In praise of Marrickville

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For a relatively run down part of Sydney, it can be very expensive to go grocery shopping in Marrickville. Traditional brand name groceries, that is. Usually it is a great place to go for vegies and rice noodles and Greek deli products. But today I was buying ingredients for a cheesecake, and it cost a surprising amount.

Fortunately Marrickville came through today. I may have paid too much for cream cheese and sugar, but I grabbed a bargain in the fabric store: pure linen at $6/m. Awesome!

The fabric store was a very friendly place. I waited for the shop assistant, a petite Vietnamese woman, to finish up serving a trio of older Greek women. As they went through and picked out their bolts of fabric, they talked about where they lived. One of the Greek women was up visiting her friends from Melbourne. How about you? she asked. Oh I live in Yagoona, replied the shop assistant. It’s near Bankstown, but cheaper than Bankstown. I live in a unit. You don’t live here? No. You know, I heard from a customer that an old small yucky house down the road from here sold for one million dollars! The four women shook their heads in dismay.

Until recently, Marrickville was the refuse part of Sydney. It was close to the factories on the river, and the warehouses near the port. It is directly under the flightpath from Sydney’s main airport. The houses are old and crammed together. It was a suburb for the working class, and then a suburb for immigrants – first the Greeks and Italians, and then a few decades later people from Vietnam.

Now it is a trendy place. It is close to the city. It is still a little suburban. It is well served by public transport. People with high paying professional jobs now pay incomprhensible amounts of money for small terrace houses, to renovate into sophisticated, gentrified palaces for their 1.25 children and their small dog. These four women have been calling Marrickville home for a very long time. It was a little melancholy to watch them reflect on the change.

But I guess change is what happens. Cities are dynamic and their populations are unstopable agents of change. Watch out Outer-Southern-Inner-West! Your streets will be paved with gold, and full of white DINKS before you can blink.

Marrickville is concious of its past though. Not everyone has left yet. And like the lady in the fabric shop, many workers still travel into Marrickville to run their businesses. Change is still a little way off. The council has taken a further physical approach, with street art celebrating the history of the suburb. Down the section of main street I walked along, there were a plethora of mosaic pictures: “Italia 1990” – “Respect your tenants!” – “Take care of our waterways” – “Sydney Olympics 2000”.

There were two with pictures of Yiayia’s birth place: Lesbos (her island) and Mytilene (the biggest town on the island).

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It made my heart fuzzy. Now I feel like my history and Marrickville’s history are wrapped up together 🙂

On friday my Aunty Fay is taking me along to a book launch about immigrants from Lesbos. I’m very excited!

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3 thoughts on “In praise of Marrickville

  1. Anonymous

    I love Marrickville

    Thanks Spally. As a former Marrickvillain, this was a great post to read. So many memories.

    Living there between 1990 and 2009, I saw those changes firsthand. When, I started attending M’ville West (is the best) in ’91 there were three community languages on offer: Greek, Vietnamese and Arabic (the Lebanese were another significant migrant group) and then came Mandarin around ’94 with the Chinese migrants.

    I remember the start of the gentrification too. In the mid-90s when the smaller house next door sold for over half a million. Over the years it was spruced up and populated by a number of yuppy families with one or two kids and a well groomed dog or cat. The Greek and Portuguese families who had lived just down the street in both directions are still there with their hotted up Holdens and Fords.

    Spiro’s milkbar went a few years after we left but the really cheap Vietnamese bakers and butchers are still there, as are the two best yeeros shops in Sydney (no kebabs in M’ville). Now thet have been joined by a string of trendy cafes on Marrickville Rd.

    But the best thing about the ‘ville was and still is the characters like you met in the fabric shop (I remember being dragged into those too). As well as the rusted on migrants and the new wave of yuppies, there are also the real down and outs from the run down boarding houses and public housing estates.

    Thanks again. I really enjoyed this post. Despite its many shortcomings, it’s hard not to love Marrickville when you get to know it.

    Tim D

    Reply

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