Fairfield a diverse community

Fairfield Sydney: Discover this Diverse Multicultural Sydney Suburb

When I heard about a new social enterprise in Fairfield, I made Fairfield my next suburb to explore. Having already planned to go today, I then discovered that it’s Ramadan. That could affect how my day pans out.

The Eastern Side of Fairfield

Three young people approach the station as I exit towards the Eastern side. One, wearing a crocheted red, green, yellow and black rastacap, calls out to me. “Want to take a picture?” he asks, making a fun pose. “Yeah, why not?” I reply, but he laughs and keeps moving. He has a train to catch.

Rather grand buildings of the Fairfield RSL face me. The word “posh” springs to mind as I walk past the entrance to the Club. The building, surrounding garden beds and fountains exude elegance. This is no ordinary RSL.

Fairfield RSL

Fairfield RSL from the street

Vietnamese community in Sydney

Vietnam in Fairfield

A tall square column on the footpath is dedicated to Bill and Fred Galton, a father and son who together gave over 50 years of service to local ex-service personnel and youth. I find similar columns dedicated to local community members throughout the main streets of Fairfield.

Over the road a woman adjusts her Vietnamese style straw hat. People of Vietnamese background are the largest population group in Fairfield. Whilst over 40% of the population of Fairfield were born in Australia, 15.5% and 9.4% were born in Vietnam or Iraq according to the 2016 Census.

Honour Avenue Fairfield Park

Honour Avenue

Fairfield Park

Space Age

Fairfield Park

Passing under the Memorial Gate, I enter Fairfield Park and walk along Honour Avenue, which is lined with rosemary and Brush Box.

The park is home to a great adventure playground, empty for now, but sure to be popular on weekends. The space age steel tubes of the slippery dips are not for the faint hearted, while the many features of the obstacle course challenge young and old alike. I’m content with walking along the very low balance beam.

Obstacle Course Fairfield Park

One of the Obstacles

Obstacle Course Fairfield Park

The Tyre Challenge

A man using a rope bridge as a makeshift hammock wriggles to get comfortable and coughs loudly. He must be pretty cold. Signs warn people to behave appropriately while many CCTV cameras keep watch.

A row of concrete seats line what look like long permanent metal hurdles. It is apparently a life-sized game of Foosball (the other name for table top football). A sign spells out the rules. I’d love to see it in action.

Life size Foosball

Life size Foosball

Shrine in Fairfield

Personal Shrine

Passing a Real Estate window on the way back to the station, I’m interested to read that renting a three to four-bedroom home in the area will cost around $400+ per week. A spray-painted message encourages readers to “Kill your local drug dealer”. A reference to one of the social problems in this area.

The Western Side of Fairfield

In the Crescent, old facades date back to 1892, 1922 and 1914. The small businesses include a mixture of small ethnic grocery stores and food outlets. The pleasant aroma of cooking seeps out from a shop selling Filipino food.

The Flow Ribbon in The Crescent Plaza Fairfield

The Flow Ribbon weaves through the Plaza

Indigenous heritag of Fairfield

A nod to the Indigenous Heritage of Fairfield

The Crescent Plaza

The Crescent Plaza (opened in 2016) has a nice feel to it. Fairfield Council is working to create community and beautify the area. The creatively designed yellow Flow Ribbon weaves around the plaza over yellow seating and an artwork showing a timeline of migration to Fairfield. Of course, the original indigenous inhabitants of the area not forgotten.

Meeting Locals

Products displayed outside a small grocery store are covered in Arabic writing. The shopkeeper, at first suspicious when asked his nationality, then welcomes me when I explain what I am doing. After a quick look around, I wish him “Ramadan Mubarak”. He repeated it in good spirits. Later I realise that he possibly wasn’t Muslim at all and my greeting may even have been offensive.

Iraqi grocery store Fairfield

Iraqui Grocery Store

An Iraqi sweet

Nuts in honey

A distinguished looking man in a pin-striped suit and hat watches a game of cards through the window of the Bersawa coffee shop. The man (he later tells me his name is Matthew) explains that the men are Iraqi and are playing Concan which looks a lot like Rummy.  We go inside. A paper pinned to the wall has a cross illustrating the Arabic writing which makes me guess that the men are Assyrian.

Matthew orders me a tea which he won’t let me pay for. As the only woman in the shop I am a bit of a novelty.  I dwell for a minute on what these men have been through to bring them to Australia, so different from my safe and comfortable life.

Concan

Matthew watches from outside

Fairfield International Monument

The Fairfield International Monument promoting harmony

Matthew and I shake hands and bid each other farewell. Walking past Centrelink brings back memories from long ago when I stood in line here with a client. Working nearby in Carramar, I remember discovering great Baklawa, Afghani bread and other different foodstuffs here in Fairfield.

Iraqi Weddings

I also attended a Mandean wedding at the nearby Stars Palace Function Centre many years ago. Everyone was dressed to the nines and gifts were in the form of envelopes.

In contrast, at the Muslim wedding I attended at the Paradiso Reception Centre, the women let their hair down (literally) upstairs while the men partied separately downstairs. When the groom and his entourage came upstairs, the women quickly ducked under the tables to retrieve their hijabs and cover up.

Lost in Books

Lost in Books

Bilingual Books in Lost in Books

Bilingual Books

Lost in Books – a Social Enterprise

Lost in Books is the social enterprise that was the catalyst for me coming to Fairfield. It is a bookshop catering to the migrant population, selling (mostly children’s) books in languages other than English. Some books are bilingual – in English and another language.

There is a large Spanish collection, books in Tagalog (Philippine language) and Assyrian amongst others. Chatting to Danni and Jinan, I realise my ignorance and probable faux pas. The Assyrian population here are from Syria, Iraq and possibly Iran and aren’t Muslim.

Station Masters house built in 1856

Fairfield Station

Fairfield Station

The plaza in front of Fairfield Station was recently the venue for the “Coffee with a Cop” event where the community is invited to have coffee and a chat with local police officers. Danni from Lost in Books mentioned this initiative (which apparently happens all over Australia at least once a year). It sounds like a really good idea.

The School of Arts building is boarded up. More’s the pity as it is supposed to house the Powerhouse Youth Theatre. The name Leandra features on more than one of the ornate cakes in Gateaux de Roi’s window while lively Arabic music comes from Nineveh Music and accessories.

Abandoned building in Fairfield

Abandoned

The Crescent Fairfield

The Crescent Streetscape

St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church was built in the 1950s to service the local Russian Community. It’s characteristic onion dome is and green stands out from the surrounding bland brick or concrete buildings.

Latin America in Fairfield

In La Paula, known for its Chilean cuisine, I find not one, but three different types of alfajores – two biscuits sandwiched together with the very yummy dulce de leche (caramel) – typical of South America.

The assistant tells me that the Spanish shops I visited many years ago have mostly gone and that one of the remaining ones, La Torre, was bought by Lebanese. Later when ready for lunch, and finding all the Arabic style restaurants empty, I return for a filling spinach and cheese empanada.

Paula's Chilean Food

Paula’s

School of the Arts Fairfield

School of the Arts

In the Arabic bread shop, the flat breads are made in round stone ovens. As I fiddle with my camera, the line grows behind me. This is a popular bakery.

In a side arcade I discover a shop devoted to beads and large reels of gold and silver thread. The young woman behind the counter explains that the beads are hand sewn onto staffs and scarfs and used in wedding celebrations. When dancing, the groom holds the decorated staff while the women wave the scarfs around their heads.

Bead shop in Fairfield

Devoted to beads

Iraqi wedding Beadwork

Traditional Beadwork for Wedding Celebrations

Multicultural Fairfield

Wandering around Fairfield, the rich multicultural nature of the suburb is obvious. I find references to Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos, Samoa and other Islanders. I buy baklawa and a Ladies Finger from Aladin Sweets. Next door Ambassador Coffee sells beans from all over the world.

Breadshop in Fairfield

A Popular Breadshop

Baker in Fairfield

The Baker

There are many jewellers with ornate gold jewellery on display. Gold is important in these cultures. There are also money lenders and pawn shops filled with power tools.

A Fabulous day Exploring

The weather has been a bit inclement, but I have had a great day in Fairfield. This suburb, one of the poorest in Sydney with a higher than average unemployment rate and lower than average weekly earnings, is a vibrant and interesting place to visit.

Imagine a place mural Fairfield

Imagine a Place Mural

Real Australians say welcome

What do they Say?

 

Want more of Multicultural Sydney? Explore Granville, Cabramatta and Liverpool

Useful information:

Plan your trip at transportnsw.info

La Paula – Shop 2 9 Barbara St

Bread shop – 2/13 Nelson street

La Torre Cake Shop – 9 Nelson Street

Aladin Sweets – 17-19 Ware St

Gateaux de Roi – Wedding Bakery – 18 Harris St

School of Arts building – 19 Harris St

Lost in books 2/40  Harris Street

And a map to assist you: You can download the map here (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):

Fairfield Map Walk

Comments

  1. Thanks for this great exploration. We will head there one day. Our little granddaughter will love the playground, and we will bring home samples of many foods.

  2. That obstacle course in Fairfield Park looks like basic training in a military camp; it must be a great place for kids to burn a lot of energy. I love the bookstore catering to migrants, I am sure a book is often the only chance kids of immigrants have to stay fluent in their parent’s native language.
    Thanks for a great post Jo.

    1. Author

      Yes, Bernadette, the play area and obstacle course are great. And I love the idea behind the bookshop.

  3. Hi, Jo,
    Yet another great take on a Sydney suburb that I have only ever passed through.
    It was lovely to see you at the theatre the other week!
    Cheers,
    Philip

    1. Author

      Thanks Philip. Next time you’ll have to stop and look around.

  4. Very interested to read and view your photos as I grew up here but haven’t been back for 40+ years. Sounds just as diverse. There were many migrants then amongst my school mates from Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Greece, Germany, Hungary and Ukraine. Never a prosperous area but a great launching pad. Parents really valued education and did everything they could to ensure their children had successful lives. Thanks for the memories.

    1. Author

      Hello Susan. I am so pleased that this post has brought back memories for you. It is interesting to hear from you what Fairfield was like when you grew up.

  5. Great post! I’ve never been to Fairfield but those empanadas sound delicious! The bookstore also sounds like a huge asset to the community, what a nice project.

    1. Author

      Thanks Katie. I enjoy finding social enterprises like the Lost in Books shop. It is a way of building community that is often so lacking these days.

  6. My office is quite close to Fairfield , but have never explored it ..I have heard from my colleagues that in there are some amazing Lebanese Pizzas available in Fairfield, for cost as low as $5 ! … Thanks for the detailed post . I would definitely explore the area…

    1. Author

      Take a wander one lunch time Rohini. The Arab Bread shop is probably the place where you get the pizzas. But don’t quote me on it.

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