Category Archives: South Western Sydney

Greenacre Library (ship’s hull)

While this photograph may seem to be of a streetlight, behind it lurks Greenacre Library. Housed in a long and thin building, the library is surrounded by lawn and there is a large park behind it. It’s adjacent to the Early Childhood Centre, a common coupling of community buildings. Never have I noticed an Early Childhood Centre to be open, in my mental map of the city they are small, secret buildings that inside I imagine to be decorated in 1970s style, with lots of posters on the walls.

Conforming to this belief, the Early Childhood Centre was closed, and there was no chance of peeking in through the windows. The library, however, was open.

I waited for a librarian dragging a large blue wheelie bin to enter the library before I stepped inside, to a conversation between librarians about the bins. Around the librarians desk were festoons of stationary available for purchase, which I have seen at no other library, but is a good idea. I once heard tell of a vending machine in a university library that sold stationery, and other things students might need that weren’t food or drinks. Being a fan of vending machines, I hoped to come across such a machine, imagining it to sell things like pens, earplugs, USB sticks, tissues, hand cream, panadol, paperclips…or just pens, as in the example below.

The interior of Greenacre library was easy to imagine as the interior of a ship, as the building is a slight crescent shape, and the walls are wood panelled. I imagined it floating in an ocean of lawn as I surveyed the shelves. I was drawn to the cookbooks section because of a large CWA cookbook. My interest in the CWA had been piqued by a performance art action that I’d gone to see the day before, by the Brown Council. They baked all 137 cakes from one particular CWA cookbook over 90 hours. The book they used was called ‘Jam Drops and Marble Cake’, and featured classic cakes, but the one I looked at had all courses covered. I decided to open up a page at random and see if I would cook the recipe I found there.

Jelly Crystal Biscuits were not what I expected to discover! The recipe was from a woman whose first name was Berris, which seemed like a very CWA name to me, a mixture of Beryl and Phyllis. I looked at the names of the woman who’d provided the recipes: Joyce, Phyllis, Wilma, Bev, Noela…some women were very prolific, Joyce especially.

It was a peaceful day in the library, a few people looking at books, a white-gloved librarian quietly putting books away in the children’s section, and a few people on the computers. I browsed around the non fiction section and got stuck on the unlikely choice of The Book of Awesome.

As I am known to be rather a pessimist at times, my interest in this book might seem unlikely. But I was genuinely curious about what things in life might be termed “awesome”. It’s not a word I use a lot, although I, like many others, overuse its cousin, “amazing”. What experiences are awesome, according to Neil Pasricha? Well, things like: hanging your hand out the car window, sitting next to someone good looking on a plane, when you manage to squeeze out just enough toothpaste for one last brush, and getting into a bed with clean sheets after shaving your legs. All entries end with the word AWESOME in capital letters, a pattern which is upheld on the blog of 1000 Awesome Things. Some of the things on there are silly, but I did laugh at the Man Couch entry. The Book of Awesome was shelved in among the study guides, perhaps as a message of hope to those needing to consult the York notes on To Kill a Mockingbird.

The main decorating motif in the bookshelves which lined the walls were a series of faces with different expressions, hinting to the variety of emotions reading can inspire. How did I feel about the Book of Awesome? Worried that when I drove home with my arm out the window, it would be ripped off by a passing truck.

Before I left Greenacre Library I peeked into a room on the side, which was a study area. A boy sat at a desk, bending over his notebook so much so that his nose was almost touching the paper. It looked like a nice place to study, though, looking out over the lawn outside, where a number of black, glossy crows were pecking at the grass. I left the peaceful hull of the library and went out into the sunshine.



Filed under South Western Sydney

Riverwood Library (Bricks)

I sat under the liquidambar tree beside the library, eating a salad roll. The tree was next to the library carpark and a man was sitting in the driver’s seat of a dark blue Ford, reading a library book. Rather than watch him I turned the other way so I was facing the street and the row of identical tiny brick houses across the street.

These brown brick houses face the white bricks of Riverwood library. I’m fond of the appearance of this library, its 70s brick symmetry, flat roof, series of hedges, and its letterbox (not a feature I’ve noticed at any other library). It looks both solid and inspiring, which was no doubt the aim of the architect.

At the entrance was a bronze plaque that detailed the library’s opening in 1971, as well as two other noticeboards with council information and opening hours, both of the type where little white letters are stuck to the ridged black board behind. This is my favourite kind of noticeboard, it reminds me of the rubber stamps you assemble from individual letters, and would probably be as maddening to change, with an alphabet soup of individual letters to search through. The sign for the opening hours was made up of tiles which clicked into the background:

Inside the library there were a lot of men in caps reading newspapers at the tables, as there usually is. All was as expected. The caps were for some kind of sporting team, or the kind of promotional cap one gets for free. The men were over 50, probably retired, both holding newspapers but having a vigorous conversation in Chinese. Beside the men was a surly teenage boy drinking a Dare choc milk and reading a book about World War 2, whether for school or for pleasure, I don’t know. I suspect the latter as he wasn’t in school uniform and he looked old enough to have left school. The is something unnerving about young war enthusiasts.

I heard a sound I hadn’t expected to in the library: the click clack of a sewing machine. Yes, there was a sewing machine set up in the kids area, near the bookshelf shaped like a caterpillar, and two women were sitting at it. One was giving the other a sewing lesson. Piled up on the table were plastic containers of sewing bits and pieces. The teacher leaned in to inspect her students’ work. Both were quite young, and I wondered whether the sewing lessons were a feature of the library, or a private teacher using the space. I thought of high school sewing lessons and how happy I’d felt when I could thread the machine properly, it made me feel very competant. I still feel competant, on the odd occasion I do it.

With the hum of the sewing machine in the background I looked over the non-fiction books. Riverwood is a reasonably small branch library so I’d be looking at books about self help and then books about how to play tennis, without quite having noticed the shift. I had been having one of those days on which I break my favourite teapot, bump my head on the corner of a cupboard and spill a whole container of Ecco cereal beverage on the floor (and that stuff is sticky, I tell you). Have I done these three things together before? Maybe not. But I knew the type of day well.

For guidance I picked up the book Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World by Barbara Ehrenreich. I’d read her book Nickeled and Dimed about surviving on minimum wage in America and found it pleasingly sparky, but when I opened this book to the dedication and read: “To complainers everywhere: Turn up the Volume!” the thought of living in a world loud with complaints made me shudder. Despite a habit of whinging, I complain publicly rarely, but in fact a few days earlier I’d complained at Marrickville library, in the cranky way of someone who has, for the second time, been told they can’t borrow a book because it is on hold to someone else, even though it is just sitting on the shelf (“Is that how it works,” I said, “you wait until someone wants to borrow it and get them to find it on the shelf for you?” What a grump. Sorry, librarian friends, for being one of those people.)

This poster details attitudes towards librarians! The truth is portrayed as a kind of librarian Vishnu.

Her main argument in the book is that, rather than being forced to be positive, being realistic is a far more useful and healthy attitude. As I pondered this I looked across to the computers. They were fairly close by and I could see what the man closest to me was watching on youtube, “Nuba and Harley mating time”, a video of two Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs mating that has been viewed almost 3 million times. Was his interest personal or professional? I didn’t want to think about it too much.

Over at the desk a jovial conversation about hair was going on between the two men working at the library, a man borrowing books, and another man just chatting. The latter man was wearing a brown and yellow beanie and glasses with thick black frames. He’d been hanging around for a while, concerned with the ergonomics of the librarian’s desk and computer set up. This not getting much of a response he moved onto talk of the librarian’s recent haircut: “Looks a bit better but you didn’t get any on the top.” From this, a long conversation about bald patches ensued, each man rubbing their own bald patch as they spoke.

The atmosphere in Riverwood library was quite loud and jolly, with the sewing lesson, the bald patch conversation, and other sonic interruptions, such as the shuddering every time the automatic door opened. It sounded like a truck had roared past and shaken the windows, which is what I thought it was, at first, before realising it was the automatic door.

I glimpsed the computer screen again – now the man was watching a video of camels mating. I faced the situation with realism and decided I felt a bit disturbed by this, put my book back, and left through the shuddering door to the sunny afternoon outside.


Filed under South Western Sydney

Campsie (Dog Psychology)

Campsie is a place of intense activity. Just walking down the main street you have to have your wits about you to successfully negotiate the crowd without collisions. Whenever I am there I wonder why Campsie, of all places, is so popular. Is it the plentiful $2 shops? The discount chemists? The Asian groceries? Whatever it is, Campsie is a popular place.

I hadn’t looked up the location of Campsie library, as Simon gave me directions. He’s an expert on Campsie, having been the postman there for the last four years. He tells me stories about the “Campsie Street People”, a mix of council garbage collectors, old Eastern European ladies who rescue dogs and cats, and people with preposterous, but real, names.

His directions were “it’s under the shopping centre”. I wondered about this subterranean library, picturing it as a grim basement. I had fought my way along Beamish Street and into the shopping centre, where I followed the signs.

I went down the travelator, past the sesame street ride-on and yet another bargain shop, and saw that I was in the carpark. Thinking I must have gone the wrong way, I went to retrace my steps when I noticed:

Whatever a grease arrestor is, I imagined I would suffer a terrible death if I went through that door, so I chose the library doorway instead. I nervously followed the corridor. I have always had a fear of the fire exits or service corridors of shopping centres, where you are surrounded by concrete and there are no windows. As I approached a door on the right, it swung open automatically, and through here was the foyer of the library.

I could see that there was another entrance to the library, one much more salubrious than the grease arrestor one. I went out the main entrance to make my entrance again.

Outside a man was setting up some milk crates with a display of pens on it, one of those charity operations where the charity that benefits is the person selling you the object. I had uncharacteristically come out without a pen that day, but had already bought a Kilometrico from the newsagent in the shopping centre. The pens in this display were too thick-barrelled for me anyway.

Simon is a regular visitor to Campsie library and I have read many of the books he’s brought home from here, but this was the first time I’d visited. As I would have expected the library is a very busy place, and has a great feeling of industry about it. It is a large space divided up into many different zones, my favourite being the newspaper reading area in the centre of the library. This was the library’s heart as far as I was concerned. At most libraries I have visited there has been one man reading the paper thoroughly, at Campsie library there were a dozen such men.

Almost all of them wore glasses, from years of newspaper reading perhaps. The next most popular accessory was a cap. I sat down and observed the man across from me, who was wearing a cap with the word CRANIUM on it, and looked to be reading a Chinese newspaper, however actually had his eyes shut and was dozing. Quite a few of the men seemed to slip in and out of sleep as they read the papers. My favourite man was a small, skinny Chinese guy with shoulder length hair, a moustache, big glasses with wire frames, a mustard coloured collared shirt tucked into black jeans. He seemed to know a fair few of the other people at his table, the woman knitting a lime green jumper and her friend who was also reading a newspaper.

At the table I was sitting was a pile of Chinese newspapers and an Indian magazine. Sometimes when I find a Chinese newspaper poked down the side of the seat of the train I look through it and try to guess what the stories are about from the pictures. Recently I had a strange experience on a Liverpool line train in which a group of tradesmen sat down near an old Chinese man who was reading a newspaper. One of the tradesmen was particularly hyperactive, and kept getting up and walking to the end of the carriage then coming to sit down again. He was a big Lebanese guy but had the energy and bearing of a hyperactive child, the hugest, most muscular six year old you could imagine. He sat down beside the old man and pretended to read the paper – which was in Chinese – along with him. This was funny for a while, but then the guy snatched the paper from the old man’s hands and continued to “read” it on his own. If the old man was upset, he didn’t show it, he just waited for the paper to be returned to him, which it was a minute or two later, when the guy got bored and stood up again to pace the carriage.

As I was sitting in the newspaper section Simon appeared in his postman guise, enthusiastic that I was at his library. He went to get a National Geographic magazine which had an article about Spirit Bears. It had a lot of full page photographs of the bear and its various antics, eating a salmon, swinging in the trees, peering up over a log. National Geographic magazines seem to belong to the 1980s to me, though it has been published since the 1880s. When I was a child there was a big box of National Geographics in the study, and I’d often look through them and find my favourite pictures. A feature on deep sea fish was a particular favourite. The places featured in the magazines seemed not only removed from me geographically, they seemed to belong to a whole other world. They still have this effect on me, something to do with the style of the photographs, which look too intensely real to actually be real.

Recently I read Tracks by Robyn Davidson. First published in 1980, it’s the story of the author’s travels across the desert with camels. If you haven’t read it, do, especially if you are interested in memoir, because it is one of those stories that lodge in your thoughts, where the author’s voice is strong and honest, and at  the end of the book you miss them. Despite her reservations, she had agreed to have her experience documented by National Geographic. The photographer would fly in for a few days here and there throughout her journey. She writes of the deception of the photographs:

As we approached the car, he lifted his hand, and said in English, ‘No photograph,’ then in Pitjantjara, “It makes me feel sick.’ I laughed. Rick captured that one moment and then desisted. When we had that photo developed much later on, there was a woman smiling at an old Aboriginal man, whose hand was raised in a cheery salute. So much for the discerning eye of the camera. That one slide speaks volumes. Or rather lies volumes. Whenever I look at it now, it sums up all the images of the journey. Brilliant images, exciting, excellent, but little to do with reality.

It must be difficult to photograph people. The spirit bear, despite the possibility of it eating you, is an easier subject in some ways. It’s strange to think that now, out in wildernesses the world over, there are nature photographers lurking with cameras at the ready, waiting.

I’d brought my laptop to the library, hoping to catch up on some emails and other internet business, but this was a mistake. When Simon left I went up to the desk to ask about the wireless access. The librarian asked if I was a member of the library, and when I said no he suggested (in the way of “suggested donation”) that I join. I filled in a form and gave it to another librarian, who told me to wait for a few minutes while she prepared my card.

While I was waiting I sat in the magazine section. The magazines were housed in perspex boxes that reminded me of the containers for pick and mix lollies,  as they seemed similarly ingenious to me. The most recent issue of the magazine was propped up on the front of the box, and you lifted it up the panel at the front to access the magazines inside. I didn’t look at the magazines though, I picked a few craft books off the shelves of new non-fiction books and sat down at one of the tables. The first book I’d picked up was called Creative Walls.

It seemed to be a book about how to put things on walls, and I’d picked it up to check if there were any secrets to it that I hadn’t figured out for myself. Basically, you either put something in a frame and put it on a wall, or you hang an object on a wall. Of course the way that you do this is where the art and skill of wall decorating comes into play. You can group things thematically or by colour, for example. The book was subtitled “how to display your collections”, and the book showed collections of animal skulls on walls, vintage sport team photographs on walls. My favourite wall decoration area has always been above my desk, as this is where I put important or inspiring or totemic objects. I forgot to read what the book had to say about blu-tack, but my guess is it wouldn’t be too complimentary. It would suggest instead a visit to the hardware shop with credit card to buy fancy adhesive systems.

The other book I’d chosen was about making vaguely steampunk objects from Epoxy clay. I don’t think I need to make any specific comments, all I will show you of it is this bathroom. The guy who made it spent three years making it out of Epoxy clay.

I put the books back on the shelf and went over to see what was happening with my library card. The woman was still filling in my details but had left her desk to do something else, so someone else took over…and then someone else took over…”I’ve met everyone!” I said when the original man came back and finally I had the slip of paper with the wireless password on it.

As with a number of other libraries, such as Turramurra, the wireless internet was slow and patchy, and unable to cope with gmail. I reloaded pages for a while before giving up. Things had turned for me in Campsie library. I’d started off feeling good but mid afternoon exhaustion was upon me and I’d just spent twenty minutes waiting for a password to non functioning wireless internet. This was perhaps the least exciting activity I’d engaged in for some time. I’m no technophobe, but digital technology has never functioned well for me. I feel for electric people.

I put my computer away and went to browse the non-fiction. I’d already wandered around the fiction section, again coming across 88 Lines for 44 Women and other familiar new releases. Above the shelves the new or popular books were on display, among them Finnegan’s Wake. In the pamphlet I’d been given when I signed up I noted the borrowing period was a standard 3 weeks. You would need to renew Finnegan’s Wake a number of times to get through it, if you got through it at all. Many years ago I set myself the task of reading Finnegan’s Wake. I ended up reading most of it out loud in order to concentrate on it, and also to understand more of it as it makes slightly more sense aloud. I was quite entranced by it but I had little idea what was going on most of the time. I inspected the library’s copy of Finnegan’s Wake. I liked imagining Campsie library patrons borrowing it. Who would they be? I looked around at the girl working through a pile of diabetic cookbooks and the guy sitting on the chair nearby, shiftily sending a text message, but then I realised: it was people like me who would borrow such a book. I couldn’t see that person in the library because I was that person. I inspected the pages, noting that the first half of the book had been far more thoroughly read than the second half. There is a lot you can tell about a book from the wear on the pages and the spine. It is particularly easy to tell if it has only been read a few chapters in. The read part of the book looks handled, and the rest is neat (or “tight” as I believe they say in secondhand book parlance).

In the non-fiction section I found myself looking at books like Psychic Empowerment for Everyone, and then, moving along the shelf a little, How to be a Dog Psychic and Psychic Pets. The week before I’d been waiting for the traffic lights to change when I looked over to the nearest car, which had an ad for Bowen Therapy for Pets on the exterior. I looked at the woman in the driver’s seat, thinking wow, she is a pet whisperer. I had never seen a real pet whisperer before. I too could become a pet whisperer if I read How to be a Dog Psychic. Instead I moved on to the next aisle, which had self help books. Crappy to Happy, books about death… self help makes me feel anxious. I’m sure there are good ones out there, but whenever I open one at random it is either telling me something that I already know – e.g. exercise is good for you – or seems to be written in cushioning, patronising tones. In the brief period where I worked in a bookshop I was surprised how many people came in asking for specific self help titles. When no one was in the store I’d go and look at these books myself and try to understand how they could be helpful. I am sure there is a book about my resistance to self help that might help me.

Everywhere I turned were books about self help, psychic powers or dogs. I decided I’d look at books about cars. I started learning to drive earlier this year, after a long time of not even thinking about driving, and a bit of time feeling miserable that I couldn’t do it and was getting too old to not know how to do it. Now I had finally attained the highlight of any 17 year old’s life, passing my driving test.  Being the swot that I am, I wanted to see what kind of books there were about cars and driving. Surely I’d escaped self help and dogs here.

There were lots of books about motorbikes but this was the only one about driving. I think that as a driver I am most like the pug. My brow furrowed with concentration, innocuous to other drivers. In a few years I hope to be the poodle. I opened the book at the index but didn’t want to read about “the secrets of late merging revealed” or “what we can learn from ants, locusts and crickets”.

On the opposite shelf were books like Your Dog Interpreter, and it was at this point I decided I was not going to escape dogs or self improvement while I was in the non-fiction section of Campsie Library.

I went to check on the newspaper area. There were a few new readers, one man I noticed in particular, who was wearing flipdown sunglasses with the sunglass part flipped up, a Commonwealth bank cap, a black and white collared shirt with a bold pattern and a purple woollen vest. He was holding a plastic bag with many bulbs of garlic in it, and reading a newspaper. A number of people in the library could qualify for this blog.

It was then I noticed the Reference area at the back of the library, which was a separate room set aside for private study and for the reference and local studies collections. The mood in here was very serious, it would be a good place to study if you needed to. A row of desks was filled with people working, including, as there always is, the one person who keeps looking around, desperate for someone to distract them. He kept looking over to me as I examined the local history books. One thing I love about this section is the DIY style of some of the books.

Mr Oatley the Celebrated Watchmaker, for example, has a hand drawn and lettered cover and the text inside is typewritten. It is quite a beautiful object, carefully handmade. I particularly like the books that are bound with cloth tape. In many cases they don’t have the name on the spine so you have to pull them out to see what they are. Often they are on a topic of such specificity you can’t imagine how the writer even ended up there.

After a quick examination of the local history pamphlet area, in which someone seemed to have stuffed their unwanted mail, I left the reference section, smiled upon the newspaper readers one last time, and noticed the starkest Christmas tree I have seen in a public place this season on my way out.

Maybe they were yet to decorate it. Much more festive was the giant drum locked in a glass cabinet near the entrance.

I borrowed the National Geographic for further investigation of the spirit bears, then left the library and went out to join the crowd on Beamish Street.

1 Comment

Filed under South Western Sydney

Campbelltown Library (Field of the Cloth of Gold)

It can take a long time to get out of Sydney, no matter which way you travel. If you start from the centre and move south west, it is not until hours later that the last housing developments disappear from sight and you have properly escaped. Just before this point, there is Campbelltown.

One of the things I love about travelling into the suburbs by train is watching how the view changes. In this direction the land flattens out and for a while the train line follows the Georges River (boys are fishing off the weir). I watched earthmovers pick at a vast tip, with plastic and debris mixed into the earth, and how the strips of shops became more run down and heavily fortified. As the train passed Minto, I spied this out the window:

It was beautifully deliberate, the collection of faded toy horses on the roof and the neat lines spelling HANK. Who had done this?

There is a library at Minto but I decided to visit the main library in Campbelltown, the HJ Daley Central library. HJ Daley was the ‘clerk with the “velvet fist”‘  who was Campbelltown’s town clerk for 41 years, as I learnt when I clicked on the “Who was H.J Daley?” link on the library website. It was a question I wanted to know the answer to.

Campbelltown is a place that’s aware of its history, well, its colonial history at least, as many of its historic buildings have been preserved. It’s 50 kilometres from the centre of Sydney, further away than some major cities in other countries. Osaka and Kyoto in Japan, for example, are closer than the Sydney CBD and Campbelltown. This distance perhaps gives Campbelltown a stronger sense of its identity as a place, as a settlement or an outpost. Had I been sitting on a plane for the same amount of time I would have alighted in Melbourne, but instead I was pushing my ticket through the gate at Campbelltown station, and starting my walk to the library. I passed a vague and ghostly image of the far away Sydney city:

And a bulky 80s cinema, the letters on the sign decaying, and all tickets $6.

I passed by the crowd at the bus stop where you could catch buses to mysterious places like Appin and Smeaton Grange, and kept walking. I could see the library up ahead. I was too far away to read the sign but I could tell by the architecture, a 90s “villa” style building on a street corner, with a large carpark beside it. Carparks are another feature of these outer suburbs, often covering a greater area than the buildings which they service. For the non-driver, nothing feels more outer suburban than a long walk beside a busy road, or walking across a field, trying not to calculate how much further it is to one’s destination.

Inside the library the displays from History Week were still up. In early September I had intended to visit Hurstville library during History week, as there was an exhibition of cake decorating implements and decorated cakes. That week I came down with a bad cold and could only leaf miserably through my History Week program, until the day came when I was still sick and had missed every event. The decorated cakes would have been packed up and sent back to wherever decorated cakes go.

In Campbelltown library there were three glass cases near the entrance that held different cooking utensils from the past.  Signs displayed the slogan “Feast on History”: this year History Week had been food themed. There were some interesting things in the cabinets, an old Smiths crisps box – like a cereal box, which was a nice way for chips to be packaged, I thought. Other items had good names like the “bully beef can opener”, or were pleasingly specific, like the ice cream soda spoons, which were teaspoon in size except for their long handles. Other items were more incongruous:

Toilet roll dolls are something I rarely see in people’s bathrooms, although no doubt people collect them. There has most likely been a “my toilet roll doll collection” spread in Frankie magazine by now. I used to have one, which I inherited from my grandparents’ house. In fact she did come in rather useful sometimes, when the toilet paper ran out and, instead of despairing, I remembered the doll and how she was hiding a spare roll under her skirt. At some point, however, my toilet roll doll disappeared. (Actually I just had to check whether she was still in the bathroom – I have so much stuff it can be hard to keep track of.) She would get dusty sitting there in the bathroom, and I felt kind of sorry for her. Who would want to spend their entire existence in the bathroom? The toilet roll doll always looked cheerful but I imagined her secret identity as a miserable eastern European toilet attendant.

Also on display was a questionnaire which had been asked of various important Campbelltown locals, coupled with their photos. Quite a number of people responded “Rissoles” to “What was your favourite food as a child?”, and my favourite response to “What food did you eat as a child which is not around today?” was:

I imagined this man giving in to his potato scallop craving, only to be disappointed by their stingy size, and wishing he was back in the days of “good” scallops. I have not eaten a potato scallop for a long time. I used to buy them in high school while waiting for the bus home, but only because it was something that other people did, and it seemed like I should do it too. Then, later, I lived in a sharehouse where sometimes we’d drive very late at night to the greasy Somewhere Else takeaway in Glebe to buy half a dozen potato scallops, which we’d been bullied into calling “potato cakes” by our Victorian ringleader, because he had a craving. Now I am confident enough to think for myself, I can admit that I don’t like them. Why not just drink some oil instead?

Campbelltown library is a popular place. Everywhere I looked people were busy. Most of the librarians could be found behind the main desk, which was a circular island at the entrance. Although it was a cool day a pedestal fan was on to one side of the desk. Watching the constant activity of the librarians, being asked for pens, wireless access tickets, checking out books and answering phones, I imagined it could get hot behind there.

Off the main room, which housed the majority of the book collection, was the reference area and the quiet study area. Most of the desks were taken by HSC students studying for their exams. I could tell their exams were soon, because most of them seemed to actually be studying, rather than sending text messages or staring off into the distance. I looked for a desk to sit at. When I found one I realised why the it had been vacant. It was directly in the sight line of the reference librarian, a stern looking man standing behind a computer. All I could see of him was his hair and his glasses. I should not assume his character, he was probably a very nice man. The desk, however, conferred upon him a stern authority. Above his head was a banner: “Good Luck with your exams to all our HSC students from Campbelltown City Library”.

I felt sorry for the studying kids. When looking over their shoulders on the way to my desk I saw their thick pages of notes, and remembered the seemingly endless process of revision required for exams. One boy had a network of boxes on his page, which was filled with tiny handwriting. The subjects I did best in at the HSC were history and maths. For history I drew my entire notes in a kind of hieroglyphic code, a sort of symbolic comic strip. Maths is another language to me now, although this pattern, of my abilities falling in between things, has continued in my life. Zines, for example, are similarly inbetween.

To my right were a group of three girls, and, separated from them by a row of reference books, was a group of three boys. The girls were all wearing matching school jerseys and had their schoolbooks stuffed into their handbags. Their handbags were as big as they could possibly be while still being able to be called handbags. Of all the students, they were doing the least study.

On the other side of the bookcases, the boys were involved in a serious discussion of love and theology. They were a mismatched group. The boy with the loudest voice had long hair and bad acne. He kept fluffing up his hair while saying things like “completing the circle can be done”. Next to him was a guy with his hair tightly cornrowed, who said nothing and just listened to the first guy argue with the third, a boy with short hair and a quiet voice.

I decided I’d move from the study area into the newspaper reading area, which had the papers in a rack and a number of armchairs around a low table. Beside this area was a row of study cubicles, which resembled a row of phone booths. Each was an individual cell for intensive study, and each was occupied. I could see the guy in the end cubicle, hunched forward, not blinking, his face lit up by the fluorescent light above the desk. These cubicles I found rather frightening, a kind of hothouse environment, or a battery farm for students.

The theological discussion was continuing. I could see the boys through a gap above the Australian history books on the shelf between us. I could also see the “Quiet Please” sign hanging above their heads. The loud one was explaining what platonic love was to the quiet one, before moving on to arguing about how “love completes you”. I wondered whether he was one of those students who sounded confident, yet wrote bad essays, or was indeed as assured in his arguments as he made out.

As I sat there listening and observing, a librarian approached and replaced the Sydney Morning Herald on the table in front of me, as if I had been waiting for it. What important world events were happening today?

I was sitting next to the local studies room, which had a big poster for the Fisher’s Ghost festival. The story of Fisher, a farmer who was murdered in the early 19th century, and whose ghost was seen by the creek, pointing to the place where his body had been buried, is a popular local legend. The Fisher’s ghost poster pictured a more Ghostbusters kind of ghost, however. The festival has a street parade in which I hope people dress up as ghosts. I think every year the parade has a different theme, though.

I was tiring of the boys’ discussion and went back out into the main room of the library. Here I followed people around, curious about what books they were in search of. A couple were looking for books about camping. One of them, the man, was one of those guys who is bald but has a thick beard. This kind of upside down business I have always thought to be a strange look. He was less interesting in the camping books, and as he stood there his phone burst out with a piercing ringtone. His conversation on the phone was loud and was sprinkled with “mate”.

I moved off to the seating area in the centre of the library. Here a girl was picking out children’s books for what must have been an early childhood assignment, and showing them to her mum. I had wondered at their relationship, thinking perhaps the older woman was a tutor, but then when I looked closely I saw they had almost exactly the same face. She must have had the assignment to find kids books that were about particular issues, as she was listing topics like “not being able to go to sleep”, and “death of a grandparent”.

Another voice started up, a man on the phone who was having what sounded to be a grim conversation. “… I’ve been depressed…a lot of things on my mind… wasn’t an easy decision… potentially serious and embarrassing…” As hard as I tried, I couldn’t work out exactly what he was talking about. He squatted down in the graphic novel section, a piece of paper with an official letterhead clutched in his hand.

This section of the library was the place where people came to talk on the phone about serious life issues. No sooner had this man finished his call when a woman sat near me and started talking about her job. “I’ll work there if there’s no other choice…” I decided I was in the crisis zone and moved off to the magazine area. It was quieter over there. Like in many other libraries, there was a coffee machine. On the side was a sign that said “All Coffees made fresh from the bean”. I couldn’t imagine using the coffee machine in a library. I would wince as it went through its cycle of noises, and feel too self conscious to enjoy the cup of chicken soup, or “Kaffee au lait” in all its bilingual glory. At the nearby table, however, a man was sitting with an empty takeaway cup in front of him, reading a magazine, so some people must not be as reticent as me.

I walked through the shelves again and noticed a boy wearing a long black coat, looking at the Chinese books. The one he had open had a lot of Chinese characters and the words MAN IN BOX in large letters in the centre. A few shelves along, in the large print section, a woman with a lot of teddy bear key rings hanging off her handbag browsed romance books.

Campbelltown library has a lot of history books and I browsed through these for a while. As I came across the book “Bodies in the Bog” a strong wave of deja vu passed over me and I tried to trace it back to something in particular. No, the feeling stayed weird and rootless. Maybe I had drowned in a peat bog in a previous life. I moved on from this area and picked out a couple of books about English history. The history section was well populated with old books, some of which I couldn’t imagine anyone borrowing. These books, in their red binding, looked and smelled like Bibles, and I had a flashback to my few visits to churches as a child.

Things were getting far too Proustian, so I picked out a few books and headed back to the crisis zone, which had settled down and was quiet again. I opened “Royal Children, 1840-1980” by Celia Clear on the table in front of me and began to read. I have little interest in the British royal family, but I’d picked out this book in the hope of reading about the least well known royal children, the weirdos and weaklings who never made it even close to the throne.

My attention was stolen by a man standing nearby. He was holding a biography of Denis Lillee and looking around for somewhere to sit. He was a bit of an odd man, with his shirt unbuttoned almost the whole way down to his belly, and I wasn’t happy when he sat down in the seat next to me. The four chairs were arranged around a table, so I was in the south chair, while he was in the east, so it wasn’t like he was sitting weirdly close. I just had a suspicion that he wasn’t actually going to read the Dennis Lillee book. I could tell he was using it as a prop.

I was right. After I spent a long time staring at the family tree of the British royal family, trying to work out where Princess Alexandra of Wales fit in, I looked up to see the man holding the Dennis Lillee book up as if he was reading it, with his eyes peeking up over the top. He wasn’t looking at anyone in particular, just looking around the library at everyone sitting reading or browsing the shelves, as if waiting for something to happen. Perhaps I’d worked him out so quickly because he was doing something similar to me.

Not wanting him to notice that I’d seen through his ruse, I started to read the chapter “Darling Motherdear” about Princess Alexandra, who was Queen Victoria’s daughter in law. She had quite a number of children, Queen Victoria’s grandchildren. Often when I open up these kinds of books I quickly find an odd fact and this time was no exception:
“The nanny, Nurse Blackburn, was so fond of Prince Eddy that she kept his first tooth and set it among turquoises in a ring.”

Further down the page, Nurse Blackburn was being terrorised by Eddie’s three sisters, who “once… described by Victoria as ‘poor frail little fairies’ grew into rampaging little girls who Nurse Blackburn could scarcely control”. I can imagine poor Nurse Blackburn absent mindedly rubbing the tooth ring and thinking about Eddy as the girls ran riot through the grounds, and kicked the gardener in the shins.

While I was reading the book, a family started to browse the DVDs. Everyone had come along, all three generations. The grandparents, parents, and three sons. “What are you going to watch?” asked the dad of the grandfather, who replied “One Foot in the Grave”, and wheezed out a laugh. The grandfather was wearing a thick navy blue jumper and had a walking stick which spread out into four feet at the bottom for added stability. He looked at the DVDs for a while before coming to sit down on the other side of me.

At the adjacent set of chairs sat his grandkids, three boys who were absorbed in playing on their phones. They were being guarded by grandma, who stood over them, as if ready to come to their defence.

The other book I’d picked out was “The Early Tudors at Home” by Elizabeth Burton. I opened it to a random page and read:
“Farting too was a subject much dwelt upon in riddles and jests, as was excrement.” (Un)fortunately, no examples were given. This was in the chapter “Of Pleasures and Pastimes”. I could imagine the joy with which the primary school student chanced upon those lines, which perhaps explained why the book opened to that page straight away.

More interesting to me than Tudor fart jokes were the illustrations, particularly the tents of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Line drawings make history seem so romantic. The reality was no doubt much more dangerous and odorous.

While I am no fan of Henry VIII, I laughed at his series of suits of armour, from youth to old age. The progression from skirt, to pants with codpiece must have been frightening for those around him, as suddenly ones eyes are drawn to the genitals whether we like it or not.

Looking up, the grandfather was flipping through a science magazine, while keeping a stern eye on the Dennis Lillee guy, who was still peering out from behind the book, as obviously as before. I got up and went to find somewhere to photograph the covers of the two books I’d been reading.

I chose the photocopy room, which was a small, quiet room with a glass wall looking out over the reference and study area. The photocopier hummed beside me as I photographed the cover of the book. Also in the room was a big paper guillotine, on a bench with a purpose-built hole in the top in which to put the offcuts. I resisted the urge to peek in, but I did peek into the bin near my feet which had discarded photocopies in it. On top was a series of pages printed from a blog, comments about banning smoking in Harbour Town, which must be in Adelaide as the people making comments were called “Harry of Adelaide” and “Sick of Adelaide”. According to them, online shopping is the solution for non-smokers (as you can avoid the fumes) and smokers (who can avoid being discriminated against). Of all the reasons to shop online, these are the weirdest.

I took photos of the book covers and left them beside the photocopier, feeling guilty. I hadn’t seen anywhere to leave books for reshelving, so this would have to do. Is this annoying for librarians? I hoped not, and maybe someone coming in to photocopy something would find the early Tudors interesting.

On the way out I noticed another display alongside the one for History Week, this one a noticeboard for Dementia Week, with information about the disease pinned to it. They were strange ones to have side by side, I thought. I examined the books in the book sale but found nothing of interest. Most of them were ex-library books from the medical section, and I imagined all the layers of despair that must be stuck to the pages.

Outside, I started walking across the grass towards the intersection. There was a memorial wattle grove at the side of the library, for those who had died a tragic death, or died from workplace accidents or asbestos exposure and I paused there for a moment, thinking about the network of outermost suburbs that surround Campbelltown. Many of the cars which passed by would eventually pull into driveways beside houses in suburbs which are almost at the limit of maps. When I lived in the northwest as a child I would look at the street directory and see that there was only one map square between me and where the maps ended. It was exciting to be so near the city’s boundary. Beyond it I imagined a wild place, both thrilling and terrifying.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fringes of Sydney, South Western Sydney

Padstow and Panania (potplants)

Upon stepping into the Padstow library, eager to read the announcements on the community noticeboard that faced the entrance, I was accosted by a woman. She had a newspaper folded under her arm, and was on her way to the toilet cubicle that lay to the right of the entrance. Throughout our conversation she went as if to go into the cubicle, but then would come back with another question.

She was interested in my clothes, my stockings in particular.

“Grass green stockings! They’re a real grass green. Have you been rolling in the grass?” she asked.

I looked down. I would have called my stockings sickly olive, rather than grass, but she marvelled over their colour so much I thought it wise to agree.

“No, but they are grassy.”

“Where did you get them from?”
“An op shop, ” I said, wondering if this answer would disappoint her.

“Were they new?” she asked.

“They were still in the packet, but they were from the 80s judging by the packet design.”

“Oh yes, I understand. They look great with those shoes,” she said, indicating my black Mary Janes, “Where are they from?”


“I’m a Melbourne girl – though I’ve lived here for 30 years. Where in Melbourne?”

“Collingwood.” I wondered how specific this was going to get.

She started to sing what I imagine must be the theme song of the Collingwood Magpies before breaking off to say “actually, I’m from Carlton”.

She goes on to review my outfit from the feet up.

“I don’t like the skirt.”

“It’s a dress,” I said, “so there’s more of it to hate.”

“It would be better with a black skirt – or shorts – and a black turtleneck, The sunglasses are good too, where are they from?”

“Japan,” I said, feeling awful, like one of those people whose trendy outfits get dissected in magazines. I was a cliche just like them, with my mixture of things from op shops, things from boutiques (though it was just the shoes, I never buy clothes new) and something I bought in another country.

“Yes,” she said, “I saw you straight away, if you wear all black with the grass green stockings, it will be a great outfit. A real grass green,” she continued to wonder, as she finally went into the bathroom with her newspaper.

I turned to enter the library to the stares of the people using the computers nearby. Having never been to Padstow library before, I hadn’t realised that my conversation would have been loud and distracting to anyone inside the small library, just metres away.

Suitably embarrassed, I quickly sat at one of the study tables and got out my books and my computer, ready to do some work.

I had been to Padstow once before, out of curiousity, seeing it on the front of a bus on a day when I was out op shopping. In search of the library I’d gone over to the side of the station where the op shops are (or were, one had gone, leaving only the little old Red Cross store, which was empty apart from the voices of the women in the back room, talking about nursing homes) thinking the library was there. Actually, it was on the other side of the station, in a park, beside a little Early Childhood centre, many of which must have been built in the 1950s – 1970s, in the same drive towards civic architecture which produced many of Sydney’s branch libraries.

The Padstow library is a pale brick building, with big mirrored windows that reflect the street. From the inside, though, you can look out at the cars and people going past through these windows, as you sit at one of the study desks.

Sitting in front of me was a boy with geometrical designs on his hoodie, studying maths, and in front of him, a girl studying Chinese history. She was established at her table, a constellation of useful objects – books, pencils, water bottle, hairbands, stationery – surrounded her. I had work to do also, but any work I did was interspersed with close study of the library and its atmosphere.

Padstow library has a lot of indoor plants, which makes the library feel comfortable, like a living room. The plants are in pots on top of the shelves, among the announcements for things like the Seniors screening of Sweeney Todd. At the end of some of the shelves of books were collages promoting Fantasy books, with reading mermaids and flying books.

I watched a girl with a long long plait browse the fiction shelves, a copy of The Arrival under her arm. Another woman was looking at the New Age section, pulling out a book called “Mythology of the Incas” and staring at the cover for a long time, before selecting a book about women’s empowerment by Louise Hay. Louise Hay, queen of affirmations, comes up in our house sometimes, as I recall particular parts of her most well known book, You Can Heal Your Life, where she talks to herself in the mirror every day with loving affirmations, and, if she does get angry, takes it out on a pillow. I think Miranda July has read some Louise Hay books, they weirdly remind me of each other although one is a self help guru and the other is an artist.

Outside the library, two teenage girls were walking past. They were wearing matching outfits: cut off shorts and singlets, with big collared shirts over it all. One girl had a packet of Twisties in her hand, and a half eaten Twistie in the other. I wondered where they must be going, but they were just wandering, as a few minutes later they walked back across, stopping to preen in the mirrored surface of the library’s window, unable to see me staring out at them from behind it.

It was school holidays and kids were everywhere. On the train, as I travelled along the East Hills line (the train line of Sydney I’ve had least experience with), I watched two kids clinging to a wire fence that separated the train tracks from a playground. I had wanted them to wave, and was ready to wave back, but they were caught up in their own private world, the fence the boundary to some game. Then I felt afraid of school holidays, and wondered whether this would impact on the libraries and their peacefulness.

No, it turns out. Apart from the two teenagers in front of me, there was one other girl, studying at the opposite end of the library. She looked as if she were suffering, every few seconds lifting her head from her page and sighing, casting looks of despair out to the rest of the room. A number of times I caught her eye and quickly looked away, in case I was afflicted with her lassitude. It had been a while since I’d seen such pure boredom, although some of my students come close sometimes. Occasionally one of mine will even fall asleep though, which I guess is the apex of boredom.

By contrast, I was very busy. I typed away at my computer, working for a while before packing up and going to inspect the shelves. Like many public libraries, the books had stickers on their spines to show their genre. I particularly liked the Mills and Boon section. This library also had a vast Large Print section, revealing, perhaps, the demographic who borrow most.

The shelves that lined the walls were illuminated by lights, above which were the subject you could find on that particular shelf. The Animals section was larger than I thought it would be, although having looked in one of Sydney airport’s bookshop a few weeks earlier, I had been surprised by the size of its animal section – there are a lot of books written about animals. The only books I have read about animals are Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg (about the genius African Grey parrot) and Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson. If I ever want to look into the topic further however, there are plenty more. The most common animal books seem to be about dogs, cats, lions and monkeys. Perhaps there is an opening for me to write a book about the bond between me and the rabbit here.

I tore my eyes away from Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods and went to set up a position at the other end of the library, near the bored girl. Here, rather than the small, windowside individual study tables, were large tables that could seat a number of people. There were also red baskets, with the sign “Customer Baskets, for your convenience”, which made me think of the supermarket. This library did have a number of things on sale, including library bags and bookmarks, but the baskets were for books. No one who I saw enter picked up one of these baskets.

From this position I could see the screen of the man who was sitting at one of the computers. He was going through the practise driver knowledge test that you have to do prior to getting your learner driver’s license. Having done one of these myself not so long ago (I have done this test a number of times, and passed it every time, got a learners license, then failed to learn to drive). This man didn’t look like someone who needed to learn to drive. He was a tanned, stocky man in his forties, with a thick neck and tribal tattoos on his arms, but maybe people look at me and think I look like I know how to drive too – what does a driver look like?

I watched him for a while: the clunky graphics of this test, the kind that makes you feel stupid because the buttons you have to click on are so large, was easy to read from across the room. The whole time I’d been in the library, a woman had been bustling around, straightening the shelves and putting back books. For an hour she had done nothing but this, although the library was already in impeccable order. The room resounded with the clop – clop sound of books being rearranged on shelves from her manic shelf-straightening.

The other staff were in the rooms behind the counter, access to which was through a doorway with a KEEP READING sticker on the lintel. Painted on the glass panel above this were the words Fuel Your Mind (fuelling, freeing, the library is a busy place for the mind).

I looked down at the book of Japanese cookery open on the table in front of me. Having been in Japan and eaten all sorts of delicious and curious things, I was eager to try to cook some of these things on my own. This book was big and heavy with large colour photos of each dish. In general I prefer cookbooks without photographs, so what you are cooking remains somewhat a mystery, but these are harder to find. I chose one recipe that seemed appealing and thought about transcribing it, until I read:

This sticky rice dish, sekihan, is cooked for special occasions and takes 8 hours to prepare.

Eight hours! As I marvelled over this, the man on the computer got a call on his phone. His ringtone was a wild, funky explosion of music and he took his time in answering.

“I’m in the library practising my test… I’m kicking bum… What happened over the road with the coppers?”

I listened avidly, but there was no clue in his next comment as to what the coppers had been doing.

I’d been wondering how he was going on his driving test – it was good to know he was kicking bum. He’d been working his way through it slowly, reading every word on the screen carefully. I decided that I would stay in the library until he finished it, before I moved on.

It was 1:50pm, the time that seems to come in every library (although the actual time is different in different libraries) when the men come to the library. “Man Time”, I call it. Old men, in caps and bright cable knit jumpers. Young men, wanting computer access. Men who know the librarians personally and are after books about coin collecting.

I stopped gawking at everyone in the library and concentrated on the book I’d picked out from the shelf, “365 Everyday Games and Pastimes” by Martin and Simon Toseland. I like looking through such books, although in actual fact I hate playing games. Word games are the worst, compounded by the fact that, because I’m a writer, people expect me to enjoy them. This is not an unreasonable assumption, but my trouble with them is that they make my mind freeze up, like sometimes when I have to spell words aloud. Added to my lack of competitiveness – oh, so you want to win this game of snakes and ladders? go right ahead – I’m a sourpuss when it comes games time.

I don’t want to be like this, somewhere in my fantasies is the image of a smoky night in the 1930s, where a version of myself and my fantastic friends drink brandy, smoke, and play party games to our hearts content. In the book I read about the word game called “Buried Names”. In this game, you bury a name of a famous person in a sentence. The example given was:

One DAy I was watching a VIDeo when I was BECKoned into the kitchen by my mum, who asked if I wanted a cheese or HAM sandwich.

You read this sentence out and people have to guess whose name is buried in the sentence. On paper, I found this interesting, but it would drive me crazy if I were to be asked to play this, especially if liquor was involved. All I ever want to do when drinking is talk on and on, and listen to records.

Another book I investigated was a collection of quotes about books. I looked in the index to see what kind of quotes there were about libraries.

As I scanned over these topics a girl came through the door, smiling in my direction. She wasn’t after me, though, she was on her way to her friend, the painfully bored girl sitting behind me. I could feel the relief as they greeted each other, and the sound of books being shut and being packed into her bag was a sound of great happiness, even for me. I hate seeing people bored.

They headed out the door together, off into the sunny, cold afternoon. It was a particularly nice winter’s day, and the sunny view outside tugged at me, as the peace of the library tugged at me to stay. How was he going with his driver’s test?

He was still clicking through the screens, in the portion of the test where your comprehension of roadsigns is tested. This is the easiest part of the test, in my opinion. How can you mistake a big red sign with STOP on it? The man was having no trouble answering these questions, and I knew it would be time for me to leave soon.

One of the books I had picked out was a tiny copy of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I’d read this book before, but I was intrigued by its pocket size – it was the full book, shrunk down so it could fit in the palm of my hand. This book had been much read, its pages weathered and stained.  On the front page was a stamp which gave the details of when the book was acquired. Some library books have this stamp, and I always pay it attention. I am the kind of person who takes time reading all the extra information in a book – the acknowledgements, the bio, the pages of quotes, the copyright information, in addition to the text itself, so it is natural I would enjoy knowing when the library acquired their books. This led me to another thought – you can’t fully enjoy a library unless you are the kind of person who appreciates details.

Perhaps my favourite detail in Padstow library, apart from the plants, was sign instructing patrons to look after the library books. I’d never seen such an explicit plea to be careful, and keep the books away from water, food, coffee – all the things that muck them up.

The man at the computer leaned back and stretched his arms forward, releasing the tension in his shoulders now that he had passed his test. I could see the green text on the screen announcing his success. He sat forward again, and clicked on the screen to do another practise test. No way was I sitting through that again! I left the library, pausing to take a photo of myself in the reflective windows the teenage girls had used as a mirror.

Note the grass green stockings.

I had ten minutes to wait for a train, so went on a quick search for a jam tart. Every project I do has some kind of signature food; for this project, it’s jam tarts. I am surprised, though, by the number of bakeries that don’t make them. The Padstow Bakehouse didn’t, although it did have a pleasingly faded sign and window display. Outside the bank next door, a little boy stood holding two shiny silver fake guns, pointed at the door as if about to hold it up. I looked around for someone to laugh about this with, but no one else had noticed.

When planning which library to visit, I had decided on Padstow by a kind of automatic process, where the name just floated into my consciousness. Padstow is part of the Bankstown library family, which also includes Panania. I’d never been to Panania, and thought today would be a good day to do so. It is a few stops further on, from Padstow. What would I find there?

The rat-tail thugs outside the chicken shop made me nervous as I walked past them up towards Panania library. I didn’t know anything about Panania, and felt a sudden spark of worry that it was a “dangerous” place. Although I am wary of stereotypes and judgements of places based on their socio economic profile, the thing about Panania was that I didn’t know anything at all about it. For the people on the streets around me it was home, the centre of their universe. This is one of the things I like about exploring different places. I am an outsider in the centre of others’ universes.

The universe of Panania is one of multiple bread and fruit shops, old ladies sitting talking on park benches, council rangers with dogs on leads, the Panania Treasure Mart and its 50% off sale, and kids running wild in their front gardens, which, fenceless, overlap with the footpath. Further down the street, an old man in a tartan cap pushed a creaky petrol mower over the grass on the nature strip. He paused as I passed by, and I went to smile at him but he averted his eyes.

At one of Panania’s bakeries I found my jam tarts and strolled up to the Salvos, eating them. I have a strong op shop radar, which enables me to find them even in places I have never been to before. It was very busy in the Salvos. As I looked through the bric a brac a girl near me asked her mum if she could have the metal coin bank patterned with a $20 note she held in her hands, since her sister had one. “No,” her mum said. The girl wasn’t disappointed. “Oh well, I’m getting a book and a wig!”

Some women were standing near the counter, gossiping about a couple who’d married during a siege somewhere in the world. “He’s a good man but…” one trailed off, “not bright,” said her friend, stepping in to help.

I thought of this poor, not bright chap as I bought my Dolly Parton record from the grumpy woman behind the counter. She didn’t offer me a bag and I spend the rest of the day walking around with Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits under my arm, feeling self conscious.

After op shopping, I went back to the library. Panania library must have been built around the time as Padstow, and in fact both of the other libraries I have been to so far – all the buildings date from around the 1960s. I peeked through the windows, and saw no one inside. Perhaps the library was closed?

When I approached the doors, though, they opened, and I stepped inside. There were people there once I looked, they appeared slowly from their bookish camouflage. Overall, though, the library had a feeling of desertion. Perhaps it was the sunny afternoon, or the lure of hanging out in front of the chicken shop, or buying wigs, but I felt sad that so few people were in Panania’s library.

It was a big library, well stocked with books, and different study areas:

Exam Style

Grandma’s House

The Desk – note baskets, potplants, high windows…

Despite the lack of patrons the staff were busy, and when I looked into the back room I saw a librarian seriously considering a construction paper cutout of a chicken. I settled down in one of the study areas with a couple of books: The True History of the Hula Hoop by Judith Lanigan (though I dislike fiction books with non-fiction titles) and Making Things Move: DIY Mechanisms for Inventors, Hobbyists and Artists by Dustyn Roberts. I like thinking about inventors, hobbyists and artists tinkering with DIY mechanisms!

I browsed these books for a while, watching a woman waiting at the counter, wallet in hand, trying to get the attention of the librarians in the back room. It took a surprisingly long time for such a quiet library. When someone did come out, they said “You have to stand by the gold rope! Otherwise we can’t see you.” There were two gold posts, a rope strung between them, mid way along the counter, near the fishtank where a black, bobble-eyed fish busily swam back and forth.

I could see the trees swaying in the wind through the inevitable strip of high windows, and felt a yearning to be outside. Two libraries in one day and the details start to become overwhelming. I flicked through the grubby books in the Book Sale area, before stepping out past the Nurse Schwarzel Memorial Fountain and the desert island reading mural, and headed towards the station.

“Izit Saint Patrick’s Day?” asked one of the chicken shop thugs as I walked past.

It’s best to make some acknowledgement to this kind of thing, rather than ignore it. It shows you are not afraid.

I looked at the pimply boy  in the track suit and shook my head. “Nah,” I said, as if he had no hope of ever knowing the secrets I knew, and continued on my way.


Filed under South Western Sydney, Sydney Public Libraries, The Suburbs