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Sydney- westies versus hipsters.

15 Dec

Sydney is a distant colonial city that prefers to source its stories from elsewhere.


Above- Sydney in 1888. Just the Victorian core exists (pre-car). Many areas would be recognizable today.
However, unknown to many, Sydney has a rich history and social fabric of its own.
There is a rich post-colonial, post-industrial identity mainly based on waves of immigration and class.
As with all of the east coast cities, the rich live in the cooler coastal east and the poorer “out west”.


Above- demographic map of Sydney. Very telling.


In common with all western cities built in the Victorian age, the prosperous middle classes initially inhabited a ring of hosing around the urban core and abandoned this with the invention of the motor car and commuter trains.
Inner-city Sydney declined, with some now desireable areas (eg, Paddington in the inner east) being described in the ‘thirties as “the worst white slum in the British Empire”.
Since the ‘seventies the inner city has been heavily gentrified and the working classes have been relegated to the outer western suburbs. A quick breakdown would be-

1 City
-workers, dead on the weekend. Chinatown, some fancy Victorian areas on urban fringe (Glebe, etc).

2 Canterbury-Bankstown
-very cosmopolitan (like SW London). African blacks, Muslims, some Chinese, some rather rough looking Anglos.

3 Eastern Suburbs
-posh, nouveax riche, Jews, European immigrants (“I have to be near the beach…”).
4 The Forest
-the green areas of the Upper North Shore. Exclusively rich and white.
5 Hills District
-as above, not as up-market. Suburbia.
6 Inner West
-hipsters, families, recently gentrified Victorian ring. Mostly small houses.
7 Macarthur
South-west of Sydney that includes the city of Campbelltown, as well as the town of Camden and Wollondilly Shire. Working class, Anglo and some Middle-Eastern immigrants. Suburbia.
8 Northern Beaches
Nice. White, quite laid back, not too pretentious. A bit far from Sydney (on the way to the idyllic Tradie’s Central Coast).
9 Lower North Shore
Urban, architecturally similar to the Inner-West, but quite boring. No hipsters.
10 Upper North Shore
Established rich. Grand, free standing Federation houses. Some blocks of flats being built along the highway, and has some large Chinese areas (eg- Chatswood).
11 Northern Suburbs
As above.
12 South-eastern Sydney
Includes Botany (the birth place of Australia), Kensington and the airport zone. Industrial, working class.
13 South-western Sydney
City of Canterbury, City of Bankstown, City of Liverpool, City of Fairfield, City of Campbelltown and Camden Council. Solidly working class. Lots of fibro houses, etc. Big post-war boom areas. Quite a few Lebanese, etc.
14 Southern Sydney
Kogarah, Sutherland Shire. Mostly very nice lower middle class Anglo areas. Some large Chinese areas (Kogarah, etc).
15 St George
As above.

16 Western Sydney
Here be the Westies. Stretches out to Katoomba. As with South-western Sydney above.



17. Upper Blue Mountains
-drug addicts, mountain folk.
18. Lower Blue Mountains
-Tradies, intellectual middle class priced out of Sydney. Bushfires.











Above- map from the 1840’s. Pretty much only the city and a part of Pyrmont exist.

Tintin Sydney comics by Glenn Smith


Sydney's top urban exploration sites

5 Sep

My favourite urban exploration sites in Sydney at the moment-

Site One- Dunlop/Slazenger Factory in Alexandria
9 Bowden Street, Alexandria.
Open and easy to access.

We found all sorts of old Slazenger things- tennis racquets, golf balls, shoes, etc. A favourite haunt for film makers (there were two crews there, early on a Sunday morning).

Part of the vast Green Square area, soon to be luxury flats.

Look at my car!

The holes in the asbestos sheeting roof make for splendid effects.

Famous graffiti artists work.

Site Two- Rozelle Tram Depot.
South of Harold Park Raceway, next to Jubilee Oval, Glebe Point.

Rozelle Tram Depot is a large tram depot in Glebe that has stood effectively empty sine the 1960s.
It is currently being redeveloped as part of Mirvac Harold Park residential redevelopment and will be developed as a retail area.

The vandalised trams within will be retained on site and restored.
Currently patroled by security, as is now part of construction site. Quiet on Sundays.

This place is classic as the interior is slowly returning to nature, complete with ponds of tadpoles.

A local ruffian leaving his mark.


Site Three- Summer Hill Hospital
Grosvenor Centre, 56 Liverpool Road, Summer Hill (abandoned hospital).

Private property. Soon to be redeveloped into flats. Main building is heavily alarmed.
Summer Hill’s largest mansion, Carleton (now the Grosvenor Hospital’s main building), was built in the early 1880s on Liverpool Road for Charles Carleton Skarrat.

Definitely haunted…..

That ruffian again!

The above images were sent to me by anonymous sources.
The sites are (dangerous) private property and are not open to the public.

Glorious psychedelic cacophony for starters

16 Jun

AS an array of colours and shapes bounced off the roof of the Sydney Opera House after the opening of Vivid Sydney on Friday night, inside at the Opera Theatre English space rock ensemble Spiritualized was employing its own kind of light show to colour its creations.

Spiritualized was there to perform its third and most critically acclaimed album, Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space, a landmark in post Britpop psychedelia released in 1997. It’s an album that is by turn delicate, mournful, hypnotic and, in terms of creating a really intense racket, quite beautiful.

Main man Jason Pierce prefers the enigmatic approach to stage performance.

He sat down for the entire show, off to one side with his music stand, a microphone and an electric guitar.

For this gig he had plenty of collaborators to help him recreate his best work, including an eight-piece choir (in appropriate smocks), a similarly sized string section and six horn players, most of whom were recruited in Sydney.

That was in addition to the rock nucleus of bass, drums, two guitarists, a percussionist and a keyboards player. You felt it might be loud. And so it was.

Initially, as they launched into the title song as an opener, it was hard to tell if the guitar feedback was a technical fault or part of the set, but as the show progressed it became clear that every dynamic shift and nuance, even the severest barrage of white noise, was deliberate.

Pierce’s songs often have a dirge-like repetitiveness, either in the sense of stripped-back melancholy or in the way the instrumentation builds slowly around one theme until it becomes a ball of static directed straight at your eardrums.

These attacks were the best parts of this performance, even if the decibel level did have some unsuspecting festivalgoers stuffing bits of paper into their ears by the end of the fifth song, Stay with Me.

The highlight was the closing, 17-minute psychedelic groove of Cop Shoot Cop. This glorious cacophony featured the entire ensemble. The combination of heavy percussive rumble with strings, horns and guitars going full tilt and the strobe lighting used to illuminate it made it as thrillingly intense as a fairground ride you never want to get off.

Quieter moments such as the gospel-tinged Come Together and Broken Heart allowed the subtleties being played by the strings and horns to push through. Elsewhere they were contributing to the whole without being distinct.

With the album done, they came back on for Out of Sight, a standout from Spiritualized’s first album Let it Come Down.

Its more restrained, poppy groove was a comedown, but pleasantly so after the onslaught before it. You’d want an act to open your festival that lived up to the title Vivid Live. Spiritualized did that with ease.


400,000 attend the biggest ever Vivid Sydney


NSW Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, has declared Vivid Sydney 2011 a record success, with sell-out music concerts, huge crowds experiencing over 40 light installations and packed creative ideas sessions.

Vivid Sydney cemented its popularity, as over 400,000 attendees from Sydney, Australia and the rest of the world experienced events around Circular Quay from the Sydney Opera House to The Rocks. From jets of flame shooting out of Campbells Cove at FireDance to world exclusive concert performances by artists, including The Cure at Sydney Opera House and events for creative industry professionals, the festival offered something for everyone. Vivid Sydney catered for families, young people, seniors, creatives, tourists and everyone in between.

Vivid Sydney is a ground breaking event model. The spectacular festival not only provided entertainment for the public and attracted visitors, but also proved to be an excellent platform for creative industry events. There is no doubt the international spotlight was shining on Sydney over the past 18 nights, that showcased our creative industries credentials to the world.

Vivid Sydney executive producer, Ignatius Jones, said the success of the 2011 festival was a credit to the passion and talent of the creative teams involved in the event. Reminiscing the dazzling display of sound and lights Jones added, “it’s been a fantastic journey this year and an absolute pleasure to work with Events NSW who have a strong vision to create a festival that puts Sydney on the map globally as the creative hub of the Asia Pacific. Events NSW estimate Vivid Sydney will generate up to $10 million in economic benefit for the State.

“We knew this year’s festival would be popular, but we were blown away at seeing such huge crowds down at the festival, night after night enjoying colourful jellyfish swimming across the Sydney Opera House sails, painting digital light graffiti on the Museum of Contemporary Art and watching the awe inspiring 3D projections on Customs House” said Jones.

Vivid LIVE at Sydney Opera House and the Vivid Sydney music program, featured over 30 ticketed events, including a number of Sydney and world exclusive performances from artists such as The Cure, Bat for Lashes, Cut Copy and Spiritualized. Over 35,000 tickets were sold, in addition to 4,500 tickets to interstate and overseas visitors, which generated a $2.34 million gross box office. This makes it the most successful Vivid LIVE yet for Sydney Opera House. As an astonishing achievement, around 59 per cent of the tickets were sold to a new audience.


Venice Biennale: The ‘It’ Bag

3 Jun

June 2, 2011, CAROL VOGEL, NYT.

It’s something of a tradition here that when the National pavilions dole out information on their artists, the papers and catalogs generally come with a handy tote bag.  Both a practical object and a free ad (they usually have an image of some sort and the name of the country on them) some are always more in demand than others.

Venice Biennale- This year one particular stand-out can be found at the Australian pavilion: it’s gold lamé and has the name of the artist — Hany Armanious — emblazoned in black letters and the rest of the information in bright red.  Officials there said within three hours on Wednesday they had dispensed with more than 2,000 of them and as they’re getting scarcer this season’s “it” bag is becoming a collector’s item. One man even asked for two of them so he could turn them into a pair of shorts.

Mr. Armanious was on hand to talk about his exhibition, appropriately named “The Golden Thread,’’ which includes a group of sculptures in the form of familiar images and found objects.

The artist acknowledged that he had a hand in the design of the tote bag. “It’s obviously playing with the title of the show, a subtle signifier,’’ he said, then paused and added, “I wish I had had the foresight to include a matching hat.’’


Melbourne- Stripping the glitter from architecture's 'golden' oldies

7 Feb

SMH February 5, 2011 Julie Szego

Waging a guerilla war against change is actually an attempt to snub history by trying to evade its march.

WHENEVER I am waiting for a green light at the corner of Elizabeth and Grattan streets in Parkville, my gaze is drawn to the former Ampol House. The building, now called the Elizabeth Towers Hotel, has a quirky, slightly space-age vibe that inspires mild curiosity. The corner tower, framed by blue tiling, curves around what is apparently Melbourne’s tallest concrete spiral stairway and is crowned with two flagpoles and a neon sign.

Having casually admired the building countless times, I researched its origins and then searched my heart about the prospect of it being razed (we’ll come to why in a tick).

Despite all you’re about to read, when change, with its PowerPoint efficiency, swoops on a thing from the past that helps ground me in the present, I too feel the pain.

It is only natural. But in recent times a healthy regard for heritage, and fierce sense of place, appears to have morphed into a pervasive and crippling anxiety about the future.

Let’s go back to old Ampol House. The National Trust says the 1958 building is the last of its kind, designed in ”a style that appears to belong to the early modernist period of 20 years previously”. In other words, it was always a throwback.

As its original name suggests, the building once housed the headquarters of a major Australian petrol company; initially a pump station was incorporated at ground level. These days it houses nothing and no one.

Melbourne University, which owns the site, wants to knock the building down to make way for the $210 million Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. As its name, which carries that of an Australian Nobel laureate, suggests, the proposed addition to Parkville’s medical research precinct is about luring top scientists to Victoria, pooling expertise with the aid of proximity, being battle-ready for the next pandemic, and a host of other noble objectives. Complications, procedural and political, have dogged this project, but the point is the institute can’t get off the ground.

The council has blocked the proposal, largely on heritage grounds. The university, which says it stands to lose millions in federal funding, has been forced to fight the matter through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

So which would you choose? The institute or the architectural anachronism from the heritage B-list? An investment that may help save many lives or saving the life of one vacant building?

It should be a no-brainer. But in fairness to the council, its decision is in perfect harmony with the zeitgeist.

The Save Our Suburbs movement of the 1990s has now splintered into cells of rescue workers, ready for deployment at the first ominous murmur from developers or public officials. So much appears to need saving from the tide of change: the railway gate and the bloke who opens it, the bridge, the pier, the point, the strip of grass, the hotel, the sauce and its bottle.

Even if their numbers are small, protest groups are changing the conversation.

Consider the state Liberal Party’s pre-election pitch, which was strikingly conservative in a literal sense: protect Melbourne from the ”wrecking ball”, return the rattling W-class trams to commuter routes, resume alpine cattle grazing, review the council proposal for a new boat ramp and breakwater facility at Mallacoota, reopen the gates at the previously hazardous railway level crossing in New Street, Brighton.

This week I asked a spokeswoman for Planning Minister Matthew Guy whether he supports building the Doherty Institute on the Parkville site – his department being a respondent to the VCAT proceedings. She never responded.

Of course, Labor once drank from the same rusty well. A folksy 2006 press release from then planning minister Rob Hulls declared the Barwon Heads bridge – rotting, cracking and splitting but boosted by its 15 minutes of SeaChange fame – had been ”saved”. Four years later, the bridge controversy rumbles on and helped make a casualty of the local Labor MP.

All of the following are givens: Melbourne could do a lot better at adapting what it already has for new uses, an engaged and passionate community is a good one, the mistakes of the past should be avoided, give up too much of what’s known and trusted and we risk losing our bearings and our sanity as well. But waging a guerilla war against change is actually an attempt to snub history by trying to evade its march.

And that’s why planning schemes or heritage codes aren’t the point. There’s a deeper crisis of faith involved. I’ve tended to assume that a loss of belief in the future, in the whole notion of progress, drives the compulsion to pickle our cities. But then recently a friend was bemoaning a plan to upgrade her suburban railway station. ”I love its unfinished character,” she said. ”If the plan goes ahead, it’ll be time for me to move.”

OK, she’s a middle class resident of a well-to-do-suburb who can afford to romanticise crumbling infrastructure. Still, could her attitude reflect a more general unease?

Maybe fear of success – the prospect of arriving, of things being ”finished” – is the real neurosis of these privileged times. After all, if the new bridge works a treat, if the trams run faster, if the institute gets built then even more people will want to come here, right? And that, of course, would only bring more change.


Statement of Significance
The former Ampol Building, designed by Bernard Evans & Associates, and completed in 1958 is architecturally and historically important at the Regional level.

Architecturally, the building is notable principally for its dramatic glazed circular corner tower, housing Melbourne’s tallest concrete spiral stair. The tower is accentuated by the flanking blue tiled wing walls topped by flagpoles, and neon sign.

Historically, it is of interest as a building that is designed in a style that appears to belong to the early modernist period of twenty years previously, and is by far the last major building designed in this tradition in Victoria. It is also of interest as the headquarters of one of the major petrol companies in Victoria, which were all undergoing great expansion at that time, and for originally incorporating a petrol station at the ground level.

Happy New Year Sydney Style

1 Jan

Sydney greets 2011 with firework heaven
2011-01-01 02:30:00

Sydney, Jan 1 (DPA) The thousands who camped overnight on Sydney’s foreshore to bag the best places to watch the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve fireworks display declared their vigil well worth it.

‘This has got to be the best place in the world to be tonight,’ said Sydney resident Marc Wilson, one of an estimated 1.5 million who stayed up for what organizers said was the greatest firework show on earth.

Seven tonnes of pyrotechnics went up in blazes of colourful smoke on and around the Harbour Bridge.

The weather was warm and the skies clear for what firework fans said was the best show since the close of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

More than 6,000 had queued for 24 hours to be at the water’s edge when the clock ticked to a new day and a new year.

Taiwanese student Chen Wei Ting, who had waited since Thursday, was first through the gates of the Botanic Gardens to stake his claim to a prime position beside the Opera House.

‘As a foreign student, we think the Australian New Year is very fascinating,’ Chen said.

People around the globe think so too, with a television audience of over one billion expected to tune in for the for the $5-million show.

‘We’re probably the envy of most fireworks people around the world,’ said Fortunato Foti, who is directing a display he said took eight months to prepare and which featured new tricks.

Rather than the customary curtain of golden fire streaming from the bridge, this year Foti managed a chessboard of red and white tumbling lights.

Police warned revelers of alcohol-free zones and that the drunk and disorderly would be in court on the first day of 2011.


Pics- SMH

Ode to a Sydney brick: how cult of renovation is destroying our past

10 Jul

July 10, 2010`SMH

In the quickie renovation, especially one with an eye to the rental market, there is one interior improvement considered so acutely necessary than it comes even before the replacement of brass fittings with stainless steel ones or the stripping of carpets: getting rid of the bricks.

The war against bricks has now expanded beyond the exposed brick feature wall to postwar bricks of all sorts, interior and exterior. In the worst blocks in the best suburbs, bodies corporate are banding together to render away the recent daggy past.

Brick blocks of blazing orange, dirty-dog yellow and mud-pie brown are smoothed over with concrete in a range of shades all the way from grey to beige.

As for freestanding houses, online renovation forums are full of advice for hiding the earthen offerings of the 1970s. Renderers make big promises about the profits to be gained from smoothing away all those rough edges and explosions of glaze. Even the display home villages have entered a post-neo-Federation phase, with smoothly iced exteriors dominating.

Concern about the mottled terracotta tones of our city began long ago. The theme was taken up in the 1960s in an essay by the writer Charmian Clift, entitled On Painting Bricks White, first published in the Herald and the Age.

Clift was writing with the fresh eyes of a woman who had not long ago returned to Sydney after living on the Greek island of Hydra with her husband, the novelist George Johnston, and their children. One thing she saw with those fresh eyes was the cacophony of brick which so offends us now.

”How in all the world do Australian brick manufacturers manage so many variations on such a painful chromatic theme?” she asked. She noted the ”splenetic bricks, liverish bricks, apoplectic bricks, bibulous bricks (those purplish ones like old drunks’ noses), and bricks which appear to have been steeped before baking in the pancreatic juices for a special variegated effect”.

Above- some art deco brick examples from the inner east. For more images go to-

She suggested a temporary solution, one gleaned from her time in Greece. ”I know it’s a daring suggestion, but I’ll make it anyway. Might not a poultice of whitewash reduce the inflammation of our brick areas also?”

If only she was still alive to see how thoroughly this idea had been embraced. But in the wholesale whitewashing of brick constructions of the recent past, are we solving the mistakes of the past or repeating them?

No one will ever shed a tear for the developer-driven abominations which are now being tarted up, but how many of the thoughtful designs of the 1960s and 1970s are being destroyed, too? Many of the finest examples of the Sydney school of architecture embraced the very techniques which are now so on the nose, such as rough brick and exposed beams.

As Clift noted in her essay, there is nothing wrong with bricks per se, they are a ”good honest form of building material”. It is how they have been used which makes them a problem.

She also mentioned she has ”just been reading Robin Boyd”, something a lot of people, including myself, have been doing again since The Australian Ugliness was republished a few months ago. As Boyd’s biting classic makes clear, the Australian Ugliness is not about a particular material. It is about the inability of Australians to commit to an idea and hold tight to something more enduring than fashion. It is about the flight to trappings and features rather than cohesive design.

And in this respect one passage is as relevant now to the cult of renovation for short-term economic gain as it was when it was written in 1960: ”Not prepared to recognise where, when or what he is living, the Australian consciously and subconsciously directs his artificial environment to the uncommitted, tentative, temporary, a nondescript economic-functionalist background on which he can hang the feature which for the moment appeal to his wandering, restless eye.”

There will come a day when renovators of the future view the renovators of today with the same horror as we view the renovators of yesterday, the ones who hid lustrous floorboards under nylon carpet and replaced bay windows with aluminium ones. It is hard to imagine it now, but they will curse us all as they spend weekends carefully chiselling away at rendering with the care of archaeologists, wondering how anyone could have failed to see the beauty of earthy, honest brick.