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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.