Today I’m off to explore Gymea, the southern Sydney suburb whose name originates from the word used by local indigenous people for the Gymea Lily.
Stepping out of Gymea Station, I find myself in the Gymea shopping village. I’ll return to this shopping strip once I’ve found the Gymea Bay Baths.
Suburban Streets of Gymea
After walking past a few low-rise units (probably from the 1960s or 1970s) on my right and the trainline on my left, the built landscape changes to simple single storey homes.
Birds tweet in the bottle brush trees lining these quiet back streets. The houses, built from a range of materials including brick, fibro and weatherboard, display a range of styles. A faded and tattered Cronulla Sharks flag droops from a flagpole.
Inside the fence of the Sydney Montessori School, a sign reads “Imagine a place where children really want to come to school each day”. A woman leaving the school smiles in greeting.
On the sidewalk, another woman wearing a long white nightgown (isn’t she cold?) and black felt slippers waters her garden. She looks at me curiously, not returning my smile. I would ask her about the unusual tennis ball sized flowers on her plants, but I don’t think she wants to chat.
Later I discover that the unusual flowers are native to tropical Africa and are variously called “balloon plant, bishop’s balls, elephant balls or hairy balls”.
Homes of Gymea
With the skies clear for now (showers are predicted), I’m enjoying walking the side streets of Gymea, passing the odd caravan or boat parked in driveways. Here, most, if not all the homes have neat, well cared for gardens with trimmed lawns and hedges. Some are modernised, or even rebuilt while others retain original features.
I walk down a flight of stairs into a gully and across a wooden bridge. The path climbs up the other side of the gully meeting an extension of the road I’ve just left. It’s comforting when my planned route matches the reality on the ground.
A Bush Track
But then, it doesn’t. Unable to find the walking track, I head down a long driveway, but it’s soon obvious that this is private property, and I quickly walk back to the road. Looking more carefully now, I see an obscure wooden pole and a walking track which at first glance appears to be part of a garden.
How pleasant it is to be walking through the bush, with water babbling in the creek and the scarcely visible back yards of neighbouring homes obscured by trees and undergrowth. The hollow in a fallen branch makes the perfect home for a little creature.
A white trunk with ‘peeling’ bark is quite conspicuous amongst the other eucalypts and native trees which seem to thrive here. A paperbark perhaps. The broad flat root of another tree ‘drips’ over a boulder, reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s melting clock.
The smooth, gently pitted trunk of a tall angophora reminds me of a story I once heard. Apparently in the heat of summer, Aboriginal children would hug these tree trunks to cool down. I stroke the pink hued trunk enjoying its coolness and texture.
Gymea Bay Baths
Through the trees, glimpses of water and the boardwalk of the Gymea Bay Baths appear and the creek on my right opens out. It is peaceful. I take my time absorbing the scenery, the reflections on the still water and the surrounding calm.
Fishermen drop lines from the boardwalk into the water below. A kookaburra and his friends break the quiet with a laughing welcome. As I leave the baths, one of the fishermen tells me he hasn’t had any luck yet, adding that “it is a good place to fish”.
Cockatoos and Community
Two Cockatoos eye me suspiciously from the ground. One, bobbing its head, feathers fluffed up, appears to be unwell. The other watches on. Then the situation becomes clearer. The second bird regurgitates some food, and feeds the other now noisy and rather large young cockatoo.
You know there’s community in a suburb when neighbours greet each other from opposite sides of the street. One of them, however, looks at me suspiciously. I suppose it’s not often a woman of a certain age, wearing a backpack and carrying a camera walks past their home.
What I have noticed, particularly near the Gymea Baths, are signs warning about surveillance. Is antisocial behaviour really a problem here or is that just the perception, I wonder?
Walking through Sydney’s suburbs, I often see unusual garden decorations. The upright water ski fixed to a brick mail box gets me wondering who lives there. And the large shell suspended from the eaves of another home is certainly different.
Old School Park
Mothers chat while their toddlers enjoy the ample facilities at Old School Park. In the front yard of a home not more than 200m away, an elaborate piece of play equipment with rope climbing, swing and rings stands empty. Why buy such equipment when there’s a great park nearby with the added advantage of new friends to meet?
Noticing me approaching, a tree lopper calls to his mate telling him to stop climbing. He instructs me to “watch your step please” and once I pass, calls up to the chap in the tree “righto mate”. Workplace safety in action.
The houses closer to the shopping strip are different now. Less well maintained, the grass long and gardens neglected, curtains hang half off the rails behind dirty windows.
Apparently one of the oldest shopping strips in Sutherland, Gymea Village is a busy modern strip of shops, cafes and restaurants. I’m on the lookout for two shops in particular.
The Portuguese Bakery
First up, the Portuguese Bakery where I enjoy a coffee and Portuguese Tart just like they make in Portugal. The women next to me eat freshly made sandwiches for lunch. I almost join them in a sandwich, but save myself for the Hazelhurst Café.
Next, I cross the road to the award-winning Nina’s Chocolates. There, I watch a team of chocolatiers, wearing maroon aprons over white shirts prepare their confections. The rich aroma of warm chocolate tempts my taste buds.
Founder George Magganas started the business in the early 1990s, naming the shop after his daughters, Nicole and Natalie. I can’t resist buying chocolates for after dinner.
Two other shops pique my interest. The first offers tattoo removal for those who “Regret the Past” and the second, the Grate Cheese Co sells a range of interesting cheeses.
Hazelhurst Gallery and Arts Centre
Before discovering the artwork at the Hazelhurst Gallery and Arts Centre, I order a sandwich at the Hazelhurst Café. The customers here are mostly women ‘doing lunch’, a small three generation family group and a few mothers with babies.
The café is warm and while there’s much chatting it’s not noisy. However, it is busy and service is slow. Sitting alone at a tall communal table, I wonder if the large vases of Proteas and Australian wildflowers are from Craig at East Coast Wildflowers.
The current exhibition, RocoColonial, not surprisingly has a number of indigenous artists represented. One particularly moving piece of shells pasted onto tiny slippers which outline the shape of Australia references the stolen generation.
The other exhibition by Japanese born Junko Asaba is intricate and appealing. These are works of folded and otherwise shaped paper. Unfortunately, the exhibition ends soon.
Sutherland Shire Community Nursery
More walking suburban street walking brings me to the Sutherland Shire Community Nursery, where people buy native plants at very reasonable prices. Walking through the well laid out and labelled rows, I’m not surprised to discover tubes and pots of Gymea Lilies. This is Gymea after all.
My Thoughts on Gymea
Gymea may not have the heritage homes and buildings found in other Sydney suburbs, but it has a lovely feel to it. And then of course there’s the Hazelhurst Gallery and the Gymea Bay Baths, not forgetting the Portuguese tarts and the handmade chocolates.