Last weekend, my husband and I went to Parramatta for the weekend. In many ways, it was quite an unlikely place for us to go for the weekend, as it’s not exactly known as a tourist Mecca. However, I’m really glad we had the chance to explore this part of Sydney for the first time in any kind of depth. By the way, the reason we were staying in Parramatta, was that we were on a couple’s retreat hosted by Muscular Dystrophy NSW, which helps support my various “idiocyncracies”, as I’ve now refer to them.
It is hard to quite known how to adequately describe Parramatta. Indeed, it’s hard to to encapsulate any place in a few words, or a handful of photographs. Yet, it’s seems that travellers, those of us who are only passing through, always feel the need to try, at least on the back of a postcard.
If I had to summarise Parramatta on the back of a postcard, I’d start of with a brief history lesson.
Parramatta was founded in 1788, the same year that the First Fleet arrived in Sydney. The British settlement desperately needed food and was struggling to find fertile soil in Sydney Cove. During 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip had reconnoitred several places before choosing Parramatta as the most likely place for a successful large farm. Parramatta was the furthest navigable point inland on the Parramatta River (i.e. furthest from the thin, sandy coastal soil) and also the point at which the river became freshwater and therefore useful for farming. Although initially called Rose Hill, On 4 June 1791 Phillip changed the name of the township to Parramatta, approximating the term used by the local Aboriginal people.
In 1789,Phillip granted a convict named, James Ruse, the land of Experiment Farm at Parramatta on the condition that he develop a viable agriculture. There, Ruse became the first person to successfully grow grain in Australia. The Parramatta area was also the site of John Macarthur’s Elizabeth Farm, which had pioneered the Australian wool industry by in the 1790s. Philip Gidley King’s account of his visit to Parramatta on 9 April 1790 is one of the earliest descriptions of the area. Walking four miles with Governor Phillip to Prospect, he saw undulating grassland interspersed with magnificent trees and a great number of kangaroos and emus.
In years gone by, the story of Parramatta would’ve been a white man’s story. Indeed, when I was at school, we learned nothing about the frontier wars between Europeans and the indigenous Aboriginal people. It’s only now, that I’ve heard about the Battle of Parramatta, a major battle of the Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars, which occurred in March 1797 where resistance leader Pemulwuy led a group of Bidjigal warriors, estimated to be at least 100, in an attack on a government farm at Toongabbie, challenging the British Army to fight.Governor Arthur Phillip built a small house for himself on the hill of The Crescent. In 1799 this was replaced by a larger residence which, substantially improved by Governor Lachlan Macquarie from 1815 to 1818, which is now referred to as Old Government House.
Above: St John’s Church
So, having given you a brief historical snapshot, how about you join me at Parramatta Station. After such a long trip, I just had to stop for refreshments at the Guylian Cafe, where I had a heavenly chocolate dessert and a cappuccino. From there, I walked across to Church Street. On the left, there’s historic St John’s Anglican Church and across the road, you’ll find Parramatta Town Hall, which reminds me of a two-tier wedding cake. Next to the Town Hall, the future of Parramatta is starting to rise out of what has often been hard times. Indeed, throughout our walks around the Parramatta CBD, new buildings and construction sights resemble alien intruders. Next to the Town Hall, we spotted the Bourke Street Bakery, where we had an unforgettable Raspberry Cream Meringue Tart. That’s when we spotted the captivating water fountain, and I’ve just found out this whole area is now called Centenary Square. There’s a ping pong table, large outdoor chess set and on Sunday night, we even spotted a group doing salsa outside together. So, there really are moves afoot to give Parramatta not only a facelift, but also a strong community feel and a heart.
This leads me into a dynamic thriving food area further up Church Street, known as “Eat Street”. Personally, I found this area had a sort of bazaar feel about it with restaurants and street food all sandwiched together to a point that you’re almost not sure where your chair or table belongs at times. There are street vendors, restaurants from a smattering of cultures…Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Thai, Mexican, Cuban. The choices were dazzling and in the end we went to a burger place my husband had been to near work and I had a pork belly burger. We went to a chocolate cafe for dessert. Yum.
Above: I spotted these in the Army Disposal Store.
Moving further Church Street towards Phillip Street, the buildings looked rather old and sad to be honest. There’s old and historic, but quick cheap and nasty construction only gets worse with age. However, that’s not to say that the shops didn’t have character and appeal. Indeed, we found an army surplus store, which in itself is a rare breed these days, but this one also had loads of personality, and there was even a chandelier when you walked in. I also found Tom Cruise and the Terminator on the wall 80s style. In terms of interesting places, I should also point out the Bavarian Bier Cafe, which is housed inside an historic Church. We had planned to have dinner there on Saturday night, but couldn’t get a table.
Above: The German Bier Cafe.
We stayed at the Parkroyal Hotel on Phillip Street, and really enjoyed our stay. As I said, we were staying there with other couples from Muscular Dystrophy NSW. We met up together in the foyer and had a beautiful dinner in the hotel restaurant together on Friday night. I think I only knew one person well beforehand, but by the end of the weekend, we were one big happy and well-fed family and exchanging email addresses and contacts. It really felt like such a blessing to all get together, but it was also great that the weekend away also provided for time for Geoff and I to be on our own. We have really been quite desperate to spend any time to actually focus on each other and take care of each other, without trying to spread ourselves four ways, or even further if the dogs or work are also demanding attention. We are by no means alone in this and I’m very grateful to Muscular Dystrophy NSW for organizing the retreat, my parents for taking the kids and a friend for minding the dogs and the home front.
In my next post, we will visit Elizabeth Farm and Old Government House.
Have you ever been to Parramatta? What are your thoughts about it?