More than one Sydney suburb has a distinct Italian flavour. Haberfield is one. Five Dock, today’s destination, is another. The bus drives along busy Parramatta Road past Five Dock Auto, a Five Dock Dentist, Five Dock Tiles and Five Dock Classic. I alight, feeling a bubble of excitement and anticipation.
The Great North Road
Memories of Saturday morning gymnastics with my daughters flood back when I see a sign showing the way to Five Dock Leisure Centre. The Great North Road is ahead, at the junction of Parramatta Road. Built by over 5000 convicts from 1825 to 1836, it created a 240km route between Sydney and Newcastle. The conditions were harsh and the work backbreaking.
Today, this first section of the historic road is buried under a modern sealed road bearing the historic name. The Great North Road is perhaps the centrepiece of Five dock running as it does through the centre of the suburb.
Off Parramatta Road
Once off Parramatta Rd, the atmosphere changes. The noise and rush of traffic is behind me. Neat rows of brick Federation style cottages line the four-lane road. Gardens are carefully tended. Coloured panes and leadlight provide interesting detail to front windows. Federation tiled walkways lead from metal gates to the front door.
I amble along, noticing little details. Almost too soon, the houses end and shops and cafés line the street. While it is too early for a coffee at Pasticceria Tamborrino, the rows of cakes and pastries are certainly tempting. The window display of PR Raineri’s continental deli is an anomaly. Cleaning products with Italian labels stand side by side with large loaves of fresh bread.
Inside, a murmur of Italian greets me as Peter, who opened this shop over 30 years ago and his wife Rosaria, chat to their customers. Peter greets me with “Buongiorno” and happily agrees to photographs. A few doors down another deli sells similar products. The clientele there appears younger and the lingua franca is mostly English.
A brief detour down Ramsay Road takes me past an old, fenced off, Public Toilet. At first, I think the initials “D” and “C” on the wall stand for “Donna” and the C – well, I’m not sure. Eventually it clicks. The building was erected by Drummoyne Council. An old man carrying grey plastic shopping bags stops and in accented English asks me if I like the building. He tells me it’s locked to stop people doing “bad things”.
A tall bronze sculpture depicting a man and woman playfully tossing a child into the air (“La Famiglia”) honours Italian migrants and their contribution to Australia. There is a large engraved sphere marking each corner.
Nearby, Cremeria De Luca is unfortunately not yet open. A gelato or coffee would be good right now. I discover that Bamiyan, the Afghan restaurant, has recently moved to Haberfield. A good reason to revisit that suburb.
The Laneway Project
In Garfield Street, a digital mural (part of the Laneway project) references early industry in the area and includes historic photographs. It certainly brightens up an otherwise boring and even dirty area.
Mosaic detail provides colour and interest to the concrete seating in Fred Kelly Place also called The Plaza Eolie. The sculpture which represents a boat and the fish mosaic are a tribute to the community from the Eolie islands north of Sicily.
Two men chatting in Italian on a park bench greet a passing friend. This suburb has a real village feel to it. More artworks, this time a mixture of sculpture and (at prescribed times) sound reveal more about the Italian community with voices from the past reminiscing and recalling their journey to and early years in Australia.
The heritage listed St Albans church (1824) is built in a Gothic style, the name cast to into the metal gate. A friendly greeting from within a nearby café prompts me to stop for coffee. I chuckle to myself on realising that this café, Rocco’s, is actually on my list of places to visit.
Not much further down The Great North Road, is Caminiti, the second-generation gourmet family butcher. It really is a family affair with framed photos on the wall.
Five Dock Park
Five Dock Park is well-maintained with manicured lawns and trimmed hedges. The war memorial, surrounded by rosemary bushes forms a centrepiece. The park is on high land and surprisingly, the Harbour Bridge is clearly visible in the distance.
A little boy calls out from the nearby skate park and asks what I’m doing. I look around as we chat. His mum is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps that’s her locking a car quite some distance away. Apparently the skate park is being considered for heritage listing. The little boy glides up and down the smooth grey concrete ramps on his scooter.
Timbrell Park is situated along a canal on the other side of which the WestConnex building works are well underway. A large fish jumps high out of the water, its splash leaving a ring of ripples on the surface. A WestConnex traffic controller tells me he’s seen lots of fish including flathead and large rays in the canal. Fish spotting must alleviate his boredom.
Livvi’s Place is the most amazing all abilities playground. There’s a flying fox with a large seat, there are slides, a bike track with road signs, a tunnel and even an electronic carousel which unfortunately is currently out of order. A child reaches from tippy toes into the book exchange for a book. His mum reads to him from her seat on the large, elaborate wooden armchair while he sits on a stool in front of her.
On the way back to The Great North Road, I notice an old brick building with peeling paint in Augusta Street. It seems to be lived in but doesn’t fit with the cottages in the rest of the street.
Not far away, a game of bowls is in progress at Tigers Five Dock. Some players are barefoot, some are in shorts and there’s not a white shirt to be seen. How things have changed.
The ‘Reformers’ sculpture at the intersection of the Great North Road and Lyons Road pays tribute to the convicts who worked on the historic road. Metal wedges divide two large sandstone blocks. The description says “the fissure dividing the sandstone suggests a road forcibly driven through a harsh and resistant landscape”.
In Halliday Park, alongside the Parramatta River, a man stops to chat, explaining that the building over the water with a big ‘B’ painted on its wall is the Bushells Factory. Regularly at 3am, residents of Five Dock can smell the rich aroma of coffee emanating from the chimney of this building. This is where they roast Robert Timms and Bushells coffee.
A Spanish couple and a Greek man are playing Italian bocce (bowls) in the park. The Italians haven’t turned up today. The Spaniards were married in Bilbao which I know quite well. We reminisce about the city and I join their game for a few minutes with an inexpert bowl.
Back to the Village
After a brief diversion away from the water, the waterside path returns to the harbour’s edge. Fish are jumping but the fishermen aren’t having much luck. My route back to the village centre takes me along Lancelot Street where a small pocket of single storey detached narrow fronted homes retain their character. Perhaps they were once workers cottages.
Five Dock is an interesting, friendly suburb with a convict history. It also has a decidedly Italian village feel to it. I have enjoyed my day here and will be back.