• A breakfast plate from Yum Yum bakery in Guildford, located in Sydney’s west. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
“A lot of my friends moved to the Inner West to be a part of everything. My theory was that if I move to Parramatta it can come to me.”
By
Sarah Malik

6 Dec 2020 - 5:57 PM  UPDATED 6 Dec 2020 - 6:12 PM

“Are you from The Area?”

It's 'The Code' that invokes an intimacy. Are you part of the club? Are you one of us? Both generic and particular, it could apply to anywhere in Western Sydney. 

This series, 'The Area', explores race, culture, class and immigration in Western Sydney through conversations with locals in their favourite haunts. In this story we visit Parramatta. Read about Bankstown here and Mt Druitt here. 

 

Talica Tamanitoakula, 31, was all dressed up, swinging her Louis Vuitton bag and clad in Salvatore Ferragamo shoes. Her family had decided to go to a fancy restaurant in Bronte, a beachside locale in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, to celebrate her uncle’s 60th birthday.

"Oi, Eshay!,” a group of young men called out to Tamanitoakula.

Tamanitoakula paused. 'Eshay' was Western Sydney slang, like muppet. It was a phrase only used with friends, as an enthusiastic yes. But here it had been weaponised as a pejorative.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I should be a stereotype and just punch this kid’.”

“Are they making fun? You don’t call randoms 'eshays'. Just because I was Islander, they would assume I was from the West?” Tamanitoakula wondered. When her brother and cousin followed her out of the car, the boys sheepishly mumbled apologies and dispersed.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I should be a stereotype and just punch this kid’,” Tamanitoakula jokes.

She decided to let it go. Just like when colleagues called her ‘Westie’ at the bank she worked in for years. Just like when the older Anglo ladies who worked with her at Big W told her stories of lying about their postcode on their resumes to get a city bank teller job. 

Tamanitoakula, the co-host of the 2brownishgirls podcast, considers herself a proud Parramatta girl. She’s a passionate Parramatta Eels supporter, a rugby league team allegiance inherited from her accountant grandfather Isikeli. He arrived from Fiji just after the end of the White Australia policy, on the eve of Fijian Independence in 1970. 

Born in the wider Parramatta district’s Westmead hospital, Tamanitoakula lived with her family on Wigram Street in neighbouring Harris Park - now an iconic strip featuring cottages turned into South Asian restaurants adorned with festive lights. 

Harris Park is one of the suburban neighbours of Parramatta, along with Granville, Merrylands, and Guildford - who look to Parramatta as a locus city. Here, the population skews young. Thirty-one is the median age for Parramatta; it's the same age as Tamanitoakula is now and it’s home to a demographic multitude. It's where Ukrainian and Russian churches sit next to Hindu Temples. Indian and Chinese ancestries dominate the area, with Hinduism the dominant religion (28.5 per cent). 

Belonging to the Darug people, Parramatta derives its name from the local Burra-matta clan; 'burra' meaning eels, which trawled the waterways and 'matta' meaning creek. 

It's the heart of Western Sydney, fed by Parramatta Road that snakes through the middle of the city and sits squarely in its centre.

Today Parramatta’s rapidly gentrifying CBD is blinking with shiny new developments -  a second base for city companies with towering office buildings, a sprawling new Western Sydney University campus, a place of work and study centred by the ever-expanding Westfield shopping centre. 

After moving to Penrith as an adolescent, Tamanitoakula felt adrift and craved returning to the area her grandparents created fledging cultural roots in.

When she moved to Granville in 2016, ironically, it was her old Penrith friends who were fearful of visiting her new postcode, joking, ‘You need a passport to visit’ or ‘it’s spot the Aussie there!’. But for Tamanitoakula it felt like coming home. Her fear was inverse, the spectre of racism making her wary of venturing into less-diverse parts of Sydney: “It is a like a safe space for us in a way.”

“You’re too brown to be Australian and you’re too white to be Islander.“

Tamanitoakula says Parramatta felt safe because of its natural diversity, a kind of refuge for third-culture kids torn between worlds. “You’re too brown to be Australian and you’re too white to be Islander. When you go back to the mother country, they say you’re not really Fijian because you’re from here,” she explains.

“Everything Islander for us was either an athlete, musician, factory worker or bouncer. People’s perception of us is very limited.” 

She cites camaraderie, community and the natural multiculturalism as a strength of Western Sydney, as opposed to contrived and painful corporate ‘diversity’. For Tamanitoakula, being able to grab pho, biryani or hummus at any time, with Asian, Muslim, Pasifika and Indigenous mates was what made Parramatta special. 

“Your friends will visit and your mum will yell at them, 'Eat! Why aren’t you eating?' Us ethnics we all get along because we’re all scared of our mums. That’s the glue that keeps us together,” Tamanitoakula laughs, as we dig into a meal of mantoo dumplings and grilled kebab on a bed of sultana rice, at Kabul Sydney in neighbouring Merrylands.

It’s Tamanitoakula‘s favourite restaurant, co-owned by Afghan Hazara refugee Ghulam Abdullahi, who arrived in Australia six years ago.

“People ask me, 'If you won the lotto where would you move?'" she says between bites. “I would still live in Granville, but I would build my dream house with an infinity pool.”  

'If you won the lotto where would you move?'

Granville is also home for Emily Greenwood, 26, and it’s where charcoal chicken is king. Granville's arterial South Street is packed with cars, grocers, Lebanese restaurants and wedding banquet halls, at the mouth of a station under the shadow of apartment skyscrapers.

Growing up, news reports branded the area as a violent gun hub, so Greenwood knew Granville was finally on the map when she saw a man with a radio pack and microphone guiding a food tour group down South street.

“People (were) taking photos like they are on a safari or something. (Local) people were sitting there having their coffee and cigarette and just looking at them,” she laughs. 

"El-Jannah is for tourists," Greenwood assures me of the famous charcoal chicken house, telling me the real locals come to Hawa. Down the street, from packed El-Jannah, it serves similar fare. As we bite into crunchy chicken and garlic sauce rolls, Greenwood says she learned to cook from her mum’s best friend - a Lebanese Muslim neighbour. Post-September 11 Greenwood remembers being shocked at the Islamophobia she saw towards members of the community: “These are the people who I go to school with. These are my best friends. These are my neighbours.

“The Western Suburbs is really how we as a nation need to be.”

The fact that Parramatta was also Australia’s colonial headquarters is an irony not lost on Greenwood, who has both Indigenous and Tongan ancestry.

Colonised directly after English Captain Arthur Phillip landed in Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788, it became a site for Government House in Parramatta Park, multi-tasking as a jailhouse, agricultural base and estate for the Australia’s new governors. The invaders brought small pox, decimating the local Burramattagal clan and fuelling the Darug nation, lead by Bidjigal warrior Pemulway, to launch attacks on the English, with Pemulway killed in 1802.   

Now a World Heritage Site commemorating the forced migration of 165,000 convicts up until 1868, the colonial battleground of Parramatta Park was summer countdown central for Greenwood - a place to enjoy New Year's Eve fireworks with her family.

“A lot of my friends moved to the Inner West to be a part of everything. My theory was that if I move to Parramatta it can come to me. It will come to me, because myself and other people will build it there.”

Greenwood’s home, like many of her neighbours was multi-generational and young. Her beloved great grandma lived with the family and died after Greenwood graduated school. Her Indigenous ancestry was only marked when elders came to the funeral, her identity shrouded in the silence of stolen generations - Australia’s historic state policy of removing Indigenous children. Greenwood was heartbroken. She later left Sydney, for a stint living in Brunswick in Melbourne’s inner city, before moving back.

“A lot of my friends moved to the Inner West to be a part of everything. My theory was that if I move to Parramatta it can come to me. It will come to me, because myself and other people will build it there.”  

This new generation, has cultivated a Teflon pride I am envious of. They have created something new, deep roots of community and culture, when I had felt forced to uproot myself, internalising a kind of lonely shame. Like all shame, it's one I felt dissipating with the sunlight of their conversation. 

Gillian Kayrooz, 23, is part of this proud new wave in Western Sydney. Kayrooz commuted to the city to chase her art dreams, after securing a place at the prestigious Sydney College of the Arts. She now works as an art aide at a Parramatta school. Like a lot of artists in Western Sydney, she wants to give back to the area that formed her creatively, establish a local scene and help create a sense of possibility for young people.

Her highlight growing up? Cruising Thursday late night shopping at Parramatta Westfield.

To be seen at the shopping centre as a teen on a weeknight was the social media of the day. It made her a keen observer. Rival schools from the district would size each other up with the ever-shifting politics of crushes, rivalries and friendship groups.

“Feeding people is the most human way to show love.”

On Friday night, her dad would pick up a pizza dinner at Yum Yum bakery, located in Guildford near her home. Manned by three generations of the Haddad family, it's surrounded by shisha houses, traditional bakeries and ethnic grocers. On Saturday, it was breakfast - zaatar manoush or lahmajun bread with tomato, onion and mince. “Western Sydney bakeries are an underrated gemstone of Sydney,” Kayrooz says.

Both Kayrooz’s grandads were Lebanese men who married Anglo-Australian women. Her dad grew up in Merrylands, the son of a tailor who made jerseys for the Parramatta Eels. 

“There’s the Kayrooz girl,” Toufic Haddad, the Lebanese patriarch who opened the bakery in 1990 would boom. The simplicity of good food felt like a hug. “I feel like I’m home,” Kayrooz sighs. “Feeding people is the most human way to show love.”

As Toufic approached retirement, grandson Jeremy Agha, 21, stepped in as co-owner, with uncle Najib Haddad, learning the ropes from Toufic at the store’s crowning jewel: a stone-fire oven imported from Lebanon. “Everybody is family here,” Agha says.

Hearty, communal and inexpensive - food is the hero of Western Sydney. In a world that often devalues immigrant knowledge, it was a showcase of culture and connection, powering the economic survival of communities through independently-run restaurants and grocers named in a style that captures the no-nonsense literal advertising imagination of first generation migrants.

Now city-based, Kayrooz still misses the food. 

“In the city (food is) such an event and performance, and so expensive. I just want to eat $2 manoush. You can always rely on it.” 

Sarah Malik is a Walkley-award winning journalist and SBS presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahbmalikFacebook or Instagram. Her work covers migration, feminism, domestic violence, representation and cultural diversity. To contact her for engagements, see her website. 

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