Monthly Archives: March 2013

Paralytic on Parramatta Road

Leichhardt is in Sydney’s inner west. Leichhardt’s council area is a collection of peninsular enclaves, remnants of the great Italian immigration wave of the 50s and 60s, the new North Shore of Sydney in the form of Annandale, two brilliant transitional suburbs in Rozelle and Lilyfield, and it borders Sydney’s new north-south divide: Parramatta Road.

Across Parramatta Road in our beloved Marrickville, we sniggered when Leichhardt’s state seat of Balmain split three ways in the last election – almost equal shares for the Labor Party, Greens and the conservative Liberal Party. (Marrickville’s Conservative vote was about 16%, easily the lowest in the whole state, and remarkable given the landslide the Liberals were enjoying – they don’t call us the People’s Republic of Marrickville for nothing).

The gentrification in Leichhardt has been manifesting itself in many ways, sadly one of which is the war against music. Don’t get me wrong, Marrickville has faced similar issues, and will continue to do so. Save the Sando, and all that – at least it’s going to remain a music venue. Tim Freedman of the Whitlams had a horror run with his live venue on Sth King Street. The last few weeks has seen a history war of sorts, about the day the music died in Leichhardt, and the new Mayor’s plan to bring it back to life. The iconic live venue the Annandale Hotel has recently changed hands, allegedly primarily because Council would not approve a later trading licence, due to a few residents’ complaints. I think that’s the gist, it’s been a long story with court cases. Public opinion seems on the side of the former owners, the Rule brothers.

The Labor Mayor Darcy Byrne recently floated a proposal to entrench that area around the Annandale Hotel, along Sydney’s love-to-hate strip Parramatta Road, as  a dedicated live music precinct. That would provide certainty to residents, business owners, and make resolution of disputes easier. There was talk of turning the area into New Orleans, minus the floods I guess. I think they were talking about the all night cluster of venues and related businesses.

I’ve got history with Parramatta Road. Anyone who has worked in transport or city planning has been roped in at some stage to the ongoing soul-searching into Parramatta Road. The Parramatta Road Taskforce from 2003-5 had a red hot go at reinvigorating the road. There were some great some ideas, some fruit loop stuff, and most of the smoke seemed to be about making a proposed super-motorway palatable. Here we are 10 years later, the motorway proposal is government policy, so the discussion turns back to Parramatta Road.

But this idea is a bit different. It’s not your bog-standard developer wank about how the motorway will calm the streets and create new urbanist heaven for the residents. Oh, and the 100,000 or so extra people that might be plonked along the route.

Back in the day, I think we had a pretty mature understanding that big, wealthy cities like Sydney will have some busy, nasty streets like Parramatta Road. But with the congestion and the blight comes economic opportunity, for businesses such as bulky goods suppliers, for specialty shops capitalising on the drive-by exposure and the cheaper rent. And for deviant activities, things that smell, and are loud, like your average inner city band and followers. These sorts of places were termed “enterprise corridors”.

Such is Parramatta Road, which for more than 200 years has connected Sydney’s CBD to the burgeoning west, facilitating economic activity. It’s always had a healthy live music scene: in the late 80s, when I peaked, you could trawl along from East to West and find, within 50 yards or so of the Road:

  • the Graphic Arts Club
  • the sublime and unfortunate Phoenician Club, where Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine played
  • the Lansdowne Hotel, on the corner of City Road
  • the Manning Bar in Sydney University
  • the Annandale Hotel
  • the Empire Hotel in Leichhardt, with its blues and rockabilly emphasis
  • the Bald Faced Stag
  • in Petersham, Max’, scene of some of the great gigs (Falling Joys, Cruel Sea, Bughouse, June 1990). And it’s even grungier spinoff, the Pismo Bar.

There were music festivals in the 1970s at Victoria Park.

There’s a swag of hotels further west, generally on the corners of the roads that lead down to the nearby suburbs, such as Burwood and Croydon. There are lots of small acts that perform here. We tended to never go that far, for some reason there was an outpost of the inner west scene up along Victoria Road (Banjo’s at Gladesville, Tracks at Epping).

If you look far enough afield, Parramatta Road leads to the super venues such as Acer at Olympic Park.

So, the Mayor’s plan is partly an acknowledgement of a pre-existing truth. Parramatta Road has always been a music precinct. And it’s nice to see someone planning to build on existing strengths, rather than try and engineer the impossible. His idea is to strengthen further the area’s identity – probably revolving around branding, as with the existing Newtown/Enmore road Entertainment Precinct, maybe some changes to Council regulations and policies, and potentially some facilitation of new music-related business growth (guitar shops, recording studios etc).

I would go further. Why not look to the east for inspiration, where the City of Sydney recently painted a rainbow pedestrian crossing for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Parramatta Road has six lanes, a guitar has 6 strings: why not paint the tablature to famous Sydney songs along the route… You Am I’s Berlin Chair, perhaps. A bar chord out the front of every bar.

If we can guarantee safety for the hearing and seeing impaired, I would program the walk signal buttons at major intersections to pump out dance hits, such as Single Gun Theory, or Itch-E and Scratch-E.

Eventually, some truly innovative composer will capture the cacophony above, her Symphony #5 for strings and wings being performed live on the corner of Johnston St, rising and falling with the grind of the Singapore 767 and mellowing with the gentle wheesh of the Emirates A380.

The last thing I would do is rename the road. It’s one of my bugbears, these ancient namings, Parramatta Road comes from the time when it was the one road to Parramatta, which itself was “somewhere else”. There are now about 12 major roads that connect Parramatta around the clockface to its catchment. It could just as easily be called City Rd – but we already have one of those. Maybe a competition, there’s an AC/DC Lane in Melbourne and the Go Betweens Bridge in Brisbane, there must be a suitably musical name for this major artery? Part Desolation Row, part Yellowbrick Road. The Low Road from the Beasts of Bourbon is my best suggestion, I would love to hear yours.

Lighting should feature, it should be gaudy and garish and gauche. A neon strip. You should be able to see it from space. And Annandale. Every now and then there should be a strobe light, accompanied by the guitar solo in the Church’s Tantalised.

Eventually, when we decide we don’t want to be the only rich city of 6 million people in the world without a Metro, you might even able to glide along the precinct from station to station, each named after some suitable musical icon, venue, or maybe even just notes in a progression – Em, A, D etc etc.

Anyway, it’s gonna be great, you are right to be cynical about the genesis and the timing, but it seems to me the best, the only future for Parramatta Road. And it doesn’t mean getting into bed with a $16BN publicly subsidised private sector motorway abhorrence, the beautifully mis-named WestConnex.

Let me know what you think of the plan, how you would help build the precinct, and what you would call the artist formerly known as Parramatta Road… first right of reply goes to Mad Gorilla, from 1983…


Welcome to extra thyme – Cranky Pete’s Onion Jam – EAT ‘EM ALIVE, TIGES!

Seasons. You add them to food. You watch them out your window. And, as a footy fan, you live or die by them.

Tonight is the night, the AFL proper kicks off, with the blockbuster of the Carlton Blues (boooo!) versus the glorious Richmond Tigers. This house is a Tiger den. We live a bit and die a lot with the Tigers. I wouldn’t swap them for the world. The least successful but most fascinating team in Melbourne – well, least successful over the last 30 years, before that we had a very successful decade and a bit, and it is one of the few benefits of relative age that I can recall most of that period with clear mind and moist eyes.

The idea behind extra thyme is that you cook while you watch the footy (and, later this year, the Ashes cricket from England). I’ll be researching recipes that are appropriate for the time of year, and that can generally be cooked around the 3-hour, multiple short break and one long break of a live AFL match (with a bit of help from the old Foxtel IQ pause/rewind button).

I envisage blogging as I cook and watch, so extra thyme could be a life history of the Tigers’ season, all of its ups and downs. There will be the odd classic for the neutrals, too, such as this weekend’s curse game between Geelong and Hawthorn.

To kick off the season, it will be Cranky Pete’s Onion Jam, which will get real sweet if the Tiges are in front but threatens to turn into a chilli monster if  the Blues jump us as they have the last few years.

Until then, a taster…


Through the Arch window

arch windows

One of the great Australian traditions is the windows on Play School on the ABC. There are three – round, square and arch – you have to choose which one the camera will zoom through to reveal the next snippet of life-changing information. (The BBC”s Tikabilla program for kids has the same feature, proving we can export knowledge successfully). We always play the game, and I love picking the arch window. On average, I am right 1 in 3 times. It’s probably the only system, gambling or otherwise, I have in my life.

This morning I was walking the younger around the fabulous old railway workshops in Eveleigh, next to Redfern, which have been transformed into the quite juicy Australian Technology Park. I paused in front of these windows, it was like a game I couldn’t lose, the answer would always be the arch window.

We walked home through the 34 degree “autumn”, using local knowledge of streetscape and sun-plane to stay out of the sun most of the way. Frankie fell asleep and I got to pondering on the metaphor of the windows as choice. And how the lack of choice in this picture seemed to capture the lack of choice facing the Australian Labor Party. It was only this morning that Mark Latham’s latest punching bag, the disgraced former chief whip Joel Fitzgibbon, was reported to have said that those on $250,000 a year were doing it tough. There are stories of the Labor Government contemplating changing some rules relating to superannuation, to attempt to provide greater fiscal balance (we’re currently spending more than we’re making) and make  a start on initiatives in education and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Labor is getting snookered on the left, where some would have it increase taxes, including on super, and spend more, much more, to deliver “traditional Labor values”. It’s snookered on the right, it will be probably crucified as reckless if it increases the current deficit, and Fitzgibbon and his ilk have just provided ammunition to the lobby groups for the aspirationals and upwardly mobile to stifle changes to tax. And the Conservative parties.

This morning, Bill Kelty, Paul Keating’s great partner in the Prices and Incomes Accords of the 80s and 90s, and co-author with Lindsay Fox of a major regional development report for Keating, spoke of the need to return to the “consensus” “reforming” days of the Hawke and Keating Governments. He wasn’t critical of all the Rudd-Gillard achievements, but scathing of much of the politics. Kelty was the champion of compulsory super, often trading off wages now for future super.

Still, I think he looks at the past with a bit too much rose in his glass. There is a consensus that the consensus approach was successful, if you define success the way Hawke, Keating, Kelty, Howard and most of the mainstream media did. The economy has grown for years, if that’s the yardstick. But, to be really truthful, there weren’t really many votes in it for Labor. In 1983, there was a large swing to Labor, in response to Fraser’s recession. But in 1984, as the first wave of reforms were rolling out, the Liberals achieved a swing back, despite PM Hawke’s popularity. In 1987, Keating demolished Howard’s tax plan and Hawke exploited the splits in the Liberals and Nationals (Joh for PM, etc), and Labor ran hard on the Daintree and Tasmanian forests… they increased their majority. In 1990, as interest rates rose to “break the inflation stick”, Labor almost lost power, and were almost forced into minority government. They won in 1993 because Keating stalked Hewson and Fightback ferociously, because they drummed the GST into the ground, and especially because women did not like the proposed changes to Medicare. In 1996, with the economy boomimg, Labor and Keating were smashed. It was Time, again.

So, from here, the Government is essentially being herded into the one window. The Budget is being developed, but the parameters have been set, by Kelty, and by resigning Ministers like Simon Crean last week (a member of both Hawke and Keating Governments, and ACTU President when the first Accords were developed). Any changes to super will be anti-consensus. How that leaves the Government able to fund education and Disability, and continue nation-building infrastructure programs, is not the problem of these critics.

Only one window to jump through, the arch one. Arch, in all senses of the word…

A wolf called Ulf

(Thanks to Unit One, the Pusher Trilogy and all the other great Danish drama for inspiring this)


I met a wolf

A wolf called Ulf

He was a Danish wolf

This wolf called Ulf


His eyes were bright

His teeth were sharp

His nose was long

He was from Denmark


I met a wolf

A wolf called Ulf

He’s disappeared

I have no proof

There’s no more Ulf

I’m not crying wolf

He thought I was danish

And left his mark



Noah’s shark

In Noah’s ark

Was there a shark

Or maybe even two?

Did he have a pool

Did they go to school

Or was that all bunkum too?


Fifteen restaurant at Redfern?

We’ve been watching a lot of Jamie Oliver. Cooking in 15 minutes, 30 minutes, seeing 8 seconds of him here and there. Wall to wall Jamie.

That’s OK, he’s mostly a good egg. Putting his clout where it matters, with kids’ food at schools, working with the homeless, and just generally getting us all thinking about what we eat and cook.

About three years ago, Jamie was going to make a flying visit to Sydney. I had long harboured a desire to convince him to run a Fifteen restaurant at Redfern. It had come into my head on one of those long, balmy Redfern afternoons when I was in an obscure role in state government, ensconced in the unloved TNT buildings (which I loved). I did nothing with the idea at the time, and Jamie and Tobey Pittock put a Fifteen in Melbourne, global cool capital at the time.

If you don’t know the concept, here’s some background: Fifteen has always been about providing opportunities for troubled youths or those from disadvantaged families. Fifteen youths from across a city undergo training, work in the restaurant for a year, and hopefully move on to long and successful employment in the food industry. Then another 15 youths start the program…

I thought Fifteen at Redfern was an opportunity to do much more. What if half the intake each year was Koori kids from the Block, and the other half were from the Redfern-Waterloo housing commission towers?

What if the restaurant had a stream of cooking traditional native foods?

Then you’d have a project that helped address the systemic economic and social issues facing Sydney’s iconic indigenous population. But it would be a project that united all of greater Redfern, the west and the east side of the railway. It would place a major tourist attraction in the heart of the Redfern-Waterloo redevelopment, helping to make it a place, not just a redevelopment.

My dream was that the restaurant could be the catalyst for rejuvenating the old art deco classic Redfern House building opposite TNT tower. This is a glorious building, but also a highly visible site for passing traffic. It may not be suitable for a commercial restaurant, but a similar site, in downtown Redfern, shouldn’t be hard to find.

In March 2010, with Jamie already on his way to Sydney, I bashed a submission together and sent it through to the then Premier, who was also the local Member and Minister for Redfern-Waterloo. I heard nothing back. Then I tried to get it through Jamie’s elaborate online fortress. Again, nada!

Now I have a blog, and an undertaking to share with you some of my crazy ideas, either to get them off my chest and move on, or in the faint hope that someone sees a glimmer of merit and starts taking something forward.

Lots has changed in Sydney, NSW and especially Redfern. The woman who does a lot of cooking training with the local kids now runs the fancy new café in Victoria Park. The model would be different, but the basic idea the same.

I must stress that I have never consulted with the local Aboriginal community, and I think that would be an absolute priority if anyone wanted to do anything with this. Their land, their people, their culture, their food.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. It’s free. And without prejudice, it’s yours. Happy to hear any feedback….


               bush pukka!


Using the Fifteen model to bring economic opportunities to the under-privileged youths of Redfern and Waterloo.


  • A branch of the globally recognised Fifteen chain in central Redfern
  • Annual intake of 15 local youths aged 16-24 for training and employment – 8 from the Block and 7 from the housing estates
  • Emphasis on using traditional native foods
  • Potential to reflect the broader multicultural nature of Redfern

Why Fifteen?

Fifteen is a globally recognised brand, the brainchild of chef, entrepreneur and activist, Jamie Oliver. But it is a charitable foundation, with a proven record of establishing and maintaining programs – Fifteen restaurants to train youths in culinary and life skills; healthy lunches for school kids etc.

Why Redfern?

It has major economic and social disadvantage.

It is the cultural centre of Sydney’s indigenous population.

It is undergoing significant gentrification and commercial redevelopment – there are fears this could exacerbate economic and social disadvantage. But an immediate home-grown clientele, of residents and office workers, is emerging.

It is highly accessible – all lines except the Airport line feed it; it is walking distance from the CBD; it is served by many bus routes; and cycling connections are strong.

Why a Koori focus?

It is (Ab)original – no Fifteen project has yet focussed on a specific group.

Empowerment towards economic development is crucial.

It would help break down barriers between indigenous and non-indigenous people. And link Redfern at its heart.

It would make the restaurant a national icon, not just another restaurant.

The food would be innovative – Redfern could become the heart of a new (very old) culinary trend (from a peak in the late 90s, it seems many “bush tucker” restaurants have vanished.)

International tourists would love it.

Key stakeholders/potential partners

Stakeholder Potential Contribution Likely Requirement Comment
Fifteen Foundation Establish restaurant. Administer training and employment program. Suitable premises. Possibly start-up or ongoing support – either direct, or for fundraising efforts. Planning approval with RWDA area. Jamie Oliver in town in March. Would Tobey Puttock be interested (he established the Melbourne branch.)
Redfern Aboriginal community (e.g. Redfern Aboriginal Housing Company) Support – for restaurant establishment, and for participation. Consultation and project ownership likely to feature. Could assist the Foundation with the governance of the program.


Consultation before any announcement advised.

Redfern-Waterloo Development Authority Site selection and development approval. Possible financial support (perhaps in-kind, or peppercorn rent?) Assistance with marketing. Long-term commitment from Fifteen. Has the mandate to transform Redfern, and the cachet to achieve objectives across a range of economic, social and cultural issues. Should easily be able to locate a suitable site in the heart of Redfern. Within the parameters of sound policy, should be able to expedite development approval.
Sydney City Council Inclusion of the concept in its Sustainable Sydney 2030 Strategy – especially the Eora Journey cultural initiative. Consultation. Consistency with RWDA objectives. Council can assist with marketing the restaurant – e.g. signage along the Wilson St cycleway, support in its publicity materials etc.
Other Redfern cafes/


Support during the program for placements. Possible employment of graduates. Consultation. Recognition. Could be expected to benefit from emergence of Redfern as an eat street/centre.

Incy wincy

Incy Wincy Spider

Got out of bed

Just then an idea

Came into his head

He sat at his desk

In his little shed

Turned on the modem

Now he’s on the world wide web