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This article appeared in The Sydney Business Review on 15 November, 1995 as part
I remember taking a trip a long time ago to see my grandfather's sister. Aunty May lived in a remote village called Northmead. At other times, a special treat was to go with my grandmother to another place in the outback called Parramatta. We used to catch a bus and travel a long way to go shopping at Murray Brothers. My grandmother would get her hair done at Elizabeth French or Cordony's. The high point of the day was buying a bag of chips at a shop near the railway station before we took the long bus trip back to Pennant Hills.
Well, Elizabeth French is gone, Murray Brothers is gone, the chip shop near the station is gone. There's still a Cordony in Parramatta and the buses to Pennant Hills are still yellow and blue. I live about a hundred metres from Aunty May's old house. Parramatta is still a country town.
I have worked and done business in North Sydney, Chatswood and The Big Smoke – Postcode 2000. These are all thriving business districts with plenty of hustle and bustle. Parramatta has the hustle and the bustle and the thriving, but it has something which the others lack. Parramatta, like a large country town, has a sense of community to complement the commercial world. People in Parramatta seem to have relationships which go beyond business. It's hard to define, but perhaps you can see what I would mean if I called someone a Parramatta person. You would get blank looks if you called someone a Chatswood person, or a North Sydney person, or (pretentiousness alert!) a CBD person.
The organisations and institutions in Parramatta illustrate the nature of business here. The Parramatta Connection (as it was then) was an idea which probably would not have worked without a tradition of networking and openness. Similarly, Fred Symes would have had much more trouble setting up the Business Network in a town without Parramatta's set of business connections, contacts and even friendships. This newspaper works because it is part of the community – look at the crowd at the birthday party! The party shows the lack of formality in Parramatta. We can all down tools for it, because it isn't just a party, it's a chance to renew acquaintances and reinforce the feeling that we have a common interest in where we work.
I do business all over Sydney, but I base my business here because here is different. I don't know anywhere else where you can see the local Member of Parliament at the Leagues Club, or talk to the Lord Mayor while he buys his sandwiches for lunch, or meet your new bank manager at the opening of an accountant's office, or do business with the Council because someone mentioned your name.
Social manners here are different too, but I'm not about to restart the fun of the forty fabulous freeloaders. In Parramatta, people associate because they want to associate and they like each other. Nobody seems to care what school you went to or what you (or your father) do for a living. I guess this must be one of those egalitarian utopias you read about.
A little while back, I was at a social function and it struck me that society here is divided vertically. People clustered around certain institutions which make up the city – the Council, the Leagues Club, the newspapers, the Connection, the Chamber of Commerce, and others. Anyone was free to move from group to group. I remember a business party I attended in the eastern suburbs once. Every now and then a rumour would sweep the crowd about the imminent arrival of some person of high social status, and everyone would get ready to be suitably awed. What I like about Parramatta is that here we would just say : "Tell them to get a name tag. They know where the bar is".
Now, if I can just start a tradition of very bad ties every Friday...
A local government official once remarked that there were "forty freeloaders" who were at every social function around Parramatta, the implication being that these people just lunched and did little else. There was outrage across Parramatta at the suggestion. The manager of one of the prestige hotels rejected the idea completely as being a total fabrication, as he could only think of 39 names (and he should know). Journalists ringing around for comment found at least 370 people who knew they must be one of the forty. The story ran for weeks in the papers and a good time was had by all.
The author, who is a bona fide member of any purported peripatetic pack of Parramatta lunchophiles, suggested that t-shirts bearing the legend "Who are the other 39?" would be a good idea. A coup was to obtain a group photograph of MORE THAN 40 of Parramatta's business elite wearing the t-shirts (some over suits!!). The photo was, appropriately, taken at a social function.
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