Wolli Creek

When I first arrived in Sydney, it was a collection of unremarkable and dirty industrial units located between Turrella, Tempe and Arncliffe railway stations. Located to the south of a mangrove lined Wolli Creek until it met the Cook’s River, bordered to the east by the Princes Highway, the suburb formally known as North Arncliffe had no station itself and was always bypassed by those in a vehicle unless they had specific business there.

The opening of the railway line to the airport and the renaming of the suburb to Wolli Creek saw rapid change take place at the start of the new millennium. Factories and warehouses were demolished and modern tall apartment blocks took their place.

But unless you lived there or were working at one of the construction sites there was still no reason to stop at Wolli Creek except to change trains between the East Hills and the South Coast and Illawarra Lines.

Even a decade ago there was only, aside from the real estate agents and the apartments, a small Asian grocery, a suburban Chinese restaurant and a pizza joint.

Or so I had thought.

It is school holidays now and I wanted to take Alex outside for some exercise on this sunny summer’s day. We caught the train to Wolli Creek and left the station, split between levels and directions. The South Coast line is above the ground, the Airport Line intersects it as the entrance to a deep tunnel.

Between the tall towers, at the canyon floor, is now a small shopping and food street. The Asian supermarket has expanded and been joined by more Chinese restaurants, dumplings, noodles, bubble tea, a Japanese eatery, a Korean barbeque. Little that is particularly unique, but perhaps a reason to stop.

Incongruously nestled in between a pair of towers is tiny St Magdalen Chapel. We cross and investigate further. No longer a place of worship, this red brick Victorian Gothic church was completed in 1888.

Hidden away behind the chapel is Discovery Point and the Tempe Estate. In 1826 Alexander Brodie Spark purchased the land, naming it after the Vale of Tempe in Greece and building a fine columned home fronted by a landscaped garden.

The estate attracted famous painters and later became a refuge and retreat operated by the Good Samaritan Order.

Today only the chapel and house remain, along with the parklands. We wandered around the grounds, thinking to take a different route out. Near the house we found one gate that was unlocked, so we passed through.

However, as we went further in all the other gates were also locked. We climbed Mount Olympus, as the nearby mound was called by Alexander Brodie Sparks, but again all the gates were locked.

Eventually we found our way back to the original gate, but it had locked after we had passed through. Fortunately a gardener with a key happened to be working on the other side and he let us out.

That was certainly an unexpected adventure, but I love how this fascinating place of history was hidden away between these soulless high rise apartments.

On the other side of the Princes Highway, following the south bank of the river, is Cooks Park. Last time I was here the tide was high, but now waterbirds search for food on a barely exposed sand bank, while mangrove trees struggle to grow between oyster shell lined rocks.

The white picket fenced oval would be a lovely place to watch a weekend game of cricket. At the end of the park are more apartment towers crowding out what used to be the sole occupant.

The Novotel was once the Mercure and before that the Sydney Airport Hilton. I was fond of it precisely because of its location in the middle of nowhere with only the park, the river, a rowing club and the International Terminal of Sydney Airport across the bridge and a very busy road away.

Imagine being stuck there between flights with nothing other than a walk in the park to do. Strangely, I like that thought. Indeed I have a thing about airport hotels, places you can ready yourself for the journey ahead without distraction and the need to explore.

Alex and I continue onwards, across the bridge, then beneath it, as we walk towards the International Terminal. The floor of the newish pedestrian bridge over the airport pickup zones is painted blue. Ahead we can see the terminal buildings and an AirAsia aircraft parked at one of the gates. Another aircraft rises up into the sky, away on its own adventure.

The path leads us to one of the multistorey parking complexes and across another bridge to the departure level of the terminal.

We are not flying anywhere today, but it feels good to soak up the buzz and excitement of others who are. Lunch is banh mi, then we return home via the underground train station.

I get the sense that this whole area contains many stories, both Indigenous and of the European settlers who displaced them. What will today’s towers and runways, parks and pathways tell future generations?


Irreverently irrelevant. Sysadmin, developer, web dude in a science research agency. WordPress, Japan, planes, trains, Arduino, Raspberry Pi/Pico, puns, dad jokes, etc

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