Weird Sydney at the Paragon Cafe

Sometimes the best way to understand something is to step outside of it. In this spirit myself, Peter Doyle, Chris Mikul and Michael Wayne are bringing Weird Sydney up into the mountains to the Paragon Cafe in Katoomba on August 12th.

We will be talking about the city’s oddities and offbeat places, and chatting about some of the unusual objects and stories we’ve found in the city’s archives. Afternoon tea is also included! The Paragon’s a beautiful art deco cafe and we will be speaking in the 1930s banquet hall, designed in ocean-liner style.

You can book tickets, and read a bit more about the event here.

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The Tempe Anomaly

As you cross the railway bridge just north of Tempe station, there’s an ad for Odyssey Jeantown on the wall above the tracks. Odyssey Jeantown ads have lined railway overpassses for decades: they were on both sides of the railway bridge on Crystal Street, and there is still one across from Sydenham station, updated now and then but always featuring the same rodeo rider on the back of a bucking horse. In the 1990s my friends would go on pilgrimages there to buy tight black jeans, and it seemed a mythical place with its Homeric name and location in the midst of the industrial area of Marrickville.

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In the centre of a yellow arrow a rodeo rider is being thrown from his horse in the direction of Jeantown. But I must continue, my odyssey continues in the opposite direction. Next I pass a series of signs, blue arrows pointing in the direction of IKEA, like a trail of breadcrumbs.

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I resist these too. The object of my attention is something much closer and more unusual.

I first noticed the Anomaly looking out of a taxi window. This is the backstreet route to the airport and I was staring out, feeling the grip of the city already loosening as my time to depart approached. As my thoughts travelled off into my impending journey my eyes moved over the houses on Unwins Bridge Road. This row of houses is set uncomfortably close to the narrow, busy road, but is otherwise a typical inner west scene. The houses were once built to an identical design, brick with striped wooden gables, Queen Anne style. Each is now slightly different from its neighbours, the colour scheme, or the windows, one has a tall palm tree, another is decorated with bird cages hanging from its verandah. But there was one differing feature that stood out most of all.

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As I stared at the front fence of one of these houses, the bricks seemed to be moving. Crooked and topsy-turvy, the lines of bricks sloped up and down and anywhere but neatly across in straight lines, a suburban fence version of a magic eye picture. The traffic lights changed, and the taxi moved onwards, leaving the weird scene behind, and I filed it away for future investigation.

Now I’m back to inspect it. Just as it had months before, the anomaly comes in sight as the road curves over the railway tracks. It is as I remember it from the taxi window, the bricks in misshapen lines that seemed to move before my eyes. I walk down under the shade of the swamp oaks, along past the wire fence tangled with morning glory vine. A truck goes past, full of tyres and draped in tinsel, and the rubber smell of it hangs in the air for a moment. All the while, my eyes are fixed on the anomaly and its riotous bricks.

I cross the street to look at it more closely, and as I do, something unusual happens. The bricks, which looked so crooked and weird on approach now look straight. I stand staring at it, flummoxed by the illusion. Were the bricks crooked or straight, and how could they be both at the same time? I crossed back over the street, and walked up to the corner, and sure enough, the fence bricks were crooked again.

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If I am looking for an answer as to how this could be so, the opposite corner of the intersection has a suggestion. It is an overgrown patch of land with two billboards planted in it, one for ice cream, and one for Bickfords cordial. A giant hand grasps a bottle of red cordial and splashes it down into a tall, frosty glass. In the space underneath the bottle, words float: “Makes the Ordinary Extraordinary”. I took it as encouragement.

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Thank you for reading, following, commenting on and sharing Mirror Sydney this year, dear readers. Next year plenty of exciting things are in store: more stories, tours, and most exciting of all, a Mirror Sydney book.

For now, enjoy the romance and shadow, and I will see you in the new year.

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Talks in November

I’ll be speaking about Sydney, writing, and the urban environment on three occasions in November.

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First, for those interested in the more academic side of what I do, I’ll be presenting a paper on urban ruins, Parramatta Road and the Midnight Star theatre at a research seminar at Macquarie Uni on Wednesday November 11th. It’s on from 3-5pm in the Faculty of Arts building, Y3A, in the Drama Studio (downstairs, room 187).

WEIRD SYDNEY

On Thursday November 19th I’ll be at the NSW Writers’ Centre, discussing one of my favourite topics – Weird Sydney, along with Peter Doyle, Chris Mikul, and Michael Wayne. It’s on from 6:30 at Garry Owen House in Callan Park, Rozelle, and more details can be found here.

And on Sunday November 29th, I’ll be at the Wollongong Writers’ Festival, speaking on a panel about non-fiction place writing. It’s at 12:30pm at the Wollongong City Art Gallery, and more details can be found here.