Earlier this year, when I came to Blacktown for an Urban Theatre production, I passed an Ethiopian restaurant. That’s when I decided I had to find out more about Blacktown. And so here I am on the train feeling more than a little bit anxious. Blacktown is quite foreign to me.
At the station, Police Officers are checking tickets. Only twice in 27 suburban discoveries have I seen police at a train station. The last time was when I went to Redfern. I wonder what that says about a suburb.
Following signs to Boys Drive, I walk past a mural “When moved we learn” created by local youth. The Indian Sweet shop, Royal Sweets, is not yet open. No sweets for me this time.
Good Luck Plaza
Over the road, a steady stream of cars enters the car park of Good Luck Plaza, home of the Good Luck Fish Market, Good Luck Bakery, Good Luck BBQ (with a string of BBQ ducks in the window), Good Luck Hair Salon and Good Luck Butchery. Lucky cats in windows and on shop counters wave their paws.
The written characters on the range of products in the G&L Supermarket appear to my untrained eye to be from different alphabets. It turns out the supermarket caters to people from all over Asia.
Further along the street, another mural makes an otherwise dull wall inviting. The colourful birds are naive in style. The building, the Sargents Centre is a facility for people with disabilities.
The minaret on the corner of a modern building makes the Blacktown Mosque easy to find. A sign on the fence advertises the Afghan Community Support Association.
Over the road in the corner of a large park a small group of turbaned men are sitting on chairs. I suspect they are having a prayer meeting. Overcoming my anxiety, I approach them only to find that they are from Southern India, “having a gossip” in the sun. We chat a little while a woman in a sari and her husband and friend watch on.
On the way to the Radhe Indian Grocery a woman in a salwar kameez acknowledges me with a smile. The friendliness of local residents is warming. Inside the grocery store, garlands of flowers hang from the corners of rows of produce. In India, the flowers are real. Here they are plastic.
Blacktown Showground Precinct
The entrance to The Blacktown Showground Precinct is across a large intersection. A few young men play touch footy, mums enjoy the outdoor area with their children and a group of older people are picnicking. I press a button at the water play area.
Water sprays from the coloured shapes and poles. A little girl runs towards the water, desperately chased by her carer. I am hungry, but am too late for breakfast and too early for lunch at The Grounds Keeper Café and keep going.
On the Southern side of the station, the shops are many and varied. Restaurants, like the many small grocery stores, reflect different cuisines and cultures. There are Indian, Arabic, African, Asian, Afghani and more. I can buy a colourful sari or get a henna tattoo.
I venture into a couple of African stores that supply a range of goods from hair extensions to brightly coloured fabric and traditional clothing. The cans of Koo food products remind me of my youth. Hairdressers cater to African women. I poke my head into one. A client seems to be grimacing as her hair is pulled and braided. I’ve read this hair treatment is harsh.
Two Ethiopian restaurants sit almost side by side. This is why I came to Blacktown. To experience Ethiopian food for the first time. I decide on Blue Nile. Next time I’ll give Abyssina (correct spelling) a go. I am the only white person there. I watch and learn that I am supposed to eat with my right hand after washing in the basin provided.
A man walks in and goes straight to the basin at the back of the restaurant. He paves the way for me. A woman wearing a striking yellow top and long braids apologises to me after doing a jig to the music in her seat. Laughing, she explains that she lets go when in the company of other Ghanaians. I love her lack of inhibition.
I choose Yetakelt Beainetu, a combination of Ethiopian vegetarian dishes with injera (Ethiopian flatbread made from teff flour). My lunch arrives on a large round plastic plate. What looks like a thin beige sponge (the injera) lines the plate.
On top of the injera are seven different vegetarian dishes including split peas, lentils, cabbage, spinach and salad. The injera tears easily and I deftly roll it around my chosen food with my right hand. The flavours are delicious.
After lunch, I drop into The Model Railroad Craftsmen. Parts for railroad hobbyists line the shelves. A man sits at a desk painting a train carriage. A woman explains that much of their business is online these days. Customers tend to come in only when they need advice.
At the Blacktown Arts centre, a wall garden of herbs greets me. A painted caravan is parked near the steps. The door is locked and there is no obvious exhibition hanging on the walls. The new exhibition starts in a week.
At the Workers Club, I can’t avoid the colourful lights of the pokies on my way to the lift. At least half of the machines are occupied. I can’t help but feel sad for the punters. Like many locals, they probably don’t even know that there is a revolving restaurant on the fifth floor.
Cucina Locale serves Modern Australian cuisine as well as high tea. I can clearly see the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the distance and can make out Chatswood and North Sydney. While I savour my tea, the room revolves and the blue mountains come into view.
Final thoughts on Blacktown
I walk past the restored Blacktown Public School on my way back to the station. I have had a great day out West and I can’t wait to bring my friends here. Oh… and I needn’t have worried. I felt quite welcome in Blacktown.