Lakemba: Sydney, just not as you know it // 9 May 2011
This is the most brilliant encapsulation of Sydney’s Western Suburbs that I have ever witnessed: a bright green souped-up Ford, NSW plate reg. ‘NSHALA’.
It can only be Lakemba, where the mosque overshadows its Chinese neighbours, where the council lets eyesores suppurate and where you can eat a mean meat lahmacun for all of 70cents. I spent Thursday eating my way around its multicultural gems for my forthcoming CNN piece – and discovered that it is possible to pay less than a dollar for anything, let alone for something edible.
It’s the first place in Sydney that I’ve felt like I could almost be back in London’s Banglatown/Whitechapel area – the schools are full of shrieking kids in Hijab, there are community notices written in Arabic and the most common greeting in cafes is Asalaam Aleikum. And, of course, God Willing, the cars have number plates like this one.
It’s less than half an hour from Central station but feels more like downtown Beirut than just miles from Bondi beach. The area is a mad melting pot of colours, creeds, languages and religions and couldn’t be further from the didgeridoo-wowed crowds at Circular Quay and the commuting white collars at North Ryde.
The best thing of all, though, apart from the brilliant and unpretentious variety of cheap and honest foods served by interested, kind locals, is the dose of normality it delivers. Lakemba lands a worldly punch that says “we’re all visitors here, afterall” better than anything I have yet encountered in Australia. A salutary time to visit, perhaps, as news is Osama-dominated, but it certainly makes you think twice about remembering to love thy neighbour – and standing up for something that is bigger than supposed legitimacy and, when all is said and done, fear.
Btw, to the non-Aussies – Australians seem to love their bright green cars. This strange cultural phenomenon merits a blog unto itself: lime-green-car-spotting-in-greater-Sydney-or-further-afield post coming soon.