Sydney sketching : sketching Sydney – Postcode 2044, Sydenham Station Master’s Cottage & Sydenham Theatre

July 2, 2011

2 July 2011. Derwent graphite pencil; W&N watercolours.

Couldn’t make the Sydney Sketch Club meeting in the city today because of CityRail trackwork. I can’t think of any major world city comparable in size to Sydney, for example, Kyoto or Athens, which closes down ten per cent of its rail network for maintenance every weekend. Yet this takes place religiously in Sydney every weekend. Not just every now and then, but decade after decade, in perpetuity. This deference by ordinary folk to government and authority has been with us since our convict days as a penal colony and will be our stock response into the future, I guess.

Thus was it with the housing boom a hundred years ago when Tempe, on the edge of civilisation, was an ideal spot for a weekend day-trip and when Newtown and St Peters were created with wall-to-wall workers’ cottages with ne’er a thought for trees. We see the same thing perpetuated in modern-day Kellyville, Prestons and contemporary housing in western Sydney, where houses are built right up to fencelines and trees become the responsibility not of homeowners but of local government in distributing them around public parks. Even in the Inner West, seen by many as pushing the Green agenda, Mediterranean migrant working class families paved over front yards a generation ago  and stil, every morning, as in the Old Country, housewives come out to wash down their paving stones and footpaths, regardless of any drought restrictions which might constrain use of fresh water. 

Station Master’s Cottage and the former Sydenham Theatre

Viewed from the western side of the railway tracks, the lettering on the back wall of the Sydenham Theatre is now faded and indistinct. I imagine the effort put into sign-writing on the back of the building repaid the effort in the form of good publicity for those patrons arriving by train.  The red chimney and roof belong to the Station Master’s Cottage. Proposed re-development of the Station Master’s Cottage site, including destruction of its twenty-one trees, is currently under consideration. The railway station was built in 1884 so I assume the station master’s cottage was built at the same time; I believe it’s been unoccupied since 2005.


The architecture of the cottage seems to resemble that in nearby Tempe, with its front verandah (supported by four plain and evenly-spaced square timber columns) and high-pitched roof.  It’s been painted a terracotta red, with sandy ochre on barge boards and brick window sills. It has a large chimney which seems to be attached not to the house, but to the easterly one of two sturdy brick extensions at the back. The outdoor brick dunny is overgrown and rear access to the narrow tip of the triangle of the block is via Wright Avenue.  One room, behind the main front room (presumably one of the four large square ooms which make up the front of the house), protrudes from the building’s western facade.


Built environment – Station Master’s Cottages

Its existence raises the question of similar Station Master’s cottages elsewhere in Sydney. The one at Tempe, on the corner of Griffiths and Station Streets, has been restored and re-developed with apartments built in the backyard; the one at Arncliffe is a free-standing house. The only threat to its existence comes from the graffiti along its western walls facing Tempe Railway Station. I can’t find mention so far of any at nearby Redfern, Erskineville, Marrickville or St Peters, but one was apparently built at Newtown. Apart from cottages for the station master, on-site housing was provided for signalmen (e.g. and those who manned level crossings before the advent of road overpasses, such as the three between St Peterse and Sydenham at John Street, Edgeware Road (Bedwin Bridge built in 1926) and Sydenham Road.

Natural environment – trees in Sydenham

The natural environment of Sydenham underwent radical change in the mid-1990s with the clearing of many two-storey terrace houses, rendered uninhabitable as a result of the noise generated by the east-west runway of Sydney Airport, 1992-1994.  Large swathes of houses north of Railway Road were removed and turned over to lawns and tall trees, now called Sydenham Green . Obviously low-lying shrubs of the residential gardens were cleared. I mention shrubs because habitats for small birds, such as wrens, is now at a premium, especially given the determined territoriality of Indian minahs. Nearby public parks, such as Tillman Park, with its areas for dogs, deter small birds, while the Station Master’s cottage remains one of the few havens for small birds in the area.

Of note are the two giant fig trees in Memory Reserve, near the former Commonwealth Bank (corner of Gleeson Road and Unwins Bridge Road), as well as the trees abutting the goods railway line along Belmore Street. The sinuous lines of the giant figs in the heart of Sydenham contrast with the clean (though now faded) lines of the Art Deco shops roundabout- in Gleeson Road as well as the former Sydenham Theatre, now a dance studio and clothing factory outlet.

Currently the real estate industry is busy talking up St Peters and Marrickville in terms of their proximity to the central business district, while papering over the ongoing impact of airport noise. No-0ne dares mention the waves  of chemicals sweeping the area when fuel storage facilites are cleaned early on weekends. Plainly CityRail is keen to exploit the current housing shortage by generating revenue via developing properties it owns adjacent to railway lines across Sydney. I feel sorry for the residents of Burrows Avenue as well as nearby businesses and residents because of the potential loss of this natural barrier against noise and dust from the main southern railway line, used by both passenger trains and freight trains transporting coal.  The ultimate effect of State and local governments working hand-in-glove with property developers is to create high-rise across Sydney at the expense of any new green spaces to make the city liveable. Trees removed are rarely, if ever, replaced. Their ideal is the sort of urban development one sees between Osaka and Tokyo, for example – uniform and unrelenting ten-storey high-rise, as far as the eye can see. I wonder sometimes where politicians and property developers actually live and if they actually own trees in their own backyards.

Where it can, CityRail is bent on cutting down established trees on its property. At Tempe, citriodora eucalypts, much favoured as a food source by the rosellas and lorikeets,  facing Griffiths Avenue were removed not so long ago. With the removal of trees by local Council and State government authorities, the burden of loss of quality of life ultimately falls on residents. The sobriquet of “leafy suburb” will never be associated with the Federal electorate of Grayndler! Businesses lose out too, feeling the fall-out of these decisions – literally in the case of the white ibis moving into the palm trees along Carrington Road Marrickville.


 http:/// – Arncliffe’s Station Master’s Cottage – Saving Our Trees: Dulwich Hill, Camperdown, Enmore, Lewisham, Marrickville, Newtown, Petersham, St Peters, Stanmore, Sydenham, Tempe. Community Tree Watch Group.

Chrys Meader, Richard Cashman & Anne Carolan, Marrickville People and Places: a social history… Hale & Iremonger, 1994.

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