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Chatswood was founded in 1876 but the Cammeraygal people had been living in this area for between 35 000 and 50 000 years earlier. Chatswood was named after Charlotte Harnett, wife of Richard Harnett who was the mayor of Willoughby. Her nickname was Chattie and because Chatswood was — and still is, densely populated by trees and parklands, the suburb was called Chattie’s Wood. Henry Lawson, one of Australia’s most famous poets wrote a poem about it aptly titled “Chattie’s Wood.” During the early 1900s, Chatswood was largely dairy farms and fruit orchards. Home to 25 000 people, the postcode here is 2067. Notable figures include poets Banjo Patterson and Kenneth Slessor as well as our former prime minister, Gogh Whitlam.
What Wikipedia doesn’t mention is that ours is a suburb plagued by brush turkeys. Growing up in Chatswood —I’ve lived here for my whole life, I've watched the local brush turkey population explode. Because Australia has so few natural predators and because brush turkeys are a protected species, their numbers have rapidly increased over the years. When I was younger I didn’t notice them, then when I was about 13 I realised there were more than before. Then I started hearing them on the roof at night, from there I started noticing holes in the garden. Things escalated quickly, the brush turkeys started digging up plumbing, vegetable gardens and upsetting the entire canine population. They were a nuisance and we were all mad they were protected. Then gradually, they just became a part of life. My family and I went from mad rage at these birds for tearing up our garden and keeping us up at night to absolute peace. Their numbers are insane now, growing every year to the point where I’m used to it. But the other day I was reflecting on it and realised that now I can never drive down my street without almost hitting four turkeys. But when I was 13, I would go days without seeing one. I’ve developed a fondness for these ugly ass birds, even though they dug up my pea plants, my carrots and destroyed my cactus. Now they are migrating across the bridge, showing up in Newtown and terrorising a new group of people. I guess when you have a huge pest problem you can’t do anything about, you have to lean in and embrace it.
I love Chatswood. It's convenient, a 15 minute drive to the city and a 15 minute walk to both Artarmon and Chatswood train station. It’s amazing how quickly I go from Lane Cove Reserve’s remote feeling bushland to Sydney’s bustling centre. I love that I can enjoy a huge Westfield but also some fantastic bushwalks. I love that I’ve been able to watch this suburb evolve and to see the introduction of Lunar New Year celebrations and Asian specialty food stores which have introduced me to all sorts of new things.
The smell of smoke emanating from chimneys, the classic sound of kookaburras laughing and even the possums having sex at night. Every couple of years we get frogs in the shower. They come up from the creek nearby and set themselves up in the bathroom. The other night when my sister went to check the mail, I heard a scream. She came inside and told me she was spooked by a huge toad on the letter box. I just laughed. We can always hear frogs at night but it's rare to spot them. These are things I’ve learnt to associate with home, belonging and family.
There is a preschool down the street from me which means during the day I can hear kids playing. It’s nice seeing families bike around the neighbourhood and kids exploring in their gardens. In this area where the wild and urban meet it is easy for kids to find magic. There's a footpath from Chatswood station partway down the Pacific Highway and when I was little my parents would walk me and my sisters down it after school. We called it the ‘fairy path’ and used to try and spot fairies. I walk down there now sometimes, it follows the trainline and is far less whimsical as an adult. But it still holds a lot of nostalgia and I smile whenever I use it.
Of course, there are things I don’t like here. The property market has gone insane and I doubt I’d ever be able to raise a family of my own here in the future. It reflects Sydney as a whole becoming increasingly more expensive to live in. Sure, the evolution of Chatswood into a trendy CBD has been great but the cost concerns me. Small cottages that are often a century old have been demolished for apartment complexes and I’m scared that the bush which I’ve gotten to enjoy will be gone when I’m older. That magic I experienced when I was small, it was all related to the bush and I want that preserved for all the generations that come after me.
Recently the interchange has developed a reputation for youth violence. The memorial garden where I used to eat sushi with friends has been the host of several brawls and our local police went so far as to warn us to avoid spending time at the station. The remembrance garden, filled with roses grown from clippings brought from the Somme in France is somewhere I would never go alone now. I see young people being searched at the station pretty regularly, the police have used these incidents to increase their presence and their power in the area. It's no secret that the police force have been intimidating children, especially children and young people from marginalised communities for a long time now. It's a bizarre change, from primary school when I used to run around the station with my friends, exploring the shops and thinking we were so mature and grown up. Back then I trusted the police, now I look back with a level of disillusionment.
It makes me sad to see how urbanisation and increasing living costs lead to more people experiencing homelessness. When I was younger I never saw people living on the streets in Chatswood, now I know about 4 regulars who have to sleep on Victoria Avenue at night. I know this isn’t as remotely bad as other areas of Sydney but in a country as wealthy as Australia no one should be without shelter or safety. Living in a city is fun, Sydney is huge with so many different suburbs and people in them. But I also know that development causes issues. The brush turkeys aren’t invading for no reason, we have expanded onto their turf. Homeless people don’t just appear out of nowhere, we have a growing income inequality gap worsened by rising living costs and a lack of support to help communities keep up.
Although my feelings have become more complex as I have gotten older, I love Chatswood. Maybe that's just because it's the first and only place I have ever lived, or maybe because I still feel drawn to the parks and the wildlife which makes itself seen on every street.