Edgecliff Citadel

Before the eastern suburbs railway was built Edgecliff was a place of 19th century mansions, tin-roof terraces and steep, grassy vacant lots. It was a place to look back at the city, across valleys and ridges lined with haphazard rows of houses. Then the Eastern Suburbs railway opened in 1979, and with it came the Edgecliff Centre, a hulk of an office building that presides over the hillside.

Edgecliff 1

The line of flags on its roof gives it an ambassadorial presence, although most enter the centre only to leave again. They descend to the train station or ascend to the grim, grey bus interchange.


Like much of Sydney there’s a sense of things having been ripped-up and replaced here. The streets retain their eccentric twists, preserving a sense of the topography that underlies them, but on the surface its a miscellany. Across from the Edgecliff Centre is a collection of art deco apartment buildings with names like Knightsbridge, San Remo and Ruskin.

Edgecliff 2

The courtyard between them is a domain of neatly clipped camellia bushes and warnings not to park there. Beside the apartment buildings are a set of grand sandstone gates, once belonging to the Glenrock estate, now to a school. It is 3 o’clock when I walk by and schoolgirls are pouring out like ants from a nest.

On this stretch of street are shops selling niche items for a comfortable life. Cellos, chandeliers. A pilates studio has piles of white exercise balls in the window like giant pearls. In an ex-bank on the corner of Darling Point Road is JOM photography (at its former premises, above what was once Darrell Lea in the city, JOM made a bold claim with a prescient feature photograph).


JOM in 2014

Edgecliff 3

Jom in Edgecliff

Across from the row of smiling headshots is a monumental bus shelter with columns and steps and well maintained paintwork. The shelter is atop the high side of Darling Point Road, at the edge of the wall that divides the road. At its entrance is the name “Governor Ralph Darling”, in memory of the unpopular 1820s governor whose amorous name is imprinted on suburb names and roads across the city.

Edgecliff 5

Inside a series of alcoves are recessed into the wall, like empty shrines, behind a wooden bench painted with the insignia of Sydney buses. Outside though, the bus stop sign is covered over with a garbage bag , with a message below announcing the 327 bus no longer stops here.

Now it is decommissioned the bus shelter is free to be the hilltop citadel it has always secretly been. I peer around the side of it, watching the storm clouds moving over the city in curls of grey and the traffic surging up the hill. From here the city seems a separate entity, neatly enclosed by its assortment of high-rise buildings, and the traffic an anxious, noisy river.

Edgecliff 6

The citadel was created in 1925 when New South Head Road was widened, to reduce the steep grade of the hill. The dividing of the road created a broad concrete wall, a long bunker with a recess at the corner. Here the painted lady, has been through hundreds of repainted reincarnations since she first appeared in 1991. The wall is thick with layers of paint, embedded with glitter stars and confetti. Today it asks “Will you marry me Ingela?” of the traffic passing by.

Edgecliff 7

Further along the wall is a square inset with windows and a door, the entrance to underground Edgecliff, a series of twisting caverns, a complete underground city where giant pearls and cellos and chandeliers are made… A tantalising thought, but when I stand up on tiptoes to peer in the slats I glimpse pipes and the top of a toilet tank and the true purpose of this room becomes disappointingly clear.

Edgecliff 9

The weird geometry of this corner, with its bus shelter citadel, has long captured my attention. As a child I’d look out for it as we made the long drive to visit my great aunts in the eastern suburbs. Its grey edifice seemed important, like it held the secrets of this other side of the city with its steep streets, grand buildings, and tall fig trees. There was no painted lady then, just concrete and I perhaps misremember there being a line from a Smiths song painted across the wall. Perhaps it was actually there, or perhaps I just imagined it there when I dragged my gaze across the wall, as the car passed it by.

Edgecliff 8

8 Comments on “Edgecliff Citadel”

  1. tomfredlee says:

    Faaaaantastic. I’m so glad you’ve done one on this. Looking forward to reading.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Tom, I’ve been pondering it for about 30 years I though it about time I investigated further!

  2. Julie Petersen says:

    Beautiful to read your poetic musings of a place close to me and near where I grew up on Edgecliff Rd. It is such odd topography where that bus stop is and citadel is a great term for it. I don’t think I have ever seen the terraces where the Edgecliff Centre is now – what an eyesore it is but not as huge as Ranelagh apartments up Darling Point Road close by and those other unfortunate edifices all over the point where the grand estates once stood. Swifts being one of the only ones to survive.

  3. Thanks so much for this posting, Vanessa. I’ve lived in an art deco apartment block on that road and also in a flat in Darling Point (1970s). Edgecliff Centre seemed quite glamorous to me when in my late teens. OnceI bought a bright gold capacious shoulder bag there, and had a year or so feeling like a princess. I still look at that part with the pipes and door etc every time we drive by. Sometimes I fantasise about being a Hobbit and living there, though I’d want to change the exterior colour.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Rozanna, I love the story of the bright gold bag – it sounds like it was indeed a magical accessory! I’m actually very fond of Edgecliff Centre, though perhaps I don’t sound like it here, it has a rather magnetic effect on me and I can find it rather hard to leave.

  4. Ash. says:

    I never knew of the Painted Lady before. I think that is a wonderful story. I shall have to make this a regular spot to go past now.

  5. Vanessa, the Vietnam Consulate used to be inside the Edgecliff Centre – and I confirm it was very un-glamorous.

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