Tumbarumba tar

The first time we passed through Tumbarumba I loved the place. It had already started snowing higher up the mountains and in Tumbarumba the cold rain tinged the main street with a romantic grey patina. Icy water flowed down the gutters and the café where we ordered soup had books to read and a log fire burning.

This time we visit on New Year’s Eve and I am reminded that the midsummer sun is a great leveller, the glare off the asphalt erasing any architectural features of distinction. The main street of Tumbarumba might belong to any country town, with its mix of verandah post and IGA Supermarket aesthetics, the Lotto posters on the newsagency window, the racks of synthetic Made-in-China clothes standing outside once-glorious retail emporia, the same flies, the same listless teenagers flicking chips at each other as they suck Cokes at plastic tables outside the take-away. The cosy café we remember is closed for the Christmas-New Year period.

What perhaps distinguishes Tumbarumba are the dead, undecorated Christmas trees strapped to every verandah post and traffic sign – an odd civic nod to the festive season. In the heat they give off the nostalgic piney smell of Christmases past.

Sunset in Tumbarumba

And the pavements? The only embellishments I find are yellow stencilled shoe prints – perhaps the remnants of some heritage trail (you can just make out a pair of them in the photograph) – and one-inch square bathroom tiles, some red, some blue, randomly and very sparsely pressed into the concrete footpath.

As we squint at this streetscape a water truck trundles by sprinkling water, not to settle the dust (recent floods here have eliminated dust), but to cool the melting asphalt. Too late for us. We are standing in the shade of the pub awning, gouging tar and stones from the soles of our Crocs, collected mid-afternoon when we stepped out of the car in a side street.

Happy New Year to all.

The decorated footpath

‘Pavements should not be dismissed as simply utilitarian. A close inspection of Sydney footpaths will reveal that they are seldom purely practical, and never plain. There is always some decorative embellishment embedded in the paving or applied to its surface.’ So begins a recent entry in the on-line Dictionary of Sydney. Naturally I find this article interesting, and that’s mainly because I wrote it.

Footpaths are a matter of civic pride. The state of the sidewalks is an indicator of a city’s wealth and progress. For appearances’ sake local governments not only upgrade footpaths in busy areas, often replacing asphalt with synthetic bluestone pavers, but they also commission pavement artworks. This mosaic at Erskineville Station has actual tools from the former Eveleigh Railway Workshops embedded in it.

It is also civic pride and the desire to make an area seem safe and well-managed, that prompts government authorities to outlaw graffiti. In Sydney it is unusual for pavement artists to be allowed to draw directly on the paving. Usually they are required to tape down some sort of plastic backing. This artist outside the Queen Victoria Building is an exception.

Greetings

Many thanks to friends, colleagues and total strangers who have shown interest and given support throughout the year.

And to those who have cricked necks after taking up a bit of pavement spotting yourselves …

HAPPY CRICKNESS !

King Street, South Newtown

Graffiti rocks

Graffiti is usually spoken of as if it is an urban phenomenon, but of course people in non-urban areas do graffiti too. Often it is of the ‘I wuz here’ variety, some of which can be extremely elaborate. The graffiti on the Vee Wall at Nambucca Heads, painted by holidaying families, belongs to this category. But even this kind of folk-art graffiti is hated by people who dislike all graffiti on principle. They think it spoils the natural environment.

There are other people who use graffiti in campaigns to preserve the natural environment. For example, large messages painted on the road to Seal Rocks were made by locals protesting about a resort-style development proposed for the area.

I have written about how people see things in different ways in an article called Perceptions – Graffiti Rocks  in Macquarie University’s Scan Magazine.

Hicks, M., 2010. Perceptions: Graffiti Rocks. Scan (Journal of media arts culture).

 

Tree replaced

I am still thinking about why it is that some graffitists choose to write on the ground rather than on a wall or some other vertical surface. And that means I’m still thinking about graffiti that is site specific – where the message is relevant to that particular piece of pavement.

Here is a sad little piece of correction fluid graffiti. Gigantic Hills Fig trees are progressively being removed from this street in Enmore. Their roots break up the paving and are apparently playing havoc with people’s walls and sewer pipes. Perhaps they were an inappropriate choice for a street tree. But the street is looking bare without them and some of the residents – as well as all sorts of birds – are going to miss them. The loss of one of the trees is recorded in this tiny, signed epitaph: Tree replaced by cement! T.T.  10

There is more discussion and photographs of this tree and other trees in the same street on the Saving Our Trees website.

Sick birds

Walls and other vertical surfaces are the usual choice of background for graffiti writers. So why do some people choose to write on the pavement? Maybe because it’s easy – no need to scale walls or climb ladders. Maybe because the pavement is relatively bare – there’s more asphalt and concrete available than empty walls. Maybe because property owners don’t dob you in if you write on the ground.

All that is probably part of it, but there are other reasons as well. Many pavement inscriptions are site specific. Is this spot in Enmore a place where someone leaves bread for pigeons? If so, there’s not much point in leaving a polite little cardboard notice for them. Perhaps the glaring message Bread is making birds sick will have some effect in deterring them from polluting the street, attracting rats … and giving birds vitamin deficiency diseases.

Expletive deleted

Cadigal Reserve, Summer Hill

The signs, symbols and graffiti on the ground are all evidence of a territorial battle that is being waged among government authorities, property owners, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Now the stencils themselves are getting in on the act. It is clear that this walker has cracked up and has said something sharp to the bicycle. But a zealous graffiti obliterator has painted over his speech balloon and now we’ll never know what it was he said.

These particular stencils are on a pathway in Cadigal Reserve in Summer Hill. The pathway continues along beside Hawthorne Canal, which eventually runs into an arm of Parramatta River. 

The canal has a history of successive waves of pollution. Originally a stream called Long Cove Creek by early European settlers in Sydney, by the late 1800s it was fouled with house slops and the run-off from factories and slaughterhouses. The stink that it gave off was considered to be a health hazard and eventually it was excavated, re-aligned and lined with concrete in 1895 and renamed Hawthorne Canal.

But over the years the stormwater it collects has still been polluted with leaking sewage and dirt, horse manure, oil, chemicals, plastics, heavy metals and garbage washed off the roads and nearby rubbish dumps. And then, some time in 1990s, the canal was subjected to what some people regard as visual pollution – graffiti.

Hawthorne Canal, Summer Hill

Taggers and graffiti artists continue to express themselves on the walls and under the bridges there. Their marks have spread to the pathway beside the canal. Government authorities and a bush regeneration group have done much to improve the banks of the canal in recent years, so it is understandable that they might want to remove ‘unsightly’ graffiti from the asphalt. They can’t win though. More pavement graffiti has appeared since the last applications of grey paint. But I wish I had been there before they covered up that pedestrian’s outburst.

(Some of the information for this post was obtained from Hawthorne Canal – the history of Long Cove Creek, written by Mark Sabolch and published by the Ashfield & District Historical Society in association with the Inner West Environmental Group in 2006)

Writing on water – thoughts from Silverton (Guest spot)

This week’s post was written by guest spotter Julian Holland, who is a science curator and historian. Julian has been travelling recently in far western New South Wales.

Water – and there is a steady insistent drizzle as I write – water remains the central conundrum of the European experiment in settling Australia.  Water is invisible in most of the Australian landscape most of the time.  But sometimes – at rare intervals – it appears in abundance, even excess.  Much of the drive for Australia’s exploration in the nineteenth century was the search for water – for an inland sea around which agriculture could develop and for navigable rivers which could transport people and produce to markets.

But the explorers’ quest gave way to the reality of Goyder’s Line, the boundary in South Australia beyond which rainfall could not be relied on for agriculture.  The disjunction is marked on the landscape by a sudden shift in the character of vegetation.

Yet the myth of water remains powerful.  In the old school house museum in Silverton, beyond Broken Hill, plastic stencils of different states reminded me of this.  Apart from their boundaries – coast lines and surveyors’ lines – the only features they could guide a child’s pencil along were the courses of rivers and boundaries of lakes, patterning impressionable brains with the idea of water in the landscape. 

But South Australia’s lakes are salt pans.  And perhaps the stencil-joints along the rivers should be read more literally.  Australia’s rivers are often no more than strings of waterholes.

The river that runs through Silverton, Umberumberka Creek, most of the time doesn’t run anywhere.  It is a river of sand.  It is characteristic of Australia’s dry land rivers, visible in the landscape as a ribbon of larger trees, their roots embracing the invisible river below the sand. 

Instead of the ephemeral ripples of wind or insect or falling leaf – or the splash of oars – these rivers of sand carry slightly more enduring inscriptions.

Heading back to Broken Hill, on the outskirts of Silverton, the road bows down in courtesy to a passing creek – a feeder to the Umberumberka – dry too much of the time to warrant a bridge, the possibility of water, or the probability of its absence, marked by lines and depth measures of 0.50 and 1.00 metres.  We inscribe the landscape and the landscape is inscribed in us.  The two landscapes do not always match.

Sous les pavés

It must be one of the most quoted graffiti slogans from the mai 68 student protests in France: Sous les pavés la plage (Beneath the cobblestones the beach). Naturally, when I visited Paris I thought I should find some road works to photograph so that I could make a witty comment about what really lies beneath the cobblestones. But the CPCU (La Compagnie Parisienne de Chauffage Urbain) beat me to it. Notices at worksites and even on their website read: Sous les pavés la plage le chauffage!

CPCU is a public utility that distributes heat (le chauffage) through an underground network for space heating and hot water in Paris. The notices in the street explain that it is currently upgrading the system to make it more environmentally friendly, with apologies for the inconvenience caused by having to take up the road surface.

(And I apologise for the smudges on my photographs caused by a temporarily malfunctioning lens cover)

Rue de la Verrerie, Paris

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