Harris Park has been called Little India. But it is more than that. A suburb of Parramatta, it is steeped in history, and if you enjoy Indian food, quite the place to visit.
Harris Park Heritage Walk
I begin on the corner of Station Street East and Marion Street where a sign points to the Harris Park Heritage Walk. Making my way along Marion Street, I pop into a fruit and vegetable shop. It is the first time I’ve seen the knobbly green Indian bitter melon.
Turning left, then right, munching on tasty strawberries, I pass Experiment Farm Cottage planning to return later. Not much further on is Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church . Officially opened in 1978 the circular church with a white coronet type feature is topped with a five-meter bronze statue.
Elizabeth Farm Cottage
Nearby is Elizabeth Farm Cottage, a property of the Historic Houses Trust. I have known about this cottage for many years, but never visited as I thought it was miles away. In fact, it isn’t far at all. A hands-on house museum, the cottage is largely unchanged since the 1830s. I am amazed to discover that the house incorporates part of the oldest surviving European home in Australia. There is so much history here.
I wander through the cottage, getting a real feel for how the Macarthurs lived before electricity and running water. Activities have been set up for a school group. The children will try to write with a quill and ink, and wash clothes using a washboard. I hear them showing great interest in the chamber pot.
Continuing on the heritage walk, through Swann Reserve, to Hambledon Cottage, I glimpse the Maronite Church again behind some trees. The house seems closed. I call the number on the door. A volunteer guide is inside, but her colleague hasn’t arrived. I am fortunate that she takes me around while her husband holds the fort.
Having a guided tour is the only way to visit this property which has been run by the Parramatta and District Historical Society for over 50 years. Walking through the beautifully restored home is like stepping back two hundred years.
Furnished with original pieces of the period there is the large four poster bed with three mattresses, a Davenport Desk, a square piano (actually rectangular) and a cleverly disguised commode. In the garden the ‘significant trees’ were planted way back in the 1820s. I look back at the house. Yes, there it is again. The Maronite church peeking out above the roof.
The Heritage walk takes me to Queens Wharf on the Parramatta River. Boats used to ply the river bringing supplies from Sydney Cove. Information signs show photos of the flour and textile mills that were once here. Yet again I am surprised at how close everything is.
I walk through the playground at James Ruse Reserve. It is quite busy with littlies and their mums or grandparents. The water play area is without water for the colder months but I am sure is a magnet in warmer weather.
Crossing busy Parkes Street, I realise that I’m actually at the back of Experiment Farm. Earlier this morning I was told that it is closed today. A pity, but after two period houses, perhaps it is just more of the same? I climb up the hill towards the house avoiding what seem like original steps to the house. The corn in the kitchen garden is growing strongly. Views from the house, built on the crest of a hill, are extensive.
I wander up Albion Street admiring the lovingly restored cute cottages. In Wigram Street the Indian side of Harris Park becomes obvious. Indian Restaurants, supermarkets and other Indian stores line the street.
Yet, the first shop that grabs my attention is Lebanese with a huge range of cakes, tarts, biscuits and baklava. After their Indian meal, many people have their dessert in Sweet Land Patisserie.
For lunch I choose a vegetarian Thali at Not Just Curries. I am presented with a selection of delicious dishes on a divided tray and end up eating far too much.
I need ingredients for a curry night I am hosting tomorrow. I find most of what I want but have to ask for the paneer and curry leaves which end up being together in a fridge. At first hesitant, the woman in Parramatta Indian Fashion soon warms and we chat about the different styles of dress and she encourages me to take photos.
I know about sarees, and salwar kameez but always thought the salwar was the tunic. I learn that actually it’s the other way round. If I am lucky enough to be invited to an Indian wedding I know where to come for my outfit. My last stop is an Indian sweet shop for dessert for tomorrow night. A selection of barfi will do the trick.
Final thoughts on Harris Park
What a way to spend a day. Discovering more about early European life in Sydney and savouring Indian culture. Now I am keen to make that curry and share it with my family and friends.