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1 Parramatta Rd

December 27, 2011

We found a mirror ball with half the mirrors fallen off and hung it from the balcony. From here I could see the backs of the rundown shops and the Annandale Hotel, the Parramatta Rd and Bridge Rd intersection, and the billboard on top of Strathfield Car Radios that I imagined held special messages for me.

Stare at something long enough and it will become fascinating, and it was so with the building across the alleyway. It’s not the kind of building that has ever had a name and was noticeable only due to its position on Parramatta Road and its dereliction. I called it the Shanty Building. When I moved into the house across from it there were still shops functioning in there. Every morning a man would stand on the top step and shave, looking into a mirror hung in the doorway. Through another window I could see the outlines of sports trophies on the windowsill.

Then one by one the businesses – the rug shop, Janet’s Planet gifts – closed down and the building started to decay. From day to day it looked no different but over time it became more dilapidated and overgrown. The only inhabitant of the building was the constantly drunk man who lived in a shack arrangement out the back. I had an affection for this neighbour of mine, although he could trap you with his long, incomprehensible rants. When he was more sober he’d patrol the neighbourhood, keeping order, at least in his own mind.

The Shanty building lay on the Annandale side of Johnson’s Creek, a boundary which was once the edge of the municipality of Petersham. In the 19th century, when stagecoaches made their long journey to Parramatta, there was a toll booth near here. Even without knowing the history the creek feels like a boundary. It is the low point between two rises and it is from here the street numbers start anew on Parramatta Rd, so the Shanty building is 1 Parramatta Road.  Johnson’s Creek, like many of Sydney’s city waterways, has long been diverted into an underground concrete drain. I liked to imagine it at the end of the alleyway, flowing towards the harbour and taking with it all my bad dreams.

Of all the windows in my house the balcony window was the one I looked out the most often. The view was my connection to the outside world. I’d watch for rainbows and when one appeared I’d take photos I referred to as “motivational postcards”.

While I was living there plans for the development for the shanty building arrived in the post. The people from the house at the end of the lane wrote an eloquent protest letter about overcrowding and vermin, but I knew that some kind of development was inevitable. I just felt sad for the impending destruction of the building that had been my companion for so many years.

Moving out of my Annandale house felt like the end of a relationship. The rooms had been so cluttered when I lived there and when they were empty they looked naked. I painted all the walls white again to cover over the blu tack stains and bike wheel marks, a process that became my saying goodbye. On moving day all my furniture piled up in the alleyway waiting for the truck; it looked so pathetic and insubstantial, like someone else’s junk pile.

Over the next eight years I watched the shanty building become more and more run down and covered in posters and tags. The ‘For Sale’ signs affixed to the broken balcony looked neat and crisp until they too started to fade. I went from thinking the building was in its last moments to regarding it as a ruin, left to crumble.

Last week I was in a taxi travelling down Parramatta Rd and was shocked to see the building was gone. I felt surprise rather than sadness, and a reconfirmation of the fact that change, even if slow, is inevitable. It has been a long time since I looked out of my window to see it, part of another life. Ten years earlier the shanty building’s imminent demolition would have changed my world, but after I moved away it became a place from my past, part of the architecture of my memories. I realise now that the building ceased to be real for me long ago, and whenever I passed it I felt I was seeing a ghost.

The ghost will appear again; the development planned for “One Annandale” looks surprisingly familiar, as it incorporates the “heritage listed facade” with the familiar decorative urns along the top. I’d known well the pattern of these urns, I used to move my gaze across them, some were intact, some missing or damaged. I am sure the new building will have a reconstruction of the facade but I like to think it was dismantled brick-by-brick and is being stored somewhere, ready to be reassembled.

When I went to explore a few days later I took photos of the front and the back of 1 Parramatta Road, as I have done so many times before. The house where I used to live looks more ragged than ever, and exposed without the shanty building as its neighbour. The balcony where I once hung my mirror ball is gone, removed or fallen off, and the window where I looked out over the alleyway is obstructed by piles of egg cartons, so whoever is inside couldn’t see out of it even if they wanted to.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2011 9:57 am

    Thanks for a beautiful post and memory that draws in the history of the redevelopment of Sydney. Number 1 Parramatta road is of those places that was a landmark. I loved the old facade and the fact that this building had survived for so long. I never visited the stores as I was not cool enough to play a guitar. But like you I never go along Parra rd anymore now that the south west has become cheaper to live in that the west. I don’t know anyone living in Annadale or Newtown anymore.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      December 29, 2011 9:46 am

      Thanks Raquel, part of the reason I wrote this post was to remember the history of that building as I observed it. It’s so hard to remember how things have changed and I like to think if enough people write about a place then nothing will ever be forgotten. I loved living in Annandale, but it is quite a different place these days and I probably wouldn’t want to live there again apart from if someone gave me one of those witches hat houses.

  2. December 28, 2011 12:03 pm

    such a poignant post – thank you! I’m re-reading some of your zines right now, and was pleased to notice my suburb (Northcote) on your Melbourne map…

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      December 29, 2011 9:48 am

      Thanks Vetti, yes I have plenty of Northcote memories, some of which are on that map. Hey I’m coming to the Sticky zine fair in February, if you are there, do say hello!

  3. December 29, 2011 8:25 pm

    Hey Vanessa
    Not related to this post, but I remember you mentioning this guy in one of your zines years ago. I went to Sydney Uni and spent much of my time around the Glebe/Forest Lodge area, encountering him myself – “You’re beautiful! Jesus loves you!”

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/360/happiness-etc/3617310

    Hope you enjoy.
    C :)

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      December 30, 2011 10:15 am

      Thanks for sending me the link, I love that guy! “The only person more handsome than you is sweet Jesus!” I don’t get to Glebe very often any more, I hope he’s still around walking all those dogs.

  4. ana australiana permalink
    December 31, 2011 11:51 am

    You’re beautiful and your boyfriend is handsome!

    I enjoyed and appreciated this post too – from someone somehow managing to stay solvent in the inner west.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      January 3, 2012 8:59 am

      Thanks Ana! Good to discover your blog too, I will follow your inner west adventures.

  5. January 2, 2012 11:00 am

    Poignant and eloquent on the sadness that’s Parra Road. Happy 2012 Contessa. xo.

  6. January 5, 2012 9:49 am

    Fantastic record of 1 Parramatta Road – I have added a link to your blog at:

    http://ramin.com.au/annandale/story-parramatta-road.shtml

    Perhaps also of interest is the Annandale Heritage Festival on 15 April 2012

  7. Sally permalink
    February 25, 2012 2:02 pm

    Hi, just discovered your blog. Great post, I find myself lamenting constantly the changing/changed face of Sydney and trying to keep “before” pictures in my head to the point where I can’t look at the “after” eg. Pitt St Mall/old centrepoint tower. You’re so right, it would keep it alive if we wrote as you have about places of meaning to us. I wish I’d taken more pics in the 90’s of the city.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      February 27, 2012 8:05 pm

      I wish I had more 90s photos of the city too, but at the time I just assumed it would look the same forever – very naive! I have found that focussing on particular places and memories does unlock more details that I thought I would remember. And also the city I remember is the version that erases they city of someone from a previous generation. The city now? The more Westfields there are the harder it is for me to love a place.

  8. March 14, 2012 10:15 am

    A lovely post. The photos are quite nostalgic. Thankyou for this documentation, a good read.

  9. Jason permalink
    June 8, 2012 1:53 pm

    Thanks for writing about this building. It’s fate been of much concern to a number of people I know and was one of the first topics in a facebook group a friend started called “Lost Sydney”. I have a huge sentimental attachment to Annandale as not only was I born there but I grew up in one of the Witches Houses – albeit the one without a spire! (it was destroyed by lightening in the early 1920’s)

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      June 8, 2012 2:05 pm

      Thanks Jason, I felt I had to write something about this building once I saw it had been demolished – it was such a presence in my life. I moved away from Annandale almost 10 years ago but feel sentimental about it too, it’s a beautiful suburb and quite romantic and mysterious. You should write a personal history of Annandale, if you haven’t already, you are a consummate Annandale citizen if you grew up in a witches hat house!

  10. Frances permalink
    February 9, 2013 4:41 pm

    There are lots of little bridges across the canal linking to the Parramatta road side and lots of tiny hidden parks and nooks along the canal. There is one full of avocados and coffee bushes and banana trees that is gradually transforming back into a food forest and soul retreat.

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