The Tempe Anomaly

As you cross the railway bridge just north of Tempe station, there’s an ad for Odyssey Jeantown on the wall above the tracks. Odyssey Jeantown ads have lined railway overpassses for decades: they were on both sides of the railway bridge on Crystal Street, and there is still one across from Sydenham station, updated now and then but always featuring the same rodeo rider on the back of a bucking horse. In the 1990s my friends would go on pilgrimages there to buy tight black jeans, and it seemed a mythical place with its Homeric name and location in the midst of the industrial area of Marrickville.


In the centre of a yellow arrow a rodeo rider is being thrown from his horse in the direction of Jeantown. But I must continue, my odyssey continues in the opposite direction. Next I pass a series of signs, blue arrows pointing in the direction of IKEA, like a trail of breadcrumbs.


I resist these too. The object of my attention is something much closer and more unusual.

I first noticed the Anomaly looking out of a taxi window. This is the backstreet route to the airport and I was staring out, feeling the grip of the city already loosening as my time to depart approached. As my thoughts travelled off into my impending journey my eyes moved over the houses on Unwins Bridge Road. This row of houses is set uncomfortably close to the narrow, busy road, but is otherwise a typical inner west scene. The houses were once built to an identical design, brick with striped wooden gables, Queen Anne style. Each is now slightly different from its neighbours, the colour scheme, or the windows, one has a tall palm tree, another is decorated with bird cages hanging from its verandah. But there was one differing feature that stood out most of all.


As I stared at the front fence of one of these houses, the bricks seemed to be moving. Crooked and topsy-turvy, the lines of bricks sloped up and down and anywhere but neatly across in straight lines, a suburban fence version of a magic eye picture. The traffic lights changed, and the taxi moved onwards, leaving the weird scene behind, and I filed it away for future investigation.

Now I’m back to inspect it. Just as it had months before, the anomaly comes in sight as the road curves over the railway tracks. It is as I remember it from the taxi window, the bricks in misshapen lines that seemed to move before my eyes. I walk down under the shade of the swamp oaks, along past the wire fence tangled with morning glory vine. A truck goes past, full of tyres and draped in tinsel, and the rubber smell of it hangs in the air for a moment. All the while, my eyes are fixed on the anomaly and its riotous bricks.

I cross the street to look at it more closely, and as I do, something unusual happens. The bricks, which looked so crooked and weird on approach now look straight. I stand staring at it, flummoxed by the illusion. Were the bricks crooked or straight, and how could they be both at the same time? I crossed back over the street, and walked up to the corner, and sure enough, the fence bricks were crooked again.


If I am looking for an answer as to how this could be so, the opposite corner of the intersection has a suggestion. It is an overgrown patch of land with two billboards planted in it, one for ice cream, and one for Bickfords cordial. A giant hand grasps a bottle of red cordial and splashes it down into a tall, frosty glass. In the space underneath the bottle, words float: “Makes the Ordinary Extraordinary”. I took it as encouragement.



Thank you for reading, following, commenting on and sharing Mirror Sydney this year, dear readers. Next year plenty of exciting things are in store: more stories, tours, and most exciting of all, a Mirror Sydney book.

For now, enjoy the romance and shadow, and I will see you in the new year.


13 Comments on “The Tempe Anomaly”

  1. carolruff says:

    A gripping read Vanessa. So strange, like a Briget Riley painting which so enthralled us in the 70s at art school. Perhaps it’s all done with mirrors!

  2. Ash says:

    I know that intersection. On my way to the best place in Tempe – the Salvo shop! I will need to investigate for myself next time.

    Thanks so much for all your wonderful stories – and highlighting some new wonderful things for me. I am so excited about your upcoming book. All the theses arrived in the Library the other week and your’s was in the second box I unpacked!

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks fellow suburban explorer! And good to know the thesis is in safe hands. I remember you commenting some years ago about looking forward to the day you catalogued it, which seemed to me a very remote event at the time…

  3. Anne-Maree Prentice says:

    Thank you Vanessa ~ another beautifully observed story. I know this house, I’ve even been inside. The route to the airport is always a magnificent carpet ride. Great news about your book. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      A carpet ride is a good way to describe it – you see things differently when you’re about to leave, or have just returned. Thanks for your comments and support of Mirror Sydney Anne-Maree!

      • Anne-Maree Prentice says:

        Yes indeed, leaving & returning are two of my favourite things ~ also, there is something I call ‘passport eyes’, so different from going to a wrecking yard in search of an auto part, or just stepping out to buy milk. You enter the world of the departure & arrival crowd. It is another dimension.

  4. It appears to be an example of the ‘cafe wall illusion’:

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks so much Andrew, it does indeed! (I like the photo on the wikipedia page of the professor and the original cafe wall).

  5. Jules says:

    I love your stories. As an ex-pat Sydneysider now residing on the Gold Coast it brings back so many wonderful memories!

  6. meganix says:

    Thank YOU, Vanessa, for this chuckle and for all your wonderfully observant posts. Best wishes for a new year that brings many pleasant surprises.

  7. Robyn Turner says:

    Being a Tempe resident, I found your words of observation very enjoyable, thank you for posting.

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