When the first international visitors arrived from Europe and looked at the area where our house now stands, about five miles from their Sydney Cove landing site, they liked what they saw. Trees – good for boat-building. Mr Thomas Moore snapped up the timber rights, since the Cadigal people who were the traditional owners didn’t seem to be using the forest for anything important as far as he could see.Then in 1824 the flamboyant barrister Dr Robert Wardell arrived in the new colony, bought 800 hectares of land around our place and built himself a grand house on the site that became Fort St High School. Now it’s sandwiched between Kennard’s Self Storage warehouse and Rick Damelian car yards.
Wardell Rd runs from the Georgiou’s Chocolate Factory down to the golf course at the Cook’s River, where Dr Wardell used to take guests to hunt the deer he’d introduced. They must have been good shots, because the deer are all gone now. Dr Wardell himself was murdered by runaway convicts in 1834, while he was out for a Sunday ride on his estate. The Cook’s River is rather safer these days, and one of my favourite Sunday rides is along the cycleway.
Georgiou’s, on busy New Canterbury Rd, is Petersham’s most popular tourist attraction. It’s an untidy block of a building, but on weekdays buses line up outside it and people on organised shopping tours spill out to buy cheap choccies. Inside it’s a Willy Wonka’s Wonderland of teeth-rotting confectionery from around the world.
New Canterbury Rd is Petersham’s main drag, choked with buses, trucks and cars, overhung with power lines and too narrow to allow much in the way of trendy trattorias. This is a pity, because there are some fine 19th century buildings and small cafes, delis and cake shops which like to seat customers outside. Most manage a small table or two, but the traffic fumes and noise make them unpleasant places to linger.
Over the past couple of decades, Petersham has become Sydney’s Little Portugal. If there’s any reason for visitors to include Petersham on their itinerary, it’s the Portuguese cuisine.Gloria’s in Audley St is a Petersham institution. The first Portuguese cafe in town, it still attracts the local Portuguese and Brazilian community, mainly men, who sit outside drinking coffee or beer or both, at any time of day.
Several cafes sell the ‘belem’ custard tarts for which Portugal is renowned. Honeymoon Cafe used to have the best ones, until Sweet Belem opened across the road and offered serious competition. If you don’t know these tarts, you must try them. When we first moved here we quickly became addicted to the Frango’s chicken, butterflied, spit-roasted and brushed with chilli sauce.
The restaurants seem to play musical chairs on an annual basis. The proprietors of our favourite, O Pescador, moved back to Portugal last year, so their rivals Costa Do Sol jumped across the road into the gap they left, while Cafe Brazil zipped around the corner from Audley St to take over the vacant Costa premises. When we want a more up-market meal, we go to David Tsirekis’s excellent Greek restaurant Perama. The Sydney Good Food Guide has given David a hat, so the prices are up and bookings are needed, but David deserves his success. For quick cheap takeaway or home delivery, the Turkish pide down New Canterbury Rd is hard to beat.
Charlie’s Deli is the best known place to buy Portuguese ingredients, notably chorizo sausage and bacalhau, dried salt cod.
Mark cuts my hair. His place is not a salon and he doesn’t do coiffure. He’s not a ‘hairdresser’; he’s a barber, he cuts blokes’ hair only, and you can be guaranteed of a joke and a chat about the cricket and the footy. Mark and I always know better than those stupid team selectors.
To celebrate the Portuguese-ness (or Portugosity?) of the area, the local council commissioned a wall of tiles (photo above) below the Down Under petrol station, designed by Luis Geraldes. Luis was born in Portugal, then grew up in Angola until being forced to flee by the civil war and coming to Australia as a refugee. Nobody seems to know what his wall means. Luis says he’s influenced by the ‘metaphysical and the spiritual’, but who ever understands artists when they talk about their work? Let the art speak for itself, I say. At least it’s different and too slippery for graffiti to adhere to.
If New Canterbury Rd is one of Sydney’s less picturesque spots, there is pleasant Petersham architecture a little to its north. The original Petersham railway station building has been superceded by a more modern platform, but is still there, now serving as a training centre for railway workers.
Petersham Park is a green oasis squeezed between the railway line and busy Parramatta Rd. What used to be the simple outdoor ‘Petersham Pool’ is being upgraded and is now the Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre, named after the remarkable Sarah ‘Fanny’ Durack, Olympic gold medallist (100 metres, Stockholm 1912) and holder of every world swimming record, from 100 yards to the mile, during the late 1910s. She spent the last years of her life in nearby Douglas St, Stanmore.
Cricket tragics, self included, will wish they’d been at Petersham Oval in 1926 when a slight 18 year old made his way to the centre for his grade cricket debut. Don Bradman (still the greatest cricketer the world has seen) scored a century and took three wickets.
So that’s Petersham, perhaps not so strong on sights and activities but it has a bit of history, a murder and plenty to eat.TRIP NOTES:
GETTING THERE: Petersham is 11 minutes from Sydney Central by train (Inner West Line) or 19 minutes on bus 412 or 428.
EATING THERE: Just walk down New Canterbury Rd and Audley St and you won’t starve.
STAYING THERE: Well, we can’t have everyone at our place…