The Parramatta Road

Vanessa Berry

At the start of the Patrick White short story “Five-Twenty” (1968), Royal and Ella Natwick, an elderly couple, watch peak hour traffic on Parramatta Road from their front veranda. The cars and trucks, “big steel insects”, move slowly past. Watching the choked road Royal says: “I reckon we’re a shingle short to’uv ended up on the Parramatta Road.”


Parramatta Road is a place to move through rather than end up, to view with frustration through a car window as the traffic creeps onwards. It’s Sydney’s oldest thoroughfare, running twenty kilometres east to west from the city to Parramatta. Along it, drivers have a view of run down shopping strips and warehouses, and sometimes a glimpse of a first floor apartment where the contemporary equivalents of White’s couple live. For many years I was one of them, living in close proximity to the road. From my bedroom window, through the veil of black diesel dust that coated the glass, I could see into the Stanmore McDonald’s car park. This was a twenty four hour set; host to drama, romance, action and the occasional moment of science fiction when the 3am ambience of seagulls, car stereos and burger wrappers swirling in the wind started to seem all too weird. Even when I wasn’t watching it, the sound of the road was omnipresent. It crept into my dreams, a constant backdrop to my thoughts.


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"Parramatta Road is a place to move through rather than end up..."