Vanishing Point

Maybe it has been a little while since I’ve travelled up this stretch of Parramatta Road, or maybe it happened suddenly, but now there’s a great gap between Pyrmont Bridge Road and Mallett Street, where a whole block of buildings have been demolished. The light is the first thing I notice, how the demolition has opened the streetscape to the sky. I try to remember what had been there. A golf store, that’s right (and before that, a building supplies store distinguished by a window display that included a mannequin on a toilet) and a 1930s bank building with a brick and sandstone facade, a gym, then a row of former warehouses that had been repurposed as furniture stores. It was a bleak stretch: the other side of the road more favoured by pedestrians, with its slightly more appealing businesses – a toy store, vacuum cleaner store, and school with a row of jacaranda trees along the fenceline.

There’s no signage – apart from advertising – on the hoardings that seal off the block, but soon perhaps it will come, extolling the benefits of the Westconnex M4-M5 link tunnel, for which this land has been cleared. This will be a tunnelling site, from where the drilling machinery bore in to create the tunnel that will undercut Parramatta Road Creek on a path between Haberfield and St Peters. On the Westconnex website, a progress bar announces the works for the overall scheme to be now 47% complete. When I click on the “connecting communities” icon, a message comes up: “You are not authorized to access this page”. The benefits to communities may be concealed but other information is more easily accessed. I find out that the start of this year local residents had the opportunity to vote on the preferred colour of the hundred-metre-long construction shed that is to be built here to mask the drilling operations: mangrove, ironstone, or shale grey?

For now, the site is still being cleared, the remains of the buildings and their utility lines still in the process of being removed. The shed of mangrove/ironstone/shale grey corrugated iron is yet to be constructed. As I look across this newly opened stretch of land, I notice there are a few remaining buildings, a small cluster at the narrow end of the block. The wall at the edge  of them has a sliced-cake look, and reveals a vertical strip of ghost signs: CASHDOWN, then below, Brown and Dobinson, with the note they have “removed to 145 Australia Street Camperdown”, and below it the tail end of a logo, interrupted by a doorway: “-oid”.  Whatever it is, it is “Perfect”, the one full word to remain on this section of the wall.

I stand by the gate, looking up at the sign, trying to decode it, as the works go on inside: digging and churning, clods of earth and splinters of building rubble being chewed by yellow excavators. It would be useful if they could remove a few more bricks from the wall to resolve anothe letter of “oid”, but I don’t try my luck with the asking the man at the gate, who has already shifted the blue mesh that covers the wire so I can take a photo through the fence.

Later I get to sleuthing, find out that Cashdown was the C. Ashdown Carriage Company, that in 1913 it manufactured items such as Buggies, Phaetons, Buckboards, Sulkies, with or without Rubber Tyres, to suit pony or horse.

I feel as if I, too, am “under the paint” as I work to solve the puzzle, inside a network of details. On the way home I go past the building on Australia Street to where the motor garage Brown and Dobinson removed in the 1930s, though it reveals to me no further information. I take the fragments of the words “oid” and “ouer” and they rattle around in my head like an unsatisfying Scrabble hand. But then, like Cashdown became C. Ashdown, I realise “ouer” is probably “quer”, and I guess that “quer” is probably “lacquer”, which means “oid” is possibly an automotive paint.

A chain of associations stretches out, across time, and the city and its transport technologies. C. Ashdown closed in 1919, as the automotive era was about to begin, giving way to the motor garages, petrol station and car dealerships that are still a large part of Parramatta Road’s landscape, as much as it is reshaped, on and under the surface. A hundred years on cars dominate this landscape, and will continue to do so into the future, as the land is carved up to accommodate them. A sign such as this one is a chance to slice a few layers back through the recent past, to consider how much, and how little, has changed.


(update: I worked it out with the help of my fellow sleuth David Lever: the sign is advertising, as I suspected, an enamel automotive paint called “Lusteroid“… though now  the sign has lost its lustre…)

14 Comments on “Vanishing Point”

  1. Phillip Leeds says:

    The last time I drove to Sydney from the Blue Mountains, the inner west was almost unrecognisable along that corridor. Sad to say.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Yes it’s a depressing, dystopian scene along there – machines and giant sheds and not much else.

    • net2323 says:

      Hi Phillip,

      I have just left Glebe, which has hundreds of highrise flats going up near the Broadway shopping complex, Bay st, Wentworth St and Cowper St. Also they are about to develop the fish market. Highrise all around Wentworth Park, Ultimo towards the city, around 10,000 new people to move in soon creating gridlock around this area!!

      very sad to leave

  2. Rozanna Lilley says:

    Thanks Vanessa for the fascinating history of C. Ashdown. Amazing to think of the buggies and that the brick wall has survived that long. I wish they would preserve some of these palimpsests of our past.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Rozanna – I felt for C. Ashdown, before the advent of the car, they were winning all the medals at the Easter Show for their buggies and then it all came crashing down with the automobile age. These signs always open up such interesting stories!

  3. meganix says:

    Thanks for this, Vanessa. I have taken some photos because, as I sit in my car in Mallet Street waiting to cross Parramatta Road to Glebe (as I do several times a week) it occurs to me that it must be a long time since it’s been possible to see the spire of Annandale’s Hunter Baillie Church from Camperdown.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Good point! Yes the two main benefits of the demolition are the opening up of the view, and the ghost sign. Other than that…

  4. Tom says:

    I enjoyed reading this, thanks.
    As an owner of a building in the vicinity I also was intrigued by the history of the area and did some trawling through the trove website to print out old photos from the early 1900’s of my building and surrounds. Where Franks pizza is now, used to be a coachwork business – perhaps that implies carriages? Adjacent to it the massive Fowlerware factory with furnaces like alien structures on the corner of parramatta road and Australia st. Inside my building, on what is now an eternal wall, I found a beautiful advertisement for a confectionary business on Australia St.
    Back to the Westconnex void; ironically for decades Leichhardt council flatly denied land owners of that block any development consent, not even a second storey to those single storey warehouses, citing heritage reasons. This left the whole block largely disfunctional as traditional warehouse usage was tricky with limited street access, lane access, and the inability to make suitable changes. Hence the reason why this block, as with many along the parramatta road corridor was largely undeveloped and unrestored for decades. But look at that block now… it’s a hole in the ground… so much for heritage, state government have less interest in heritage when it comes to $.
    Also ironically, just before compulsory possession, the whole block was finally destined for 10-14 storey rezoning as part of a ‘parramatta road corridor’ reinvigoration, also state government led, this was underway when Westconnex forcibly acquired the majority of the block. I wonder if the land owners received fair value for their prospective 14 storey development sites, or if they were given market rate for their disfuntiinsl warehouse sites?
    Across the road from the hole in the ground is another new hole in the ground, a beautiful old warehouse that had struggled to hold a decent tenant for decades. Just before it was knocked down, I saw briefly the signage behind the awning that read ‘broadway motors’ in old hand painted typography. It will no doubt end up like the apartment block next door to it, gathering dust on its facade, fading back into bland nondescript parramatta road anonymity.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Tom – it’s good to know a little more of the history of the site, though frustrating as one can imagine how it the outcome could have been different. Yet more evidence of the state government’s optional deployment of heritage. I remember also – beside the now-demolished building you mention on the other side of the road – the brick facade of the Camperdown post office, which is still there but has been made bland with cladding. I’m not holding my breath for the reinvigoration. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge of the area.

  5. Kate Hawes says:

    Another great post Vanessa 🙂 I stopped to take a photo as well, and the guy guarding the site kindly offered to take a pic of the signs for me when he saw me straining to take one through the fence. My pics are only as good as yours though in terms of what can be deciphered. Thanks so much for the research and I was delighted to see that your most recent post was on this new discovery!

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Kate! Yes it was quite a work of sleuthing to decode the identity of the sign, but I feel satisfied it’s case closed now…

  6. Margaret says:

    Hi my husband, Colin Ashdown was a descendant and the family business was still in existence till 2001.

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