When I started this project, someone asked me if Auburn could be described as the Surry Hills of the West. No, I said, that doesn’t fit. It betrays the best things about the area. Sure, both suburbs are vibrant. Whether it’s 7am on Saturday morning or 10pm on Friday night both Surry Hills and Auburn are alive like few other suburbs. And sure, both have an extraordinarily dense collection of excellent restaurants but that’s where the line ends.
For most people in Sydney Surry Hills is a destination. The people inside the restaurants, the bars, the parks and the library mostly aren’t from Surry Hills, they’ve gone there maybe because of its reputation, maybe they think it’s cool, maybe that’s where their favourite restaurant is or maybe they’ve read a column online about something happening there. It may be cool, but it’s also contrived and curated.
Auburn is the opposite of that. Those guys drinking tea and playing backgammon in the sweet shop, they’re from Auburn. The families buying groceries at the insanely cheap fruit market, they’re from Auburn. All the young guys eating biryani, the families sharing bread and the kids ordering Persian ice creams, they’re from Auburn too. Auburn is vibrant not because it’s been in the paper or it’s cool, it’s vibrant because it’s meaningful to the people who live there.
It’s been that way since the 1950s when early post war migrants settled in the area. People from Italy, Greece, Ukraine and Russia, and after them Vietnam and Turkey. It was the latter which had the biggest affect. By the 80s the suburb was a miniature Turkish village, with the streets lined with Turkish delis, restaurants, music shops and fruit dealers. Some of which are still around but most have moved on and, in their place, have come a multitude of different cultures, languages and cuisines.
Now Auburn one of the most culturally diverse regions in all of Australia. A walk down the main streets will show off Persian jewellery stores, Turkish kebab shops, Pakistani restaurants, Nepalese takeouts, Chinese butchers and Afghan bakeries. To the Afghan residents it’s incredibly meaningful and nostalgic to be able to get the same breads as they did back in Kabul, the same for the Pakistani families in those Pakistani restaurants. But it’s not just Dari and Pashto being spoken in the Afghan bakery, you’ll hear Farsi speakers, Mandarin speakers and many more. It’s the same in the most popular restaurants, the supermarkets and the banks – there’s not just one community but an inspiring mix of languages, looks, ages and clothes. It is a shining example of what Australian multiculturalism can and should be and everyone is welcome to be a part of it.