As discovered when doing a day walk through the Sydney suburb of Rockdale

Rockdale: a day walk in a Sydney Suburb

The weather prediction is for showers. Hopefully they will be light. I am off to Rockdale. Another friend’s suggestion. Apparently, there’s an ethnic mix, an historic house and Balkan food. Let’s find out.

The Western Side

Rockdale is divided by the railway line. I’ll walk the Western side first. Once in Railway Street I stop to look around. Opposite, The Castle Palace Hall, built in 1926, is now a function centre. The Dhaka mini market supplies the Bangladeshi, Nepali and Indian community. Like nearby Deshi Hair, it is still closed even though it is already 10am. A number of premises are vacant and ‘to lease’.

A mosque in Rockdale

A mosque

Friendly Rockdale shopkeeper with snake gourds

Friendly shopkeeper with snake gourds

The Masjid al Hidaya is hardly recognisable as a mosque except for discreet street front panelling and the name etched into a glass window. In Frederick Street, at least three similar small Mini Markets all cater to the same population groups. Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Nepali.

A Diverse Community

I chat to the young man inside one. He tells me that the long green melons are used for curry and the striped green and white melon (snake gourd melon) is good with prawns or rice. Once the only shop of its kind, it now competes with others. Overseas born residents would feel comfortable here, finding familiar produce.

Back outside, I am taking photos when a man asks me what I’m doing. His facial expression indicates that he doesn’t think much of Rockdale. I on the other hand am finding it very interesting. Large older houses have been converted to share accommodation.

A shirtless youth sits in a first-floor window, talking on his phone. A man watches me from his balcony. He resumes his tai chi and I move on. A woman passes by, dressed in dark blue trousers (salwar), a pretty patterned tunic (kameez) finished off with a blue scarf draped over her shoulders.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is still closed. A sign in the window lists products available including boerewors. Why would this shop sell the farm sausage from my childhood? A woman opens the door. She is from Durban, South Africa and sells curries and spices, as well as many products that I recognise from my childhood.

Inside Taj Mahal in Rockdale

Inside Taj Mahal

Excitedly I look around rediscovering Zoo biscuits, Tennis biscuits and Boudoir Biscuits (finger biscuits as we called them), jelly tots and canned guavas. Vina tells me that she makes ‘real’ South African samoosas. I am thrilled to learn that they are sold at a market near my home. I leave with a few goodies, delighted that Rockdale has already turned up something so unexpected.

Rockdale’s Historic Architecture

The Resurrection of Christ Macedonian Orthodox Church was destroyed by fire in May last year. All that remains is an empty fenced off block of land. A tinkle sound reminds me of when I heard a Hindu friend of mine praying, but perhaps it is just a wind chime.

Loved Rockdale property

Loved

Unloved Rockdale property

Unloved

There is a mixture of old poorly maintained houses, others under renovation and newer imposing double storey houses in this street. I realise that I have come too far. Instead of retracing my steps, I turn right along Forrest Road, where more shops stand empty.

I follow the sign to Lydham Hall, my next destination. Built in 1860, it is closed today. One of the oldest homes in the St George area, it houses fine antique furniture on loan from the National Trust of Australia.

Gardiner Reserve

Gardiner Reserve

Lydham Hall

Lydham Hall

I am enjoying myself meandering along. The house named “Summit” is at the top of a rise and I can see Botany Bay with Kurnell in the distance. On a nature strip, I discover an olive, a fig and two apple trees. Gardiner reserve is quiet today apart from a few council workers. Up the hill, I admire an enormous fig it’s low branches spreading far from the trunk.

Railway Street

In Railway Street two women pass me speaking Arabic. Both wear head scarfs and long dresses, one black. Another woman similarly dressed but in brighter colours carries a picture of a map and a green and red flag. I learn later it is the Bangladeshi flag.

A sign at a building site tells volunteers to sign in. I am about to turn back and ask what that is all about, when I see that the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses is being renovated. I am silently pleased that I did not engage in conversation. The Macedonian Church of St Petka is further on, on my way back to the commercial area.

Shisha Pipes in Rockdale

Shisha Pipes

Macedonian Church of St Petka

Macedonian Church of St Petka

At night, The Guild Theatre in Walz Street will have its name lit up with dozens of individual globes. Four nuns pass me dressed in pale blue habits. Their habits are not too different from the hijabs I have already seen this morning. Here, the stores have an Arabic flavour. There’s the Halal butcher and chicken shop and Al Sultan pastry.

The shop selling shisha pipes is closed for holidays. A butcher’s sign interests me. “Carne sempre buona” is Italian (which I guess from my Spanish means “always good meat”) while the butcher is Macedonian. In years gone by there was an Italian partner.

Friend of Macedonian butcher and dragons supporter

Friend of Macedonian butcher and dragons supporter

Tailor on Princes Highway Rockdale

Tailor on Princes Highway

The Eastern Side

I head to the other side of Rockdale where there is a buzz of activity. The stores along Princes Street are bigger and brighter. In the King Street pedestrian mall, groups of men drink coffee and chat under the awnings. I wonder where the women are. I explore a bit before ordering my lunch of spinach and cheese burek with a glass of buttermilk at the Balkan Oven Burek Café.

This is typical Balkan fare, or so I’m told. A delicious quarter circle of filled light flaky pastry. The buttermilk is creamy and a bit tart. Not something I’ll drink every day. An Egyptian man has brought his friend here for lunch. It seems this place is well known.

There is nothing much that interests me along Princes Street apart from the unfortunately named “….Gout” Bakery and Ibrahim’s Pastry where the Egyptians have retired for coffee and baklawa.

Behind the Rockdale Town Hall

Behind the Town Hall

Rockdale coffee shop

New Friends in Queen Coffee

Tiny Queen Coffee in a little arcade off King Street was full to overflowing earlier, but now I find a seat. The owner is Macedonian as are all his customers. They are very interested in me and we converse as well as we can within the limits of their English. I am enjoying myself and buy a bag of coffee roasted on the premises to take home.

Bicentennial Park

There is one last place on my list. Bicentennial Park. To get there, I walk through a couple of suburban streets where a double storey weatherboard reminds me of houses in New Orleans and two sandstone cottages have obvious pick markings on the bricks. West Botany Road is in a light industrial area.

I have walked further than expected and almost turn back. Instead I find children enjoying a park complete with playground, bike track and skate park. A young boy is practicing piloting his new drone. Behind the park is a stream. It is thick with a bright green algae-like substance.

I feel for the ducks swimming through it, leaving a brief trail of water which soon closes up. A bird nests on a mess of sticks in the middle of the yukky green river. There is a chick too. A little black ball of fluff with a red beak.

Bicentennial Park Rockdale

That’s a birds nest in the middle

Final thoughts on Rockdale

I return to Rockdale Station via a different route. The spicy smell of curry being prepared for the evening meal wafts across my path. I thought today would be a short day, but not so. I have found some delightful places that I would love to show my friends. And I’ll definitely get some South African style samoosas at the North Sydney Market next weekend.

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Useful information

Taj Mahal: 50 Frederick St, Rockdale and is only open Wed to Saturday 11am-7pm and Sunday 11am to 6pm

Lydham Hall is open to the public on Sundays from 2pm to 4pm

Al Sultan Pastry: 23 Walz St, Rockdale

Ibrahim’s Pastry: 4/412 Princes Hwy, Rockdale

Queen Coffee: 8/2-4 King St, Rockdale

Balkan Oven Burek bakery: Shop 2,1-3 King St, Rockdale

Plan your trip at transportnsw.info

And a map to guide you:(You can download it here).

(NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):

Rockdale walk map

To give you an idea

 

Comments

  1. Such diversity and so wonderful to chat with such interesting people along the way.
    What a treat to find a shop selling SA goodies. I could eat a whole bag of Durban style samosas.
    I love the tailors peg board. Thanks for sharing Jo.

    1. Author

      Thanks Bernadette, it was an unexpectedly fun outing. I am off to buy the samosas on the weekend. Jo

  2. What an interesting place to visit. To revisit you should take walking groups. Love your tours Jo. Thank you

  3. You forgot to visit Rockdale Catholic Church and the historical elements found inside the library. Rockdale Park opposite PCYC on bryant street?

    1. Author

      Yes, unfortunately I did. Great suggestions to follow up next time. Joanne

  4. Next time visit please come Friday 1pm no parking very busy , one of restaurants take lunch Hilda fish

    1. Author

      Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll look out for Hilda fish. Joanne

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