TORI S. BARENDREGT | REGULARS
From August 2018 to August 2019, I had the opportunity to live overseas in Orlando, Florida, working at Disney World. During this time, I had the chance to meet people from all over the world and learn about their cultures. But while I was over there, I also had my eyes truly opened to how people view you based on where you are from.
I was working one day on the shop floor in the Magic Kingdom. As a part of our uniform, we wear a nametag that reads where we are from and our names. Under my name, it simply read “Australia.” I had two Australian guests come up to me. Our interaction went something like this:
“Where in Australia are you from?” they asked.
“New South Wales,” I replied.
“Where in New South Wales?”
“Where in Sydney?”
“The Western Suburbs.”
“Where in the Western Suburbs?”
“Do you have a knife on you?”
I never believed that that stigma would follow me as far as the other side of the world.
If you are unfamiliar with the area, here’s a quick run-down: Mt Druitt is part of the Greater Western Sydney region, a suburb in the city of Blacktown in the fourth ward. Blacktown City is a total of 246.9km2 and is the land of the Dharug people. Mt Druitt is 38 kilometres west of the Sydney CBD with its own train station and a Westfield right across the road from it and the hospital east of that. It received its name from its founder, Major George Druitt, who was granted the land by Governor Macquarie. The area is primarily residential, home to people of varying cultural backgrounds, including Australian, Filipino, English, Indian, and Pakistani.
Mt Druitt was also featured in SBS One’s 2015 series, Struggle Street, a documentary series meant to shed light on the struggles and aspirations of public housing residents in areas associated with high unemployment, drug use, and lawbreakers. Blacktown Mayor, Stephen Bali, called the series “poverty porn.” Mt Druitt is thus known for its high poverty and crime rates, inhabited by residents in the throes of financial difficulties.
I actually live in the suburb of Plumpton in Blacktown City in the fifth ward. Even in Australia, when people ask me where I am from, most don’t recognise the name “Plumpton,” and I have to use the neighbouring suburbs to pinpoint the general area. Most people get it when I mention Mt Druitt (where I went to high school) and, if not, Blacktown. Though the suburbs are so closely knitted that the borders are near indistinguishable to me, all the area is pretty much the same. Plumpton is approximately 46 kilometres west of the Sydney CBD and covers about 3km2. It shares its postcode, 2761, with neighbouring suburbs Oakhurst, Hassall Grove, Glendenning, and Dean Park. It has four schools, Plumpton House School, Plumpton Public School, Plumpton High School, and Good Shepherd Primary School (my primary school before grades 7-10 at St Clare’s Catholic High School in Hassall Grove and grades 11-12 at Loyola Senior High School in Mt Druitt). My mother refused to send us to public school in the area because she was terrified of teenage pregnancy.
My neighbourhood is on a sloping hill, right on the border with a neighbouring suburb, Rooty Hill. I have lived in the same house my entire life, and mine is the only family to have lived there. It is about a 20-30 minute walk to Rooty Hill train station, which I take twice a week for my 1-hour classes all the way to Macquarie Park. It is about a 20-30 minute walk to Plumpton Marketplace, the plaza where we did most of our shopping, only venturing to Mt Druitt Westfield or Blacktown Westpoint should the stores not be carrying what we were looking for. And it is only about a 10-15 minute walk to Nurragingy Reserve.
I can’t tell you any great stories about Plumpton or even any remotely interesting ones from my childhood there. The area is pretty gruesome. There was a car theft on my street when I was a kid, and I’ve heard of dead bodies discovered in Nurragingy Reserve. When I started going out by myself, my mother would always tell me to text her to let her know where I was to see that I wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere. But for the most part, I was pretty sheltered growing up and wasn’t exposed a whole lot to the harsh realities of the area.
But the early history of Plumpton is hopeful and does interest me. In my neighbourhood, further up the hill from me, is the Woodstock House. There is this little park just below it that I used to play at when I was young, and I remember it as a haunted house. It was fenced off, dark, run-down with broken windows, missing roof tiles and covered in graffiti, shrouded in shadows by a large tree on the lawn. This was what remained of the house of Walter Lamb, the founder of Plumpton.
Plumpton had initially been called Woodstock, after the house, which sat at the centre of the 1011 hectare estate, covering the combined area of present-day Plumpton, Glendenning, and Oakhurst, owned by Walter Lamb. Lamb had purchased this property in 1872, but it is estimated that the house was built circa 1884, which became his personal residence. All this area used to be farmland which marked the beginning of economic activity in the area. Lamb started out breeding cows but later turned to fruit cultivation in 1878. In 1883, he was subdividing his land to sell to stone fruit orchardists. Economic growth in the area continued with Lamb’s establishment of the Woodstock Fruit Cannery in 1887. However, Lamb was declared bankrupt in 1893, voluntarily liquidating the company with its demolishment in 1920. This came about due to a series of insect plagues during the 1890s that destroyed the orchards.
Some of Lamb’s farmland remains at one end of my neighbourhood, but that has been slowly disappearing as residential construction has sporadically been starting and stopping and starting again. But Lamb’s enterprise did not stop at farming. Lamb engaged in coursing, a sport in which greyhounds were trained to chase live hares, and had established the New Plumpton Coursing Ground on his estate in 1880. This is where today’s suburb of Plumpton received its name.
Since my days as a fearful child, curious about the ghosts that lived there but too afraid to investigate, Woodstock House has been completely renovated. It was purchased by Blacktown City Council in 1998, but work was not started until 2014 when the project contract was awarded to Carfax, who engaged Tropman & Tropman as the architects. The renovation was completed in mid-2016, opened to the public on 30 July 2016, and leased to Pecky’s Disability Services.
My area’s early history is honestly the only thing I find interesting about it. Otherwise, it is quite an unremarkable and mundane area. Though I hope to move from this area, I don’t mind being from here. People are often shocked when they find out I’m from this area because I don’t embody those typical stereotypes!