Portraits and Stories
Portraits and stories of people from St Marys by Chris Peken.
For 42 years Marie has seen many changes in St Marys. Some have been vast improvements, while others, perhaps more detrimental to the area.
Moving here in 1971, she quickly became part of the town, shopping in Queen Street and when her three children were born, the excursions became more frequent, especially at immunisation time.
As her children grew, she became more involved with the community due to school and sports. As teenagers, her children would meet with their friends on a Thursday evening. They’d gather at the milk bar and spend time together until Marie picked them up at 9pm. If they went to the dances at Penrith she would wait at the station for them to come home or she’d go by train into the city. She doesn’t think she would do that nowadays though the car park at the station has been a fantastic addition to the town.
The Spring Festival parades throughout the years have created many happy memories for Marie and her family. The festival draws the community together and although it’s busier now than it once was she loves it. Seeing the lights in the trees which line the street at Christmas time is also a highlight for her.
Coachman’s Park played a big part in Marie’s time in St Marys and she recalls having a cup of tea down there and taking her grandchildren to the swing sets. She doesn’t feel as comfortable there anymore but looks forward to the current development to make it more family friendly once more. She knows she should have attended meetings to have more of a say in how the town is developed.
Marie would love to see more open air cafes which would bring more people, especially families back into Queen Street.
In 1947, the Commonwealth Bank decided to establish a new branch in St Marys, so a manager, teller and junior were sent to do the job.
That teller was David Trist and he has been here ever since. The bank was to be situated on the Great Western Highway and the land was rented from the Methodist Church for the princely sum of £2 per week. A portable building was located out near Lithgow and moved to the property, creating the first Commonwealth Bank in St Marys.
At the time, Queen Street was mainly residential with a few shops down near the railway station. Developers gradually knocked the houses down to replace them with shops. The highway was the main part of St Marys then and David used to ride a bike to and from work. Mornings were fine but in the afternoon to make it up the steep hill, he would grab hold of a slow truck and let it tow him up the hill, letting go when he’d reached the top. Groceries, meat, vegetables, bread and milk were all delivered to your door which made shopping easier. Life was simpler.
The Memorial Hall was built in 1961 and when Council decided to extend the St Marys pool, David was on the Board. Whilst on holidays in Western Australia, he saw a hydrotherapy pool and started to research the health benefits. With local State Member of Parlament, Jim Anderson, they applied for and were granted approval and funding to build the hydrotherapy centre.
David joined Legacy after WWII and there were over 1000 widows and children in the area needing assistance. That number has dropped to 600 nowadays. He is also on the board of other organisations due to his background in finance.
David believes the green space around town should stay and the strip shopping in Queen Street should be improved.
Deng, Adhel and Lual Dan
Deng worries about Queen Street at night but through the day finds it a great place to shop.
He does his grocery shopping and banking there. There aren’t any shops selling African food but there is an African hairdresser near the railway station. It’s wonderful to be able to go there.
His children, Adhel and Lual, love what Queen Street has to offer. They enjoy the shopping with lots of places for kids to buy good stuff like clothes. Adhel enjoys going to the library as she loves to read. Her favorite books are fairy tales. She goes to the library with her parents and borrows books. Lual plays football with St Marys Convent Club and loves it.
Having been born in Gilgandra NSW in 1950, Betty moved to Merrylands in 1962 with her family.
When she shifted to St Marys in 1972 after getting married it felt like coming home. It was a small quaint country town. She remembers walking down Queen St and being able to buy anything you needed. All the shops were little country style stores. It was beautiful. Absolutely awesome. She remembers how relaxed and safe Queen St felt.
When she was 24 Betty was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosis, a genetic condition which causes progressive deterioration of the eyes. She is also partially deaf. Having become 'legally blind' in 1988 she finds Queen St a bit harder to manoeuvre now as there only needs to be a slight protrusion to become a tripping hazard. Luckily she has her guide dog Lindsay to guide her safely along the street. There are bumps on the zebra crossing and at the railway station which also make it easier to feel her way along the street.
She doesn't let anything stop her doing what she wants to do. Betty lives life to the fullest and is an inspiration to everyone she meets on her walks with Lindsay around Queen St. She loves to travel and has even been to the Antarctic where she did all the same things as the "sighted" passengers, including walking on ice and riding a rubber ducky. She loves to get her adrenaline pumping and has been bungy jumping and skydiving. She has written a book called "Me and My Eyes" about her experiences with getting a guide dog.
She would love to see St Marys regain some of its small town, country feel, even though it’s now a city. Betty would love everyone to be happy and she's certainly a shining example of how to be just that.
Konstantina and her husband Jim bought their very first car in Queen Street.
A little cottage in Queen Street sold cars and it was there they bought their first ever ‘Aussie’ Holden in 1964. Jim worked at Anthony Squires and she recalls waiting at the station for the pedestrian gates to open so they could go through.
Walking down Queen Street, she recalls that on the right hand side there was a Woolworths and a small chemist. On the left a small service station with one solitary bowser stood next to the car dealer where they bought their car. There was a milk bar at the bottom of Queen Street near the station which sold Greek supplies but there was very little available at the time.
Since moving to St Marys from Luddenham, Konstantina has seen plenty of changes. More houses, shops and people to name just a few. There were a lot of Greeks who owned and ran businesses in the area at the time. Most have retired and become landlords now. George worked as a chef at the Waratah Cafe for around 10 years. A lot of the Greek community owned the milk bars, cafes and take aways, while the Italians worked more in grocery stores and fruit shops.
After that, George opened a business in Queen Street opposite where the Westpac bank now stands. George’s take-away was next door to Sawnic’s butchers. There was a jeweller’s store next to that and then Jeff’s record bar which is still in operation today but with a different name.
Konstantina would like to see Queen Street become a bit brighter. It would be lovely to see it brought back to the bustling shopping area it once was.
Paula and Kevin Wilton
Paula and Kevin are members of the local bowling club located at the RSL. Paula has lived in St Marys since she was nine years old.
Kevin is newer to the town having lived here for about 40 years. In the early 1970s it was a very progressive town with a thriving main street. Kevin was a bread contractor and delivered bread up and down Queen Street. There was so much to do there. This was well before the larger shopping centres were built so Queen Street was definitely the heart of the town and the hub of all activity. When Paula was younger the town centre also extended out onto the highway but slowly it all came back to Queen Street.
Paula worked as a Customer Service Clerk at the Commonwealth Bank and has worked at all 4 locations over the years. Perhaps what started her love of bowling was the close proximity of the bank to the old bowling club which was situated next to the Band Club. The bank employed 110- 120 staff at the time and it was their nearest “watering hole” so they all gathered there. There was a large group of Scottish and English people that met there too who all loved their traditional music. Paula and Kevin both recall with fondness people just bringing a guitar out and everyone having an old fashioned sing along. The club had a wonderful party atmosphere.
The new bowling club is a very different atmosphere to the old one and caters for people, not just from St Marys but from many of the surrounding areas too. They would love to see Queen Street become an area of great dining to draw people back, making it similar to Norton Street, Leichhardt. Such a pretty street has great potential to become a hive of activity once more.
A train buff from way back, Don Wright used to catch the steam trains to Penrith and back again in the old box carriages, just for fun.
Friends had a dairy farm near Luddenham and Don’s first memory of walking down Queen Street was in 1953.
Working in the Boy’s Home at Werrington Park in the 1960s, he used to drive along Queen Street to pick up vegetables and other supplies. Eventually he moved on from the area after the home closed and his friends moved away.
In 1977, after getting a job with Penrith City Council, he got in touch with the area again. Becoming the archivist with the Council, he worked in the basement of the Queen Street Centre. The radio station WOW FM still operates from the building.
Conscious of working for the council, Don started to assume the role of caretaker and maintenance man, earning him the ‘tongue in cheek’ nickname of the Mayor of St Marys because of his officiousness.
He feels that the Town Centre has suffered when the larger shopping centres opened, leaving empty shops and businesses. The Post Office is still a huge draw card in Queen Street which is a good thing.
Don feels that there is going to be further development in St Marys and he’s all for the rejuvenation of the area.
The streets of St Marys are so much calmer and feel safer than surrounding areas, according to Theriza.
Having moved to St Marys in 2011, she loves Queen Street as it is full of good people.
There are no problems with traffic and it is easy to get around without fighting crowds. People seem happier in St Marys making Queen Street a nice, friendly place to shop. One of her favourite shops is an Egyptian store in the main street. Living in South St Marys, Theriza walks the street twice a day on the way to and from the railway station. She prefers to stay in at night and socialise with friends and family rather than to be out on the street.
Every year during the Spring Festival you will see members from the Vietnam Veterans Association marching in the parade.
Amongst them is Sam Veccio. Sam is an active member of the Association and also helps with a stall for Festival day. The stall has memorabilia including badges, stickers and information packs and members answer any questions the general public may have.
Sam does welfare work, and can often be found visiting Veteran's Affairs patients in the local hospitals. Some people have no friends or family close to them so need some support. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the Association also runs computer training courses that are open to everyone.
Every year on the Sunday before Anzac Day, the members of the Vietnam Veterans Association go to Coachman's Park. They march from there up Queen Street with a police escort to Victoria Park for their Anzac Service. The Band Club come with their pipes and instruments. There is usually a turn up of about 100 people marching from the local schools, scout groups, youth clubs and civilians. There is also a ceremony at Victoria Park at the local Cenotaph.
Sam likes Queen Street. He has been going to the same barber, Guido, for 13 years. Sam tries to do most of his shopping in St Marys. The Association used to get all their uniforms from Jim Mill's menswear which has closed down now but stood where Son of a Gun store is now located. There was also a jewellers next door where Sam used to purchase his grandchildren's christening presents.
Sam would like to see St Marys continue to grow. There is a lot of history in the town for him having worked for the Railway for 42 years.
When hairdresser Lisa walked down Queen Street, resume in hand looking for a job, she didn’t have to go far to find what she was looking for.
After unsuccessfully trying one salon, she walked into the next one, got a free trial and ended up getting a job there. While she couldn’t speak English at the time, the people of St Marys were so nice and helped her learn while she was working. Some ladies would come in, around the same age as her mother (80ish) and they were always nice. They were a bit unsure to start with in case they didn’t like how she did their hair, but once she’d cut it once, they kept coming back and helped her with her English. She has since moved to another salon.
Her husband is Australian but speaks Japanese. She met him while he was visiting Japan. When she came to Australia she had very little confidence as she didn’t know the language. At first she lived in Neutral Bay and while she liked her neighbours and occasionally said hi to them, after coming to St Marys, she felt like she was at home. Everyone talked to her. If she walks down the street people stop to ask about her boys and if she is going to have a girl one day. They make her feel accepted. St Marys feels like home.
Her home city in Japan is Fujieda which is a sister city to Penrith. Shopping in Penrith is more like Japan with big shopping malls taking over and small businesses closing down. She hopes Queen Street will attract more small businesses so more shops will open here and it will once again be a busy, thriving area to shop. She loves working in Queen Street.
Two years after the end of WW2 a young Norma rode on the back of a truck in a street parade.
As a junior member of the Red Cross, dressed all in white, she was taking part in the Commemorative Parade celebrating the end of the war, the return of servicemen and honoring those who didn't make it home. That day obviously had a huge impact on her life as over the years she has marched many times in all sorts of parades and played a huge part in numerous St Marys Spring Festivals. She loves these occasions.
For more than 70 years Norma has watched changes in St Marys. As a child, the Highway was the main street with 6 shops as Queen Street only had 4 shops. She recalls meeting friends on the corner of Queen Street and the highway and wandering down to the milk bar or to the picture show in the 1950s. Queen Street very quickly became the hub of St Marys and was "the place" to be seen. Migrants started to arrive after WW2 and started to open food shops.
Having joined the St Marys Development Committee 15 years ago, she became heavily involved in the Spring Festival. This was originally devised as a means of getting people back into St Marys and promoting business. Last year an estimated 35,000 people attended a day where busy families can enjoy being together without spending a fortune.
She also runs heritage tours and people from all over Sydney come to them. They comment on what a pretty town St Marys is. If you can present an attractive place people will come and enjoy the experience. The plans for the development of Queen Street look really exciting and Norma wants to stay around and watch it all unfold.
Ebuba envisages a St Marys where people can come and share their imagination through music, art and dance.
A safe place where youth can come together, regardless of their interests. It may be music, fashion, urban art, indoor or outdoor activities. She is interested in a diverse range of hobbies and became involved with Fusion two years ago when they visited her school. At Fusion she and some of her friends worked with a community artist on different projects. Her friend worked on a music project while Ebuba worked on a fashion project, finding clothes at second hand stores and remaking them into new fashion pieces.
She recognises that a lot of Africans have a passion for dressing and fashion. The older generations prefer to stick to the traditional cultural dress while the younger ones are starting to step away from their culture. There is a freedom and people are able to wear whatever brings out their individuality. She would love to see St Marys become a leader in encouraging the embracing of cultures from around the world. While she enjoys the freedom, she would find it a shame to lose the traditions which her parents have. She would like to bring the passion from the older generation to the youth and blend it with the freedom they experience.
Ebuba and her friends go to the library a lot as it’s a good place to study and spend time together. Queen Street is a great place to hang out, whether at the library, Coachman’s Park, St Marys Village or at one of the many cafes along Queen Street. She is currently studying Year 11.
A touch of nostalgia comes across Caroline’s face as she recalls growing up in St Marys in the 1950s and early 1960s.
She recalls with affection the carnival and circus that set up every summer on the vacant block, where the Post Office now sits. There were pony and swing rides and the local kids would spend their time playing together and throwing a ball around.
Not far from Coachman’s Park was the Crown Theatre, which is now a $2 shop. The local kids sat enthralled at the Saturday matinee watching the Mickey Mouse Club, Ben Hur or one of the serials that were so popular. For Caroline and her older brother, December was always exciting. As their birthdays both fell that month, their mother filled out a slip saying when it was and they received a birthday cake with pink or blue icing and lolly letters on it spelling out their names. Caroline loved having 8 letters in her name as she got 2 more lollies than her brother (he only had 6 letters). By the time they got home to their house in Carinya Avenue, most of the lollies and cakes had been eaten.
There have been many changes in Queen Street during her life and she recalls shops such as Jim Mill’s Menswear, Mr Veitch’s Delicatessen, Jimmy Hackett’s Haircare (now Guido’s) and an Army Disposal store. She met her husband when she was 14. On weekends they would meet at Spiro’s for fish and chips, cokes and milkshakes before deciding what to do with their day. Half a dozen local teens would squeeze into the booths, laughing, chatting and planning their futures.
Suryati and Ali Junaidi
About 14 years ago when Suryati and Ali Junaidi first came to St Marys, it was very serene.
A lot more businesses have come to Queen Street since then, bringing more people to the area. The married couple came to St Marys as Ali was studying Economics at University of Western Sydney. Up until that time they had lived in the city but the long commute was tiring. He felt unsure of the area to start with but spoke to local real estate agents and found that it was a safe place to be, so shifted the family here. He was studying at night, so was a bit concerned about leaving his wife at night, but it turned out to be fine.
They shop mainly at St Marys Village Centre as there is more of what they need there but there are also shops which suit this Muslim family in Queen Street. There is a Halal butcher and a Halal Pizza shop which is a definite favourite of their children, Abdullah, Omah, Sitti and Admina. Another favourite place for the children is the Library. They attend the reading sessions and kids’ programs there. It's a good place to study according to Sitti, and Abdullah loves the kids’ CDs you can borrow. Admina likes Manga Books and finds the library caters for lovers of the Anime genre.
When Suryati first came to St Marys, she loved the craft markets at Coachman's Park, on the corner of Queen Street. One of the favourite purchases there was the home made lemon butter. The family would like to see Queen Street come more alive as it is during festivals.
Helping other young people be inspired and “get involved” is just one string to Jonah’s bow.
He is a Uni student, a busker and a budding musician as well as a volunteer at Fusion in St Marys. One of the programs he is involved with is music production. Young people aged between 12 and 16 come into the studio and Fusion helps them to record an original track or perhaps a cover version of their favourite song and get a copy to take home with them.
Kids from all over the area come to join in at the studio and Jonah helps both practically and as a mentor. At the workshops they take five to six kids at a time and encourage them to get involved with the process of recording. They rehearse any sort of music kids are into. Fusion would like to make the studio more financially viable by getting more paying clients. The studio is now open for business and one of their jobs has included background music for a church video clips.
Music is a great passion for Jonah and he loves blues, folk, pop blues, rap and classical but he plays blues folk ballads. He loves the vibe of areas that encourage busking. He has busked at Rouse Hill and played at a Council Family Day Concert in Coachman’s Park. In the mountains there are places that have buskers in the main streets and he feels this adds to the atmosphere. St Marys doesn’t seem to have many buskers and he feels that’s a pity.
He’d like to see Queen Street either go modern like Rouse Hill or relaxed and older like the mountains. Either way, you can bet he’d like to see music played by buskers in the street.
A resident since 1968, Margaret has seen a lot of changes in Queen Street.
Back then there was a Woolworths, 2 baby shops, a butchers shop and many small specialty shops that made for a fantastic shopping area. This was in the days when you would do your shopping for a full week at a time. The structure of Queen Street was vastly different in 1968. The trees that line the street today weren’t there and a lot of the shops have changed since that time. There was a bank in the place where the library now stands.
Through her association with the St Marys and District Historical Society, Margaret has been heavily involved throughout the years with the Spring Festival which is held on the first Saturday in September. She used to walk in the festival parade every year. She recalls a parade of floats as well as queens and princesses of the festival. One of the town’s former princesses, Lydia Hopkinson, still lives in the area. Today while there aren’t as many floats in the parade, it is still a wonderful event which brings the town together. The queens and princesses are now replaced by a representative chosen by the Development Committee. The Historical Society has a plethora of photos of former Spring Festivals.
Margaret would love to see the railway station end of Queen Street returned to the halcyon years when it was a very family friendly place to be. She would like to see the town take on some of the feeling of yesteryear with more specialty shops and less graffiti. Less shopping centres and more on street shopping would be a huge improvement to the town she knows and loves.
Looking at Queen Street from a fire truck gives ‘firey’ Antony Crowe a slightly different perspective to the rest of us.
He loves it when kids wave excitedly as the truck passes. All kids seem to love a firey. At St Marys station they try to interact with the community as much as possible. Recently attending a White Ribbon Day event at a local school, Antony felt fortunate to be able to be a positive role model to the children, especially those who don’t have strong male figures in their lives. Being a fireman gives you an instantaneous respect due to the nature of the job and for Antony using that to help with preventative measures in the community is part of what he loves about his job.
He chose to come to St Marys station two and a half years ago as it is a specialty station working with hazardous materials. The diversity, humorous characters, the lovely people and of course the great Thai food are just some of the things he loves about Queen Street. It is a real melting pot of social and business diversity. In Antony’s opinion it seems to be an area full of young families and he loves being part of that community and making a difference in people’s lives.
As Sydney spreads further out Antony can see a huge potential for growth and renewal for the St Marys area. He can see a bright future as this happens. There have been so many changes from when he used to visit his aunty when he was a child. The growth is exciting. He’s thrilled to be part of this “snapshot” of the community as it is now because in 10 years time it will be a very different St Marys to what we now know.
Cath and Shannon
As a teenager, Cath used to love to wander along Queen St and look at all the bright, interesting specialty shops along the way.
One of her particular favourites was a cake shop called “Cake it Away”. She loved it so much, she ended up buying it. Nine and a half years ago it became Cath’s Cakes and is now a thriving little business which is at the corner of Queen and King Streets.
Two and a half years ago, Shannon phoned the store looking for work experience and did so well there, she is now an apprentice chef under Cath’s creative guidance. Shannon is also very creative and would love to have a go at creating a cake specifically in honour of Queen Street.
Cath loves the country feel of St Marys. Situated at the quieter Great Western Highway end of Queen Street, Cath’s Cakes is a great place to sit and have a good cup of coffee and an amazingly tasty cake. The most popular cakes are the Mars Bar and the Tim Tam Tortes.
Business is very busy although there are the occasional quiet times. There are regular customers coming from as far as Hazelbrook and the city just to buy their delicious cakes. The store is now starting to stock cake decorating supplies and Cath would love to open a new store if that side of the business grows enough. For now, they’ll concentrate on making some of the best coffee and cake Queen St has to offer.
Cath would love to see more specialty shops again in Queen St and to have more cafes offer outdoor dining to encourage the al fresco atmosphere.
We all need to work together to enjoy the area and be proud of it.
When Don and his wife moved to St Marys in 1971, people spoke about the Penrith and St Marys areas as if they were right out in the country. Queen Street was and always will be the main street for Don.
The shopping area had everything they needed. There were two barber shops back then. Don used to catch the bus from Carpenter Street to the station and back again. The train and bus timetables coincided which made it easier to get to and from work. Shops closed by 6pm so there wasn’t a lot of nightlife, though the family used to love going to Spiro’s to have a meal. They made special chips which were different to the chips and wedges you can buy nowadays. The family have very fond memories of those times spent together.
Jim Mill’s menswear was a favorite shop of Don’s and of course the bank was another big part of town. There were material shops, butchers and fish and chip shops. McDonalds was next to Coachman’s Park.
When the Village Centre was built, many shops were enticed to move there from Queen Street which has effected the shopping strip. Don likes the improvements happening in the area. It’s a great place to be.
Nick Bouyioukos and Helen Chronis
Nick and Helen's parents had a take away shop in Queen Street. Helen was born in 1960 and Nick in 1966.
Next door to their parent's store was a butcher shop and a couple of doors down, a record store. Nick would disappear from his parent's store and invariably be found by Helen listening to the music there. He remembers being fascinated by the music, the colour and the lights. It was a safe place to be and a little kid could wander down the street to listen to music.
They lived in Carpenter Street for a short time until they built a house in Sydney Street. Helen vividly recalls going to Oxley Park Public School and growing up with kids of all different cultures and nationalities. Their father George was a hard working migrant and a big part of the Greek community. He made sure all his children could speak, read and write Greek (which in turn his children have done with their own families). With others in the community, he started the Greek Orthodox Church community on Hobart Street and for 10 years was President of the Church. He was also involved in starting the Greek school.
George's Takeaway was a huge part of life in Queen Street. They made everything there. Mixed Grills, T-bones, fried tomatoes, onions, eggs, toast, cups of tea. Everything was very Aussie orientated. They had Greek food at home but the cafe sold Australian food. Helen often helped out in the store when she was around 10. Queen Street was one big family back then. Everyone knew each other. Times have changed since then. Walking down the street now, the pair know very few people.
They would love to see that family atmosphere back in Queen Street though both agree that life is very different now everywhere. Queen Street holds fantastic memories.
Originally from Binnaway, Michael believes that St Marys has a country town feel.
The building/cleaning supervisor at Penrith Council loves the wide, tree lined street. Mind you, in winter, those trees caused a headache for him with falling leaves that had to be cleaned up but they still make for a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, the trees also cause allergies but the street has lots of parking and a variety of shops.
He originally came to work for the Council from Ryde Council. Ryde was too busy, parking was hard, so coming here was a breath of fresh air. Keeping the place tidy was a pleasure. He looked after the amenities and made sure everything was working properly. Coachman’s Park had markets and buying a cake from the CWA cake stall reminded him of the small country town where he grew up. There is now an upgrade underway at Coachman’s Park and he’s looking forward to seeing it completed. Michael feels that Queen Street is such an important central hub with its multicultural feel.
When the Council purchased the Commonwealth Bank building around 1997, he worked with a team of other men for 23 weeks just gutting the inside of the place. It seemed such a shame to be destroying it all but was worth it when it was all refitted.
Queen Street is a great place to be. Michael likes the easy parking in St Marys, good character and friendly people in Queen Street. All your business can be done in the one street.
Sister Matalena Leota
Born in Samoa, Sr Matalena came to Melbourne in 1983 where she trained as a religious sister.
She eventually made the move to St Marys about 15 years ago and started working for the Don Bosco Youth and Recreation Centre run by the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Sisters of Mary Help of Christians.
Having left beautiful Samoa to devote her life to the service of the church, she finds St Marys a great place to live. The beauty of Queen St for Sr Matalena is the sense of safety and familiar feel. She loves the multiculturalism that is part of the area. There is always a cry of "Hello Sister" when she walks down Queen St. The children who come to the Centre always talk to her when they see her out walking around. She can be sure that when she is out and about she will run into people she knows. Shopping in Queen Street is especially great for Samoan food. There are so many shops where she can buy the foods she likes. Usually she buys raw food from the grocers but if she's in a hurry will go to the restaurants.
Queen Street has everything Sr Matalena needs so she doesn't have to travel out of the area to find what she needs. She can have her hair cut, buy her favourite foods and walk to the post office in a friendly place where conversations and "hellos" are plentiful.
"If you will listen, you will learn everything you need to learn... If you just take the time to listen".
This was what the then 16 year old Grahame heard on his first day at St Marys railway station. It was 1973 and as he was walking up the station steps he thought to himself that this job would do for 6 months as he didn’t think it was his thing. Thirty nine years later and he’s still there. He listened, learned and ended up loving it. It was a time when people were prepared to share their knowledge if you wanted to learn.
The old parcel office where Grahame spent his early years has now closed but his memories of those days with the railways are as vivid as ever. It wasn’t always easy to access the station with a pram or if you were disabled as there was no lift. A pedestrian crossing went over the tracks. You felt safe and secure being part of the nurturing community. A hardware store was located at the station, called Hudson’s Hardware. St Marys had all you needed. It had an old world charm about it.
In its heyday the old freight and parcel office had 5 staff members working 6 days per week. There was a timber yard on the Highway and a large quantity of timber was delivered by rail. Bales of wool arrived and were stored in the Government storage facility next to the rail yard. The only way traders got their freight was to come and pick it up.
Customers didn’t rush in and out. They came in and had a conversation. They talked about their day and their business before picking up their things. They were good people. St Marys was and still is a fantastic place to live.
Kum Dut and Nybol Dut
Queen Street is a far cry from the African Village Kum grew up in.
She recalls as a child shimmying up fruit trees to pick the fruit. It was a lovely village with lots of trees but no shops. St Marys has trees and lots of shops and Kum and her daughter Nybol love to shop including buying her fruit at the store.
Nybol loves to buy books and toys while Kum likes the close proximity of everything. Supermarkets, Medical Centres and specialty shops are all nearby. The African shop in Queen Street is a favourite to go to as they sell a special shampoo and lotions necessary for their type of hair. The shampoos and conditioners sold in supermarkets here are not made for the rougher textured hair they were born with. They have some different foods in there too but not a lot.
When she first came to Australia, Kum used to take the train a lot to go to Blacktown Community College. After she finished at Blacktown she caught the train to go to Mt Druitt TAFE but then she got her licence so she can drive instead. She is still studying so being able to drive is so much easier. They don’t socialise much in Queen Street but often run into friends at the shops, both in the shopping strip and the nearby shopping centres.
In terms of some of the other staff at St Marys library, Wendy is relatively new.
She has worked in the St Marys library for about 3 years although she has worked in other libraries before. Some other staff members have been there for 20 or 30 years.
The library on Queen Street services a large range of people from all different backgrounds. They include many disadvantaged residents as well as people from all levels of education. It is the variety of clientele that inspires Wendy.
The location of the library on the main street makes it interesting compared to other libraries that are situated either in quiet streets or busy shopping centres. A lot of people don't know there is a library in Queen Street and just happen to walk into it on their way to somewhere else. To promote the library to the public, staff join in with the St Marys Festival each year as well as being involved with other projects such as St Marys Corner. They also work in close conjunction with the Town Centre Management which is the organisation that looks after all the businesses, including the library, on Queen Street. This community involvement helps to promote the library's services.
Wendy has observed that fiction books from different genres are more popular these days. Non-fiction books have seen a rapid decline due to people preferring to find out information on the internet. St Marys has a small number of multilingual books however if someone wants more they can be ordered in through the State Library. She finds that St Marys has a very diverse cross section of cultures and linguistic backgrounds, which makes it an interesting and diverse place to be.
Yellowstone Park has Ranger Smith, trying to keep Yogi Bear in line.
St Marys has Ranger Joe and thankfully he doesn't have wild bears to look after. In fact, there are 5 Rangers in the St Marys area who are employed by Penrith Council. Joe is one of them. There are 5 different areas and each Ranger is allotted an area but that changes every 6 months. The areas go from the Northern Road, all the way down to Oxley Park.
Joe’s job entails rubbish, overgrown properties, heavy and abandoned vehicles and skip bins on roads. Walking up and down Queen Street, he speaks to people and educates them about Council by-laws and helps with any questions they may have. Rubbish being left in back alleys instead of bins, waste services, answering questions about parking, it's all part of the job for Joe. Often if there is a dog wandering the streets, shop owners will hold the dog in a safe place until Joe or one of his fellow Rangers can come and get it. He likes that degree of cooperation about Queen Street.
Joe feels Queen Street is starting to look a bit "tired" just as other shopping precincts of similar ages do. He'd love to see a face lift for the street to revive interest in the area. Saying that, he loves the vibrancy of Queen Street. Lots of good shops are starting to pop up. Outdoor eateries would be a great addition to the town.
In 1958 Gillian and her husband got off the train from their honeymoon and took a taxi to Sydney Street.
The next Sunday they went to the church on the hill and have been going there ever since. St Marys was in fact named after that church, St Mary Magdelene Anglican Church.
Queen Street at that time was nothing like today. Lots of vacant blocks interspersed with beautiful old shops such as Green and Petridge, Mrs Lammings, Jim Mills, Carson's Fabrics, Neils Furniture Store and the old picture theatre. The church fete was held on one of those vacant blocks and it proved to be a good opportunity to talk to people and let them know about the good news of Jesus. Another fun day was the regular street stalls, held about 5 times a year on pension Thursday. It was the interaction with the people that Gillian loved about those days.
She recalls at the 1974 Spring Festival, the float for the parade had a model of the church on the back of a truck. All the churches in St Marys join together and have a space each year at the festival where they just spend time talking to visitors. A giant whiteboard graced their stand once and people wrote messages with a marker. Sample bags, balloons and lollies for the kids are all part of the fun.
Gillian would love to see St Marys become busier again and although she knows people like the convenience of the Village Centre, she feels the Queen Street shopping strip needs some extra attention to bring it back to life. Shopping over the internet and the larger centres have seen the demise of many shops but it is such a pretty street with its beautiful trees and deserves to be brought back to its former glory.
"When people first arrive they look around at where the water goes; they start running to the pit.
It gets sent away and the place stays clean. To me this was amazing...like wow!"
When Abaker first came to Queen Street he was amazed at how the water from the streets ran down the concrete drains. In his country, South Sudan, water just sits in the streets causing the roads to become muddy, the grass to grow high and mosquitoes to breed, which of course in turn increases the chances of malaria, so for Abaker to see the water running down the storm water drains was an exciting experience.
What we in Australia take for granted was a thing of beauty to this newly arrived Sudanese refugee. To him it was life saving. Abaker believes there is so much beauty in Queen Street. Everything is under control here.
The streets are swept clean, the rubbish is picked up, and the water is recycled. Parks are well maintained and are used by people as meeting places of enjoyment and relaxation. There is a new pedestrian crossing being constructed in Queen Street and lots of beautifying of the local parks.
Abaker recalls a few years ago there weren't as many people around St Marys but now a lot of people are moving back to the area. Mostly he chooses to frequent the bigger shopping centre and supermarkets but he also enjoys his trips to the smaller shops to find those specialty items he can’t find at the larger stores.
Jean has been with the Commonwealth Bank since 1943 and still has her original bank book.
A long term resident of St Marys, she has known Queen Street since 1928 and has lived in the same house in town for over 60 years. Although there were not many shops at the time, she recalls Lammings, Hardies Butchers and Everingham’s. Very few cars were on the streets back then and the surrounding land was mainly used for dairy or sheep farming.
Later on she can remember the Maternity Hospital, Glendennings, Harveys and Beacroft. In the 1930s she occasionally went and watched movies at the small Crown theatre. Jean worked at the munitions factory until it closed in 1947. She rode a bike to get there though eventually the rail opened up and went out to Ropes Creek.
She vividly recalls the new shops opening up when the houses in Queen Street were pulled down and St Marys was a bustling little town. Sadly, she's seen many businesses close down too and is very disappointed with the empty shops.
A member of the St Marys Pensioner’s Association, Legacy and the Dementia/Alzheimers group, Jean never stands still for very long. She still goes to Queen Street most days to do her shopping. The Centrecare Chemist, Commonwealth Bank, St George and the Post Office are her usual visits. She laments the fact that there is no longer a supermarket actually in Queen Street. This lively octogenarian can still remember the names of every child in the 1928 St Marys Public School photo though sadly most ahave passed away.
She was still playing tennis well into her 70s, only stopping when she could no longer guarantee being able to play weekly. St Marys is a part of Jean and Jean is a huge part of St Marys.
'Summertime and the living is easy'
It was Anzac Day 3 years ago when young trombonist, Minami, was marching with the St Marys Brass Band with another 35 people. As they marched along Queen Street, she was thrilled to find people following them down the street as they marched to Victoria Park. Children ran along behind them as they made their way in honor of Servicemen past and present. Scouts, school groups, other bands and a large contingent of people, all marching and cheering. It was a moment she will always remember.
Queen Street feels older in some ways to Minami but not in a bad way. She feels it seems more traditional and modest than other places. A student at St Marys Senior High School and attending music rehearsals in the City, she walks down Queen Street most days to and from the train station.
Born and raised in Japan, she was pleased when she arrived here to find a multicultural aspect in Queen Street. She recalls Indian people in traditional dress walking alongside Australians with their slow, heavy Aussie accents. She often visits some of the hairdressers along Queen Street who are also from Japan and who are friends of hers. There is always someone to chat to and you will find people of all nationalities chatting together.
Queen Street represents the community where you can walk down the street and find someone to talk to as you go. She would hate to see the smaller shops close down in favour of the bigger shopping centres as you don't often go into the larger centres for conversations with people. She loves the connection with people in Queen Street. If she could dedicate a song to Queen Street, it would be George Gershwin's Summertime.
Christina moved from South Australia in 2009 to be with her partner who lives in St Marys.
She enjoyed the area in and around St Marys from the very first day, particularily Queen Street. The street offers a variety of shops and one can meet many interesting people.
Coachman’s Park is a particularly lovely place to be. Christina has noticed some developments going on there and while she isn’t sure whether it would be a new park or perhaps another shop she is sure it will look great. St Marys is a great place to live.
Dr Alexis Leones
The welcoming atmosphere Alexis felt in Queen Street on her arrival from the Philippines has ensured St Marys has a special place in her heart.
She felt she belonged right from day one. Shopping at local businesses with her family, the shopkeepers soon learned their names and made them feel like they mattered.Her husband attended the same barber shop for 20 years until the barber retired. It’s this sense of loyalty to and from the local shopkeepers that has formed such a neighbourhood attachment.
The family often walked down Queen Street from one end to the other. The children knew if she chose to walk in the right lane, that she wanted sunshine in the morning at the right side of the street. Meeting friends along the way was a highlight and they would often stop and have some chips and chatter while people waited for their buses. The elderly in the area proved to be some of Alexis’ favourites as they told them stories of the area and helped them to fit in. St Marys was and still is a very friendly place to be.
Coachman’s Park was a wonderful area to rest when the family grew tired of shopping. It was a safe, beautiful place for the children to play so when the first Philippine Cultural Day was organised around 5 years ago, the park was the perfect place to choose. The local newspapers and Council supported the day and it proved to be a joyful event.
Alexis hopes Queen Street will always feel as it does now and her attachment to it will become even stronger. She feels that having community events brings the local neighbourhood to the streets. It’s the streets where people meet and feel a sense of belonging... not in their houses.
- Written by Adam Gatt Penrith City Council (02) 4732 7777 (02) 4732 7958 email@example.com https://www.penrithcity.nsw.gov.au 601 High St Penrith NSW 2750 Australia
- Back to QSRT 2013 - Faces of St Marys Project