A tyre floats like a halo above the Princes Highway. It is one of those corners of the city where time is trapped and stratified: how long it took for the paint to fade, the tree to grow, the chimneys to blacken.
Across the highway the park’s green slopes absorb our footsteps. The sky is big here and criss-crossed by the planes which skim over the city, coming here only to leave again.
The ominous feeling of impending change, undercutting the details of the present.
This month on Mirror Sydney, an excursion beyond the borders of this blog, to a story I wrote for the Sydney Review of Books: please click on through to Excavating St Peters.
This is part of a series of essays of Sydney and NSW regional places the Sydney Review of Books are publishing called Writing NSW. I’ll be speaking at an event at Bankstown Arts Centre associated with this on November 12th, New Geographies. I’ll be speaking about haunting and the urban landscape with Peter Doyle, Anwen Crawford, and Mark Mordue.
Even since this essay was published, things have changed in St Peters. Follow the Westconnex Action Group for updates on the Westconnex monster.
You can also hear me, Sydney Review of Books editor Catriona Menzies-Pike, and writer Suneeta Peres da Costa talking about the series on RN Books and Arts.
The bus zigzags through Sydenham and St Peters, going east. It travels along Railway Road, past the cappuccino bulging with froth that is painted on the corner cafe, and high up a ghost sign for a newsagent emerging from underneath faded whitewash.
Then the buildings come to an end. Twenty years ago the houses here, 152 in all, were demolished due to aircraft noise from the third runway. Their front fences remain, their steps leading up to nothing but the expanse of rarely traversed lawn. Further back, behind the lawns, is a memorial to the demolished houses in the form of an oversized, exterior living room. The giant concrete sofa has tiles decorated by students from Tempe High School, anguished figures of princesses and punks with “go away” speech bubbles.
All of this is familiar to me. I know this west to east journey well, the zigzag along narrow roads until they meet up with the Princes Highway. The bus turns and travels along the highway, past the rug shop and the self storage place and the fence with the hole cut in it to reveal the water meter.
I thought I knew all such notable sights of the Princes Highway, but I was wrong.
I gaze out from the bus window, down past the drab landscaping surrounding the complex of car goods megastores, when my eye catches something. It’s not something I expected to see leaning up at the entrance to a scrap metal yard with a backdrop of shipping containers. The last time I saw this object it was hanging in the centre of Martin Place, glowing above a giant television screen. That was sixteen years ago. But hey, I can still share the spirit.