The Dictionary of Sydney was launched on 4 November 2009. It’s an on-line encyclopaedia of the history of Sydney with new material being added continually. The range of subjects is broad and sometimes surprising. Along with such conventional topics as, say, Governor Lachlan Macquarie or the Japanese Submarine Attack, there are such entries as Drag and Cross Dressing, and The Royal Commission into Noxious and Offensive Trades, and even (ta-da!) Reading the Roads.
‘Poke’ is one of the illustrations for that article. It’s an example where unofficial graffiti – an advertisement for a dance party – has colonised a piece of official pavement graffiti – a zebra crossing. The photograph was taken in Newtown in 2003.
There is an ongoing battle between cyclists and just about everyone else – motorists don’t want them on the roads, pedestrians (like me) don’t want them on the footpaths. The issue is a perennial filler for Sydney newspapers and has flared again this week in news stories, opinion pieces and letters to the editor.
In Australia, those who argue on the cyclists’ side point to the way in which cities in other developed countries have embraced the bicycle – but it’s not necessarily all plain cycling overseas. Apparently one of the great battlefields in the war between bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists is the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Robert Sullivan, calling for an armistice, writes in the New York Times: “The stripe painted down the center of the elevated Brooklyn Bridge walkway, to separate bicyclists from pedestrians, has become a line in the sand. We need to erase that line once and for all.” Here is an example where the record of a territorial struggle has been written on the pavement itself.
Almost every sign, symbol, graphic and graffiti marked on the roads and sidewalks is a claim for territory. The two examples photographed for today’s blog record instances where pedestrians have had a victory over cyclists, officially at least, and probably only temporarily. The ineptly obliterated bicycle symbol overpainted with a ‘Pedestrian traffic only’ stencil was on the bridge at the corner of St Kilda Road and Flinders Street in Melbourne in 2005. The ‘Give way’ stencils appeared in parks in the City of Sydney towards the end of 2008 after many complaints from pedestrian park-users.
The dance party stencils are getting bigger and bolder. Around the middle of June ads for JUST? at Club 77 were sprayed all over inner-west pavements. Those in the know know where Club 77 is.
Within a few days, Skiver TEK had obliterated the JUST? plectrum at Stanmore Station with their own stencil. I guess they had their reasons. But there are still plenty of those big JUST? stencils around.
Even if you weren’t a graffiti aficionado you would probably recognize that this is somewhere in Melbourne because of the bluestone cobbles. It’s Hosier Lane in November 2005. Amongst the different styles of wall graffiti there is one stencil on the kerbstone. It might have been there for some years. Australia has long had poor reputation for its treatment of refugees. It is appropriate that graffiti should carry subversive messages. But do small and inconspicuous stencils on the ground make any difference to political processes?