Somewhere only we know: Bankstown

Community, stigma, and cohesion over division: Alexandra Kovacs reminisces on Bankstown.

Bankstown Sport Club’s La Piazza in its daytime glory. Bankstown Sport Club’s La Piazza in its daytime glory.

To many Sydney locals, Bankstown is either a punchline or a nightmare. The very mention of the notorious south-western Sydney suburb raises brows and causes smiles to twist in disgust as though a rat-tailed lad in TNs and a faux Gucci bum-bag has appeared out of thin air.

Bankstown conjures mental images of dark tunnels where glass shards and graffiti are the only signs of life. You might think of a place where Centrelink and the police station share the same line; where rough words are exchanged like currency. Maybe you imagine that instead of alarms, the people of Bankstown wake to wailing ambulances and the lingering smell of gunpowder. Or maybe you have simply dismissed it as that place where ‘Moey Dw’ lives. For some of these stereotypes, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

But when I think of Bankstown, I think of the warm, knowing smile of the post-office cashier at Bankstown Centro and my second kitchen, Bankstown Sports Club. When I see the 2200 postcode, faces, names, and places flash into my mind like developing polaroids.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the suburb that gave Sydney cheap HSPs and popularised the word ‘eshayz’. As someone who has actually lived in Bankstown, I could tell you about cops being shot three doors down and disgruntled boyfriends pacing the street with machetes. And how that’s just another night in Bankstown.

At USyd, where less than 20 per cent of the student body is from Western Sydney, I’ve always felt uncertain about broaching the topic of where I lived with new friends. While we have all seen a mate or a juicy meme mock USyd as NSW’s most pretentious tertiary institution, the reality is that there has long been, and continues to be, a divide between ‘Sydney’ and ‘Western Sydney’. After all, young adults from Sydney have two favourite questions: “Where do you live?” and “What school did you go to?”

So would you believe me if I said that West is best? A mecca where authentic yum cha and cheap kebabs meet on one corner—the humble and resilient character of Bankstown locals shines through in the small businesses which bring bustle to the suburb. Before you loved us Westies for El Jannah, Jasmin 1 was a hive of neon lights and sequined belly dancers, the steady yet erratic beat of the tubel drum, and the inviting smells of Lebanese food.

Bankstown Sports Club also stands out in my memories of culture and family as a world-within-a-world that guaranteed a fast feast. Cobblestone floors and earthy terracotta arches form La Piazza, Bankstown Sports’ award-winning Italian dining precinct. Under Peroni umbrellas and gas lamp lights, a theatre of jumping flour and hand-spun woodfired pizzas play out from noon to night. With vines and makeshift laundry lines swaying from terrace balconies, surrounded by the best pizzas in the south-west, I feel closer to the back streets of Verona than the social deviance that plays out in news headlines about Bankstown.

Following regular face-lifts over the last decade, Bankstown Sports Club thrives now more than ever. With its own craft beer microbrewery and marble cocktail bar, some may say that Bankstown has developed a taste for class. Bankstown Sports Club prevails as a mid-week hub of activity for locals, where live bands and ballroom dancing stretch into the evening and Thursday trivia packs out the main lounge.

I always feel somewhat uneasy about returning to Bankstown, a bit like visiting an old friend who hasn’t changed in years when you have. Yet I always leave with a full belly, memories relived and, as the newspapers say, another machete wound.