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PETERSHAM, SYDNEY – sights for a stay-at-home traveller

Luis Geraldes' wall of tiles, Petersham.

Since I’m not going anywhere exotic for a while, I set myself a little challenge. Can I treat my own Sydney suburb as a tourist destination? Has familiarity bred contempt and blinded me to its charms? Are there worthwhile sights, fascinating stories and must-do experiences on my own doorstep? Lonely Planet fails to mention Petersham. Can I put it on the map?

When the first international visitors arrived from Europe and looked at the area where our house now stands, about five miles from their Sydney Cove landing site, they liked what they saw. Trees – good for boat-building. Mr Thomas Moore snapped up the timber rights, since the Cadigal people who were the traditional owners didn’t seem to be using the forest for anything important as far as he could see.

The first house in Petersham was built on this site in the 1820's, surrounded by a deer park. Parramatta Rd has changed a bit since then.

Then in 1824 the flamboyant barrister Dr Robert Wardell arrived in the new colony, bought 800 hectares of land around our place and built himself a grand house on the site that became Fort St High School. Now it’s sandwiched between Kennard’s Self Storage warehouse and Rick Damelian car yards.

Wardell Rd runs from the Georgiou’s Chocolate Factory down to the golf course at the Cook’s River, where Dr Wardell used to take guests to hunt the deer he’d introduced. They must have been good shots, because the deer are all gone now. Dr Wardell himself was murdered by runaway convicts in 1834, while he was out for a Sunday ride on his estate. The Cook’s River is rather safer these days, and one of my favourite Sunday rides is along the cycleway.

Georgiou’s, on busy New Canterbury Rd, is Petersham’s most popular tourist attraction. It’s an untidy block of a building, but on weekdays buses line up outside it and people on organised shopping tours spill out to buy cheap choccies. Inside it’s a Willy Wonka’s Wonderland of teeth-rotting confectionery from around the world.

New Canterbury Rd, Petersham


New Canterbury Rd is Petersham’s main drag, choked with buses, trucks and cars, overhung with power lines and too narrow to allow much in the way of trendy trattorias. This is a pity, because there are some fine 19th century buildings and small cafes, delis and cake shops which like to seat customers outside. Most manage a small table or two, but the traffic fumes and noise make them unpleasant places to linger.

Over the past couple of decades, Petersham has become Sydney’s Little Portugal. If there’s any reason for visitors to include Petersham on their itinerary, it’s the Portuguese cuisine. Continue reading

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