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Western Sydney mums on time leash

Mums in Western Sydney struggle to find work in their area.

PT2M32S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-364cn 620 349

Western Sydney's boundaries are on a slow march.

Until 1968, the Western Suburbs Magpies ran out on to Pratten Park at Ashfield, about nine kilometres west of the CBD, before moving to Lidcombe, then Campbelltown.

These days, the western Sydney regional organisation of councils defines its boundaries beginning at Auburn, 20 kilometres west of the city.

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Moving away from traditional boundaries: Western Sydney. Photo: Nick Moir

But the term has long drifted from the points on a compass.

In its most expansive government definition the greater west is bounded as far south as Wollondilly, north to the Hawkesbury and west to the Blue Mountains. It encompasses nearly 9000 square kilometres.

But Kevin Dunn, a geographer from the University of Western Sydney, says the term has an embarrassment of popular meanings: "You get assumptions that Hurstville is western Sydney".

Though Castle Hill and Liverpool are on diagonal lines about 30 kilometres above or below the heart of Sydney's CBD, the latter is more frequently thought of as the "west".

"It's a shortcut," said Dr Gabrielle Gwyther, a sociologist, "for certain preconceptions: it's not the eastern suburbs, basically".

The Hills Shire council has even formally divorced from WSROC, the alliance of 12 councils that perhaps was the first to give shape in the early 1970s to the idea of an underfunded "greater" west.

The Hills wanted to develop the north-west as its "own brand".

But it must have wondered about throwing its lot in with a political bloc that operates on the basis of socio-economic need. At close to $900,000 the median house price in Castle Hill is three times that of Tregear. 

Dr Gwyther says that western Sydney took on connotations as a place for the less cultured and privileged in the 1960s and 1970s when new migrants and lower income Australians moved into tiny fibro houses, or public housing estates. But she argues the west has grown too vast and complicated for one label, except in the minds of those who never visit. 

The west’s boundaries have expanded as the space between the Blue Mountains and Auburn fills up rapidly with new  migrants and suburbs. And it contains multitudes. Census data suggests Sydney’s most “advantaged” suburb is in the city of Blacktown: The Ponds, a new housing estate where the median house price is $640,000.

Former Rugby League coach and Fairfax columnist Roy Masters might have had a hand in crystallising the divide, too. As coach of the Magpies in the 1970s he famously styled a contest with Manly as the clash between the “fibros” and the “silver tails”.

He believes the class distinctions broadly still holds but stresses that the west is really made up of about five “nodes” that have only grown more different: the “fair dinkum fibros” around Doonside and Mt Druitt among them.

He says the idea of a single amorphous west has been kept alive in overtures from the media, the AFL and politicians.He recalls John Howard telling him the moment he realised he could win the 2001 election was when he was not booed by a stadium full of Parramatta Eels fans at that year’s NRL grand final. 

“It suits everybody now and then to gain their fealty,” he said. “They talk about it as the place they can do something for.”