“The magic of the street is the mingling of the errand and the epiphany.” 1
It’s with a serious mission that I set off on this expedition to Carrington Road, but I’ve forgotten that these old industrial streets of the city’s inner west can seduce your soul.
To get there I take the train to Tempe, a tiny station on the Illawarra line, the main line south. It’s before 10am and so I’m lucky that a train stops there every ten minutes. Later on it will be a different story. I alight and immediately feel like I’ve wandered into a timeless place; a forgotten pocket of our sprawling metropolis. I feel like I’m in a country town despite the rise of modern apartment towers only half a kilometre away at Wolli Creek. There is a deep silence, disturbed by passing cars and trains, only as a pebble disturbs a green pond.
Apart from the Eucalypts and Jacarandas that line the footpath next to the station there are few trees; the main inhabitants here are asphalt, steel and concrete. But as I leave the station and walk over the railway bridge I realise this density of tar and cement hosts a feral ecology of its own. At the corner, the ground beneath a bill board is carpeted in wild garlic, and creeping ivy spreads across the ring wire fencing that protects this important piece of urban infrastructure. Tempe is where Diego Bonnetto runs his wild food foraging tours2 and now I can see why. And it’s the track head for the Two Valley Trail3, a series of walking tracks that fork between the Cooks River and Wolli Creek.
But a meander along the 13km of this waterside walkway will have to wait for another day because I’m here to visit two warehouses: The Sydney Prop Centre and New Directions, both on Carrington Road; a street lined with Alexander Palms and 1930s art deco factory fronts. I start with a fuel stop at The Old Garage Cafe. Travel makes me hungry so I order coffee, a home made raspberry muffin, and an oil change on the side.
Once replenished I’m ready for the serious part of this jaunt. I first discovered Sydney Props4 while sourcing a vintage car bonnet for a theatre production and they came through with the goods. Today I’m looking for a wine barrel. (You guessed it – for another play!5) And they don’t let me down. This place is a cornucopia of artefacts, anything and everything you might need to put on a show, organise a paegent, create a spectacle. I wander through a menagerie of fibreglass animals. Or is it a zoo, a horse stud, a circus? I meander down the aisle of a whole aeroplane of purple reclining seats, past fat and skinny fun park mirrors, through crate loads of baskets, beneath swaying Japanese lanterns, into a colourful Moroccan souk.
After enquiring about the hire of oak wine barrels I tear myself away from this wonderland and cross the road to my other destination. Recently I’ve been dabbling in aromatherapy and I need a few items for my scented experiments. New Directions6 is a natural skincare and wellbeing company.
Even though I’m not here for the essential oils I sniff and smell my way through Bergamot, Vetiver, Melissa, Lime, Rosemary, Cedarwood and Lemon Rose Geranium and finally pounce on the one I would really love to buy but can’t afford, Neroli. This is an intoxicating scent originating from 17th century Italy and named after Princess Nerola. A precious botanical oil, it’s distilled from the small white waxy flowers of the orange tree and known for its ability to soothe agitated nerves, relieve feelings of despair and reduce hypertension. It’s $47.30 for 6ml diluted in Jojoba oil so I limit myself to carefully testing it on my skin. I dab it on my pulse points, massage it into my temple, pat it onto my hair, rub it into my hands, and smear it all over my arms and legs; eyes closed, I breathe deeply the divine scent of bitter citrus blossoms with an undertone of dew soaked forest floor.
And after I’ve poured most of the bottle over me I decide it really is too expensive to purchase right now and drag myself away. I have to push past a bevy of TAFE students in black t-shirts participating in the Cosmetic Chemistry Workshops, and make my way around two ‘start up’ dudes who are loading latex gloves and beard nets into a trolley like they’re going out of style. But finally I’m in their packaging section where my blood pressure soars once again at the plethora of bottles, jars, caps, tins, canisters, eyedroppers, atomisers, spatulas, bags, boxes and wrapping. I finally find the 100ml glass beaker and miniature glass funnel that I actually came for. Now I’m ready to leave. I slide across the wooden floorboards smelling like the Flemington Flower Markets at 5am on a Saturday morning. As I line up at the counter the salesperson begins to sneeze. Eventually it’s my turn and I quickly pay for my items and high tail it out of there.
Back at the station a lot of trains go by but none of them stop. It’s not a problem because I’m still blissfully sniffing myself. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed traipsing the magical backwoods of this forgotten Sydney suburb.
(Images: map courtesy of wollicreek.org; orange blossom drawing courtesy of Wikicommons; all other photographs author’s own)