1 Parramatta Rd
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.