A Self-Guided Walk in Alexandria
Green Square station is located in the Inner Sydney suburb of Alexandria. Once an industrial area, Alexandria has cafés and restaurants and factory outlet stores. Let’s see what else there is to find.
Walking down Botany Road
On my right, behind a wire fence, rows of closely parked and brightly painted camper vans stand idle. Wicked campervans, with their distinctive crude messaging and graffiti style exterior operate from this site. They target young backpackers. Call me a prude, but I’d feel decidedly uncomfortable riding around in some of their vans.
Fast food wrappers blow in the breeze behind a metal and stone sculpture, in Green Square Station forecourt. While I photograph the piece, a passer-by comments “You can be sure it says something”. Or perhaps it provides seating. Whatever it is, no one gives it a passing glance.
Further along Botany Road, “Don’t ever trust cops” reads an A4 paste up. Another suggests “Abolish work” and continuing the “abolish” theme, a third reads “Migrants welcome, Abolish borders”. The people here have something to say.
The Coffee Roaster
The rich aroma of coffee wafts from the welcoming doors of The Coffee Roaster. At the Coffee Roaster, you can choose beans from around the world to “roast your own”, do a tour or even attend a course in coffee roasting. The sounds of coffee beans tumbling in the roaster behind me add authenticity to my simple “flat white”.
Factory Outlets in Alexandria
Alexandria is home to many factory outlet stores. Many years ago, a friend went on a shopping tour of the Alexandria Outlet stores. These tours remain popular with bargain hunters. I find clothing stores, a large fabric store and a fresh and frozen pasta place along Botany Road. Later I discover even more outlet stores on McEvoy Road.
Industrial Heritage in Alexandria
The William Street streetscape reflects the industrial heritage of the area and has local heritage significance. Evidence of the factories, foundries and workshops, built here in the 1930s to 1960s surrounds me. Today, there is plenty of building work going on, but while the buildings have been gutted, the facades remain.
The Australian Meat Emporium
At the nearby Australian Meat Emporium, heavy jackets hang in the vestibule between two sets of glass sliding doors. Customers wear the jackets to shop in comfort in the refrigerated store. Row upon row of different cuts of packaged meat make this a one stop meat shopping place.
Loveat Café at first appears to be another trendy local café. It may well be, but when I realise that it’s housed in the large warehouse conversion that is the Hillsong Alexandria Campus, I wonder if the two are connected.
The Mill, Alexandria
An old-fashioned orange petrol pump guards the driveway exit from The Mill, which is a group of twelve recently refurbished historic buildings. The building names including The Boiler Room, The Silo, The Soapworks and The Woolstore, reference the early industrial heritage of the area.
The Grounds of Alexandria (café, restaurant bar and more), possibly the most recognised establishment in Alexandria, is located in The Mill complex. I wonder how many of the patrons to The Grounds have any idea of the historic significance of the area or have walked around the back to view the refurbished buildings.
Responding to a recent promotion of The Grounds Christmas display, groups of women and mothers with children make their way to the site. Cars bank up and impatient drivers hoot their horn. A man stands at the car park entrance telling hopeful drivers that the park is full. The queue into the restaurant is off putting and I give it a miss.
An unpleasant smell wafts from behind the temporarily fenced heritage listed Alexandra Canal. Construction of the WestConnex forces me to make a big detour to reach Sydney Park. When I get there, I discover the Alan Davidson Oval surrounded by a cream coloured picket fence. Nearby, school children participate in a road safety lesson at the Sydney Park Cycling Centre. They ride bikes along a network of specially laid out ‘streets’, learning about road signs.
Mitchell Road is a mix of old and new buildings. While some of the single and double storey terraces are well maintained and renovated, others look sad and unloved. Original sandstone fence posts grace the footpath in places.
A woman leaving the Cliff Noble Community Centre wonders if I’m lost. I’m not, but ask her about the building work at the adjacent school. Apparently, the students have been moved to other sites during the renovation. Fortunately, the works don’t involve changing the original school building. She tells me that her colleague at the Community Centre attended the original school as did her father before her.
St Lazarus Orthodox Church
St Lazarus Cathedral Church is covered in greenery with sweet smelling flowers on a vine entwining the fence posts. The Australian and the Serbian flags flutter in the wind side by side. This church, founded in 1955, serves the local Serbian community.
After taking a couple of wrong turns I find Allen Ave, un-signposted and more like a back lane than an avenue. Cheerful characters smile at me from a blue wall covered with graffiti, reinforcing the back lane feel.
More Heritage in Alexandria
Amongst the terraces in Brandling Lane is Eveleigh Rest House, also known as the Engineman’s Rest House. This heritage mansion, built in the early 1900s, was used as barracks accommodation for railway staff. The Edwardian house, now a private residence, isn’t easy to see behind the shrubs and trees.
Merivale bought the Alexandria Hotel, another heritage listed building, in 2016. The hotel is closed, awaiting renovation. It looks like many pubs built at the time, with tiled walls and advertising posters at street level, a dark brick second storey and a red tiled roof.
Alexandria Town Hall
The former Alexandria Town Hall, built between 1881 and 1928, has served a number of purposes over the years. It was a public school, a temporary hospital and even a soup kitchen. Recently renovated, you can now hire its rooms and two halls from the City of Sydney.
Victorian terraces are very much part of Sydney’s inner-city landscape and having seen so many on my walks, I often don’t give them more than a second glance. Nevertheless, Alexandria is full of them and you can find intact examples of both one and two storey terraces in Buckland Street before walking through one of the heritage gateposts into Alexandria Park.
Yiu Ming Temple
In the 1920s, the Yiu Ming Tong Chinese Association, which ran the Chinese Temple in Alexandria (near to where I am standing now), provided financial and other support to Chinese Market Gardeners. Today, three elderly Chinese women sit in the sun outside a white walled building. I guess they live in the building behind them. They greet me and point towards the entrance gate to the temple. Unfortunately, without a common language no further conversation is possible.
One of only a small number of Chinese Temples that survive in Australia, the Yiu Ming Temple, which is over 130 years old, has both local and international significance. Very few village temples remain, even in China.
Ceramic figurines decorate the apex of the roof. A younger woman interrupts her lunch to explain that these represent ancestors from many years ago. The floor of the temple is decorated with tessellated Federation tiles, an interesting blend of Chinese and Australian features.
As I leave, the elderly women smile and put their palms together to bid me farewell.
Light Industry in Alexandria
Large coloured laundry bags overflow with white towels and sheets in a busy commercial laundry. In a nearby cement factory, I watch as a worker guides a hose to fill a cement truck, wondering how long light industry will survive so close to the city centre.
Mitchell Road Antique and Design Centre
Last but not least, I stroll through the Mitchell Road Antique and Design centre. Filled with treasures from the 60s and other eras, it would be easy to get lost here, the artifacts prompting memories of my youth.
Final Thoughts on Alexandria
Alexandria certainly has more to offer than cafés and restaurants. This inner-city suburb of Sydney has interesting industrial heritage, factory outlet stores for bargain hunters and an historically significant Chinese Temple.