The Area: a west side story

For its residents, Bankstown is one large family where bonds are made for life.

An artwork of the various significant sites in Bankstown Artwork by Elaine Wang.

It’s just before 7:30 am. There is a line in front of the Vietnamese bakery and everyone is patiently waiting for the morning’s fresh hot bread, which, partnered with cool, sweet iced coffee, is the most perfect breakfast. Close by, a similar aroma wafts in the wind. I am standing outside the coffee shop watching as the Arab uncles down their second or third short black with their fifth or sixth cigarette, praying that I don’t miss the train waiting for my coffee.

Bankstown, or as some people know it, “The Area,” is both chaotic and serene in the early hours of the morning. At 8 am, most older folks have been awake for about two to three hours and are enjoying the start of a new day. However, 8 am also means the rush to work and school. The hustle and bustle of this morning commute is often disturbed by the rickety old trains being at least five minutes late, each one groaning in a complaint as they make a sudden stop to accept hundreds of city-bound passengers. I can’t remember the last time I saw a new train going to the city at 8 am. It’s like they want us to suffocate on our journey towards making something of ourselves.

Often hailed the murder capital of Australia, Bankstown is the place I was born and raised. Between crowded communal weekly barbeques, and the car park at Bankstown Square on Thursday late nights, I have watched the culture of The Area resist and grow despite feeling like almost everyone in this country is against it. According to the news, Bankstown has been home to a lot of violence. Headlines relating to Bankstown always showcase drug busts, links to terrorism, and murder. Being a suburb that is populated by immigrants, much of the finger- pointing is always directed at a specific wave of migrants. At first, it was the Greeks, then the Arabs and finally the Asians, each bringing with them an apparently ‘new’ social problem in their failure to assimilate. It’s as if no matter where you’re from, if you don’t mould your existence to become this country’s version of palatable, you will be rejected. Perhaps Bankstown in itself is rejected because it is home to this country’s version of rejects.

Despite this, there is no other place you will find this awake at 7:30 am. It is all warm smiles, hands full with fresh baked goods and, above all, love.

In Bankstown, loyalty and respect are the law. Everyone is a cuz, a bro, a sis, an aunty, an uncle. These laws transcend race and ethnicity. This idea was brought up in a casual chat I was having with my friend the other day. He had recently been in contact with a friend from primary school who he hadn’t spoken to in a while. They ended their conversation with, “Any trouble [redacted name], you have Lebo friends mate, don’t be shy to use em if you need anything let me know.” If you’re from The Area, you become family, and once those bonds are made, they’re made for life.

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