Saturday 3 November 2012

Parramatta Dreaming

I'm in Sydney this weekend - more specifically in Parramatta, researching a travel article about the western suburb. Almost everyone I've mentioned this to says something like "Parramatta! Good god. Why?".

It seems that Parra has a bad reputation, and people know it only as bland or dangerous. Having lobbed in yesterday from Melbourne by plane and train, however, I've been pleasantly surprised.

It's true that there's still a bit of, ahem, edginess about the place, complete with - how shall I put this? - colourful characters idling on park benches or complaining to invisible strangers.

But there's also a lot of colour in the streetscapes and the random art, new and old, found along them. Here are a few examples I spotted on a sunny Friday...

1. Three Ropes Espresso. In an alley off a slightly dodgy street running parallel to the railway line is this new cafe, borrowing a leaf from Melbourne's alleyway cool. The graffiti-esque bird is by a Sydney artist, and the two guys running the place are entertainment in themselves. 

If you drop into the cafe in Darcy Lane, ask Andy to tell you the gruesome story behind the place's name, involving a convict they tried to hang three times...

 2. Church of the Ages. This is the remarkable St John's Church, in a broad square off the Church Street shopping strip. I say remarkable because of its interesting chronology. The original brick church building was constructed in 1803, with its twin towers and steeples not completed until 1819.

A few decades on, however, the original building was demolished and replaced with a stone church completed in 1855. The new church, however, retained the 1819 towers, as you can see here. Reminds me of the axe which had its handle replaced, then its head; was it still the same axe?

 3. The Statue Aquatic. This curious 1983 work by Richard Goodwin outside the old Town Hall reminded Narrelle and I obscurely of rubber-suited monsters we'd seen in old Doctor Who episodes.

An arts brochure from the Discover Parramatta website takes a more sensible view, describing it as "Three figures represent humanity striving against resistance. They are not completely beaten; one is winning his struggle. The water represents the source of life, the Parramatta River." Gloomy or optimistic? Your call.

 4. From One Hundred to Beyond. I was quite delighted to find this outlandish 19th century folly further along Church Street. It was erected in 1888 to mark the centenary of Parramatta's founding, which happened just months after that of Sydney.

To my (twisted?) mind, these Victorian-era monuments look like steampunk space rockets about to lift off for Queen and Empire...

 5. Horses for Courses. This horse was one of two spotted on a commercial building near the monument. There was no explanatory detail to be spotted, but I wouldn't mind betting it used to be a pub...

 6. Eels Above. Further north along Church Street was this striking piece of art, suspended above the centre of the street. The conical shapes represent the eel traps which the local Aboriginal people, the Burramatta, once used to trap the local eels:

 7. Paint Box. And finally, this was a junction box (I assume) on the side of the street. On it was a simple piece of art, easily overlooked, but it transformed a bland everyday thing into a treat for the eye. Which hopefully is the current trajectory for the much maligned Parramatta...

Disclosure time... on this trip I was hosted by the Mantra Parramatta.

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