Elephants on parade

Shared path, College Street at Whitlam Square, Sydney, 2011

 

The relationships between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians are fraught and while some people are pleased with the new cycle lanes and shared pathways being installed by the City of Sydney, others are not. So it’s nice to see that some people have managed to keep their sense of humour.  Congrats  to the anonymous stenciller for this embellishment of a sign on the corner of College and Liverpool Streets, and thanks to the good sports in the Cycling Strategy department at the City of Sydney for drawing it to my attention.

And while pondering the similarities (if any) between an elephant’s thick skin and the wrinkled greyness of the asphalt, I thought I’d dig out a couple more pavement pachyderms from my archives.

Elefant Traks music label, King Street, Newtown, 1999

Asphalt elephant, Queens Parade, Wolllongong, 2003

Names set in concrete

In some of Sydney’s older municipalities the names of streets and parks were once set into the concrete footpaths. Reminders of a time when people got about on foot more regularly than they do now, some of these still exist around the suburbs. On this footpath in Chatswood, for example, the name ‘Lawrence Street’ appears to have been pressed into the concrete while it was wet.

Other examples are more elaborate. In parts of the former Municipality of Petersham (that is, Petersham, Lewisham and Stanmore) the name is embedded in the paving slab in contrasting red concrete. When one of these slabs gets broken you can sometimes see the wire formwork that holds the lettering in place.

Although many have been broken or mutilated over the years, local councils have begun to recognise the heritage value of these concrete names. The Marrickville Heritage Study of 1984-86, for example, lists street names on footpaths and kerbing as interesting examples of the type of works undertaken in the old Municipality of Petersham, adding that the remaining examples help to define the character of the area.

Despite the recent interest in preserving them, I have had some difficulty in obtaining specific information about how and when these pavement embellishments were originally made. However I did find from the Haberfield Conservation Study, prepared for Ashfield Council in 1988, that ‘blue and white enamel street name signs and red cement lettering of street name signs let into the footpath were … distinctive features’ of the model suburb of Haberfield developed by entrepreneur Richard Stanton between the years 1901 and 1922.

It seems likely that the Petersham street names came somewhat later. Now incorporated into the Marrickville local government area, the Municipality of Petersham was established in 1871. In 1929 its Council took out large loans to commence a program of paving its roads with concrete and replacing its asphalt footpaths with concrete at the same time.  These types of works became a major part of a program to provide employment for men during the Great Depression of 1930-1937.

By 1948 Allan M. Shepherd’s book The Story of Petersham was able to boast that “today only a very small proportion of the total length of all the footpath paving of the Municipality is not of concrete” and that “there are no unmade roads, lanes or footpaths, and every thoroughfare is in good condition”. Shepherd’s book does not mention the concrete street names specifically, but it is safe to assume that the making of these was included in that great concreting project of the 1930s.

For several years I have been monitoring a badly cracked ‘Liberty Street’ name in the footpath on the corner of Cavendish Street, Stanmore. In May 2010 I thought its days were numbered when I saw sprayed marks on the footpath indicating that Marrickville Council was going to construct a pram ramp on the kerb.

However some months later I found that the rectangle of old concrete bearing the name had been saved, although it was surrounded by incongruously white modern concrete and a straight cut had been made in it so that it could conform to the slope of the ramp.

Maps

At this point in my Pavement Graffiti project I’m thinking about maps – the formal and the informal, the fanciful and the accidental.

Two lovely books that I ordered arrived on my doorstep this week. The first is Kris Harzinski’s From here to there:  a curious collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association. It contains the kind of mud maps that people draw for one another on the back of an envelope or on a page torn from a notebook. Harzinski is just as interested in the story behind the map as he is in the map itself. But he doesn’t use the term ‘mud map’. It was only while researching this blog post that I realised that this term, which I use from time to time, is Australian in origin.

The second book is The map as art: contemporary artists explore cartography by Katharine Harmon. There are 360 works reproduced here. Described on the back cover blurb as ‘a collection of visionary topographies and imaginary geographies’, these artworks are executed in many different media. Two I particularly liked featured map-like marks on the ground: Nina Katchdourian’s Moss Maps are ‘scrambled atlases’ of lichen on granite rocks; the Rock Maps of eight-year old artist Theodore Lamb are photographs of cracks in rocks.

Lamb’s Rock Maps remind me of photographs I have taken of cracks in asphalt. They show up best after rain and this ‘map’, taken in Stanmore (Sydney), even includes a sky-coloured lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year I photographed a wonderful map drawn by a boy on the footpath outside his house in Rozelle. His play world grew each day.

Windows

Graffitied service cover, Surry Hills, Sydney, April 2010

I sometimes like to think of the pavement as a roof – the roof of the busy underground world that supports our day-to-day living. And if the pavement is a roof, then manholes (correct term:  maintenance holes) are skylights, and service covers are the shutters on those skylights. I wrote earlier about how I tried to peer down a chink in one of these ‘shutters’ to see the Paris sewer system below. How gauche can a tourist get?

Geoff Manaugh makes a good suggestion on his BLDGBLG site: how about installing ‘upside-down periscopes’? In vertically dense cities, he proposes, these would allow everyone to peer down into subterranean infrastructure, exploring subways, cellars, plague pits, crypts, sewers, buried rivers and streams. They would be a kind of archaeological ‘truth window’.

Feet

I’m sitting in a specialty shoe shop trying on different pairs and moaning about my crook feet. The shoe fitter says that it’s all because of the hard surfaces we walk on and goes on to tell me a slightly garbled story about this tribe of people in Africa who still go everywhere barefoot. I am inclined to think that people who habitually walk barefoot are not confined to Africa but I don’t say so. He’s doing his best to make me comfortable.

It is an annoying irony that I should have a fixation about photographing pavements and the writing on them, and yet I often have trouble walking any distance at all. In fact, when I took photographs of the Olympic marathon line remnants on Sydney Harbour Bridge, I was in a wheelchair. My daughter valiantly pushed me because I didn’t want a recent foot operation to prevent me taking part in the 75th Anniversary
Bridge Walk in 2007.

Wilson Street, Newtown, June 2008

Anyway, today’s photograph is dedicated to two distinct lots of people: those who always walk barefoot, wherever in the world they are; and the workers who maintain our roads and footpaths (and who sometimes have a joke when they are marking potholes that need repairing).

Buffing

Here is one from the archives. Taken around 2004, it shows a graffiti removal contractor washing away a large painted message from a street in Stanmore (Sydney). It had read ‘Kylie is a dog’. The contractor told me he had been engaged by Marrickville Council and he supposed someone must have complained about it. By contrast, a hand-painted advertisement for the band ‘Vaticide’, done just a few metres up the road at around the same time, was left there for years and even got retouched at one stage.

Marrickville Council has a ‘moderate’ attitude to graffiti and limited resources to do anything about it anyway. With stuff written on the ground, unless it is in a high profile public place, rangers generally leave it wear itself away except if they find it particularly offensive of if someone complains about it.

Still, marking public surfaces, including roads and footpaths, is technically illegal in most places. One poor Brisbane citizen found this out just recently when he was prosecuted for trying to cover over a penis that had been painted on the road by someone else. The news item in the Courier Mail said that because he pleaded guilty he was only required to pay $100 of the clean-up bill plus a $300 fine!

Also in the What Is The World Coming To Department, here is another news item, this time from Melbourne. It caught my eye because it is about life in the street, although it doesn’t have anything to do with graffiti. ABC News reported that a man was arrested for taking a vacuum cleaner from a hard rubbish collection. Police said that stealing from a nature strip is considered theft of council property.

Where I come from, riffling through other people’s throw-out piles is called Neighbourhood Recycling.

Nabbed on the footpath

Pavement advertising in Sydney has moved on since 1904. In that year bootmaker Joe Gardiner was nabbed by the police for whitewashing advertisements for his shop on the asphalt in Oxford Street near the entrance to Hyde Park. Joe’s fate is recorded in a correspondence file in the City of Sydney archives.

These days the footpath is a billboard, not only for small shops and garage sales, but also for corporations. In recent months NAB (National Australia Bank) has discovered the transgressive frisson of stencilling the pavement. At Sculpture by the Sea in November, advertisements on the Bondi to Tamarama walk made it evident that NAB was a sponsor of the event. On Valentine’s Day in February, city pavements were enlisted in a multiple media campaign announcing that NAB had split up with the other banks (whatever that means). Although these commercially creative works soon faded in the rain, their smeary remains are still visible in some places.

Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi-Tamarama, November 2010. In the background is Lucy Barker's installation 'Sea Cells'.

Defacing the pavement with any kind of marker is still illegal in the City of Sydney but, as I noted in an earlier blog post, perhaps council rangers have given up bothering about graffiti drawn with chalk or quasi-chalk.

Valentine's Day 2011, Newtown Bridge.

 

You can read more about footpath decoration and pavement advertising in two articles I have written:
Hicks, Megan. 2009. Horizontal billboards: The commercialization of the pavement. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 23 (6):765-780.
Hicks, Megan. The decorated footpath. Dictionary of Sydney.

Island hoping

Since this blog has become something of a travelogue, I should write about Lord Howe Island, which I visited recently although it is not an ideal destination for someone hoping to study pavements and pavement graffiti.

A few facts and figures then. Lord Howe is a World Heritage island paradise located some 600 km east of the Australian mainland. Nearly all the roads on the island are sealed but there are only 10 km of them. There are very few kerbs, gutters or paved footpaths. The speed limit for the 100 or so motorized vehicles on the island is 25 km per hour, consequently there are hardly any street signs except for one or two Stop signs and several warning about Mutton Birds on Road and Woodhens on Road.

I kept an eye out for graffiti and traffic marks on the bitumen itself but found none. Well, almost none, except for one upside-down-pudding-bowl ‘silent cop’ (correct terminology: traffic dome) at the
T-intersection of Lagoon Road and Ned’s Beach Road, and some
angle-parking spaces marked out nearby.

The only other pavement embellishment I found was an exceedingly flat rat on the road outside the Museum (close-up view omitted in deference to the squeamish). Rats came to the island off the wrecked ship Makambo in 1918 and promptly set about making at least five native bird species extinct. Rat control measures have been in place since then. Although not totally successful, these measures are probably more efficient and certainly less random than squashing by car.

Wacko stencils (Guest spot)

Canberra writer Doug Fry has been travelling in the USA. This is his second guest blog about Pavement Graffiti.

Wacko, the self-described “premiere pop culture emporium of Los Angeles”, is located in the Los Feliz area – a suburb that’s affluent by real world standards, but decidedly middle class in LA terms. The store is part of a trifecta of hipster shopping opportunities on the eastern end of Hollywood Boulevard – just next door is Ozzie Dots, a novelty costume specialist that also carries overpriced second hand clothing. Barely a block away is Goodwill, the USA’s (approximate) equivalent of Salvos/Vinnies-type thrift chains. So, if you need a costume for Halloween when you’re in LA, Ozzie Dots and Goodwill can provide the clothing – Wacko, on the other hand, will provide the accoutrements.

The store sells all manner of trinkets and novelty items (Japanese conceived, Chinese made), along with a decent selection of books – a lot of indie and one-print-run-only titles, along with more ‘mainstream’ books covering everything from the early days of punk to the final days of the Manson Family. Finally, there is a permanent gallery space tucked up the back of the store; when I visited, the gallery was displaying a series of airbrushed paintings that were, as best I could tell, attempting to convey Alice In Wonderland-via-Dante’s Inferno (with LSD as the catalyst, and Dr Freud as executive producer).

I never established why the steps and pavement in front of Wacko have become an apparent mecca for stencilling and graf. Sure, its customer base would undoubtedly include a good many street artists, but what’s the ritual here? Do they celebrate their purchase of a marijuana-themed toilet seat by adding their latest stencil to the sidewalk? Or did someone arbitrarily spray the space one night, and unwittingly spawn a meme? Is this customer-customised livery actively encouraged by store management? And how does the City of LA feel about this communal modification of its grimy pavement?

Tour de Snowy Mountains

The road from Tumbarumba to the Snowy Mountains Highway is called Elliot Way. It climbs and dips, climbs and dips, winding through pastoral land then tall forests, and over the Tumut River several times, before another steep climb to the winter-time snow fields above the tree line. It is a route that is apparently enjoyed by very fit cyclists. In summertime January it is hot and not very busy but, since I am not the hardy type at all, I chose to enjoy the scenery from my car. In the sun’s glare I almost missed these words of encouragement written, Tour de France-style, on the bitumen. All I can say is Vivent les amis d’Owen et Kathy for making the effort to cheer them on.

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