The Wax Conspiracy

The history of Parramatta Road

Them! That’s what they were thought of as they bombed down the mighty Parramatta, the Fibros on their way to challenge and batter the Silvertails.

And once again the waging of class war was facilitated by Parramatta Road – a road beautiful geographically, philosophically and aesthetically. The road was named the Parramatta because it linked the City of Sydney to the City of Parramatta, serving its role as the Eastern-most part of the Great Western Highway. The word is of the Darug people meaning “head of waters” or “the place where the eels lie down,” and as with large measures of Australian history, stolen words are often all that remains of what was here first, a sort of untethered etymology.

As you drive the Parramatta ancient tendrils reach out to you like the eels after which the road was named. To the South, in Strathfield, where the first free settlers were granted land you can see ghostly workers sowing seeds like Michael Jackson clicking his fingers. To the North, Leichhardt, there is a receptacle for an Italian diaspora, a keeper of Catholic morality and old-timey patriarchy. These are but two examples, and the Parramatta is the storyline that runs through Western Sydney, enveloped by a slew of similarly significant suburbs, each with their own morality tales.

It is an odd road, an enigma: the clearway rules are arcane, and lanes appear suddenly only to disappear just as abruptly a few hundred metres down the way. To drive the Parramatta, then – by which is meant driving it well – is a shibboleth, a sign of belonging. To drive the Parramatta well is to be stained by a set of Cartesian coordinates that affix you to a certain time and place: 20th Century, Sydney Inner-West.

Equally arcane are the rules that govern when and where the road will come to a standstill due to heavy traffic. The history of Parramatta Road is the history of disaster mitigated: the M4 and the City West Link Road have, more recently, taken on some of the burden. It’s not enough, though, and Atlas remains burdened.

Ultimately, the Parramatta Road is a bridge, connecting the traditionally well-to-do East with the working-class West. But as these labels have become more diffuse with the former scramble for the coast becoming the general scramble for affordable housing, so has the significance of crossing of the Parramatta East to West and West to East become the province of shamans: augurs to be read in the bellies of hares.

Belvedere Jehosophat

Written on Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Wax Conspiracy


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