Extract from my autobiography (an unfinished project) by Peter Bryant
In the 1920s, some of Concord’s large estates like “Yaralla” on the Parramatta River, were subdivided and made available for housing.
By 1926, the year my mother and father married, new streets and avenues had been laid out. They ran down to the edge of Canada Bay, part of the larger body of water known as Hen and Chicken Bay. Finch Avenue, Evelyn Avenue, Corby Avenue and Edith Avenue were all like that, running parallel to each other off Burwood Road, the long main road in the area, intersecting Parramatta Road and running more or less in a north-easterly direction to Bayview.
Finch Avenue took its name from a George Finch who owned a nursery on a large block of land in the area now bounded by Crane Street, Finch Avenue and Evelyn Avenue. At the end of these streets was open paddock fringed by mangrove trees and thick mud at the edge of the water. This area was known to us simply as “the swamp”. It disappeared in the 1960’s as a result of land reclamation. All that remains of it today is the canal which used to bisect the swamp, carrying storm water from Burwood out to Canada Bay.
Most of the houses in Finch Avenue were built “on spec”, and they all looked pretty much alike. Ours was no different. A cottage or bungalow of solid brick, a hip roof with two gables at the front, a brick front verandah with two short columns holding up the edge of the flat verandah roof, two double casement windows at the front, with the one on the outside wall next to the verandah protected by a small flat awning roof carried off the wall.
The walls at the sides and back of the house were made of common bricks, many having a reddish marking (“bloodmark”) from the kiln in the centre. On the front walls, the walls and verandah which faced Finch Avenue, the bricks were darker face bricks with neat tuck-pointed joints. There was a paling fence at the front. But the back of our house was much more interesting to me as a boy than the front.
The backyard was the place for all childhood play, and it was also the site of Dad’s shed. The back of our house opened onto Crane Street. For most of its length, Crane Street was a sealed road which ran between Majors Bay Road and Burwood Road. But it continued east beyond Burwood Road as an unsealed dirt road which ended at the swamp. This part of Crane Street we knew as “the back lane”, though at street width it was wider than an ordinary lane.
We went down to the swamp from the back lane and we went up the back lane to Burwood Road and the shops on the corner and the tram to take us to Burwood and the railway station to get a train into town. We almost never used the front street, which was Finch Avenue. Aunts and uncles and grandmothers and other visitors would use the front street, but our family rarely did. “Going out” always meant going via the back lane.
Directly opposite the back of our house, across the back lane, was one of the biggest factory buildings in the district. This was the Farleigh Nettheim tannery which occupied the entire block of land between Crane Street and Stanley Street, and which backed onto the swamp. It looked like a giant brick and concrete cube, about four storeys high sitting on a vast block of land enclosed with a high paling fence – though not so high that we couldn’t climb over it.
Near this fence and almost directly opposite the back of our house was a stand of casuarina trees, or swamp oaks, which must have been there before Concord was settled. Some of these trees or their descendants may still be there today, although the Farleigh Nettheim tannery has long gone, having been demolished and replaced by the Concord High School, which opened in 1980.
There was no high school at Concord when I was a boy.
Playing with friends as a boy took place on the margins of the swamp and in the open paddocks which stretched from the bottom of the back lane to Corby Avenue where there was an ice works.
There were scattered tea trees (melaleucas) and stretches of tall, coarse grass in the paddocks. There were clay pits near the bottom of the tannery. An iron stormwater pipe stood on concrete piers and reached out into the swamp from the bottom of Crane Street. We walked along it to get out through the swamp and into its shallow stagnant water. Thick sucking mud covered our legs up to the top of our thighs if we walked too far out through the mangrove trees on the edge of Hen and Chicken Bay.
On the other side of the canal was a treasure trove for boys. There was a balsa wood dump, used by a small local factory and another dump consisting of discarded cans of varnish from Walter Wattyl, the original name of what today is one of the biggest paint and varnish manufacturers in Australia. These two small factories were in the Five Dock area although it was known to us as Sunnyside (now Canada Bay). Wattyl still had a plant there, in Walker Street, in the late 1990s.
We took pieces of balsa, often waterlogged, to make model planes. And we used the half empty cans of varnish on bonfire night (Empire Day) where they would go off with a great bang when the lids blew off. Everyone in our street would come down the back lane to watch the bonfire. Bonfires, along with Empire Day, have long since gone.
(NOTE: We look forward to reading more when the project is finished. Ed.)