Past/Lives Flashback #8: Sydney Olympic Park – Homebush, NSW

Original article: NSW State Abattoirs/Sydney Olympic Park – Homebush, NSW 

IMG_9505It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I last visited this place. The blood-soaked history of Sydney Olympic Park is perhaps the most heavily researched article on Past/Lives, yet all that knowledge is quick to fall away when you’re actually standing on site, inhabiting the space where it all went down. The post-Easter Show cleanup only serves to strip back the gaudy decorations designed to distract from the past, leaving today’s visitors with one of two visions: the glorious Olympics, or the violent abattoirs.

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Apart from the hubbub surrounding the Easter Show, change visits the Olympic zone about as often as I do (read: not much). The stadium seems to have settled on ANZ as its name for the time being, just as the arena’s heart still belongs to Allphones. During my refresher course on the ins and outs of the Olympic era of the site’s history, I laughed when I learned the arena’s actual name is the ‘Sydney Super Dome’. For the first time ever, Allphones sounds comparatively low-key.

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So since change is such a stranger here, it’s going to be more beneficial to take a look at some of the landmarks around the Olympic site that betray its brutal past. We didn’t touch on too many last time, with the Abattoir Heritage Precinct being the natural focus. First up is Olympic Park station, the last stop of the train line which delivers thousands of Easter Show-goers to the park each year…

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Abattoir platform, 1982. Image courtesy Graeme Skeet/NSWrail.net

…just as it delivered hundreds of thousands of animals to their deaths each year for decades, some as recently as 25 years ago. Granted, it isn’t the exact same station (although if it was, abattoir workers would have enjoyed the most stylish station in Sydney), but its location is approximate to the original. A complete train line (with stations opening from 1915) served the abattoir and the nearby brickworks, with country trains deviating from the existing rail network at Lidcombe and Flemington to deposit country animals to the abattoir. Employees could catch their own trains from a small platform at the end of Pippita Street, Lidcombe.

As the abattoir declined, the need for employees did so as well, and in 1984 the abattoir line was closed, with the facility itself closing in 1988. The entire Homebush Salesyard Loop, on which the Olympic Park line is based, was closed in 1991. In 1996, the Pippita Street station became the last of the abattoir stations to be demolished, and interestingly, the street itself was absorbed into the huge Dairy Farmers site nearby (now, why do you think that’s there?). The brand-spanking-new Olympic Park loop line opened in 1998, with most of the Homebush Salesyard Loop repurposed to be a part of it.

Now, since that was a little…dry, let’s get wet.

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The Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre was the first part of Olympic Park to be constructed following the closure of the abattoir, unless you count Bicentennial Park, which opened in 1988. The Aquatic Centre opened in 1994, with the rest of the park completed by 1996. As such, the Aquatic Centre is the ‘middle child’ of the Olympic Park, with a design sensibility halfway between Bicentennial Park and the stadiums that followed. It’s a strange beast, and one made even stranger by my near-absolute certainty that when it first opened, its entrance was in fact this:

IMG_9507Sometime in 1995, I attended a birthday party at the exciting new Aquatic Centre, which was rumoured on the playground to have a whirlpool and slides. I don’t remember any slides, but I do have a distinct memory of our posse leaving behind a rubber WWF wrestler toy, tossed high up in those bushes on the left in a fit of excitement…while we were hanging around the entrance. Does the Iron Sheik still reside in those bushes today, subsisting on a diet of ants, rainwater and the occasional small bird? Nearly 20 years later, I still wasn’t game enough to climb up and find out. But I did go in for a closer look…

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The appearance of those bolt marks, where the original entry sign was probably attached, seems to validate my memory of this being the main entrance. The doors underneath now serve as an emergency exit. If anyone can shed some light on this mystery, drop a line in the comments below. My theory is that when the Aquatic Centre opened, the entrance was here because it faced away from the abattoir site (and at the time, a huge construction site), but when the rest of the park was completed, the entrance was moved around to the opposite end of the facility, a spot which pretty much faces the Abattoir Heritage Precinct (and everything else, in keeping with the Olympic spirit of inclusion and togetherness). Today’s entrance looks a lot more ‘Olympic’ anyway, so it was probably a change for the best. Still…

IMG_9502Our last stop is just down the road from the Aquatic Centre. Back in the 70s and 80s, Swire (then Woodmasons Cold Storage) would have been one of the places to store the freshly processed animal carcasses on ice before being shipped to the nearby butcheries and markets. For a cold storage facility (and for Dairy Farmers), this was the perfect location…when the abattoir was there. How it’s still able to do business is a stone cold mystery, but I guess that’s why they’re no longer Woodmasons.

See you next time, when we’ll attempt to go for a drive

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6 responses

  1. I’m so glad they saved these beautiful buildings….being from a family of butchers…I had been to the meatworks and remember the abattoirs very well…I remember the palm tree lined entrance to the meat markets, its canteen and other area’s…I wish they weren’t demolished…oh well…glad at least that they saved the head office…I like your photo’s of them…if u find any photo’s of the abattoir…please post 🙂

  2. As a child born in the 80’s who lived the 90’s, I distinctly remember in the very late 80’s the smell of the Piggery when visiting the Brickworks…moving forward to the 90’s, I distinctly remember the Squire building, however It was called Woodmasons Cold Storage.

    One could make the mistake of dissecting the d and ignoring an o and think they are reading Woolmasons, but it was in fact, Woodmasons Cold Storage. Ahh the trips to Parramatta Westfield and back to North Strathfield.

    A trip through the Tolls was $2 for cars.

    1. No wonder I couldn’t find anything on a ‘Woolmasons Cold Storage!’ Thanks for the tip!

  3. I seem to remember the original entrance being different too. I remember it being more like a tunnel. Hmm… but where did the old entrance take you to in the centre? that’s the thing I can’t remember.

  4. Is there a list of names of workers who worked in abboitoirs or brickworks in the late 60’s early 70’s

    1. Jack White, Doug MacPherson, Doug Cragg, A.J. Bush were just 4 men amongst dozens who were wholesale butchers operating in the meat hall at Homebush Abattoir in the 1960’s.

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