A strange little suburb

… the trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts.

Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities

 There still hangs around Glebe the whiff or rush matting patchouli and dope…somehow the 70s linger

J Newton Glebe resident 18 years

One of the two ancient Port Jackson figs at the harbour end of Glebe Point Road

One of the two ancient Port Jackson figs at the harbour end of Glebe Point Road

I – we that is me and my family ­– have lived in Glebe on Sydney’s western edge for 18 years now, and I just realised that it’s the longest time I have lived in the same house and the same suburb. And whenever we contemplate leaving, we ask – and go where?

The only place I would rather live is Spain. And we’ve already done that. So the question is, what is it about Glebe that keeps us here?

It’s interesting to read Ruth Park on Glebe in the early 1970s, from her wonderful book The Companion Guide to Sydney. ‘The whole district’ she writes, ‘is like a creaky old ship bound for oblivion, the sails rotten rags, the timbers worm eaten, nothing ahead but wreck and disaster.’ Locals will remember at that time Glebe was, as Park writes, ‘under sentence of severe crippling, if not death’ from the looming encroachment of two expressways which were ‘planned to cut through the strange little suburb.’ Aaah, the more things change…

That didn’t happen, the community rose up and pushed them back into the deep pit of stupidity from which they had sprung. Let us hope the same fate awaits the equally deeply stupid Westconnex.

But as if predicting this Park goes on to tell us that ‘Glebe is getting trendy…fabulous little shops selling next weeks art and 1930’s gear are springing up next to the ‘am-‘n-beef and the Digger’s Fruit Shop…if Glebe survives the expressways and the developers it will be the new Paddington, all attic windows and aluminium repro iron lace, and every little shopkeeper charging like a wounded bull.’

And that didn’t happen either, because when Gough Whitlam swept to power in 1972, one of his first acts along with Tom Uren was to purchase a huge amount of land in Glebe for public housing, not only giving those on low incomes somewhere to live, but ensuring that it remained as it always had been a mixed suburb. Never mind that in 2015 the bastard Lib government is attempting to sell it off, it won’t all go.

So here we are in the age of real estate lunacy. In our street, a house just sold for $2.6 million, another for almost $2million. My neighbours are journalists, two shrinks, a wonderful woman who has been there for 60 years, a professor of marine biology, an anaesthetist, a retired scientist, and, at the foot of the street, a block full of public housing residents. Still mixed. But we live at the posh end, in what is called the Toxteth Estate.

We also have a six hectare park at the bottom of the street, and at it’s end Rozelle Bay, and the harbour albeit one of the most polluted pieces of water in that harbour. That is the biggest downside of Glebe: to swim in the ocean you have to travel a long way. Plenty of pools but I love the ocean.

A row of figs along the harbour walk

A row of figs along the harbour walk

That park is another of the wonders of Glebe. Every morning (well most weekday mornings) De and I walk our ancient but still mostly sprightly small brown dog Banjo for an hour, from the Annandale side to the Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay and back. And there we have another set of friends and acquaintances many of whom we only know by the names of their dogs.

But let me have a look at those ‘many little sidewalk contacts’, what Hugh Mackay calls incidental contact. I work at home and sometimes lament that the high point of my day is an expedition to Galluzzo’s, another reason to live in Glebe. A fourth generation fruit and veg shop, and currently the best in Sydney.

And I know the Galluzzo family, the current custodians Joe and Damien, Tony who works in the deli next door, and all who work there, Arty and Arkanjia, the two young Nepali women; Maria a Cypriot woman who has been there for over 20 years at least; Helena, Joe’s wife, big Steve the most recent employee, and young Declan. I went to Joe and Damien and Tony’s father Frank Galluzzo’s funeral. On Saturday mornings at Galluzzo I run into friends from all over Sydney who come to buy their groceries there. As well as my neighbours. Actually Arkanjia left this week to pursue her career in IT, which she financed by working at Galluzzo’s

Joe Galluzzo sorting apples.

Joe Galluzzo sorting apples.

I know by sight and often name many of the street people. Belinda (not her real name) a Koori woman who I’ve seen transformed from a young beauty to a not so young semi-mess as a result of the booze. James the Big Issue dealer. Peter and Nancy Weng who run the local IGA, again, one of the best in town.

In the last four years a void has been filled. I used to lament the lack of a good local bar, such as we had in our Spanish village where you could go for a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day ­– remember, I work at home – and meet the neighbours. Tim and Louise Smith who own the local (independent!) bottle-o – opened Timbah around the corner, currently built on the site of three garages. Around 5, I can walk up, and be sure to meet a few locals and catch up on the goss.

And the there are the people you meet  walking up and down the street. Two of my favourites being Robin and Arthur Lawrence. Robin is a wonderful artist who painted my portrait for the Archibald. Didn’t matter that it didn’t make it, it was a fascinating experience. Arthur is a retired art teacher and historian of ferocious intelligence.

As well as the best greengrocer in the city we have the best bookshop ­– or rather bookshops. Gleebooks new and Gleebooks second hand. Again, the owners are people I know.

The city is a short light rail ride away, and within walking distance. When I was writing my thesis, the UTS Library was a ten minute light rail away. The fish market is five minutes, and Central 20 minutes.

So tell me. Why should we move. For a couple of town mice like us, I can’t think of anywhere better.

On a later post, I’ll tell you the story of Ducky’s Garden and the way the neighbourhood joined together to save it.

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3 thoughts on “A strange little suburb

  1. Glebe is good!. I used to live in Rozelle so it’s not too dissimilar. Glebe has been on a bit of a downslope these past few years. Shop rent costs? That is what trashed Oxford Street and shows how little one can trust the Council. Maybe you know why there has been such a big downturn? Hopefully it will come back.
    Being born before the Boomer generation I too am retired. Boomers are the biggest, wealthiest cohort and they are reducing their spending, buying less “stuff” which is making life tough for shops. The young cannot fill these shoes as they are not wealthy – what with uncertainty of employment etc,. So maybe Glebe will not come back, which would be a pity.

  2. Dunno about a downslope John, how long since you’ve been there? New bars, new restaurants, the old Camden motel being re-furbished. and a really vibrant scene at the Broadway end. But while the boomers may be keeping their hands in their pockets, there are a lot of young and wealthy families moving in. Case in point the family two doors down who paid $2.6million for their house have 2 kids… I know I don’t drink as much as I did (!?&*?!) and we don’t eat out as much, but the restaurants and bars seem to be full and buzzing. Check out The Thievery

    • I was hoping someone could point to an upslope. A pity otherwise! But it sounds a different place today, when houses are millions of dollars, a far cry from thirty/forty years ago. I’m not sure whether to be happy or not about this.

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