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.
The label ‘gay’ remains a term of abuse in many situations. This piece of oversize graffiti is on Lakes Way, the road between Bulahdelah and Forster, a seaside holiday area on the central coast of NSW. It raises several questions. Is Tim P actually gay and is he being outed by the graffiti writer? Or is ‘gay’ the worst insult the writer could think of in retaliation for something Tim P has done? Why is it written on a road? Why this road? Why at this spot on the road? And by broadcasting the message to a wider audience and revealing its location, am I complicit in the vilification of Tim P?
At Nambucca Heads, on the NSW mid north coast, one of the cultural attractions is graffiti – of the mum-and-dad-and-the-kids variety – applied in house paint to the twin breakwaters called the ‘Vee-Wall’. It all started in the 1960s and now photographs of the wall are featured on postcards and tourist brochures
Read the messages and you will find stories of people who have enjoyed their holiday at Nambucca and want others to know it. Honeymooners who have returned to find they still love the place (and each other). Families who come back year after year, adding the names of new babies to the family rock. Overseas tourists who want to leave their mark on Australia. Teenagers who reveal their current crushes. Names, dates, tributes to Nambucca and thanks to God are all here, many decorated with pictures of family members or the fish they caught.
How do I know when the sidewalks of Vancouver were last paved? Easy. The year is impressed into the concrete. Near one of these imprints I found an impromptu wet cement drawing. This piece of pavement graffiti was the first one I photographed after arriving in Vancouver for a conference. It reflected how I felt after the 14-hour flight from Sydney.
There is much more that can be read into this small example of the official juxtaposed against the unofficial on the corner of Seymour and West Hastings Streets. Vancouver, readying itself for the 2010 Winter Olympics, is a city I would describe as ‘orderly’, and yet you don’t have to spend too much time in the streets to discover that elements of disorderliness are not entirely suppressed. The Vancouver Olympics Protest Flickr group expose what they see as Vancouver’s problems.
How quaint, I thought. Someone has etched an autumn leaf in wet cement on the sidewalk. Then I noticed another, and then a whole slew of them under an almost bare street tree.
On many blocks along Seymour Street in Downtown Vancouver it is permanently autumn, thanks to these almost inconspicuous installations that must have been put in place when the sidewalks were paved in the late 1990s.
Vancouver has many examples of street art, most of it official, some of it unofficial (though, as you would expect, graffiti mostly occurs at the fringes of Downtown, not in the centre).
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.
I figured this sign was not meant for me. Some private joke or invitation, but still I was intrigued. Sat 1st? Yes, I got that – the previous Saturday was August 1st. Queen Street? King Street? Crown Street? No streets of that name anywhere near this spot, the corner of Ross and Hereford Streets, Forest Lodge (Glebe). And as for the upbeat insect? No idea.
A month later I found an answer of sorts in Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, some three or four kilometres away. A notice chalked in the same hand for Surry Hills Markets, always held in Crown Street on the first Saturday of the month. So the notice in Glebe was meant for me … and everyone else. But I still don’t get the ant.
The blue ribbon event of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was the marathon, whose 42 km route wound past Sydney’s most recognizable icons and through some of its most telegenic suburbs. A few sections of the blue marathon line have been left in place around Sydney, but only where they do not constitute a traffic hazard.
The line was removed from Sydney Harbour Bridge fairly soon after the event, but there are still remnants in several places. Traces of blue are visible on a lane line towards the southern (tollgate) end and also on a large number 3 underneath the arch. I took these photographs early in the morning on 18 March 2007, when people were allowed to walk over the Bridge to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
After the crowds have cleared the traces remain. The numbers on the road mark the starting line for the annual Great Goat Race in the main street of Lightning Ridge, NSW. The photograph was taken the day after, on Easter Sunday 2006.
The marked starting boxes are the only orderly thing about the event. With kids as jockeys and goats having minds of their own, the races are chaotic, smelly and funny.