Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Cabramatta is a suburb in south-western Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Cabramatta is located 30 kilometres (19 mi) south-west of the Sydney central business district, in the local government area of the City of Fairfield.
Cabramatta is colloquially known as ‘Cabra’ and has the largest Vietnamese community in Australia. It is also Australia’s largest non-Anglo-Celtic commercial precinct. The population demographics are reflected by the many Vietnamese-Australian businesses. As a result, the suburb is considered a gourmand destination for Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian and Chinese cuisines.
Cabramatta used to have a longstanding image problem, primarily due to its reputation as a point for drug-dealing. These drug activities began from the early 1990s (to late) as drug addicts were drawn to the area. However, since 2002, the problems have receded after an anti-drug crackdown was enforced by the NSW State Parliament.
European and Asian settlement
In 1795, an early settler named Hatfield called the area ‘Moonshine Run’ because it was so heavily timbered that moonshine could not penetrate. The name Cabramatta first came into use in the area in the early 19th century when the Bull family named a property they had purchased Cabramatta Park. When a small village formed nearby in 1814, it took its name from that property. A township grew from this village, and a railway was built through Cabramatta in the 1850s. It was used for loading and unloading freight and livestock. The railway station wasn’t open for public transport until 1856; a school was established in 1882, and a post office in 1886. Cabramatta remained a predominantly agricultural township.
It developed a close community relationship with neighbouring Canley Vale, and until 1899, they shared a common municipality. In 1948, Cabramatta’s local government merged with the neighbouring City of Fairfield, and today remains governed by the Fairfield City Council. It evolved into a Sydney suburb in the mid 20th century, partly as the result of a major state housing project in the nearby Liverpool area in the 1960s that in turn swallowed Cabramatta. The presence of a migrant hostel alongside Cabramatta High School was decisive in shaping the community in the post-war period. In the first phase, large numbers of post-war immigrants from Europe passed through the hostel and settled in the surrounding area during the 1950s and 1960s. They satisfied labour demand for surrounding manufacturing and construction activities, and eventually gave birth to a rapidly growing population in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The entrepreneurs were developing local enterprises.
In the 1980s, Cabramatta and the surrounding Fairfield area was characterised by a diversity of Australian-born children having migrant parents. Cabramatta High School was statistically the most diverse and multicultural school in Sydney, and a study showed that only 10% of children had both parents born in Australia. While many other parts of Sydney had their particular ethnic flavour, Cabramatta was something of a melting pot.
During the 1980s, many of these migrant parents and their children – now young adults – were to settle and populate new housing developments in surrounding areas such as Smithfield and Bonnyrigg that were, until that time, market gardens or semi-rural areas owned by the previous generation. In the 1960s and 1970s, the migrant hostel – along with its peer in Villawood – hosted a second wave of migration: this time from south-east Asia as a result of the Vietnam War. During the 1980s, Cabramatta was transformed into a thriving Asian community, displacing many of the previous migrant generation. The students of Cabramatta High School represented all manner of people with Asian or European descent. The bustling city centre of Cabramatta could have been confused with the streets of Saigon and historic “Chinatown”, while the Sydney CBD appeared very Western in comparison.
By the early 1980s migration to Cabramatta declined, and as a result the migrant hostel and its many hundreds of small empty apartments lay prey to vandalism. Only the language school remained: it continued to teach English as a Second Language into the early 1990s, until the entire hostel site was demolished and redeveloped into residential housing. A walk through the hostel before its demolition would have revealed closed and boarded-up corrugated iron buildings once home to kitchens, washing facilities, administration and so forth.
Central business district (CBD)
Freedom Plaza is located within the Cabramatta CBD and forms the pedestrian mall between John Street and Arthur Street. The Pai Lau or gateway forms the main ornamental feature of Freedom Plaza and symbolises harmony and multiculturalism. It was opened in 1991 by Nick Greiner, the Premier of New South Wales at the time, as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Entrance to Freedom Plaza
Freedom Plaza, view from John Street
Dutton Plaza, a three-storey building located centrally within the Cabramatta CBD, was opened in June 2016. The Fairfield City Council funded and owned retail development replaced an existing Council owned at-grade car park and amenities building, with all income from the new development to be invested in community projects. The development comprises 31 retail premises and amenities on the ground floor, four offices on the first floor, and 275 car spaces on the first and second floors. The public open space fronting the main entrance on the eastern side of the plaza was named Gough Whitlam Place, in honour of Gough Whitlam who represented Cabramatta as the Member for Werriwa from 1952 to 1978.
There is a mixture of schools in Cabramatta, including public, Catholic and private schools. These are:
Schools previously located in Cabramatta include:
The main public park in Cabramatta is Cabravale Park, which mainly fronts Railway Parade, but is also bordered by Park and McBurney Roads and Bartley Street. Cabravale Park contains children’s play equipment, fitness equipment, a basketball court and seating. The park underwent a major upgrade in 2009 as part of Fairfield City Council’s Parks Improvement Program. The park also serves as a war memorial. A heritage-listed bandstand, built in 1922 to honour the soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the First World War, is located near the centre of the park. The Vietnam War Comradeship Memorial, a monument containing a fountain and pond centred upon a bronze statue of two soldiers, is located near the main entrance of the park on Railway Pde. The monument was built to commemorate the comradeship between Australian and Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Other parks located in Cabramatta include Heather King Park (located on Vale St), Hughes Street Park, Longfield Street Park, Bolivia Street Park, Antonietta Street Park, Bowden Street Reserve and Panorama Street Reserve.
Cabramatta railway station is a junction station on the Sydney Trains network, where the Inner West & Leppington, Cumberland and Bankstown lines merge. A taxi station can also be found on Arthur Street in front of Cabramatta Post Office with frequent services and many taxis.
For details of bus services see Cabramatta station.
Cabramatta has been a melting pot for all manner of Asian and European peoples in the latter half of the 20th century. Since the 1980s, Cabramatta has been a centre for the Vietnamese, as well as many residents from other Asian and European origins.
According to the 2016 census of Population, there were 21,783 residents in Cabramatta, with 29.1% of people born in Australia.
The most common other countries of birth were Vietnam 35.0%, Cambodia 8.6%, China (excludes SARs and Taiwan) 4.7%, Thailand 1.9% and Laos 1.4%. 11.6% of people only spoke English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Vietnamese 37.1%, Cantonese 12.9%, Khmer 9.0%, Mandarin 5.1% and Serbian 2.9%. The most common responses for religion in Cabramatta (State Suburbs) were Buddhism 43.0%, No Religion 19.8%, Catholic 14.0%, Not stated 8.1% and Eastern Orthodox 2.9%.
- Jarryd Hayne (born 1988), rugby league player
- Sue Hines – award-winning children’s author
- Paul Langmack (born 1965), rugby league player
- Gertrude Melville (1884–1959), politician
- John Newman (1946–1994), politician
- Gough Whitlam (1916–2014), 21st Prime Minister of Australia
- Margaret Whitlam (1919-2012), social worker and champion swimmer
- Nicholas Whitlam (born 1945), businessman and corporate director
- Tony Whitlam (born 1944), politician and judge
- Darren Yap (born 1967), actor and director
- Phuong Ngo (born 1958), businessman, politician and convicted murderer
- Tri Minh Tran (born 1975), leader of the notorious 5T (gang)
Although crime rates has largely receded compared to decades ago, the suburb has had a reputation as one of the most ‘over-reported’ areas when it came to drug abuse. Cabramatta Railway Station became known as the “junkie express” and deaths from overdoses in public places such as toilets were reported. The heroin problem, and attempts to contain it, were the source of much controversy and failed actions involving politicians, senior police, human rights organisations and the media. The presence of youth gangs in the Cabramatta area has been a related problem.
Cabramatta is also remembered for the political murder of a NSW State MP, John Newman, outside his Cabramatta home in September 1994. This was Australia’s first ever political assassination and thus this assassination drew much attention and alarm. A local nightclub owner and political rival, Phuong Ngo, was convicted of the murder in 2001 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Two of Ngo’s associates were found not guilty of the murder. In 2009, Ngo failed in an appeal against his jail sentence.
Depiction in film
Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta, a 3 Part Documentary filmed by SBS simulcasted in English on SBS One and Vietnamese on SBS Two
Little Fish (2005) was filmed in the Cabramatta area. It starred award-winning Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett and other well-known figures such as Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving and Martin Henderson.
Prior to Little Fish, a film named The Finished People by Khoa Do, who grew up in a nearby suburb, was filmed/shot in the Cabramatta area. The movie focused on three individuals with different lifestyles. It won many awards and increased the area’s name towards a positive and creative status.
Taking Charge of Cabramatta, a documentary by Markus Lambert and Dai Le was filmed in 1998. The documentary starring former the convicted murderer of Cabramatta MP John Newman and former Fairfield Councillor Phuong Canh Ngo was funded by SBS and screened by ABC TV.
Change of Our Lives (2013) is a film by Maria Tran about the Vietnamese community and hepatitis B was set in Cabramatta. The movie was commissioned by Cancer Council and Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE).