My research has turned up a few surprises. Apart from the multicultural nature of Bankstown, I am looking for a WW ll bunker, a kiddie’s railway and a restaurant housed in train carriages.
Multiculturalism in Bankstown
A woman is carrying her red overnight bag down a flight of stairs from the station. A young girl walking up the stairs turns and offers to carry the bag for the woman. A random act of kindness. After only a few minutes, the multicultural character of Bankstown is evident. Already I have seen more than a few women wearing head coverings of various lengths, some billowing in the breeze. Men chat over coffee in Arabic, one with his prayer beads in hand.
Bankstown Sports Club
I feel rather exposed with my camera, and photograph some nearby graffiti to relax. As is my norm, I have a plan, but it is already about to change. Instead of lunch at the Sports Club, I am going to have breakfast there. It was an early start this morning.
The Bankstown Sports Club is known for Platform One, a fine dining restaurant set in a train carriage. After a few calls by the receptionist, I have permission to take photos. Instead of the buffet breakfast in Greenfield Station Bistro, I choose something light in the café and then explore further. It is too early for the smaller food outlets and the microbrewery, and while I don’t look too closely there doesn’t seem to be anyone playing the slot machines.
The restaurant I have come to see, Platform One, is situated inside the Greenfield Station. I wander around, examining the railway memorabilia adorning the walls and admiring the décor. It will be fun to return for a meal with my railway buff friends.
Leaving the Sports Club, I make my way to Chapel Street where I find an entrance to Saigon Plaza (also called Bankstown City Plaza). I am reminded of my day in Cabramatta. Shops are selling Vietnamese produce including brightly coloured cakes, sugar cane juice and a specialty tea shop stocks numerous green and other tea varieties.
Women have set up street stalls on milk crates to sell home grown produce. One is happy to chat and tells me that people (not her, she says) chop the banana flower up to eat, and that a leafy herb has ‘an ugly smell’. While we are chatting, she buys some chillies from another woman and adds them to her stock.
At the end of the road is a statue symbolising the hardships faced by the Vietnamese when they came by boat looking for freedom and democracy. It is a sobering reminder of how lucky I am. Returning down the other side of the road, I hear chatter in Vietnamese this time. A coffee shop is filled with men drinking their iced coffee.
Bankstown Arts Centre
I drop into a Chinese Medicine Shop. A man is weighing traditional medicine using a set of scales. Outside, a sign and brass koi carp in the pavement direct me to the Bankstown Arts Centre where people can participate in a range of classes including singing, pottery and lapidary. It is the home of the Urban Theatre Projects whose work I have enjoyed over the years.
A group of people practice Thai Chi on a first-floor veranda. I watch their graceful movements and then walk back to Church Street through an arcade where I am greeted by a strong fishy smell. A fishmonger has laid out all types of seafood in tubs of ice ready for sale.
I am now heading for the site of the Bankstown Bunker, a disused RAAF operations facility. It is further than expected but I keep going. Hidden underneath a slight rise this specially designed bunker was the RAAF headquarters from 1945-1947. Now sealed off, the area looks like parkland.
I walk through the park, reflecting on the maze of corridors and rooms (a code room, a plotting room and a radio room) beneath me. The single storey terraces in the surrounding area are grouped around ‘Closes’ named after aircraft which flew from Bankstown Airport during the war. I find ‘Canberra’ and ‘Jindivik’ before moving on.
Working from home
To get to my next stop, I wander the streets inspecting the houses, some old, many new. There is plenty of building going on. The long blocks are ideal for subdivision or for demolition to make way for up to four townhouses. ‘Katy’ has set up a hair salon in her double garage. Quite a few homes are being used as child care facilities.
A woman in a long black dress and headscarf studiously avoids me as we pass in the street. I wish I had the courage to stop and talk to her.
In Ruse Park, I find the now quiet miniature train tracks. This is the home of The Bankstown Steam Locomotive Society which has regular public running days. A path through the park takes me to Vimy Street and the Bankstown City Gardens. A chorus of children’s voices greets me from the nearby school yard. A man is annoyed to find the public toilets locked.
The other side of the tracks
It is time to discover the other side of Bankstown. I cross the railway bridge and find myself in a definitely more Arab area, with more women wearing head coverings. I stop for lunch at an outdoor café, then take a walk through Paul Keating Park, where I photograph the newish Bryan Brown Theatre.
Statues around the park include one dedicated to volunteering, the Spirit of Botany and Phoenix, representing the spirit of recovery.
Little Saigon Plaza
A walk along Chapel Street North uncovers little of interest. The new Little Saigon Plaza is very new and perhaps struggling.
The panes of a bay window in a house where the Care Leavers Australian Network (CLAN) have their headquarters are filled with pictures of various care facilities and their interiors.
The scent of spices
Further wandering brings me to a spice shop I have visited before. Ali is very friendly and happy for me to photograph the barrels of spices and other goods. His shop is regularly visited by food tour groups.
By mistake really, I discover Pepper Tree Café. This community owned social enterprise café provides training and assistance to young people of Western Sydney. There is a performance space for young musicians and exhibition space for young artists.
Reflections on Bankstown
I have walked quite far today and had a real mixture of experiences. From the restaurant in a railway carriage to Vietnamese and Arabic culture, parkland and social enterprises. I like Bankstown. It has a good feel to it.