Words || Sarah Joseph
A lot of you may know Epping from the traffic monstrosity that is Epping Road, looming apartment buildings and dizzying cranes. It may also be the god-awful place that signifies the beginning of bus replacement services for the eminent Macquarie line closure. It is a neighbour to our Macquarie University, the neighbourhood that had a majority NO vote in the marriage equality survey and was John Howard’s electorate from 1974 to 2007.
However, it has it’s redeeming qualities, like Tracks, the pub that is twenty times better than Ubar or Ranch. I’ve spent many a night there, cramped in the dark downstairs corner booth next to the toilets, scoffing down chips someone else bought from the bistro upstairs (their food is way better than Ranch). Rushing at 9:50pm to buy $8 cocktails before the 10pm cut off, and then eagerly waiting for Friday night karaoke to start. I never participated, definitely an observer, but worth its weight in gold when someone gets up and attempts to sing Adele.
Epping has been my temporary home for the last few years, and as I find myself abandoning one awful sharehouse for a slightly less awful sharehouse, I’ve become attached to this little part of Sydney.
As the houses on my street have been knocked down and turned into apartment buildings, I found myself thinking about what this land used to be. This area has belonged to the Wallumedegal people for over 15,000 years, despite being handed out as land packages in the late 1790’s to white settlers. The first European settler in the now Epping area was David Kilpack. Kilpack was an English convict, punished for stealing chickens, being sent to America and then mutinying on the way. He was sent to New South Wales on the Scarborough and after testifying for a few other crimes he witnessed, was granted land that spans from pennant hills road, down Carlingford Road and across the present day train tracks. More land was given to returned soldiers a few years later, Lieutenant William Kent and his nephew who owned the other half of Epping, down to modern day Marsfield.
This is not the only convict history that Epping has. It’s hard to imagine looking at the mass of construction and cranes, but Epping used to be a lush forest. True to the human character, this forest couldn’t be left as in, and was promptly turned into a convict sawmill. This sawmill was the scheme of our very own namesake asshole, Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Set up in 1816, the Pennant Hills Timbergetting Establishment provided timber for the needs of the growing colony, all cut-down and milled by the European convicts. In 1819, Oxford Street in Epping, home of my favourite place in the world at 1am on a Saturday, Dominoes, and multiple cute little old lady op-shops, was the site of the smaller labour intensive sawmill. The Methodist church in Epping was the site of the convict camp and the convict burial ground is around there too.
It’s crazy to drive past Epping and imagine the tall century old trees being cut down, which were then turned into planks to be used in heritage listed buildings around the city. This beautiful land that was untouched was made barren to the point where it was called Barren Hill at one stage. And even now we only have pockets of land like the Lane Cove National park that gives a glimpse of what this area used to be like. If you go walking through the National Park, it’s easy to imagine, but then you come across the concrete mass of the M2 spanning across the top of the walkway, and you get the metaphorical clash of worlds.
It reminds me of stories my grandmother, who grew up in this area, told me. She talked about how she used to watch the horse-drawn carts go past their house, how the milkman used to deliver milk bottles by horse, which was tethered to the farm fence across the road from them. It was all dirt roads and paddocks, with the high streets being the main thoroughfare. I’ve since been to the area my grandmother was referring to, and it’s just a residential street. Brick houses that look old and slightly dilapidated. It is one of the remaining streets that hasn’t been torn down for apartment towers, but even then, the history of this area is lost.
Another stand out erased part of history in Epping is the old Cambria Hall. Cambria Hall sits opposite the train station on Beecroft Road. It was opened in 1915 as a concert hall, however you would never be able to tell by looking at it now. Long gone are the days of social dances, political meetings and community gathering. Modern-day Cambria Hall is now a Plus Fitness squeezed behind a Gloria Jean’s (which has the dirtiest couches, they look comfy but don’t trust them).
Cambria Hall was the site of many historical moments for Epping. It began as one man, David Nicholas, trying to make Epping the centre of a group of ‘village suburbs’, in which he succeeded, and then turned into a place to show Saturday night ‘moving pictures’. Yes! This was back in the day when a film was black and white and silent, these people would have lost their minds if you tried to explain watching youtube on your laptop during a lecture to them. The silent films obviously progressed into ‘talking pictures’ in the 30’s, which saw Cambria Hall turn into King’s Epping Theatre. This thrived in popularity until the late 50’s, and since then has been an abundance of random stores including Woolies, Network Video, a hairdresser, and now, the aforementioned Plus Fitness and dirty Gloria Jean’s. It’s sad to think that something that used to be so vital to the suburb, what brought people here and what made their lives interesting, now ceases to exist…
I guess we’ve still got Tracks. That’s the same thing, right?