Let me take you on a walk through the suburb of Lidcombe in Sydney which has changed its name three times, each time in an effort to distinguish itself from the neighbouring cemetery. First known as Haslam’s Creek, it was renamed Rookwood in 1876. In 1914, a combination of the names of the serving and previous Mayor (Lidbury and Larcombe) resulted in Lidcombe.
While exploring Lidcombe, I’ll also walk through Rookwood Cemetery which, as a ‘suburb’ (of the dead) in its’ own right, shares the Lidcombe postcode. It should be an interesting day.
Opposite the railway station in Railway Street, a row of small businesses with a distinctly Asian flavour sits beneath familiar facades from the early 1900s. An attention-grabbing ship adorns the heritage Art Deco Style Royal Oak Hotel.
The close relationship between Lidcombe and adjoining Rookwood Cemetery immediately becomes apparent. Monumental (Memorial) Masons display examples of their work in front of their factory offices.
Chalked markings indicate prices (one is $4750 +GST), or whether the piece is a show piece or sold. Religious symbols decorate some, the face of the deceased etched onto others. One headstone has the date of death as 1978. Why was it never claimed?
A “tick, tick ticking” sound appears to come from craftsmen inside, carefully shaping the marble. But no, it’s a nearby builder hammering a board in place.
In another life, I entered the CFMEU building seeking assistance for a client. Today the building stands empty, awaiting a new tenant.
Alongside the Cemetery
A small gate in a black palisade fence opens onto Rookwood Cemetery. A sea of sandstone headstones leads to a Chapel on a low rise in the distance. But first, there’s a bit more to see in Lidcombe.
Chokos grow on the roof of an abandoned cottage where custom-made furniture was once made. Gracepoint Chinese Presbyterian Church, a simple double storey brick construction painted in pale pink, contrasts with the nearby orange single storey Myung Sung Presbyterian Church (Korean).
The billboard outside the Three Threes Condiments factory, proudly advertises its pickled vegetables, spreads and sauces. This family business, established in 1919 (that makes it 100 years this year) is “proudly Australian” and I wonder why I haven’t heard of them. Later, reading through their list of products, I realise that Three Trees is on the shelves of our major supermarkets. I’ll look out for them in future.
Someone calls me from behind. A woman pushing a child in a stroller saw me outside the Korean Myung Sung Church and is curious about what I’m doing. She asks in broken English “What is the problem?”. Once she understands my project, she relaxes and smiling, we part ways.
There’s supposed to be a Jain Temple around here, but all I can find is a simple house at the given address. Large double storey duplexes line one side of the road while the simple workers cottages on the opposite side provide an idea of how the streetscape once looked.
According to the Development Application outside the State Heritage listed “Gables”, which until recently operated as a function centre, the stately home may soon become a childcare centre.
Entering Rookwood Necropolis (city of the dead) via the Lidcombe gates, I’m happy to leave the constant drone of traffic along East Street behind me. Immediately, I notice the Irish Gaelic inscription on an apparently recently renovated gravestone.
The headstone remembers three brothers who died in 1880, 1851 and 1857. It refers to them being buried in the Old Sandhills Cemetery (one of the names given to the Devonshire Street Cemetery) which closed in 1871 and was resumed to make way for Central Station.
Signs warn visitors and mourners to keep their belongings close. What sort of person preys on people in their time of grief?
A Multicultural Cemetery
Rookwood is the largest and most multicultural cemetery in Australia. Noticing the various styles of graves, headstones and adornments and different ages of the deceased, I reflect on how the cemetery mirrors society in general.
Some graves are simple, some ornate. Some are well tended, others left to the elements. Flowers brighten some graves while other graves are bare. The group of massive family vaults are different again.
Three Simple Graves
Three crosses stand out in their simplicity. The first is a white painted wooden cross with bevelled edges. Nearby, two grey metal crosses (the shape and size of two flat car registration plates placed one on top of the other forming a cross) have the names and dates of the deceased carefully stuck onto the cross with black lettering on a gold background.
Number One Mortuary Receiving Station
Mourners (with the deceased who travelled free) came to Rookwood by train from the Mortuary Station at Central Station (see Chippendale Post). I stand at what remains of Number One Mortuary Receiving Station (there were four) imagining a train rolling in and mourners stepping off.
The gate to the Holocaust Memorial to the 6million Jews killed by the Nazis is locked. This memorial is particularly poignant for me as I’ve just finished reading Poland by James Mitchener in preparation for a trip to Poland later this year.
Even in this city of the dead, builders and a crane are active, constructing new garden crypts. A worker walks towards me from the Sheehy Avenue exit gate. He’s carrying a large paper bag. Recalling the TV advert, I ask him “What are you having?”, and he replies “Aaah, a kebab”.
Back in Lidcombe
Back in Lidcombe now, I am looking for the old Lidcombe Hospital, restored and renovated as part of the Botanica housing estate. Modern double storey homes and duplexes intermingle with old brick buildings that would have been part of the hospital. One is now a child care centre.
Old Lidcombe Hospital
Then, I walk up Benedick Way, and am blown away. This is heritage done well (according to me anyway). The first building I see is jaw droppingly beautiful. Once a dormitory ward, this weatherboard building with wraparound covered veranda is now two homes. Other similar homes surround the so-called Village Green.
Lidcombe Hospital Heritage Trail
Orange information panels on squared off metal pillars mark the Lidcombe Hospital Heritage Trail. I don’t find them all but find enough to satisfy my curiosity about the Hospital history.
The buildings, initially built for a boys’ home (1885) were never used, but were adapted (1893) to be used to care for men made destitute by the depression. As the need for medical care increased, and the facility became a State Hospital and then later, the Lidcombe Hospital which specialised in geriatrics. The hospital closed in 1995.
During the 2000 Olympics, the buildings housed 5000 international journalists and in 2006, the buildings were placed on the State Heritage Register.
More of Lidcombe
The next part of my walk involves walking alongside a long boring section of road with three lanes of trucks and cars barrelling towards me. Not soon enough, I leave the main road and come across a delightful sight.
Barber on Wheels
A bearded barber shapes the hair of a customer in his van, fitted out perfectly with sink, mirror and barber’s chair. Fascinated by this innovative idea, I stop to chat to the “Barber on Wheels”. He suggests I eat Korean for lunch.
The silver onion domes of the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral glitter in the sun. There really do seem to be a lot of churches in Lidcombe. I look for the Russian Old Orthodox Church, but apparently don’t walk far enough. But, I return to Vaughan Street a day or two later and not only find the church but an interesting garden feature.
The Russian Shop
The Russian Shop looks interesting, and I enter, not quite knowing what to expect. A man, with Mongoloid features and a whispy black beard, emerges from the back room. He speaks very little English, tells me that he’s from Vladivostok and is happy for me to look around while he returns to his television program.
Bottled goods and packets of wrapped lollies line the shelves. A table near the window displays religious icons, cards and other paraphernalia. I can’t resist buying a bag of the Polish Milk Fudge lollies.
A Korean Lunch
There’s not much choice for lunch besides Korean, and following the Barber’s suggestion and my own advice to eat where locals eat, I decide on the lunch special at Muri Korean BBQ.
This is my third ever Korean meal, and I’ve forgotten that each main is served with numerous side dishes. I count five and then another arrives. All for $10.00. There’s eggplant, zucchini, cabbage, green beans, potato a peanut sauce and rice. It’s impossible to eat it all. Apparently I’m not expected to.
Taking a quick walk through Lidcombe Remembrance Park, and down Bridge Street to admire the art deco buildings, I can’t help but notice the strong Korean presence in the shops, cafes and restaurants. I had no idea that Lidcombe was home to so many Koreans.
Ukrainian Cultural Hub
On the other side of Lidcombe Station, I walk along John Street appreciating the decorative brickwork of the Lidcombe Hotel and adjoining Browns Buildings.
The imposing dark brick structure of St Joachim’s Catholic Church contrasts strongly with the simple Armenian Catholic Church which neighbours the Ukrainian Youth Centre.
After WWII, many Ukrainian migrants settled in Lidcombe. A friend whose Ukrainian father was one of those migrants, recalls going to church on Sundays for a four-hour mass with all the standing and kneeling that entailed. He adds “and the men used to do business in the street afterwards”.
While the demographics have changed, the Ukrainian Hall, Ukrainian Youth Centre and Ukrainian War Memorial Church with its Byzantine architectural style remain a cultural hub for Ukrainian migrants.
Wanting to take a treat home for after dinner, I enter the Kebab shop looking for baklawa. I know I will enjoy the sweet pastry dripping in syrup.
Reflecting on Lidcombe and Rookwood
My walk through Lidcombe and Rookwood Cemetery has been particularly interesting and enjoyable. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Perhaps you’ll take yourself to discover the area one day.