Heading down the Hume Highway to Ambarvale. 55 kays south-west of the city and no, it’s not a spelling mistake. I decide to stop off at the Campbelltown Arts Centre and Info Centre. Looked for the Arts Centre (to be fair, I didn’t look that hard but there was a huge carpark and fancy motel chain where I thought it would be) and the Info Centre – a lovely little cottage but apparently it wasn’t open – so a bit of an unnecessary detour. I think I’ll follow Narellan Road to Mount Annan Botanic Gardens first and look around and then check out Ambarvale. But wait! Along the way I see a sign: Gilchrist Rd, Ambarvale, and a white cross, the sign for a hospital. Wow. Ambarvale has a hospital. It must be important. So I turn off to find a nice café in Ambarvale (this proves to be unrealistic) and  see the Botanic Gardens later. Cruise down Woodcourt Drive, the main drag, past a school.

There’s what seems to be a shopping centre next to the Ambarvale Hotel but I’m disappointed to find there’s only an Aldi. Keep driving. 3 child care centres. Many schools.

There’s at least four schools in the area which seems a lot. And a lot of childcare centres to go with it. Could there be a lot of kiddies here?

And silly names for streets. Such silly names. In a good way. Apparently they are inspired by the works of Charles Dickens. If there was an Oliver Twist Crescent I would have got it but – goodness me – I didn’t see it at all! I guess Cheeryble should have been a giveaway if you are familiar with Nicholas Nickelby which I’m not really, but, come on, there do seem to be some random words straight out of a hat. Plus some Dr Seuss-type imaginary names. And a hint of Ancient Rome. And, of course, good old Barnaby, Agrippa’s next door neighbour.

My fav: CRISPSPARKLE DR, just off Cleopatra Drive. Fabulous! And there’s the map to prove it! (There is a character in The Mystery of Edwin Drood who goes by the name of Rev. Septimus Crisparkle (yes, slightly different spelling). Haven’t read it myself but must give it a go.) I seem to be taking lots of photos of signs. Well, I like signs and they capture the area. It’s very hot and humid today so I keep driving rather than setting out by foot and at a roundabout I spy another set of shops. There’s a café! But it’s empty and for lease. There’s a bottle shop and a chicken shop.

And I’ve already hit the next suburb: Glen Alpine. Drive back, no other cafes to be found. To be fair, Ambarvale is sitting right next to the centre of Campbelltown. Indeed the hospital at Ambarvale is Campbelltown Hospital. So there’s plenty nearby. Not just in the actual suburb itself.

What now? The ‘feel’ of Ambarvale is a bit like Canberra: lots of circuits and cul-de-sacs. Lots of project homes. Neat lawns. Lots of park dotted here and there. And if you’re wondering how it got its name and you didn’t take much notice of the first photo, it’s named after Ambarvale Farm which was where St Helen’s Park is now. This was granted to Samuel Larkin (sometimes recorded as Larken or Larkins), a convict who was sentenced to death for theft and decided to head out to Australia on the good ship Minorca in 1801 and received a full pardon ten years later.

The highlight of my day? Hooray! Another sign!

Yes, folks. Lots and lots of ducks! A lovely reserve called Mandurama Reserve. Hang on just a minute. This sign is misleading…these aren’t ducks, they’re geese! And they are very friendly. They see me standing quietly at the water’s edge and head right for me! Maybe for snacks? Don’t have any and wouldn’t feed them if I did ‘cos it would be bad for them. There’s an easy level walk around the water, shady and relaxing. A new children’s playground too but I didn’t investigate that. Pleasant spot.

And some nice flora too…

This is not a duck. Or a goose:

It could be some kind of dusky moorhen. Or ducky moronhen. Hey, hey, hey…it’s a purple swamphen! Kind of a bright blue dusky moorhen. I’ve learnt a new bird today.

True Crime: Stop reading now if you only want happy thoughts about Ambarvale. Because, sadly, the prettiest place here is marred by a horrible crime.

Back in 2007, this duck pond was a crime scene when children discovered a suitcase floating in the water. Inside was the body of a two year old boy, Dean Shillingsworth. His mother, Rachel Pfitzner, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 25½ years in 2009.

I just kept seeing his father and couldn’t stop myself,” she told police after her arrest. ”I know he’s only a kid but in my mind … it just seemed like I was lookin’ at Paul [Shillingsworth, Dean’s father].” [SMH: Murdered toddler craved his mother’s love, 20/11/2009]

Front page Sydney Morning Herald, Oct 18, 2007: