Waiting to cross Redfern Street, I look up at the post office clock tower. Since writing about suburban clocks I’ve been noticing them everywhere. Once you start paying attention to an element of the urban landscape, whatever it be – house names, closed-down video stores, boarded-up buildings – they appear with sometimes alarming frequency. It’s all there, waiting to be noticed.
The most common lamentation about old post office clocks around Sydney is that they are neglected and many have stopped, the hands fixed at a permanent 3:45 or 9:20. I’d had it in the back of my mind that the clock on Redfern post office was one of these. The building no longer houses the post office, which has relocated to a small shop across the street, leaving the grand Victorian building to other, more profitable businesses. Things have changed a lot in Redfern over the last decade, cafes and mid century modern furniture stores have appeared along Botany Road, houses on Eveleigh Street, once a no-go zone for the young professionals and middle class families now said to be attracted to the suburb, rent for more than $1000 a week. With all this change the post office clock, under its verdigris dome, is struggling to cope.
I check the time on my phone – it’s 3:30. I don’t expect the Redfern clock to be correct, rather to be halted at a random hour. I get a surprise as while it doesn’t show the right time it is not stopped at all, the opposite in fact. The minute hand is moving fast, keeping pace with the seconds. I watch as it races through 1 o’clock, then 2, then 3, onwards into the future. Like in the 1960 film of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, days and night passed me by, the sun arced across the sky, flowers opened and shut, snails raced past, small buildings were replaced by tall ones, then inexplicably all the people fled, the buildings fell into disrepair, wild creatures took over, and Redfern turned into a forest, as the hands of the clock continued to spin.