Mall Story, Surry Hills

At the end of the week, Surry Hills Shopping Village will cease trading, closing for good on the 10th January. Advertisements for the apartments to be built on the site are draped over the facade, across the building which follows the curve of the corner of Cleveland and Baptist streets. The banners announce that the ‘residences’ are available for purchase, even though construction of them is yet to begin, and beside this announcement the image of a woman in an evening dress promises impending, incongruous luxury.

Below the banners is the familiar former bank building with its striped pillars, and two columns flanking a door with a neon sign above it, for Noodle Star restaurant. Many of the businesses in the shopping centre have already left, but Noodle Star will trade to the end. Every table inside it occupied, and others wait on the inside steps for their takeaway, in the glowing yellow light of the advertisement for laksa that hangs in the entrance as a welcome. Along the side wall are further photographs of the available dishes, an honest gallery of noodles and dumplings.

The mall was built in 1981 on a former factory site, and since then has retained the same functional atmosphere, it main enticement its utility, promising nothing more than a collection of useful shops collected together under the same roof. When it opened it was called Redfern Mall, but in 1992 changed its name, to Surry Hills Shopping Village, the business owners citing the fact that it was closer to the Surry Hills shopping strip on Crown Street than the Redfern shops near the train station. Later other, meaner, names were given to it, suggesting a reputation of crime and vice. But its most abiding story has to be that for four decades it has performed the task of being an ordinary shopping centre. Some locals have shopped there regularly for that whole time, buying groceries, posting letters, visiting the newsagent, buying bread rolls.

From City of Sydney Archives: Redfern Mall in 1985
Same view, 2021.

Standing in the carpark to take this photo, I remembered my favourite thing about the Surry Hills mall: how the carpark behind the centre follows the incline of the land, and how the expanse of parking spaces forms a breathing space in this dense part of the inner city. I like how the centre spreads out across its corner lot, not making more of the space than it needs to, and that it is surrounded by eucalypts and casuarinas trees. Inside, I like its easy-listening radio soundtrack that gives it the atmosphere of a wan 70s nightclub, playing Band of Gold by Freda Payne, Sweet Sweet Love – Russell Morris and other such long-ago hits, as it does today in its last days, and as it did in the busier times of its past.


14 Comments on “Mall Story, Surry Hills”

  1. I remember that the factory out of which Redfern Mall was built was Wormalds

  2. Thanks Vanessa for the post. Those old buildings are beautiful. Keep up the good work!

  3. Mark Skelsey says:

    Great post! I remember the old South Sydney Council being infuriated that the mall was called “Surry Hills Shopping Village” when it was actually located in Redfern. The councillors saw this as a slight on Redfern, but of course could do nothing about it.

    Also love the dog shot outside the noodle bar!

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Mark – it was nice to find that old photo of the mall to compare… and yes the dog! He was perfect!

  4. Phillip Leeds says:

    Sad news. It was a nice local shopping centre when w worked in Surry Hills.

  5. Thankyou for a lovely farewell to this unique local place that I sometimes walk to just for an adventure. There’s always something interesting to be found there and you’ve captured beautifully the feeling of travelling back in time. I’ve seen the ads and new it was coming but was surprised when I popped in yesterday that Sunday is the last day. I’ll be doing my last gocery shop at the Coles supermarket late on Sunday night! Thanks again!

  6. Neryl Cooke says:

    I have eaten at Noodle Star for as long as it has been open. I used to shop at Redfern Mall. It was always Redfern Mall to me no Surry Hills Shopping Village. I now live in the country but plan my trips to Sydney around lunch at Noodle Star. I am devastated! Their Honey chicken, laksas, noodles were superb and I never leave without steamed wontons for later. So sad!

  7. Anthony says:

    Brilliant piece Vanessa and great sleuthing on the sign. My friends and I are coming from far and wide (Qld, country NSW) to do a Surry Hills pub crawl this Friday. I’ve even compiled a set of historical ‘drinking notes’, including the many former pubs that now serve other purposes, some more than 100 years after they closed. I hope we can visit all of these ‘ghost pubs’ as we make our way around the 22 still living pubs, some approaching 200 years old.
    Thanks for the inspiration.


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