Granville, the site of the worst railway disaster in Australian history is my destination today. Feeling nervous, because not too long ago, bodies were found in the nearby Duck River, I step off the train at Clyde Station. And, I am not sure how locals will take to a woman with a camera.
Sydney Trains Clyde Precinct
The area around Clyde is known for light industry. There is also an historic bridge and large fruit bat colony. A walking/cycle path between high black cyclone fencing leads to the bridge. Workers use this path to reach their workplace at the Sydney Trains Clyde Precinct. An employee wearing the orange lanyard of Sydney Trains looks as I take a photo and asks “are you alright”. Not really satisfied with my reply, he keeps staring back at me as he walks to work.
A green sign indicates a ‘Help Point’. Perhaps my concerns are not unfounded.
Fruit Bat Colony
I hear them before I see them. The colony of fruit bats are mostly fast asleep, hanging upside down from branches, their dark wings tucked around their rusty coloured bodies. Occasionally one takes flight.
Factories line Factory Street. There’s also Australian Border Force and the Sydney Gateway Facility (including Australia Post) where goods from overseas are processed. On my right is the Granville Multicultural Centre and a line of simple houses. Apparently homes in Granville are mostly freestanding fibro and weatherboard. So far this seems to be the case.
A souped up ‘P-plated’ white Mazda with low suspension and thick black tyres revs up loudly next to me. The driver is a youth with a sleeve of tats and an orange vest.
The Duck River Walk
Where the factories end, the Duck River Walk starts. I wasn’t going to do this walk (having read about the bodies) but decide to give it a go. Doves coo in the trees. Fast food wrappers and rubbish are strewn around. This paved path between the backs of houses and the river is actually a dual pedestrian/cycle path to Regents Park.
The river is so overgrown with weeds that the water is scarcely visible. Apart from a few Ibis, there is little sign of bird life. Certainly not the blue wren that is supposed to frequent these parts.
A woman comes towards the main road that I have just crossed. She has emerged out of the bushes where the Duck River Walk continues. I ask if it’s safe to continue on the walk (such is my paranoia), she smiles and says “no problem”, probably thinking I’m crazy.
Dolly’s Boot Camp
No longer paved, the path leads to a large oval on the other side of which, a group of black clad women work out. All shapes and sizes, several skip, others do push ups. Some have hoodies and head coverings. Interested, I cross the oval to investigate.
A large sign hangs on a wire-mesh fence. Dolly’s Boot Camp is in full swing. The women are dressed in black track pants or leggings and black long-sleeved tops. Most, not all, wear head coverings. They are exercising hard. Behind the chain-link fence are a number of containers. Looking into one, I am surprised to see a row of about 8 exercise bikes all being pedalled vigorously.
Dolly’s office is in another container. She is a 28-year-old entrepreneur who started her business in a gym and now runs her Boot Camp out doors. She encourages fellow Muslim women to get fit, lose weight and break the stereotype of stay at home Muslim women. Dolly is an inspiration and I am the richer for meeting her.
After continuing along the Duck River Walk to stepping stones across the river to Auburn, I leave the river to walk along local streets of South Granville. It becomes obvious that the old fibro and weatherboard houses are being demolished and replaced by large modern homes.
A man driving past asks “Are you a local photographer?” and then warns me to be careful as “the next street is full of junkies and [pointing] that’s a halfway house”.
A jet ski stands in a driveway next to a Merc. I lose count of the motor boats parked in driveways and side streets. There is certainly money around.
Masjid Al Noor
The Masjid Al Noor (Mosque), is only recognisable from photos. There is no signage. Men and boys in knee length white garments are out the back, playing ball. I hesitate to go in, walk to the front door and turn back. The black glass is uninviting. I chide myself for being silly and return to the door. It seems I have to ring a bell. That is a step too far.
Retracing my steps now towards Granville Centre, an Arabic sign hangs from the eves of a corner home. A woman enters the premises and a chorus of the Arabic greeting “As-salamu alaykum” reaches my ears.
Three young women wearing colourful hijabs and long (not drab) dress leave and smile in greeting. They don’t know anything about the Masjid Al Noor. Instead they tell me that they come here “to the Institute for Islamic studies” and that there is a mosque here “at the back”. I know where I would feel more welcome.
A local shopping strip, Dellwood, still survives. A group of men chat in a circle outside the bakery. A young man leaves the bottle shop with a slab of beer. A woman sitting on a bench describes the awning as “probably art deco”. The pressed metal detail certainly is interesting. We chat for a while about Granville and “Frances from Granville” tells me to look out for the terrace houses in The Avenue.
The Crest, a State Heritage listed building, was built in the 1940s as the Hoyts Cinema. The signage, which used to read H-O-Y-T-S and then B-I-N-G-O, now reads B-L-O-U-Z-A. It’s hired out for functions these days.
Recycling Plastic Bottles
In the supermarket car park, people with trolley loads of bottles line up at the bottle recycling place. A man depositing bottles one by one asks the man next to him (who is recycling plastic water bottles) “haven’t you heard of a tap? Tap water is $2:80 for 1000ltr”. The recycling scheme works well here.
Approaching Granville centre, the green copper onion domes of St Aphanasius stand out against the skyline. The Ukranian Orthodox Church dates back to 1956.
Nearby is Awafi Chicken with its shisha (hookah) smoking room (a room where people may smoke vaporised flavoured tobacco). A black Rolls Royce stands outside. For lunch, I order the fattoush salad (rather too salty for my liking) and baba ganoush with fresh Lebanese bread.
The multicultural nature of Granville is obvious when walking up South Street. There’s Thai, Indian and Lebanese cuisine. An Islander Supermarket (with a Lebanese man behind the counter) sells cassava and taro as well as prepared meals including taro leaf curry. There’s an Asian grocery store and the Beirut Bakery as well as a few Lebanese eateries.
El Sweetie specialises in Lebanese treats. The selection of baklawa and biscuits is the biggest I’ve seen. The “Ladies fingers” (Znoud El-Sit) are irresistible, with their creamy filling encased in a crisp golden pastry. Mine is delicious with coffee. A woman nearby has chosen a pistachio and semolina slice topped with merengue. The piece she gives me to try is yummy. El Sweetie also has a shisha room.
While resting on an outdoor bench, a Chinese man approaches me, asking for assistance. Ting teaches himself English. He has underlined some words in his English language newspaper and asks me to explain their meaning. The term “put down” in relation to a dangerous dog and “crook” to describe a thief are easy, but I struggle to explain what “traumatic” means. Sometimes we take our language skills for granted.
The Town Hall (1888) stands proudly at the end of Russell Street, corresponding with the architecture of the nearby Royal Hotel.
Granville Rail Disaster Memorial
Opposite Ablas Pastry is the garden memorial to the Granville Rail Disaster of 1977. It remembers the eighty-three people who died when the Bold Street Bridge collapsed onto a derailed train.
A wander through The Avenue and other back streets turns up a few renovate terraces, but it is late and I am tired. I make my way to Granville Station. Granville has turned up more than a few surprises. The main surprise is the friendliness of the people. I will return soon with friends.