Signs go up in shop windows, announcing relocation, or the final sale, then the buildings stand empty. Nothing happens for a while, and it seems like maybe nothing will. But one day the demolition team arrives and begins to take the buildings down. The first thing they do is take off the awnings, so the buildings have a stripped look, pared back to the bricks. Where the awnings used to be attached a stripe of plaster, or brick, or sometimes the old signs of former businesses are revealed.
In Five Dock the strip of shops on the corner of Great North Road and East Street is the site of the new Metro station. The shops have been vacated, and the awnings removed to begin the process of demolition.
Above 163, a stretch of blue-painted sky is revealed, under which a cruise ship sails and an aeroplane lifts off. Not just any aeroplane: its distinctive wing shape and beak-like nose identify it as the luxury supersonic passenger jet, the Concorde. A trip on the Concorde was a journey like no other. Travelling at twice the speed of sound you would nevertheless be in perfect comfort, sipping French champagne. Smoked salmon and foie gras was for entree, lobster Newberg for main, and heart of palm for dessert, as you flew swift and supersonic over the ocean.
Mostly the Concorde flew the transatlantic route, between London and New York. But in 1985 the Concorde made a special record-breaking flight from London to Sydney. This was the second time a Concorde had made this journey. The first time had been for a publicity tour in 1972, when the jet was met by aviation enthusiasts as well as protesters, who carried signs that read ‘Ban the Boom’, ‘Doomsday Plane’ and ‘Atomic Fart’. Powerful jet engines and its distinctive shape gave the Concorde the ability to travel at such high speeds, but created a loud, startling sonic boom in its wake. As peaceful as it was for the passengers, on the ground below windows shook with a sound as loud and startling as an explosion.
In 1985, soon after landing, the crew were photographed on the boarding stairs holding bunches of flowers and a giant cardboard pocket watch, displaying their arrival time of 4pm, commemorating their record-breaking 17-hour flight. While this was happening, the Concorde’s passengers were transported to the harbour to start the next leg of their journey, on the QE2 cruise liner. This liner was the slow-going but sumptuous ocean equivalent of the Concorde, then the grandest, as well as one of the largest, cruise ships in the world. Fireworks and a lavish Valentines Day ball awaited them.
In Five Dock, I imagine the artist who painted the sign above the travel agency on Great North Road, up on a ladder, carefully at work, perhaps with this event in mind, and all that it promised for the future of luxury travel. The artist paints in a pale blue sky, and clouds trailing like streamers above the cruise ship. Birds flock around the ship’s hull and silhouettes of people cluster on the deck, looking over towards where the Concorde ascends. They were not to know the Concorde would only ever visit Sydney occasionally, before a devastating crash in France in 2000 would put an end to supersonic passenger travel. The skies were clear, the ocean wide.