Newington, home of the former Sydney Olympic Village is completely new territory for me. Today, I’ll discover more about this ‘manufactured’ suburb of Sydney.
Outskirts of Newington
Whenever I catch a train into Sydney, the towering unit blocks near Rhodes Station flash past. Today, I get off the train at Rhodes Station. As my bus ventures west, the density of the unit blocks surprises me. So many people living in this small pocket of Sydney. Alighting at Footbridge Boulevard I set off.
The Parramatta River
Knocking and hammering from a nearby building site accompanies my footsteps as I walk towards Sydney Olympic Wharf. Savouring the crisp air, I take the riverside path towards Newington Armory. The Parramatta River sparkles in the early morning sunlight.
A tugboat, “The Arana” chugs past and then a Captain Cook Ferry speeds towards Sydney Harbour churning water in its wake.
Four grey haired, Lycra clad cyclists approach me. As they cross an uneven surface, the two at the back almost collide. One loses control, only just managing to right himself. He exclaims “Oops that would have been a beauty”.
Bushland stretches out beyond the fence lining the path to my left. While white-bellied sea eagles nest here, they remain elusive. Five broad-hatted gardeners in bright orange vests weed alongside the path where small orange witches hats have been placed at intervals. Safety at work.
Soon, I notice some of the over 100 heritage buildings, once part of the Royal Australian Naval Armament Depot, and now the Newington Armory.
Aboriginal Artwork decorates Building 15, an Armory building, now known as Murama Healing Place. Here, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “share Aboriginal perspectives of the precinct with members of the public” (according to the Sydney Olympic Park Reconciliation Action Plan).
Narrow gauge rail tracks criss-cross the concrete paving. Amongst the usual warning signs about hard hats etc one warning stands out. “Do not eat fish caught in the river”.
Armory Wharf Cafe and Blaxland Riverside Park
This place fascinates me. Why has it taken me so long to get here? After a hearty breakfast at the Armory Wharf Café, where camouflage netting shades the outdoor area, I explore Blaxland Riverside Park.
Spread out over three hectares, this park offers a range of activities for children of all ages. While inspecting the rope course, I turn at the whooshing sound as a row of water spouts rise and fall behind me.
Passing an innovative semi-circle of swings, tunnels, a climbing wall and a water feature (and the rest), I make my way to Spiral Hill.
Exactly as described, Spiral Hill is a spiral path to the top of a small hill. Walking round and round in gradually reducing circles, at one point, high walls topped with razor wire become visible.
My map confirms that this is the back of Silverwater Correctional Centre. Women’s voices, shouts and laughter reach me from over the walls.
Walking down Spiral Hill in now ever-increasing circles, I think about the lives of the inmates and what led them to this place.
‘Lost’ in Newington Armory
While the gates to Newington Armory are open, the buildings inside are closed. Although the train and other places of interest are only open on weekends, I am able to walk around this fascinating part of Australian Defence history. I wander around getting a feel for the place. There’s the Scout Museum and Armory Gallery and many numbered buildings sheltering behind walls built into man made hills.
My route through Newington Armory should lead me to a path which exits near the Archery Centre of Sydney Olympic Park. With the area deserted and no one around to ask, I am unsure if there’s a gate at the end of the path and if there is, if it is open. I really don’t want to get stuck in here when they lock the main gates.
A black 4×4 ute drives past. Unfortunately, they’re “only working up there” and “don’t know, sorry” if there’s a gate further on. Just as I decide to walk back to the entrance, an old red car, hazard lights flashing, drives slowly towards me. The young driver tells me there is a gate and explains how to get there.
Louise Sauvage Pathway
Through the gate I soon reach the Louise Sauvage Pathway and follow a path that should take me to the Archery Centre. Soon I feel totally disoriented. Walking first one way then the other, quite unsure of where I am, I finally give up my plan to visit the Archery Centre and walk briskly back to the Louise Sauvage Pathway.
The shaded path is a relief from the sun on this unusually hot winter’s day. An ibis flies overhead, a stalk clamped in its long beak. Occasionally a cyclist passes me. A possum box placed high in a tree provides shelter to local wildlife, while a sign indicates that cats are prohibited and dogs must be on leash.
On my right, a series of duplex style homes face the bushland on either side of Haslam’s Creek.
The Suburb of Newington
Children in the playground at Newington Public chat excitedly as they start their Physical Education lesson. A group stands in line, one behind the other, legs astride. The teacher explains softly but firmly that “if you roll the ball it might roll away. Pass the ball through your legs to person behind you”.
Nearby a young magpie digs in undergrowth, and I discover another “Spiral Hill” on the other side of the creek. I’ve since learnt that these spiral hills were created to cover ‘remediated landfill’.
Home of the Sydney Olympic Village
Walking away from Louise Sauvage Pathway into suburban Newington, I wonder which if any of the homes around me were part of the Sydney Olympic Village. With Street names like Oceana, Europe and Africa, perhaps athletes from those continents stayed in those streets?
Almost twenty years since the Sydney Olympics, Newington is now a settled, leafy suburb. Many streets are named after athletes who participated in the games. I notice Perkins and O’Neill. Apparently street signs used to have a descriptor of who the athlete was, but these have vanished.
Newington is obviously a planned suburb. It almost appears to be a display home centre, with houses varying only slightly in design, mostly painted in shades of cream or white with features highlighted in grey.
Pierre de Coubertin Park
Established trees line the streets and with parks and walking tracks there is plenty of green space. After a pleasant walk, I find myself in Pierre de Coubertin Park. Perhaps the accommodation on either side of this park was the Olympic Village?
Newington Marketplace, a circular shopping precinct built around a central grassed area features the usual range of local shops with a number of restaurants and eateries. Workers from a nearby business park sit at tables eating their lunch or return to the office, take-away in hand.
Sydney Olympic Village Memorial
On the way back through the park to the bus stop, I am thrilled to discover the Sydney Olympic Village Memorial. I knew it existed, but no amount of research could point me to its’ location. On a long low wall, brass rectangular plaques list the athletes who participated in the Sydney Olympic Games and the Paralympics.
I’ll Return to Newington
Today has been a most enjoyable day exploring Newington, the nearby Newington Armory and Blaxland River Park. I’ll definitely return, with the family in tow. Newington is worth sharing.