Title: Western Sydney, A Close Analysis
By: Joel Calizaya
If Sydney is a city with, by international standards, low population density, it only follows that its urban continuum would be a sea of houses, where the proverbial islands are the shops areas or, more truthfully, the shopping centres, which are almost without exception the centres of these suburban centres. I have no doubt that this process takes place in the Northern Beaches or in the Sutherland Shire area; this time, however, I’ve decided to concentrate on that part of the urban area of Greater Sydney which I know the most: the vast Western Sydney.
As soon as I finish the above paragraph I stop for a moment: to what extent can you really know such a large expanse of terrain? It may be true that I’ve spent the majority of my years in this country (which will be twenty in ’19) in this region of Sydney, but I’m far from having explored every nook and cranny of the fabled western expansion of this city.
And yet, here I am, trying —at least— to pontificate—about Western Sydney. If nothing else, I guess it’s about time a west[ie] himself does it, instead of having someone from Inner Sydney telling us how she (or he) looks at our hinterland. If nothing else, it will be an attempt to explain this area from within.
For starters, the definition of where Western Sydney begins and ends is blurry, and this in itself should be considered symptomatic. Once I saw a map in a sociology book about Sydney which mentioned the “greatest expanse of the definition of Western Sydney”, and it literally looked as if it were close to 60% of Greater Sydney: it covered from Penrith and the Blue Mountains, to the Hills area, to Liverpool and Campbelltown, Parramatta (of course), all the way to Burwood, Strathfield and the Bankstown area a bit further south. Now, it is clear to me that some people who live in the Blue Mountains and the Hills area don’t consider themselves to be part of Western Sydney, but I think (at least in the case of the latter area) this has got to do more with diﬀerent socio-economic status that the rest of the area. There are others who don’t see the Liverpool and Campbelltown area (and surroundings) as part of Western Sydney but rather as a part of another region called South Western Sydney: with regards to that, I would simply say that South Western Sydney is a region within a region, and that we are going to use that term we may also use those of “Central Western Sydney” (to refer to Parramatta, Westmead, Auburn), “North Western Sydney” to refer to the Hills area, as well as “Outer Western Sydney” to refer to Penrith, Mount Druitt and the like.
Why I consider this ambiguity to be symptomatic to Western Sydney is because it betrays an uneasiness with names which comes, to a large extent, from the fact that the city proper (Inner Sydney, in other words) finishes a fair way before we reach, say, Strathfield. As we all know, there are a couple of kilometres between Strathfield and the traditional starting point of the inner-west (namely, Leichhardt). After Strathfield (and Burwood) the density becomes very low even for our Australian standards, prompting the dweller of Western Sydney to cherish those few places in
which she or he can experience community. I’m willing to suggest that names become very secondary to the importance us westi[es] place in the few places where we can truly interact with one another.
Sydney as a whole is larger than Lebanon or Jamaica. Taking into account that Western Sydney is roughly 50% of this expanse then, it’s safe to suggest that there can’t just be one particular thing that defines it. And yet, repeatedly, publications like Time Out Sydney or the(sydney)magazine (when the latter was around) focus near-sightedly on one place, and one specific characteristic of said place. A number of times, I’ve seen references to the amazing Middle Eastern food that can be found in the suburb of Auburn. That may well be the case, but deciding just to limit your knowledge of the largest sub-region of Sydney to what happens in one specific place screams of over-simplification. Why not mention, for instance, the passion with which junior rugby league comps are followed in the Parramatta and district area, or the burgeoning IT hub that is the Norwest complex? Why just limit the knowledge of Western Sydney to the food that is made by its migrant cooks? Could it be that city-centric publications only see this region as somewhere where exotic food (and, by extension, exotic people) happen to live, as opposed to the cosmopolitan normality —and no, this is not an oxymoron— of Inner Sydney? Or, even worse, could it be that there is room for just one thing to be mentioned about Western Sydney every time anyone wants to speak of Sydney as a whole?
The Hills area, Parramatta, South-Western Sydney… just how similar are these places? The first one is where the better-oﬀs of the region live, while Parramatta is, for all intents and purposes, a working-class city within the global city that is Sydney. As for the area encompassed by Fairfield, Cabramatta and Liverpool, they are both melting pots of new migrants and some of the mostunderprivileged areas of the metropolis. I’ve heard than some people who live in the Hills don’t consider themselves to be westies (surprise, surprise there), while Parramatta in the last twenty or so years has been gathering a momentum which seeks to place it as some sort of counterpoint to Inner Sydney (something which I see as slightly misguided; after all the latter is a global centre of power, so much so that if an struggle is created between the two CBDs Parramatta will always end up looking as the worst for wear). The new airport is going to be located in South-Western Sydney, so sooner rather than later new winds will be felt around the area… Can we accurately, then, talk about Western Sydney as a whole without clumsily simplifying? Could it be that having the M2, M4 or M5 as a route to your home doesn’t necessarily put any of those inhabitants of the city in the same proverbial bag, but rather put them simply ‘west of’ the centre of power in the metropolis?
When we give a good look at the aforementioned motorways, we realise that they look as if they were almost encroaching on the city. Moreover, they look like rivers, and not highways. Anyone that has a look at any of these motorways from a vantage point may pick up on the fact that, yes, not only are they streams of light (in the evening) but also that they are worlds onto themselves. For instance, take the M2: it communicates the Hills area with the Lower North Shore in a way that cuts perpendicularly throughout its whole region. The diagonal it makes appears almost menacing seen in a map, and helps us put into perspective how the the whole metropolitan region acts in a day-to-day basis: almost as a large jug being poured into a small glass, the motorways (and Sydney Trains, let’s not forget) still act as a simple left-to-right movement towards the city.
There are some plans to have a Western Sydney bid for the Commonwealth Games of 2034. Local politicians argue that they could use the ANZ, the new Parramatta Stadium, and have Parramatta CBD as some sort of central hub of the Games. I think this is a mistake, for it would try to avoid including the Sydney of Bondi and the CBD into the equation. Worse come to worse, the bid should be similar to the one London made for the 2012 games, stressing the eastern part of the city. In other words, the bid should be of ‘Sydney’ as a whole, while having the proper events themselves take place on Western Sydney.
And this is if we really must, for Sydney has already suﬀered one Olympic Games from which it’s still trying to recover.
Lucy Turnbull’s bold ideas of relocating all the state government oﬃces to Parramatta, leaving the Harbour city as a secondary CBD within the metropolitan area has to be taken with a grain of salt. Even with the best of intentions (and Ms. Turnbull has them) it would take, I would argue, easily two decades to make any sort of relocation viable. Parramatta is gathering its own momentum, but it shouldn’t be overburdened all of a sudden with dozens upon dozens of oﬃces it simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to provide for. At least, Ms. Turnbull’s plans see a distinction between Parramatta and surroundings (which she names ‘Central City’) and what is close to the new Airport in Badgery’s Creek (a vast area in itself which her and her team give the name of ‘Aerotropolis’).