The Whitney Pier neighbourhood of Sydney, where my fatherâ€™s family lived, had a steel making facility since 1901. Coke ovens, used to distill coal down to coke, an essential ingredient for steel, have many toxic by-products, such as PCBâ€™s. These coal-based contaminants and sludge had been dumped into the Muggah Creek, a fresh-water stream emptying into Sydney harbor for the most of the 20th century. This resulted in the Sydney Tar Ponds, right in this neighbourhood. Environmental research proved that steel workers in Sydney were inhaling coke fumes that amounted to over 30 packs of cigarettes per day.
My grandfather, Karol Dobrucki, was one of them. He started on the coke ovens around 1910 and died there in 1935.
After a lot of politics and public outcry, the steel mill was shut-down, dismantled and the tar ponds eventually cleaned up.
We visited Whitney Pier to see the neighbourhood of my father and his family, and found it to be quite depressed and run down. But the people we met were very friendly and curious about us. We parked the van right in front of 176 Tupper St, where our family home used to be and just walked around.
I soon met the Best brothers, who grew up there, and they were very eager to provide lots of history. For example, thereâ€™s an abandoned ball park right across the street. My dad, and avid pitcher, would have played in this now overgrown park. I was invited into their house, at 192 Tupper St to visit their mother, Mary Best, who just turned 90, and has lived in this house her entire life. She thought she remembered the Dobrucki neighbours, but wasnâ€™t sure, as she was a lot younger than the youngest of them. Talking to her as she sat in her chair brought a lot of emotion to my eyes.
We left Tupper St and drove up Lingan Rd to find the Old Calvary cemetery, where my grandparents are buried. I sat on a stone facing their marker and having never met them, I just day-dreamed of what they would have been like.
Suddenly, Karol and Veronica appeared, side by side, with my father, Joe, between them, their hands on each of his shoulders. Then the other 10 siblings appeared, sitting along each side of the concrete ledge surrounding the plot. They were talking and laughing and drinking whisky, and occasionally looking at me, who by now had Niagara Falls eyes. They were a lively, spirited, close-knit group, my uncles and aunts.
And I miss them all.
A word about these photographsâ€¦ I used my Lensbaby lens, which is, in my opinion, has an other-worldly outcome, which I knew would work for me because I felt I was travelling into the past when I visited Whitney Pier. Click on any photo for the slideshow. Please leave comments at the bottom of the page.