Meet incognito locals, find out where chefs eat, and discover spooky urban legends
THE URBAN EXPLORER
URBAN EXPLORING IS the act of investigating old and run-down man-made structures. Urban explorers, who shorten the act to ‘urbex’, operate semi-secretly as the places they are getting into may not be safe or even legal to enter. Gia is a passionate Urbex-er who runs a photography blog called ShhSydney. “I want to reach out to Sydney folk so everyone can enjoy these places without having to travel there themselves,” she says. Recently Gia, 35, visited an overgrown mansion with an attached theme park that once specialised in dancing Spanish horses, called El Caballo Blanco. “It’s derelict now, and nature has totally reclaimed the zoo’s facilities. It’s evident that this was once an incredibly opulent place. It was a haunting place to visit, as animals were said to have been mistreated here; at the time there were no regulations for exotic animal ownership.” Gia prefers to operate solo, though she’s part of many online Urbex forums and Facebook groups: “a quirky collection of history enthusiasts, oddballs and adventure seekers”. The images she posts on ShhSydney often show building remnants overtaken by plantlife. “It’s so surreal wandering around a place that has been forgotten by society – every sound you hear is magnified. It’s the closest to a spiritual experience I’ve had.” CF shhsydney.wordpress.com.
“I wanted to give back to the community” “Every day is different... it’s a challenge”
THE WOMEN’S REFUGE CASEWORKER
Courtney is a lifeline for mothers and children escaping domestic violence. Her job at the Delvena Women and Children’s Refuge in North Sydney requires absolute discretion – the precise location of the live-in facility must remain confidential – and can vary from fixing washing machines to organising immigration paperwork. “Today I had a client who was in hospital, so I went out and had a meeting at the hospital, brought her back, then I had to go pick up some kids, so every day is very different.” Courtney’s been a caseworker with the refuge for three years and is still trying to find a balance between keeping domestic violence on the political agenda while maintaining her clients’ security and her own. “It’s a challenge,” she says. Delvena can house up to five families, and as Courtney walks around the colourful quarters, giggling toddlers bombard her with hugs and chatter. She says watching the kids grow in a safe space is the greatest joy of the job. But she’s realistic about maintaining her own emotional care: there’s a little oil burner in her office and plenty of debriefs with supportive co-workers. “Some days really get to here,” she says, pointing to her chest. “It’s how you work through that that’s important.” OG womensrefuge.org.au.
THE TEAM MASCOT
Every time the Newtown Jets play a home game at Henson Park, spectators are treated to the antics of Jet Man – the cheeky team mascot who interacts with kids, poses for photos and helps generate team spirit. Jet Man made his debut during the 2012 season, and a number of people have donned the outfit over the years. The latest is a 16-year-old student from Liverpool, Tommy. “I felt I needed to do something to give back to the local community,” Tommy says. “I used to live in Marrickville, and this takes me back to my childhood of going to the footy every week.” Last year Tommy had a stint as Sid the Sock, mascot to the Sydney Blue Sox baseball team, in Blacktown. But wearing a silly outfit and being the centre of attention has its challenges. “Some kids are just nasty! They’ll come up to you and hit you in the ballsack, do crazy things to you.” A handler is essential for Jet Man, as the helmet is very difficult to see out of. The costume also gets hot. “You sweat buckets. Every 20 minutes you have to have a bit of water, have a little break.” Then there are those situations a mascot can’t predict. “One time [at a Blue Sox game] this little girl comes towards me crying ‘Sid! Sid!’ I gave her a hug and this dog comes out of nowhere – I found out later it was her dog – and tackles me to the ground. I was fine, but I worried that the suit would be ripped up.” ND www.newtownjets.com.