A case of positive ¨anti-establishmentarianism¨ – Newtown, Sydney
Saturday afternoon surprise visit to Newtown, the now colourful and eclectic inner city Sydney suburb. I wasn´t expecting to find myself navigating through its lanes and diverse population and most of all, I wasn´t expecting to find it as intriguing as I did. No, there´s nothing wrong with Newtown, but I´ve been in Sydney since 1989, so Newtown is no news to me nor to many. But that would teach me not to take things for granted and keep my eyes wide open at all times.
This busy inner city suburb dates back to the early 1800s when the now congested King Street was a bullock track used by all travelling to the southern farm lands where early convicts worked to feed the rest of the population. Investment in real estate in the late XIX Century until the early 1920s developed the shops along King street we are all familiar with today. Workers settled in the surrounding terrace houses. Things got quite gloomy after the late 20s, to the point that in the 60s Newtown was considered the ‘no-go’ zone in Sydney.
Fortunately, Newtown no longer carries that stigma attched to its name. Having Sydney uni right next door and being only 5 minutes away from the city center have turned it into a desirable piece of real-estate and made it one of the more or less affordable inner city locations (not for long at the rate prices constantly increase in Sydney). Tucker and booze are certainly cheaper than in many other locations in the Sydney CBD and the North. So, if you are a hip, young (or not so young but still hip :)) traveller or visitor, Newtown is a good spot to set up camp as rents are a little more affordable and you won´t be paying some of the outrageously overpriced costs we all have to endure here.
Culturally Newtown is quite unlike any other place in Sydney. In a way, a walk along King Street paints a vision of a post-modernist society with no cultural, racial or gender boundaries. I liked that. Same sex couples, goths, wizards, professionals with a briefcase in hand, “fuchsia-haired moms” holding three little ones, students, interracial couples – in a way is like a scene from Blade Runner imbued with an air of tolerance that makes me feel happy about the future.
Yes, there is something weirdly positive about Newtown, perhaps derived from the screaming urban colours of the street art found everywhere in main streets and in tiny lanes. Perhaps from the healthy “anti-establishmentarianism” that one breathes in its streets. Whatever it is, I’m glad this is the shape of part of our urban landscape today.
Ok. You might say I am “overfantasising” Newtown. No, it´s not my intention. I know it is what it is. As I read somewhere, some might even describe Newtown as ‘an arty-farty suburb filled with freaks, poofs, junkies and weirdoes’. Yes, there is a much wider interaction of diverse actors in Newtown than in many other suburbs in Sydney and that brings a whole lot of issues that one never has to even consider in the North Shore or the wealthier Eastern Suburbs. But diversity is healthy and is real and it feels as if Newtown is learning to deal with it at its own pace and with a touch of bohemian hope. I also felt the potential for a community spirit and celebration which seems to be either non-existent or at least latent in many other areas of this mega-city. Chris Lego, one of the main organisers of Reclaim the Lanes yearly events that see over a thousand people secretly taking over two undisclosed laneway locations for an hour
each to experience the potential of these forgotten spaces of Newtown explains: “Reclaim the lanes embodies the spirit of the Inner West and the diversity and creative potential which is a huge part of why we live here.” “We aim to be a sustainable event in terms of rubbish and recycling management, our relationship with our neighbours and the police. We are mindful of our neighbours and finish at 9pm sharp. We are doing this because we still believe in community spirit and celebration. We believe in exploring the potential of our neighbourhoods and the spirit of carnival.”
And then there is the inescapable street art, sometimes a visual reminder of the issues that matter to Newtown residents, sometimes a reminder of the type of freedom they call on to define their own environment .
The following documentary will take you through the life of some of the artists – the reasons they started, their styles and their works.
But if you prefer to tone it down and enjoy the quieter life, you might still be able to get the best of both worlds in Newtown:
This article is dedicated to our friends Bea and Andrea who were once residents of Newtown.
What are your impressions of Newtown??