Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parra-matured

Westfield Parramatta Main Stage (c. 2000)

The Sydney suburb of Parramatta has been many things in my eyes: a playground where dollars are earned, a playground where consumerism is practiced, an actual playground and a playground where the better part of a holiday can be spent. My lifetime has seen it referred to as the second business district in Sydney (second to the city) and, for the last thirty-five years, it has been the home of, what is currently, the third largest shopping centre in this country and formerly the largest in the southern hemisphere, Westfield Shoppingtown. My parents started taking me to Westfield Parramatta when I was very young. My furthest memory of it is from around 1994, just after their second and largest redevelopment. With the aid of an infantile mind, I was always pretty naïve to the existence of anything but Westfield in Parramatta; in fact, when I’d bring up one name, it was never without the other. Since then, Westfield, along with the city that it’s foundations were laid on, has matured much like I have: chances have it that just about anywhere that I regularly visited as a child has since been remodelled, redeveloped or overhauled in some way, shape or form; stores that were once there have probably been closed and reopened more than once; their tenants and residents now deceased or moved on, all paving the way for a new generation of people simply unaware of what has preceded them. So, in a world where change is of the norm, I’ve always been the type of person that has the habit of attaching memory to location, and as a natural repercussion of that, whenever I walk any inch of a place that I have visited in my past, such as Westfield Parramatta – a place that was prominent in my infancy and has now become routine in the infancy of my adult life– a landslide of those memories come tumbling behind my eyes. I admit, new stores are certainly a pleasure, but at the same time, I also see an element of melancholy in it. The memories that are glued to those places that no longer exist get lost in the natural progression of time, we never mean it to, but our eyes quickly adjust to the present and what once seemed so peculiar becomes a part of scenery; it's a real shame.

Unfortunately, if to make matters worse, companies have a tendency not to note down history, which, in my opinion, turns residents into tourists in their own hometowns, limiting their vision to the now. People may see it as a non-issue when I speak about it now, but the moment somebody puts up some sixty year old sepia photograph of some nearby suburban main street, those very people that were once blasé about such history start to exhibit some interest. There was one of those photographs framed on the waiting room wall of my old dental surgery and I found myself saying 'Hey, that's where that pizza place is now' – I think that there are so many missed opportunities to inspire that same type of curiosity in others. Ignorantly, Westfield failed to keep any history on their Parramatta centre, a centre that is well over a quarter of a century old and has been through three major transformations to date, the most recent of which was completed four years ago. The same can be said for Stockland with their Merrylands centre, another mall that I regularly visited as a child, currently going through its own redevelopment. The final day that Stockland Merrylands had every store open before the phasing in of new sections, just over two years ago, I managed to get quite a few photographs of the rest of the mall (except Hoyts Cinema) so that I wouldn’t let happen what Westfield had only years earlier. Evidently, nobody had done this with Westfield before the last redevelopment – in the end, the only photographs I managed to get my hands on were taken of celebrity appearances or for architectural and heritage purposes. The sentimentality that I hold must have been absent the day Westfield began to tear down the walls of what was a symbol of my childhood. So here is me doing what I can to paint a word picture, copied and pasted from my memory, of what I see mentally whenever I walk any inch of Parramatta and some other locations around Sydney. Rewriting what has been overwritten - here we go:

Intencity Advertisement Intencity & Hide & Seek – Westfield Parramatta 
Closure: c. 2000

Intencity is my fondest and most favoured memory of Westfield Parramatta. Intencity is an Australian game arcade chain and was one of the things that made the shopping centre, in my young eyes, more of a theme park attraction than a place to shop. Intencity once accounted for the entire furthest wall of the level five food court, the wall being split up into two open levels.  Also, on the second level of Intencity resided a playground called Hide & Seek. The word 'playground' really doesn’t sell it though, think tubes and ball-pools everywhere – on the walls, the ceiling, everywhere. I loved Hide & Seek over…well, anything at that age; it was amazing. Since it did business from within the Intencity space, when it closed, so did Hide & Seek, sadly.

I don’t know why it closed, money most probably, but it really mellowed the excitement I felt when visiting Westfield. Afterwards, there was this strange period where there was just sort of a black hole on that wall of the food court, the only thing that was there were two dormant escalators leading up from one of the five eating platforms. When Westfield began to overhaul the place over five years ago, anything that marked that Intencity was once there gradually disappeared; first it was the first floor where they placed a Galaxy Quest, a Pizza Hut (strangely Hide & Seek Advertisement enough), another shop that I don’t remember and that mini-merry-go-round with the carnie; then sometime later, they boxed off that entire section in order to remove those still relatively new stores in order to make better use of that wall, including the still vacant second floor, taking the escalators and that one eating platform with it (the other four platforms still remain) – in other words, the last remanence of Intencity was no more. Some of the food places along the side disappeared too - Subway and Red Rooster, to name a couple - they then would go to open a Goodlife Health Clubs gym on the upstairs (with windows looking down on fast food places, funnily enough) and a JB Hi-Fi (and a few new food places) on the bottom floor – that brings us to date.

Level 3 McDonaldsWestfield Parramatta 
Renovation: c. 2005

I often forget how different level 3 McDonalds was before the redevelopment. The image I have printed on my memory is quite a fragmented one in the way that some parts are clearer than others, you could say that the McDonald’s part of it is in high definition, but the part that surrounded Church & Argyle St intersection (c. 2005)the fast food outlet looks as though it was taken on a camera phone from that time. What I do remember is that the McCafé had been an added section, so it was just a small booth facing the McDonalds entrance, with the exclusion of that, the layout almost remains the same: the entrance and kitchen are all in the same place, the outer eating area is almost the same too,  and there were still panes of glass dividing the inside eating area from the rest of the centre. The most discernable difference, aside from the décor which was common among all McDonalds outlets at that time, was that there was the outside eating veranda for those shoppers that wanted to fatten up while watching the trains pass. I’m not too savvy on the details, so bare with me: I’m pretty sure it was where Freedom Home is now (pictured here), looking down onto Argyle Street. What I do remember about that veranda is that somewhere between five and ten years prior to the overhaul, there was some sort of incident involving a young child. Now, I don’t think the kid jumped, but I think he almost did, all I know is, ever since that day, they wrapped a chain around the two doors that opened onto the area, padlocked it and they never opened those doors again - that is, of course, until they threw a new shop on top of it.

Now for the surrounding area, and this is where the details ascend to a whole new level of uncertainty: I can say for sure that there weren’t any that went up to Borders before, because, one, I’m pretty sure that’s where the McCafé stood, two, there was no Borders store (duh!) and, three, that’s where the cinemas were as they took up a large bulk of level four (and I assume level five). The part that confuses me most is the lighting and the other escalators. Prior to the overhaul, I remember being able to look over the railing from McDonalds and have an unobstructed view of the level one food court, aided by a substantial spill of light from outside, my only obstruction being the escalators connecting levels one and two. Currently, things are a lot more cluttered looking down from that same railing; there is no longer the same amount of natural light and I am pretty sure an extra flight of escalators joining level two to three were added in the overhaul, however, that only raises the question of where that flight of escalators was before. What it is exactly that now obstructs the light and my clear view of the first floor is an enigma. It’s one of those things that I will never know - like I said, if only Westfield or somebody else had taken some still photos.

Village 8 Cinemas Westfield Parramatta
Closure: 28/4/05

Village Cinema Closure Report

Village 8 Cinemas in its last years was probably the worst cinema I’d ever visited, in both hygiene and interior design. Its obvious issues always made Hoyts in Merrylands the preferred choice when going out to see a movie. Village 8 once sat in the entire area starting from Swarovski to Borders book store. There were two ways you could get into Village 8: the first being the entry from within the centre with Swarovski on the corner (Swarovski still exists in that same position today) and those three televisions atop the double-doors that were never quite as clear as they could’ve been, showing trailers and such (I sort of remember them just being static in the later years, though). Through the doors followed a long, L-shaped corridor, which eventually lead you to the ticketing booths, a small candy bar and, quite amazingly, two office elevators that still exist today (Level four, in the corridor leading to the restroomVillage 8 Movie Listings closest to Borders -pictured here). This entrance was always a bit of a design flaw as it was awkwardly narrow and you had to pass the actual cinemas to get to the ticketing booths, which I don’t remember being such an issue...at first (cue suspenseful music). Then there was the second entrance, from outside on Church Street, where Café Dela France is now (across from where Coffee Emporium is today). It was a steep flight of stairs, pretty wide in comparison to the rest of the place. This unfortunately suffered the same fate as the McDonalds veranda, as it was closed  forever; not too sure why. This meant that the other entry was, now, the only means of getting  in, which only augmented its design flaws. After closing that street-entry, I could liken trying to enter Village 8 to being in the mosh-pit at a concert - it was unnecessarily dark, pushy, cramped and quite dangerous. Not only did it exenterate entry issues, but I'm pretty sure that it also raised the frequency of ticket evasion as there was no real effective way to discern who was trying to get a ticket and who was just trying to see a free movie, nor did they have the space to check your ticket stubs, especially in peak times. This only meant that those last years, the checking of tickets mid-movie got quite anal which is where (like I mentioned a while back in this post) my mother was removed from a viewing because she couldn’t find hers. Because of these obvious issues, the change of location in the Westfield complex and its operator was way past-due. According to what I remember, it was about a year after closure until Greater Union opened, thus completing the final phase of the Westfield Parramatta redevelopment in 2006.

Warner Bros. Store & Disney Store Westfield Parramatta
Closure: N/A

The Warner Bros. Store and the Disney Store only complimented my childhood joys of a Westfield visit. The Warner Bros. Store was located on level two, near the main stage, where City Beach currently is. Not only was the store quite large in comparison to its neighbours and that there was a massive multi-monitor display on the back wall made up of several CRT televisions showing various Warner Bros. flicks, but what drew me to this store the most were these tunnels that they had. They were located to the back of the store, in what is now the DJs platform in City Beach. Crawling into these two joined tunnels would reveal little screens also showing cartoons and some sundry WB stuff. For some reason, these particularly small tunnels were like Christmas morning every time for me. Like Hide & Seek, losing this was quite upsetting, however, when the store closed isn’t real clear to me, nor are my memories of the Disney Store (some say that it was around where Glue is today, but I don't remember).

Hoyts Cinema & Video Ezy - Merrylands
Hoyts Demolition: c. 2008
Video Ezy First Move: pre-2000

Like I said, it was always either Village 8 in Parramatta or Hoyts in Merrylands. Hoyts Cinemas once sat on the corner of Treves Street and McFarlane Street in Merrylands, protruding into the Stockland car park. Many movies were seen there, many memories had, and that all goes without saying. My furthest memory was when Hoyts was not there and Video Ezy was. It’s difficult fathoming the image of a large building not towering over that corner, but in my memory’s lifetime, a time when the DVD wasn’t yet mainstream and hiring movies was still a serious concept, it was once a quaint little standalone Video Ezy outlet before it moved to its newly-built and larger store just up the road on the corner of Burford Street and Merrylands Road. Since the market for physically renting movies up and hopped into its deathbed, roughly the same time that everybody realised that renting easily-scratchable compact discs is like playing Russian-roulette with the entertainment aspect of your night, Video Ezy once again relocated virtually across the road a couple of years ago into a cosier store that Blockbuster had only just vacated (who, funnily enough, have recently filed for bankruptcy), only to live out, what I suspect, is the Merrylands’ store’s final years.

Utopia Records - George Street, Sydney
Relocation (to Broadway): c. 2006

Utopia Records is currently located at its new home near Town Hall in the Sydney CBD after living in Broadway for a few years. Before the move to Broadway, it was located underneath Greater Union Cinemas (now named Event Cinemas) on George Street, where Sportsco Direct (a sports gear outlet) is now. Like all of the places I have mentioned, my sentiment doesn’t typically lie with the business, but more the place where that business used to be. In this particular case, my sentiment exists partly because Utopia was just more of a common meeting place and somewhere to shoot-the-shit when I was fourteen. You see, I always remembered Utopia as being horribly overpriced, which never made it worth buying from when it was on George Street and definitely not worth the leg when it moved to Broadway. Now, I couldn’t care less about sports gear - I’m no athlete - but despite that fact, I still occasionally find myself in that Sportsco, only that I never buy anything…you know, like a nut. The same way that I sometimes sit in Borders, Parramatta reminiscing about how less than ten years ago I would’ve been in the same spot visiting some piece of shit cinema, I often walk around that sports store trying to place where everything used to be - the stage where garage bands would perform; the CD racks that I would awkwardly lean on during; the place they used to keep all of the Marilyn Manson albums, his autobiography sitting just above them; admiring the pieces of wood that are where the in-floor display cases used to be; the people that I saw in there that have since passed on; and, probably most importantly, some drifted friendships. So, no matter how expensive, I do miss Utopia being there.

Aside from the pre-2000 style sign outside the level three restrooms and the design on the back of the main elevator shaft in Westfield, which both somehow managed to survive whatever makeover The Westfield Group had thrown at them these last sixteen years, other note-worthy relics of my home city include: The Roxy in Parramatta, which was once a historic single-screened movie theatre before being downgraded into a...[takes a deep breath]...a nightclub. JB Hi-Fi on Church St, Parramatta, once the only entertainment retail store worth visiting in the area, despite it's inconvenient placement, they then remedied this by opening another, more convenient store in Westfield (where Intencity once was), then soon after that, the now smaller JB Hi-Fi outlet by comparison moved around the corner into a bigger store on George Street, matching the décor of the others. The old Parramatta Station (partially pictured here) which didn’t have the big awning that it does now, nor did it have the underground concourse from Westfield’s level one food court, the ticket gate section or the bus interchange that the concourse leads to (however, the other, less popular, set of ticket gates did exist); those things of which are thanks to the most recent Westfield overhaul. The Church Street thoroughfare, between Marsden and George Street, which had that run-down playground and that circular water play-thing that would randomly change what section would release water which, to my amusement, would be the cause of many wet children. The Family Fun Centre on Church Street in Parramatta, which was actually more of an arcade fun centre for Parramatta's scum than somewhere you would take your family; recently just opened up as a vitamin store. The Asian Bakery that once sat at the Sussex and Goulburn Street intersection in the city which my dad used to take me to as a child, far superior to the Barbys that is there now. Also worth a mention is the AMF Bowling alley in Parramatta, which I visited as a child and miss seeing on the way into Parramatta train station from the east.

Westfield Extension gets green lightGreater Union Construction (c. 2005)New Westfield Advertisement

So, there…I finally finished it. After a year of nostalgically pondering the subject matter, a few months of cerebral bulimia, a lengthy visit to the heritage centre and two frighteningly messy word-processing documents later, it is done. There’s no doubt that Westfield Parramatta has matured over the years, especially in the last decade, replacing shops that virtually played cartoons and had tunnels for you to play in with stores that simply sell clothing, and closing down a mega-sized game arcade and opening up a colossal-sized book store; with the exception of one or two stores, it really has grown into an all-shop and no play sort of centre, a lot different to what it was when I was growing up. So now, assuming that the internet doesn’t die out on us one day, and same can be said for this blog, these little snippets of local history that had been otherwise lost due to the narrow-mindedness of others have a home and are, in a manner of speaking, safe from extinction.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Qantas’ Broken Record

If you live here in Australia, then it’s playing on your television. All you need to do is turn it on to listen to that record rant on about how Qantas has just broken theirs, and make no mistake, that broken record is spinning. They had a good run for a while there; Qantas’ record hadn’t played in a couple of years, but now, to their misfortune, someone has applied enough pressure to that ‘on’ button for it play, and it just plays on and on. The lyrics of Qantas’ broken record, which the media dusted the cobwebs off and have played over our airwaves on loop for the last few weeks, are simple: that Dustin Hoffman has now been proven wrong and the Australian Airline’s ‘safe record’ is at stake. So, the question is, why does it seem like the exact same thing is happening that only happened a couple of years ago in 2008? Is it just the media rehashing a sensationalised story or is this a biannual gag that Qantas enjoy playing on everyone?

Firstly, let’s take a step back in time: In July of 2008, a Qantas jet flying from Hong Kong to Melbourne suffered explosive decompression, which literally punched a hole the size of a small car in the baggage section of the fuselage. Now, normally this would have been seen as just one of the many things that can go wrong that did when engaging in air travel, however, what followed was the coming true of any Australian news producer’s most intense and vivid of wet dreams - more midair incidents on Qantas-run aircraft. Three days later, a plane of theirs had to turn back and land because it’s landing gear failed to retract. Early the following month, another plane had to do the same and land because it leaked hydraulic fluid. Now, the two previous things and the myriad of other quite minor incidents - too great in number to even mention - were all an obvious result of Qantas being under media-scrutiny, until two months later in October when one of their planes nosedived unexpectedly due to a computer malfunction, this one resulting in several serious injuries. After all of this, not only did every journalist devour Qantas like at an all-you-can-eat buffet, making out like Qantas are full of morons and routinely making use of the phrases ‘string of issues’ and ‘series of problems’, but many took the ‘tarnished safe-record’ route as well, the ‘can Australians still trust Qantas?’ headlines come rolling in, often aided with the all-too-critical Rainman reference where Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character refuses to fly anything but Qantas due to the fact that the company have never had a crash or a fatality in its history. At present day, almost like the media are doing reruns of the news, this exact same thing is happening again. Almost every ‘t’ is virtually being crossed here with the exception of injury, from smoke in the passenger cabin to the ruined Rainman quotes. It all started earlier this month when a jet flying over Indonesia had an engine explode, dropping pieces on one of the Indonesian islands. That’s where the play button got pressed - there followed, just like in 2008, a litany of small incidents, one of which includes smoke entering the cockpit, just like in 2008. Like I said, all of it just has that familiar-déjà vu feeling to it.

First and foremost, I point the finger at the manipulative-manipulated Australian media. We all know that when it comes to the media, be it in Australia or any other country, once someone or something falls into that spotlight, they’ve just been sentenced to months in a prison of close media-scrutiny, so close in fact, that anything that they do in those months makes it as headlining news six o’clock the following night; is Qantas suffering this treatment? Do they just have these incidents all the time yet the media only notices them when they are watching Qantas, concocting some fabricated rough-patch? Or maybe Qantas are in bed with them, and that’s why negative news reports are so infrequent. That is always a possibility, I mean, assuming that incidents like rapid drops in altitude and mid-air explosions are happening all the time, how would these things just simply go unnoticed? It seems that even the more minor incidents go straight over the media’s head, so to speak. If indeed there have been transactions of money between the media and the airline, some might ask why there have been these two ‘strings’ of issues if the media are meant to be silent. The way I see it is, in this day and age, the media can still be silenced, but that doesn’t take care of personal accounts and, thanks to the revolution of the internet, those accounts can now go a long way. I can guarantee that the next time there is an incident on one of these planes, if not tomorrow, it’ll be in two years time – mark your calendars, guys – a quick Google search will bring you blogs and Twitter feeds recounting mid-air Qantas blunders.

Hey! Maybe Qantas have and are being treated correctly. Maybe Qantas did have a one hundred percent preacher’s sheets clean slate for a couple years and then all of a sudden, within three weeks, have numerous incidents (and counting...), on several different aircraft, all of which are reported on the news; I hope you could sense the sarcasm there because this just isn't possible. Seriously, is Qantas having a laugh? Is this the Qantas version of April Fools’? Do you reckon they all went ten pin bowling for a work-outing one night and realised that they just really love streaks, be it a winning one or a losing one? What I am trying to say is that there is no way that it just happened this way, and for a second time, at that.

Something doesn't smell right here and the grand question is, who’s the arsehole who reeks of foul-play - Australia's trusted airline, Qantas, or all of the Australian and worldwide journalists whose pens and word-processing programs seem to all cease operation simultaneously? Ask yourself that question when Qantas break their perfect ‘safety’ record for a third time.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Snoop Dogg to the Rescue!

Dr. Perry

As much as I enjoy ranting on about my issues with music whenever I get the chance to, I would normally refrain from writing about it, simply because once I start I wouldn’t quite know where to stop, but when it comes to Snoop Dogg’s career, I have been satiated with things that cannot possibly be left unmentioned. This last month, I've been watching the music video for the song Get 'Em Girls by Jessica Mauboy which amusingly enough features the aforementioned rapper. Now, from the first viewing to the last, I am reminded of something that I can’t quite put my finger on, I don’t know what it is...oh, wait a minute, that's right - I'm reminded of every other female pop song Snoop Dogg has been featured in this last decade!

Ever since I started listening to rap, I have watched Snoop Dogg, in amazement, go accelerando from a successful rapper who you might say was one of the building blocks in the golden age of rap, being placed alongside names like Dr. Dre and 2Pac, to what he is today, some sort of icon of the retarded love child between pop and rap, placing himself alongside names like The Pussycat Dolls and Katy Perry; that's right, not even male pop stars. It would seem that Snoop has earned himself a seat in pop music, becoming some sort of white knight for the genre. This way, whenever some female dance-group have the misguided idea that their moves have something to do with having what it takes to make a musical record or some female pop star wishes to throw her convictions away and dabble in misogyny, the pop-business now know exactly who to call when they want these otherwise doomed ideas to make a profit, and after all, making the most money that can be made is something that pop knows how to do better than any other genre. So, if Snoop Dogg is the thing bringing in cash, which not only draws in pop lovers but rap lovers too, pop is sure to squeeze every drop of juice out of him until we are utterly sick of the sound of his voice.

When it comes to pop, I’ve found that the cosmetic-side of things often gets first priority over the music-side. This inevitably means that any pop music video ends up looking like a video with some music attached to it, as opposed to a music video that was attached to a song, even if it isn’t so. So given how important music videos are to pop and to compare Snoop’s latest venture with our own Jessica Mauboy, I indulged myself in every pop video for a song that he has been featured in since the first in 2000 and, in doing so, I noticed that they are all much alike: firstly, he will always appear in the initial twenty seconds, either to pop off a few lyrics or to simply state his presence in the song, much the way that they do in any rap song; after that twenty seconds, he will either repeat words like ‘yeah’, ‘what’ and ‘aha’ faintly in the background or, more commonly, make like Houdini in a disappearing act until, three-quarters into it, he makes his awaited return in his brief and tacky ‘rap’ verse. This way people are intrigued by the sight of him, yet they are forced to wait out most of the song and the headlining performer’s vocals in order to hear Snoop do his thing; it’s all business.

This transformation from '90s gangster to the pimp of girl-pop is a bizarre change of direction in Snoop Dogg's career, and would be in any rapper’s career, for that matter. This would be like if in five years time Eminem began featuring in pop-songs, and I'm not talking about being featured in an Akon song or featuring the occasional pop star in his own songs, I am talking about all out ‘Britney Spears feat. Eminem’ type stuff. In ‘Get ‘Em Girls’, Snoop says “I walk you down the runway of success”, so this begs the questions, after virtually assisting The Pussycat Dolls in their debut success by featuring in one of their first hit songs and bringing instant-success to every other pop song he has been involved in since, does this mean that it is only a matter of time before Snoop is grinding up against some other pop-glamour? With two songs being released within months of each other (‘California Gurls’ in May and ‘Get ‘Em Girls’ in September), can we see a trend beginning to form? I guess the larger question is has Snoop Dogg now become a brand name on the pop-palette because it guarantees a song hit-status when it gets attached, walking pop stars down that ‘runway of success’, so to speak? We shall see. Aha, aha, yeah.


Check it out for yourself:
Still D.R.E. (2001) and then California Gurls (2010)
The Next Episode (2000) and then Get ‘Em Girls (2010)
Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang (1993) and then Buttons (2005)
and the list goes on…