Burwood Park is a testament to the strange and unexpected wonders that can be discovered in public spaces. I began my wander near the WWI memorial arch where I’d spied the white umbrellas of the park cafe. And I was glad for my coffee when I came upon the Sandakan memorial only a few meters further into the park. This commemorates the 2,345 Allied prisoners of war held captive in Borneo and forced to march from Sandakan to Ranau during WWII. Only six of them survived.
On this beautiful sunny day in early November I contemplated the awful suffering of the thousands of men and women caught in world conflicts. But as I continued to explore, the newly green grass on the cricket oval reminded me that it was spring, and the four months without rain had ended only two days before.
After spotting an outdoor performance shell, a giant chessboard, a mini lake, a community centre, a memorial to Confucius, and a multitude of Ibis, I left this unique public garden and walked south along eclectic Burwood Road. Burwood lies 10 kilometres west from the Sydney CBD between two of the old Aboriginal tracks that became Parramatta Road and Liverpool Road. Burwood Road stretches from north to south joining the two. Perhaps because of this geography, and the placement of the railway station just on the half way point, Burwood is one of those suburbs that despite the advent of a Westfield’s, has remained a lively strip; a mix of Middle Eastern restaurants mingling seductively with East Asian eateries. Sahara By The Park, Golden Globe Seafood, Sydney Dumpling King, Momiji Japanese, Mint Vietnamese, Little Nepal and Mee Noodle House, to name a few.
Burwood Road is grungy, never without traffic, especially buses; and the footpaths are crowded with commuters waiting to get on those buses, and pedestrians weaving their way between the station and the shopping centre. And there are smokers and beggars and dawdling couples and dogs in sidewalk cafes. And there are also two pubs: The Burwood Hotel and the Avalon Hotel.
Inside the Burwood Hotel the long counter of the bar has a glass wall behind it revealing the once hidden kitchen of the Burwood Eating House. This is where, according to their website, ‘East Meets West’. And so as you order your drinks you watch the white clad chefs juggle the pots and pans that will become Roasted Lamb Rump with pomegranate pearls and Wagyu Beef Burger with house pickle sauce or Korean Chicken Drumsticks with chilli, lime and peanuts.
And then there is the second pub, The Avondale Hotel. There are no glass windows here. The outside is a bottle shop but not one where you step inside to browse. The bottles of booze are displayed in a glass case set into the front wall of the pub and you ask for what you want through a barred window. Reminiscent of troubled outback towns rather than the main street of a lively Sydney suburb.
On the ground level is the front bar which I go into. The walk up and down the street has made me thirsty. There are three old fellows sitting on stools with a wall of screens above their heads. Every dog race in the country seems to be being broadcast loudly but despite this the men turn and look at me as I enter. Immediately one of them calls out, “Ladies are upstairs Love,” meaning the toilets I presume.
Obviously that’s the only reason a woman would ever step in here, the logic might run. And I’m not sure that they’d be wrong I think, as I climb the wildly out of place gold plated staircase, which conjures in my imagination the opulent casinos of Macau, not an old suburban pub in Australia. Or perhaps this is still a segregated pub, and it’s the Ladies Lounge they were directing me to. But at the top of the stairs is the VIP Lounge. I’m tempted to have a quick flutter. Luckily I also spot the door to the Ladies (toilet not Lounge) right next to the gambling den. I do need to go, so I silently thank the old blokes who are obviously mind readers.
When I come out I’m tempted by a long, open corridor; the covered balcony overlooking the railway line. This pub may have a narrow frontage but it hides architectural depth. And then I realise that this pub has a Bistro too, with what look like generous serves of classic pub food.
It isn’t enough to walk around Burwood I’ll have to come back and eat here, over and over again. Perhaps I’ll need to move in for a few months to really experience it properly. Unfortunately this suburb has classy old bones, reflected in the property prices. People want to live here, either in brand new high rise apartments or in beautiful old Federation houses that sit elegantly on cultivated quarter acre blocks. But that’s the beauty of being a tourist in my own city: window shopping and crowd gazing are free; and I can come back as many times as I want.
When we walk around our cities we discover unknown terrain, and later when we relive the small delights of that new landscape in our memories, although it remains communal civic space, it also becomes uniquely ours. In so doing history is rendered to a human scale and the future becomes cause for hope.