Tempe East NSW 2044 – “deep topography” location sketching

April 6, 2013

Circumstances have forced me this last fortnight or so to restrict daily location sketching to subject matter within very close walking distance of my house. Torrential rain this last week has been an added constraint. The Sydney light is particularly good before 8am and after 4pm: the shadows seem to be fuller and the greens of the trees particularly voluptuous. A hundred years ago, the Heidelberg painters painted Sydney Harbour this way (I think they just played cricket and drank beer between 9am and 4pm) so if it’s good enough for Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and others, it’s good enough for me.

Tempe East is a tiny area of single-storey houses in an area largely dominated by light industry. For the last hundred years, it has specialised in small engineering works associated with motor vehicles. But local light industry goes back to Sydney’s earliest days. In the 1830s, by the shores of Botany Bay and the Cooks River, ancient aboriginal middens were mined for their limestone, essential for building in the Colonial period in an otherwise sandstone-dominated region. A century later it housed the working poor employed on the trams, given the local tram depot – the end of the line for southern Sydney. Many local men died in World War I. These days, it is fringed with a shipping container depot from nearby Port Botany, Sydney International Airport, the Alexandria Canal and the Cooks River. IKEA has just moved in. It is cut off from the rest of Tempe by the Princes Highway.

Here are some of the results:


Shipping containers (right) front a water drain (essential in this very low-lying area) with the new IKEA to the left, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.


Freight depot of Sydney International Airport and the airport expressway, seen from Tempe Reserve, across the Alexandria Canal.


Context for the Freight Depot: the bridge across the Alexandria Canal.


Next day’s attempt at getting the trees right. It becomes obvious today that I’m drawing small low-slung paperbarks with taller eucalpyts behind.


I was joined by inquisitive seagulls. I’ve never really taken notice of them before, but suddenly I’m checking them out whenever I see them now, especially whether or not they have the three spots or “mirrors” of white on their black tail feathers. The ones I sketched did not have them and I’m now wondering whether only very mature birds have these ‘mirrors’.


An abandoned factory at 2 Smith Street, with “F.& D. Normoyle Pty Ltd Coachbuilders since 1894” writ large on the bargeboard.

I can’t discern whether this building is connected in some way to Normoyle Engineering originating in Young NSW in 1890 or to its later incarnation, a business started up by the great-grandson, begun in Bondi Junction New South Wales. Close by this building at 20 Burrows Street St Peters are current premises of Normoyle.

 F&D Normoyle Engineering Pty Ltd began life in 1890 as a business started by David Normoyle, an Irish coach builder and blacksmith newly arrived from Adare in Countery Limerick with his wife, daughters and three sons, Frank, Dave and Jim. David Senior regularly travelled to race meetings in Sydney and eventually retired permanently to Sydney, living close by Randwick Racecourse in Kensington. Sons Frank and Dave remained in Yougn to run the blackmsith’s shop, whilst their flamboyant brother Jim relocated to Sydney and eventually ebcame one of that city’s leading milliners. Frank subsequentlyt left the ‘smithy’ and joined his borhter in the millinery business,opening and running a successful factory employing over 300 staff in Brisbane, Queensland.

In Young, David Junior introduced the town’s first electric welding machines and gas cutting. F&D Normoyle Young was well established to take advantage of the growing crop and pastoral expansion in NSW at the time, becoming the second-largest maker of vehicles in the State. According to Bob Hadlow, author of a book on horse-drawn commercial wagons, there were two features separating Normoyle from other makers: the sheer variety of wagons and vehicles they produced was unequalled in New South Wales, and product differentiation, involving a linkage mechanism unique to Normoyle. The coach building and blacksmithing business however receded with the advent of the motor lorry.

Normoyle thus moved into the business of on-farm storage and examples of their sturdy sheds, fabricated in the 1940s and 1950s, can still be seen today around Young. They became national leaders in the creation of on-farm grain storage silos, leading to significant, large contracts for grain elevators and grain handling facilities. In 1984, the family, all by then living in Sydney, sponsored a management buyout of the business which existed for another five years, after which time all interest in the business was dissolved and the name was changed to National Engineering.

A great-grandson of the original founder, David Normoyle, registered F&D Normoyle Engineering in 1986, working out of a small garage in Bondi Junction. It has since grown into one of Sydney’s largest and most successful engineering companies, completing large-scale projects for clients such as Leighton Holdings, Thiess, Bovis Lend Lease, John Holland and others.


A rather impressive-looking house for sale (estimate around $600-700K, close to Sydney’s current mean asking price for a house) on a corner block, facing Barden and South Streets. It obviously dates from around the 1920s, possibly straight after World War I. Like others in Barden Street, it’s made of weatherboard. What caught my eye was the dual front doors, facing each of the two streets, which I’ve seen elsewhere in the suburb. One of the doors has been closed in and is now a porch, but it obviously linked the main gabled house with an extension. The original wooden garage is intact which is particularly unusual. Unfortunately today’s real estate stylists insist on getting their clients to paint Inter-War bungalows in dark charcoal grey with black trim, thinking (I believe) this adds much-needed gravitas to what is otherwise a rudimentary form of Federation. While other suburbs of Sydney are marked by sophisticated Federation bungalows, Tempe’s were built with a minimum of luxuries. Local urchins milling around were something of a distraction; they checked my progress in between bouts of trailbike riding through the adjacent wetlands.


This side view of shipping containers intrigued me but it was only after sketching them that I realised they can’t be all stacked neatly in parallel rows, judging by the difference in their angles.

There is a lot to be said for taking an hour out of each day and sketching ‘close to home’. I’ve limited myself to a pencil sharpener, a bulldog clip, a bunch of short stubs of graphite pencils, a sunhat and a WalkStool. And also an umbrella. The thing though is to do it every day.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: