Sydney’s Western Suburbs: Where to Live?
Sydney is a vast behemoth of a city, with a sprawling urban conurbation like no other in the Southern Hemisphere and property prices to make a poor man weep. We look at some of the key suburbs in Sydney’s west that are actually affordable for the average family, and the pros and cons of each.
Sydney is a notoriously expensive place to live, with average property prices in inner city suburbs such as Newtown and Potts Point at about $1,500,000 and rental prices hardly on the cheap side either. If you work in Sydney, unless you’re an investment banker or have inherited a great fortune it’s going to be difficult to afford living in any of these inner suburbs. You might want to check out the western suburbs of Sydney, in which case our guide is perfect for you.
Some of these western suburbs, though, have a bad reputation, with the first image springing to mind for many when suggesting names like Parramatta, Granville and Wentworthville is hooded knife-wielding gangs, Commodore-driving hoons and heroin-addled degenerates lining the pavement like yesterday’s discarded Mcdonalds wrappers.
While some of this may be true to an extent, there are good areas in Sydney’s west. We take a look, suburb-by-suburb, of some of the more affordable areas of Western Sydney and discuss the merits and drawbacks of each.
Parramatta is about 23 kilometres west of the Sydney CBD itself and is the oldest inland European settlement in Australia. Whether it’s considered part of Sydney itself or an entirely separate city is a matter for debate, but most people consider it to be part of the region known as ‘Greater Western Sydney’.
Parramatta is a noted business and commercial hub, having the 6th largest CBD in Australia, and the 5th largest shopping centre in Westfield Parramatta. Parramatta is almost literally the centre point of the Sydney metropolitan area, making it truly a hub for commercial activity in the whole greater Sydney region. Indeed, some analysts have suggested it is only a matter of time before Parramatta overtakes the Sydney CBD itself as the major central business point in the region.
A number of excellent cafes and restaurants can be found along the suburb’s alfresco dining haven, Church St, which features a large selection of cuisines from around the world and is affectionately known to the locals as Eat Street.
Some of the best and most renowned restaurants along Church Street include Courtney’s Brasserie, a modern Australian offering with a bistro, ethnic restaurants such as El Pheonician and Kouzina Greco and Pho Ben, offering splendid Vietnamese fair.
Parramatta is well-connected to Sydney by train and road links, and the Parramatta railway station serves as a major hub and interchange point for the entire greater Sydney region. The station can take you to the Blue Mountains, Cumberland, and further out to Penrith, as well as to the CBD – which takes about 20 minutes on an average journey.
Parramatta also has a number of famous landmarks, none more so than the Lennox Bridge, a stone arch bridge crossing the Parramatta River built in 1836, and one of the oldest bridges in Australia.
Other landmarks include the Tudor Gates, a set of four gates in Parramatta Park built in 1885 and designed by Scottish architect Gordon McKinnon, which are made out of wrought iron and forged by a local blacksmith to the area, T Forsyth. The gatehouses are one of the most significant English cultural landmarks in the region and are a stunning example of 19th century architecture and landscaping.
Parramatta Park has many other cultural landmarks and sights such as these, and in a country which is often lacking in cultural identity, the value of such landmarks truly cannot be understated.
As far as safety and crime goes, most visitors to Parramatta will tell you that it is quite safe – as long as you don’t go looking for trouble. Certain areas are a little sketchy at night, particularly around Langston Place or even Church Street late at night, and you can spot the odd bit of ethnic tension boiling over into violence on the streets at times.
These problem areas have become very heavily policed of late, however, so as long as you keep your wits about you and don’t hang around the streets by yourself looking as though you’re out to make a sneaky drug deal, you should be okay.
Parramatta does have a large foreign born population, with 57.6% of residents being born overseas, including 14.1% from India and 12.8% from China. There’s a very large Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) speaking contingent, so if you speak Chinese you’ll certainly have no problems finding people to converse with and befriend.
The suburb’s property market is very heavily skewed towards apartment living, with 72% of dwellings in the suburb being apartments, and more apartment complexes being built seemingly every day. This high-density, inner-city style living might or might not be an attraction to you, depending upon your lifestyle goals, but keep in mind that the suburb suffers from significant housing stress, with waiting lists usually extending into the months and applicants for decent units often stretching into the hundreds.
Median Property Price (2013): $594, 000
Median Rental Price (2013): $455
If the high property and rental prices of Parramatta are putting you off, you might want to consider Granville, a suburb just to the south of Parramatta that, while having not quite the commercial buzz and activity of its northerly neighbour, is still relatively close to the Sydney CBD at 22 kilometres away and well connected to the rest of Sydney via the train network.
It has more of an industrial bent than surrounding suburbs, being home to a number of factories, warehouses and truck depots, but still has some decent residential areas to be aware of. Its close proximity to nearby Westfield Parramatta, or even Auburn’s shopping centre means that you’ll always have shopping options close-by for added convenience. Public transport is also extremely convenient, with Granville station being a major stop for most routes, and the train line is well connected to the rest of Sydney.
Some negative points about Granville, however. First is that it has a high percentage of ethnic/foreign-born population. This might not necessarily be a problem for you, but just be aware that if you are from an Anglo/English speaking Australian background, you might struggle with integrating into the community.
Over 50% of Granville’s population were born outside Australia, with the majority of residents being Indian, Chinese, or Lebanese immigrants. Alongside this, three quarters of Granville residents speak a language other than English – with the most common being Arabic, Mandarin and Cantonese. If you’re a Muslim, however, and are fluent in Arabic, you might find Granville well suited to you, as it has a number of mosques and Muslim schools, as well as a large Muslim population who will be happy to welcome you into their community.
Having said that, all of this cultural diversity means that Granville is bestowed with a huge variety of restaurants, cafes and kebab shops offering cuisine from around the world, none more renowned than El Jannah, a Lebanese restaurant offering some of the best charcoal chicken anywhere outside of Lebanon itself.
So, to sum up Granville; like so many of Sydney’s western suburbs, it’s got an undeniably dodgy reputation, but there are property bargains to be had if you look for them, and don’t mind living in a community that might not necessarily all speak English or even be familiar at all with typical Australian customs and culture.
If you’re an immigrant yourself, particularly one who speaks Arabic, Granville might be perfect for you – but if you’re an Australian raised person you might want to consider something either further out to the west – despite the almost exponential increase in traffic and travel time – or further north to the Hills District, and suburbs such as Castle Hill.
Median Property Price (2013): $561,000
Median Rental Price (2013): $420
Baulkham Hills is another of Sydney’s western suburbs worthy of consideration; it’s slightly more to the north-west of Sydney than the two aforementioned suburbs, and is a prominent part of the Hills Shire, the local government area for the northwest region.
Baulkham Hills is slanted more towards a traditional Caucasian population than much of Sydney’s west, with 65.5% of its residents being born in Australia and 69.4% of residents speaking only English at home.
The suburb is quite well serviced by major roads, connected to the Sydney CBD via the M2 Hills Motorway, but if you’re looking for a place that’s well connected to the metropolitan train network – sorry, you’re out of luck in Baulkham Hills, as there’s no train station there. Some say the lack of a train station though has helped contribute to the suburb’s generally quiet and safe atmosphere, as suburbs which can’t be accessed by ‘passers-through’ usually suffer less crime and vandalism, as a general rule.
Baulkham Hills also has a number of quality nature parks and reserves, such as the Balcombe Heights Reserve, Crestwood Reserve, and Yattenden Oval, and with 329 parks in and reserves in the Hills Shire in total, you’ll never be stuck for a place to cycle, walk, jog, or just explore the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Of course, there’s a downside to having less traffic and quieter streets than some of the other western suburbs – it’s slightly more expensive, with median property prices significantly higher than Parramatta’s at $642,000 and median rental prices certainly not on the cheap side at $545.
Median Property Price (2013): $642,000
Median Rental Price (2013): $545
Another suburb in the lovely Hills District of Sydney, Castle Hill has a lot of similarities to Baulkham Hills – in that it’s visually beautiful, full of dense, green forests and parklands, and relatively quiet compared to its southerly neighbours, but lacking in mass transit options such as a rail connection.
Castle Hill is packed to the brim with shopping options; you’ve got the Castle Towers complex in the suburb’s north, which has a number of large chain department stores and two cinemas, as well as a more modestly-sized shopping centre in its south.
Keep in mind, too, that Castle Towers shopping centre is currently undergoing significant renovations and expansion, and once the works are completed, expected later in 2013, it will be the largest shopping centre in Australia.
The suburb also has a small industrial zone in its west, with light industry such as high-tech manufacturing, vehicle repairs and small engineering shops.
If you’re the kind who regularly commutes to Sydney CBD or surrounds, or are frightened by the prospect of traversing jam-packed motorways en route to the city, you might want to avoid Castle Hill. It’s undeniably a pleasant suburb, but the lack of rail connection really hurts the practicality of living here if you depend on public transport. It does have bus connections, however the reliability, frequency and speed of these are not something you could really rely upon for your daily commute.
Similarly, if you’re primarily in the housing market for units/apartments you can see significant capital gains on, I wouldn’t recommend Castle Hill, as unit complexes tend to do better in areas with extensive transport links, and the unit complexes you do find in Castle Hill tend to be either dilapidated or too far removed from public transport to be attractive to their primary tenant base (young professionals commuting to Sydney).
Having said that, if you’re looking for a house, Castle Hill is a great option, as it remains one of Sydney’s best value areas for new housing (although still expensive by Australian standards), with median house prices at around $775,000 and median rental prices around $620.
Median Property Price (2013): $775,000
Median Rental Price (2013): $620
Westmead is another western suburb of Sydney worthy of consideration, located about 26 kilometres west of the Sydney CBD itself and considered part of the Parramatta local government district. It’s known for having less crime and less gang presence overall than Parramatta, although it’s still probably not a great idea to walk around the streets at night by yourself.
Westmead is growing at an extremely fast rate, due its proximity to Sydney’s second CBD, Parramatta – and in 10 to 20 years, one could imagine the property in this suburb will be in very high demand indeed. As an investor, it’s probably a very safe bet.
If you work in healthcare, Westmead is going to be a major attraction to you, simply because it’s known as the healthcare hub of the west, being host to a very large public hospital, a public children’s hospital, mental health hospital, another private hospital and 3 different medical research facilities.
The suburb has a huge selection of townhouses, units and studio apartments to choose from if you’re interested in that style of living, and the rental prices are relatively cheap given the close availability of public transport options, shops and medical facilities. Housing is a little more expensive than Parramatta, however, so keep this in mind.
Median Property Price (2013): $705,000
Median Rental Price (2013): $450
Wentworthville, located further to the west of Parramatta at about 27 kilometres west of Sydney itself, is known to the locals as ‘Wenty’ and is another excellent option if you’re considering cheap(er) property in the Greater Western Sydney region.
Wentworthville has long been considered a traditional suburb for young families and professionals, which is still largely the case, however recent trends have seen an increase in migrants from India, Lebanon and the Middle East, although not to the same extent as a suburb like Granville.
The predominant property type in Wentworthville is still unit blocks, with a large number of 20 to 30 year old apartment complexes to be found, especially in the areas bordering Westmead, with median prices hovering around the $450,000 mark and median rentals at $450. It’s an attractive investment option, no doubt, when you consider its very close proximity to both Parramatta and Westmead, both commercial and industrial hubs with a multitude of transport connections to Sydney.
The suburb itself has two major shopping areas, with the largest precinct sitting on the western side of the train station and consisting of several department stores and a medium-sized shopping centre, and the other precinct located on the Great Western Highway.
Wentworthville train station is well connected to the rest of Sydney, being situated on the Western railway line which extends out to Penrith, with the trip inbound to the CBD taking on average about 40 minutes – not bad if you’re a commuter.
Median Property Price (2013): $450,000
Median Rental Price (2013): $450
Another suburb of the splendid Hills Shire, Bella Vista is known as a desirable suburb for families due to its gorgeous surroundings and lush parks and forests, as well as its growing reputation as a business centre of the Hills District.
The recent development of the Norwest Business Park, which contains several major retail and commercial developments means that commuting to the Sydney CBD might not be a necessity – which is a good thing, because the lack of a direct train line means that travelling to Sydney is going to take you about an hour to 90 minutes in peak conditions from Bella Vista, and likewise with buses.
It’s well known as a great place to live by the locals, despite the poor transport options and although a train line has been proposed in the area – as with many of the Hills District suburbs – I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Median Property Price (2013): $935,000
Median Rental Price (2013): $670
Finally we come to Merrylands, a suburb located about 25 km west of the Sydney CBD and known as the ‘drive-by capital of Sydney’ by its affectionate residents.
Merrylands has earned itself a poor reputation in the media of late due to several incidences of bikie-related crime, including open street shootouts on a number of occasions. Whilst the frequency of such occurrences is still probably quite low, it’s not insignificant, and the streets of Merrylands can often be filled with nefarious types such as ethnic gangs and the drug-addled homeless – something to think about if you decide to move here.
On the positive side however, Merrylands is a fair bit cheaper than its other westerly neighbours, with average houses going for about $490,000, and house rentals at a lowly $420, it’s a suburb to consider if you’re on a tight budget.
It’s also still pretty close to the hustle and bustle of Parramatta, and all of its many commercial and shopping districts, and if Parramatta continues its expected growth as Sydney’s second CBD then surrounding suburbs like Merrylands can only benefit.
Merrylands is also home to a sizeable industrial area, which could bring an added bonus of eliminating the commute to Sydney if you can find work there, but if not, don’t fear – Merrylands is well stocked with public transport options, with the train ride to the city taking about half an hour during peak times.
Median Property Price (2013): $496,250
Median Rental Price (2013): $420