According to the Canterbury Council website, the small suburb of Belfield (previously visited here, here and here) “experienced a small increase in population between 1996-2001 due to new dwellings being added”. I’m guessing that population increases are like blog hits to local council, because they’ve given the go-ahead to plenty more dwellings and sacrificed one of Belfield’s most iconic structures in the process.
It may not look like much, but this is Belfield Plaza. It replaced a BP petrol station (extant only through the site’s driveways) but kept the initials. The servo itself replaced a series of houses, and the cycle gives a great insight into the changing needs of society over the last century or so. I’m not entirely sure when the plaza was built, but if I had to guess I’d say mid 80s.
Shopping arcades are a mixed bag for kids. If there’s not a newsagent (for cards and comics), a milk bar (for junk food, video games and ice cream) or even a mixed business (for the best of both worlds), there’ll be tears before bedtime. My grandparents lived in Belfield, so I spent a lot of time here as a kid, and I can honestly say that Belfield Plaza’s offerings didn’t interest me one bit…until the video shop moved in. Time for an anecdote…
This video shop (the suburb’s third!) was an independent one, and for a kid it seemed huge. It was how (along with granny’s membership card) I was able to discover favourites like Aliens, Batman and, memorably, The Terminator (I’m a dude – deal with it). I’d seen T2 on TV and was keen to see the original, so I barreled into the video shop and asked the guy, “Do you have Terminator?”
He stared back, blankly. “Schwarzenegger?” he replied.
It was my turn to stare blankly. What other Terminator was there? “Terminator…” I repeated, suddenly unsure if I’d gotten the title correct.
“Schwarzenegger…?” he asked, experiencing the same dilemma. “Hadoken!” yelled the nearby Super Street Fighter II machine, breaking the awkward silence of the standoff. It seemed to break his trance, too. “Action’s up the back.” I ran towards the back of the shop as he called out “Excellent film, too,” as if going for the hard sell was necessary. Thanks, video shop guy. If you ever read this, know you did some good in this world.
The video shop moved out around 1996 and was replaced with a paint store. Who makes these decisions? As with the rest of Belfield, the plaza continued to decline throughout the 90s and into the 2000s, where it felt like a relic. Belfield Plaza’s one success story was Mancini’s, a wood fire pizza restaurant which moved from the plaza to the adjacent corner of Downes Street, itself a former video shop. Mancini’s now has the ultimate vantage point from which to watch as the plaza which nurtured it through the tough early days is pulled down and replaced by a generic retail/residential combo.
Yes, I realise that once upon a time someone might have felt the same way about the BP as I do about B. P., and that these were considered generic once upon a time. But Belfield Plaza, and in particular that video shop, I’ll never forget. The hours drained playing Street Fighter, the many movies discovered and rehired over and over, the woodfired pizzas on a Saturday evening after a day in the pool…it all happened here, and now it can never happen again.
Looks like Clancy’s finally has some competition…
From Belfield’s worst to Nature’s Best. I wonder if Belfieldians are starting to wish it had just stayed a BP?
In a time when building a house meant plenty of brick, mortar and asbestos as opposed to 100% pure cladding, a housing boom meant it was time to get digging. The State Brickworks at Homebush was established by the NSW Government in 1911 to (publicly) provide for the demand for public housing and (privately) to shatter the stranglehold private owners had on the brickmaking industry, because no one makes money without the NSW Government getting a piece of the action. This greedy plan backfired at the onset of the Great Depression, when demand plummeted and the site started operating at a major loss. Ironically, it was sold to a private firm in 1936, and closed soon after.
Of course, the history of bricks in Sydney reaches back much further than Homebush. Brickfield Hill (near Haymarket) owes its name to its brickmaking past, and the St Peters brickyards are still in plain view – I just haven’t been there yet. The Homebush site was adjacent to the State Abattoirs, presumably to maintain the ambience, but more likely because the ground was rich in necessary brick ingredients. The Homebush Brickworks had also served to replace the troublesome State-run sand lime brickmaking operation at Botany, which had in 1914 fallen victim to a labourer strike, and never recovered.
After World War II, during which the site had been used as an ammunitions depot by the Navy, the NSW Government sensed an opportunity to make money, and reopened the Brickpit just in time for the second housing boom. If the first boom was a Newcastle, this one was somewhere between a San Francisco and an Indonesia. Chances are that at some point during your life in Sydney, you’ve stayed in a house built with bricks from Homebush. The site even had its own train station for workers to use, which opened in 1939.
It should be mentioned that during the 60s, 70s and 80s, the Brickworks was known by a different name to young hoons and petrolheads looking to blow off some steam on a Friday or Saturday night. ‘Brickies’ was a hot destination for drag racers setting off from the Big Chiefs (Beefy’s) burger joint on Parramatta Road, tearing off up Underwood Road in their Monaros towards Brickies Hill. This circuit can be seen in the 1977 film FJ Holden, which will be a major part of this blog sooner than later. The onset of development put a stop to this, but a subtle, if bizarre, homage to that era has been paid through the naming of certain streets around Hill Road, once the drag strip finish line: Nuvolari Place, named for Italian racing legend Tazio Nuvolari, and Monza Drive, after the endurance race of the same name. Sydney also hosted its first V8 Supercar event at the Olympic Park in 2009, echoing the days of weekend supercar stardom in less developed decades. Residents could still nostalgically enjoy extreme noise pollution and rowdy behaviour, but at least this time it was corporately sponsored.
From an industrial standpoint, they might as well have been making gold bricks at the ‘works for the next three decades…and then the 80s happened. The boom died down, the money dried up, and the Brickworks, which had for the most part of the 20th century poisoned the surrounding land and Homebush Bay, was clumped in the same basket as the increasingly irrelevant State Abattoirs and the volatile Rhodes industrial area – it had to go, but before it did, the crew of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (or perhaps The Conqueror 2, just give it a few years) chose the toxic site as a filming location. In 1988, the Brickworks were closed for good. Like the rest of the State-owned Homebush industrial zone, it was included in plans to reshape the area into the Sydney Olympic Stadium in 1992. The Brickpit was to become the tennis centre.
And so it would have gone, had not a funny, completely unexpected thing happened. The green and golden bell frog was nearing extinction by 1992. Once abundant in Sydney, numbers had fallen so low that a special breeding program was established at Taronga Zoo in the hope that the frog could be saved. As preliminary work was being done, 300 of the small frogs were discovered living in the quarry. Several times since, colonies of the undeniably appealing frog have turned up at proposed development sites, halting work, ruining plans, and causing PR-illiterate development bigwigs to shit a…well, you know. The frogs are no longer critically endangered, but they still have a long way to go.
As the rest of industrial Homebush was transformed for the Olympics, the Brickpit itself followed suit, undergoing heavy remediation. It’s now an environmental feature of the Olympic Park, and features the wonderful Ring Walk, a walkway suspended above the former Brickworks site complete with a giant pond filled with what can only be described as Smylex. Those frogs must be mighty happy.
It’s funny…we spent the better part of last century digging this place up and sending it off all over the city for our homes, but the frogs cut out the red tape and came to the place itself, making it their home in less than a decade. We didn’t start building units here until years later. Am I saying a frog could run Mirvac or Lend Lease?
For decades, passers-by of the Arnott’s Biscuit factory at Homebush would experience delicious smells emanating from the place. From 1908 to 1997, this was where the action was for the large variety of Arnott’s products. Since the factory’s relocation to Huntingwood, the site has undergone a remarkable transformation.
The first Arnott’s Biscuits factory opened at Forest Lodge in 1894, but when demand created the need for a larger factory, Homebush was chosen as the best location because of its proximity to the rail system. Company founder William Arnott had made the decision to move the factory closer to Sydney, but died in 1901, before he could see his dream realised. Seen at the time as a mistake on Arnott’s part due to Homebush’s then-long distance from the city, the factory eventually became the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the Arnott’s factory was one of the foundations of economic prosperity in the growing residential suburb of Homebush in those days; there were few families in the suburb that didn’t work for Arnott’s.
Arnott’s may have moved on from this location, but their biscuit range is still the most popular in Australia. Scotch Fingers, Milk Arrowroots, Iced Vo-Vos, Tiny Teddies and Sao (I get the feeling that the plural of Sao should still just be Sao, like sheep) are exported all over the world, and all the while the Homebush factory still stands, albeit with a very different purpose.
The Bakehouse Quarter redevelopment started in 1998, taking the Arnott’s factory that was so familiar to locals and converting it into a shopping and leisure precinct akin to Birkenhead Point.
While you can’t spit without hitting a cafe, there’s also the obligatory business sector, which includes the corporate HQ for Arnott’s. No substitute for a good location, I guess. That’s not the extent of the Arnott’s involvement, either: plenty of heritage Arnott’s paraphernalia exists at the site, all part of the old factory. The giant neon Sao sign is the most prominent, but even Arnie (groan), the Arnott’s parrot, gets a look-in.
Cobbled roads and Edwardian-style lighting make up the section of George Street that passes through the vicinity.
A large part of the factory itself has been converted into an AMF bowling alley and laser tag site. It’s not as farfetched as it seems – back in the day, Arnott’s had a bowling green included on the grounds, presumably as a showcase for the Iced Vo-Vo.
A car park has replaced the former oven area, which is still keen to reveal itself to those on the lookout.
The site’s still growing, and there’s still a lot of work to do. Zumba classes and conversations over meals at the steakhouse are still constantly interrupted by the sound of construction workers striving to turn the more industrial parts of the factory into a heritage paradise.
My favourite element untouched from the old days was this, the toilet to nowhere.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up with a fair portion of residential area set aside within it, but whether that would be incorporated into the extant factory is anyone’s guess. Would it be cool or trendy to live in a former Tim Tam chocolate coating room? Probably.
One of the reasons the site was chosen by Arnott’s in the first place was because of its excellent rail infrastructure. You can still get a good view of the factory by train as you pass by between Strathfield and North Strathfield stations, and this bit of free advertising still passes over the busy Parramatta Road.
Huntingwood should keep a close eye on the Bakehouse Quarter, because when Tiny Teddies eventually grow up to become Standard Teddies, and Scotch Fingers grow to represent the entire hand, Arnott’s are gonna need more room, and that’s precisely when AMF and Zumba are gonna move in, ably proving that there is indeed no substitute for quality.
The powers-that-be have decided that Kingsgrove needs more residents, and you know what that means. HIGH RISE.
Now I know what you’re saying. You’re sitting there saying ‘Yeah, they’re building a high rise. So what? What’s so special about this place?’ What’s special about this site will require a bit of a cheat – taking the Google Street View time machine back to 2009 – but I promise it’ll be worth it.
See, what used to be at this location was a string of old, derelict shops, each more interesting than the last. Around the back, in Mashman Avenue, was a run-down block of units, and beside that, the Mashman Pottery (a resident since 1908). All of it is gone now, including the pottery, to make way for some faceless high rise apartment buildings completely devoid of character. This character:
We have the Cecille Salon, the Kingsgrove Snack Bar (best food in town!), and finally and most intriguingly, FJ’s Pizza. Take a closer look there at FJ’s…who’s that holding the pizza?
Could that be…what it looks like?
This place has been burned into my retinas for a long time, so when it was knocked down earlier this year, I wasn’t going to let it get out of appearing here. In fact, I remember when this place opened – in 1990. Someone, most likely FJ himself, thought they could get away with painting a Ninja Turtle on the side of their pizza place in the hope that kids would see it and automatically assume it was Turtle-endorsed pizza. Well…in at least one situation, they were right. Problem is, by 1992 the TMNT were has-beens, and people sure weren’t coming here for the pizza.
It’s hard to say exactly when these shops closed, and thanks to the animal magnetism of the FJTMNT, I never really paid them much attention even when they were open. With prime real estate right beside the train station, you’d think at least the snack bar would have cleaned up. Now, it’s just being cleaned up to make way for the glass tower.
Doubtless there’ll be a new wave of shops here beneath the skyscraper, but they won’t have this kind of character. The lineup also included what looks like a Chinese restaurant, Hair Enterprises, and a State Bank branch on the corner. I imagine that the Rich Uncle Pennybags style property developer sat it out for years, buying each of the shops in the strip until he had the Monopoly and then BAM – bulldozer time. Hair Enterprises was likely the last to go – it had an eight digit phone number.
It’s just a memory now, along with the best food in town, ladies knitwear, and the Ninja Turtle who never let go of that pizza. Vaya con Dios, FJ-tello.
Despite the sign, Blockbuster’s presence at 1206 Canterbury Road, Roselands is pretty much gone. In 1996, Blockbuster was one of the biggest brands, and now they just can’t eradicate it fast enough. It’s as if Betamax was reincarnated as the head of Bovis Lend Lease. This one in particular is well on its way to becoming a 24-hour gym, just in case you need to pump some iron at 4am.
Research shows that as late as 1946, this address was being used to sell retired show horses. The Subway on the lot is still going strong, keeping the tradition of hawking old livestock here well and truly alive.