Cutting-edge contemporary architecture meets gritty industrial heritage on the award-winning Goods Line: an old, disused railway corridor recently restored as a linear park and pedestrian walkway.
What do you do with a defunct nineteenth-century rail line, long fallen into disrepair, situated right in the centre of an ever-growing metropolis where real estate comes at an ever-increasing premium?
No, happily, the seemingly default response of neglect or demolition (or both) for redevelopment and profit was not the course of action in this case.
Instead, perhaps thanks to Sydney’s little-brother-like emulation of New York, the rail line was not only spared but earmarked to become something new and different.
And so the Goods Line came to be. Just 500-odd metres in length, this walkway/cycleway links the northern and southern ends of Sydney’s CBD, making for a handy shortcut from touristy Darling Harbour to the student hub around Central Station.
Though it’s been on my list since it opened to the public back in 2015, I only recently had the chance to check out the Goods Line for myself. I think if I’d realised how ‘on the way’ it is in relation to some major city landmarks, and how little time is currently required to take it all in, I would’ve gone sooner. And certainly it had nowhere near the amount of visitors I would’ve expected on a day like the warm spring Saturday on which I visited — perhaps for now the line remains a little off the beaten track.
Lesser-known it may be among the public at large (for now), but the Goods Line is no secret among design and architecture buffs. In the past few years it’s swept up several industry awards.
And even if you haven’t come across the Goods Line itself, you may well have heard of its star attraction. The Dr Chauk Chak Wing Building, designed by eminent architect Frank Gehry, is said to resemble a crumpled brown paper bag. To me it kind of looks a building mid-bellydance.
Disclaimer #2: by all accounts it pales in comparison to the glories of New York’s High Line, to which it is often compared. Short and wide where its forerunner is narrow and long, the Goods Line is not quite a thrilling, mind-blowing destination in and of itself (yet?). But it does make for an interesting walk near the heavy-hitting attractions of Chinatown, the Powerhouse Museum, and all the delights Darling Harbour has to offer.
As the name suggests, the Goods Line follows the alignment of a historic freight railway line that opened in 1855. It was significant as the first such line to open in New South Wales, transporting goods and produce like wheat, coal and wool from way out west to Darling Harbour — which was traditionally Sydney’s working port — for export beyond the colony.
It’s hard to imagine now but in the words of GML Heritage, this area of Ultimo, Darling Harbour and surrounds was once:
the heart of industrial Sydney and alive with wharves, wool stores, power stations, mills, shipyards, heavy locomotives and busy rail lines that moved tonnes of produce around the country and overseas …”
Traces of this rich industrial heritage remain in the form of the existing heritage rails, an arched sandstone culvert (drain) and a historic underbridge. There’s also what looks like a spiky modern art sculpture; the rusty old levers were actually part of an old mechanical device used to operate the railway points and signals here.
All alongside the decidedly 21st-century touches you’d expect of a semi-elevated linear park/thoroughfare. Free WiFi, for instance, along with a ping pong table, study pods and a little amphitheatre for public performance. All in all it feels a bit like a gritty, industrial urban playground — one that just happens to link up a bunch of institutions like the Powerhouse Museum, the ABC, and UTS.
For all that, the Goods Line retains a touch of the unfinished about it, a sense that bigger things are yet to come further down the track (pun intended). Stay tuned.