suburban streets where a double storey weatherboard reminds me of houses in New Orleans and two sandstone cottages have obvious pick markings on the bricks. West Botany Road is in a light industrial area. I have walked further than expected and almost turn back. Instead I find children enjoying a park complete with playground, bike track and skate park. A young boy is practicing piloting his new drone. Behind the park is a stream. It is thick with a bright green algae-like substance. I feel for the ducks swimming through it, leaving a brief trail of water which soon closes up. A bird nests on a mess of sticks in the middle of the yukky green river. There is a chick too. A little black ball of fluff with a red beak.
I return to Rockdale Station via a different route. The spicy smell of curry being prepared for the evening meal wafts across my path. I thought today would be a short day, but not so. I have found some delightful places that I would love to show my friends. And I’ll definitely get some South African style samoosas at the North Sydney Market next weekend.
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Next stop: Redfern
Taj Mahal: 50 Frederick St, Rockdale and is only open Wed to Saturday 11am-7pm and Sunday 11am to 6pm
Lydham Hall is open to the public on Sundays from 2pm to 4pm
Al Sultan Pastry: 23 Walz St, Rockdale
Ibrahim’s Pastry: 4/412 Princes Hwy, Rockdale
Queen Coffee: 8/2-4 King St, Rockdale
Balkan Oven Burek bakery: Shop 2,1-3 King St, Rockdale
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And a map to guide you:
(If you would like a pdf of the map, email me via the contact page, and I will send one to you).
(NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):