Keep going

Illawarra Road, Marrickville, NSW

Marrickville is an old suburb of Sydney and has narrow streets, particularly some running in a north-south direction, that are hardly adequate to function as the major thoroughfares they have become. Illawarra Road is like this. It’s a busy route linking the north side of the suburb to the Cooks River on the south side, and yet there are places where motorists travelling in opposite directions baulk at passing each other because of the tight space between the rows of parked cars on either side.

Someone has taken matters into their own hands on one stretch of Illawarra Road. If you are driving south there is a sign painted on the road that reads ‘Keep going’. If you are travelling north there is a longer sign that assures you that ‘2 cars can safely pass … please proceed’.

I am interested in what is really going on when people write their own rules and regulations on the pavement. In this case we can probably speculate that the person who painted these advisory notices is either a local resident who sees and hears cars stopping and starting outside their house all day, or a person who frequently uses this route and is often held up by timid drivers. What may to some extent may be an altruistic gesture, meant to assist motorists in negotiating this tricky bit of road, must also involve a large component of self interest.

Illawarra Road, Marrickville, near Sydenham Road.

Harbour Bridge resurfacing

In January 2012 Sydney Harbour Bridge is being resurfaced. Naturally I am interested.

The work is taking place over two weekends, or possibly three, depending on the weather. It is the first time in the Bridge’s 80-year history that the asphalt has been stripped back to the original concrete deck. Workers with small paint rollers on sticks will waterproof the deck with epoxy and large machines will lay a smooth asphalt surface over it. More about this on the NSW Government’s Transport website.

There were long traffic queues and cranky drivers on the first weekend as cars were diverted into the Harbour Tunnel. Presumably many people had not seen the mobile traffic signs and the advertisements that had been warning for months that the Bridge would be closed.  This weekend, after all the publicity about the delays last week, you’d think people would have got the message to take a longer route to cross the harbour. But apparently not, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. There were queues again today.

On Friday afternoon I drove over the Bridge some hours before it closed at 10.00 pm. My passenger took photos. To the left of the picture an electronic sign warns that the Bridge will be closed tonight. To the right you can see Lanes 1-3 have been newly resurfaced. The patchy asphalt on Lanes 4-6 is covered in graffiti for the instruction of the workers who will shortly be ripping it up.

Sydney Harbour Bridge partially resurfaced, 20 January 2012

The year in asphalt

All around the world the pavement has a symbolic role as well as a functional one so that, for example, during natural disasters or mass acts of civil disobedience broken asphalt is often invoked in words or pictures to depict the havoc created. Similarly, news services and bloggers publish images of pavement stains to represent the unpublishable and they scan pavement graffiti to capture the feelings of ‘the person in the street’.

Here, then, is a chronological catalogue of major news events of 2011 as told via the medium of the pavement. None of the images in this blog post is mine. I wasn’t there; I was too busy hunched over in my computer corner getting on with the Pavement Graffiti project.

 Queensland floods

“One of the few silver linings to the devastating Queensland floods could be an eventual stimulus to the economy as major repair work begins … It is still a matter of some conjecture as to which individual companies might profit. One likely candidate is Boral, which has market-leading positions in asphalt and other material for road.” (The Age, Melbourne)

 Cyclone Yasi in Queensland

Cyclone Yasi“That stretch of asphalt you see there, buried under the remains of the beach? That’s the Bruce Highway, the main (and virtually only) road to communities up the coast, and the main tourist town of Cairns. It will be a long time before Queensland has recovered from this.” (Must Use Bigger Elephants blog; ABC News, Australia)

 Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan

“Workers told how the earthquake ripped through the plant, immediately knocking out the main power. A ghastly boom was heard in the suppression chamber of reactor 4, said Kenji Tada, who was there at the time. Cracks started ripping in the asphalt and the sides of the building. They fled before the tsunami arrived and did its worst.” (The Telegraph, UK)

 Christchurch earthquake

“This is the closest I have seen to skating in post-apocalyptic world, which is my fantasy.” (Skateboarding magazine.com)

 Osama bin Laden killed

“Days after Osama bin Laden’s demise, America’s burning concern—the most urgent outstanding question, at least according to Google search trends—had nothing to do with al Qaeda, terrorism, or torture. No, the death of the world’s most-wanted man has the country thinking about something else entirely: how to get buff. ‘Navy SEAL training’ followed closely by ‘Navy SEAL workout’ were the only bin Laden-related search terms in the Top 10 … SEAL training is the most ferocious workout in the free world … The best are eventually tapped for the elite Seal Team Six—the squad that got bin Laden … On the ‘grinder’, a black asphalt courtyard, would-be SEALs spend hours doing mass calisthenics. In the pool, they are ‘drown-proofed’ by swimming with bound arms and legs. On the shore, they experience ‘surf torture’ …” (The Daily Beast, USA)

 Cadel Evans wins the Tour de France

“ ‘Relief, for sure,’ says Cadel Evans’s mum, describing what is was like to watch her son on TV during the early hours of Sunday finally set himself up to become the first Australian to win cycling’s Tour de France.” (The Australian; Herald Sun)

 Explosion and massacre in Norway

“Blood smears the pavement, as a victim is treated outside government buildings in the centre of Oslo, Friday July 22, 2010, following an explosion that tore open several buildings including the prime minister’s office, shattering windows and covering the street with documents.” (WHAS11.com; AP photo)

 Riots in England

“After the rioting every night this week, the news headlines told a bleak story of communities under attack. But hours later locals wearing wellies and washing up gloves were reclaiming the streets with brooms, bin bags and dustpans … The main problem was broken glass from shopfronts … The hardest thing was cleaning up the remains of burnt-out cars … A community is forged on shared values. So, it’s understandable that local residents are keen to mobilise for a clean up, says Tony Cassidy, a psychologist at the University of Ulster … the immediate urge is to remove the damage that resembles an ‘ugly stain’ on their neighbourhood.” (BBC News Magazine)

Royal wedding

“To encourage more Australians to visit the UK British street artist Joe Hill has created dazzling 3D image showing the iconic Royal Wedding of Princess Catherine and Prince William. The bird’s eye view of Prince William and Princess Catherine’s nuptials can actually be seen on a Sydney pavement.” (Prince William Wedding News blog)

 Steve Jobs dies

“Ahmed Shafai, of Palo Alto, writes ‘Steve, you made our lives easier’ on the pavement outside the Jobs home in Palo Alto, California” (BBC News World)

 Occupy Wall Street

“In a tense showdown above the East River, the police arrested more than 700 demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street protests who took to the roadway as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon. The police said it was the marchers’ choice that led to the enforcement action. ‘Protesters who used the Brooklyn Bridge walkway were not arrested,’ Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, said. ‘Those who took over the Brooklyn-bound roadway, and impeded vehicle traffic, were arrested’. But many protesters said they believed the police had tricked them …” (New York Times)

 Muamar Gaddafi is overthrown and killed

“In Benghazi, on the main square where it all started, they were slaughtering camels in celebration … And in the cafes, people were watching TV pictures – more graphic than any shown in Britain – of a bloodied Gaddafi dragged along and beaten, feebly protesting, before a gun was put to his head. The picture then cut to the dead ex-leader being rolled onto the pavement, blood pooling from the back of his skull.” (The Telegraph, UK)

 Protests in Egypt continue

“Fresh clashes erupted in Cairo between police and protesters demanding the end of military rule … A pitched battle between hardcore protesters and armed riot police has been going for five days straight. The fight turned a few-block radius of downtown Cairo into a virtual war zone. Police and protesters formed ever-shifting battle lines delineated by torched-out car skeletons and blackened sheets of corrugated metal, along a street littered with broken bottles and chunks of asphalt.” (Global Post)

 Leveson Inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal

“Sheryl Gascoigne, the ex-wife of former England footballer Paul Gascoigne, is now giving evidence to the inquiry … Gascoigne says journalists who followed her ‘hoped I would give birth on the pavement’ … She is speaking about the effect of the media pursuit had on her family. She says it was especially tough on her children, who often could not go out and play.” (The Huffington Post, UK)

 Conference on Global Warming, Durban

As the year neared its close this conference gave commentators the opportunity to trot out a collection of familiar pavement metaphors.

 “Perhaps it was Yogi Berra, the great baseball player, who best summed up the results of the latest fraught round of climate talks … ‘When you come to a fork in the road,’ he said, ‘take it.’ For the past two years, ever since the disappointing Copenhagen climate summit, the 194 negotiating nations have stood indecisively at just such a junction. In one direction leads a steep and rugged pathway to a global agreement – legally binding on developed and developing countries alike – to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. In the other lies a gentler and more beguiling roadway, paved with voluntary measures and good intentions, which looks like leading to an ultimately hellish climate.” (The Telegraph, UK)

“Durban Platform Paves Way for Global Climate Treaty by 2015 … By the end of the meeting, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was agreed to by 190 nations …  In addition to a roadmap for a more comprehensive climate treaty, the EU and nine other nations also pledged to take new emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol …” (Carbon Capitalist)

 Occupy Wall Street movement continues

“Yep…  Occupy pavement…  Works for me…  What a lost cause…  I have news for these idiots:  Wall Street never missed a step.  And they were up there in their glass towers looking down and laughing.  Absolutely wasted effort on the part of these street people…” (Burton Blog)

Not a good note to end on, I’m sorry. But to all my readers, thank you for your support and encouragement. I hope the coming year is a fulfilling one for you.

Megan

Out of your mind

'You must go out of your mind in order to come to your senses', Fitzroy (Melbourne), 2011

A tiny public garden on a busy street corner in Fitzroy has been adopted by a man who, by his own confession, is addicted to colour. Here is a person who truly values the pavement as a medium of expression and is not afraid of the challenge that cobblestones present to an artist.

'Meme Corner', Fitzroy (Melbourne), 2011

The garden’s passé railway sleepers and tired pelargoniums are no match for the vitality of his patterns, diagrams and aphorisms.

'Addicted to colour', Fitzroy (Melbourne), 2011

I look forward to seeing how his Epicenter of Love has evolved next time I visit Melbourne.

'Epicenter of Love', Fitzroy (Melbourne), 2011

Not Newtown

Pennant Hills, NSW, 2008

Pavement graffiti can be found everywhere if you keep an eye out for it. That’s what I always say, but looking back through my archive of photos I wonder if that’s really true. It’s easy for me to find pavement inscriptions because I live in the inner-west of Sydney where feral art and graffiti of all sorts is a common feature of the landscape. I have also travelled in regional New South Wales a fair bit, and have found some great examples on country roads and highways.

But what about the tidy or more conservative suburbs in the wider city? Do I have many photos of pavement graffiti from these places? The answer is No.

I guess there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, although graffiti is drawn on the asphalt acres of suburbia, it is less prolific than in Glebe/Newtown/Darlinghurst. Secondly – dare I admit? – on my daily rounds I stick to the inner city and rarely venture into the ‘burbs.

But here is a small selection of examples to show that submerged stories do erupt on the paved surfaces of the suburbs.

'F--- the pigs', Marsfield, NSW, 2008

And my End-of-year resolution? More walking in unfamiliar parts of Sydney.

'Smile - You are beatiful!', Manly, NSW, 2011

Politics

It is a warm Sunday afternoon in October, and we are on the forecourt of Old Parliament House – now called the Museum of Australian Democracy. The air is thick with fluffy seeds from Canberra’s avenues of exotic trees. In some places they lie in the gutters like drifts of snow. But despite the pleasant weather there is that sense of manicured desolation here that sightseers from other cities find remarkable about the national capital.

Perhaps it is not fair to judge the scarcity of people on this particular day. Potential visitors to museums have probably all been sucked away to the other side of Lake Burley Griffin where Floriade, the annual spring festival, is in full bloom.  We have chosen to avoid the flower beds and ferris wheels and instead are standing on the best example of pavement graffiti in the Australian Capital Territory.

The controversial Aboriginal Tent Embassy was originally established on the lawns of Old Parliament House in 1972, claiming to represent the political rights of Australian Aboriginal people. After being removed several times it has now been in place since 1992. There is an official Aboriginal Tent Embassy website, and you can also read a potted history on Wikipedia.

Today the tents and decorated sheds appear to be empty and all that there is to see are signs and flags, piles of firewood and a smear of smoke from the smouldering sacred fire. And of course, the decorated forecourt. Around its edges there are recently painted slogans and symbols, but mostly this expanse of paving is crowded with a worn menagerie of animals and plants painted in imitation of various styles of Aboriginal rock-art.

In their book Inscribed landscapes archaeologists Bruno David and Meredith Wilson draw parallels between Indigenous rock markings and graffiti. What better place than here at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to reflect on their contention that all inscription, including modern graffiti and contact-period rock-art, is about the politics of turf. Inscriptions, they maintain, colonize space.

Nostalgia

Pavement artist, Stanmore (Sydney), 2009

Not only do I write a ‘Pavement graffiti’ blog, but I will soon be launching a website called ‘Pavement appreciation’. This is all connected with a postgraduate research project I have undertaken on ‘Reading the pavement’.  If it all sounds like some sort of obsession then I’m afraid it is. I was recently forced to speculate that I must have had a revelatory encounter with asphalt as a small child.

This is not as silly as it sounds. The surfaces of roadways and footpaths are such an ordinary part of our everyday lives that we tend to ignore them through familiarity. But we could probably all look back to memorable moments that involved asphalt or concrete pavements and the marks upon them – scabby knees and other gravel-rash injuries, arrow chases through suburban streets, jumping over the cracks in the footpath so as not to be eaten by bears, sweaty handball games on courts painted on the school playground, mastering the art of drawing a hopscotch the right size and shape. Some Sydney people will remember being puzzled as a child at seeing ‘Eternity’ chalked on the pavement in the city.

When Marcel Proust (À la recherche du temps perdu) describes impressions in the present that revive similar sensations from the past he mentions not only the taste of the madeleine, but the unevenness of the paving-stones. Occasionally you find childhood recollections of the pavement in the works of other writers as well. Clive James, for example, in his Unreliable Memoirs describes daredevil feats in his pram-wheeled billycart and the ‘slide of the back wheels which got me round the corner unscathed, leaving black smoking trails of burnt rubber’. And in her essay Earthworm Small, Barbara Hanrahan tells how her family moved to a better part of Adelaide in the 1950s, but ‘I kept on wanting the old suburb. Cracked asphalt, corrugated iron stamped with the trademark of a royal crown, lavatory creeper and morning glory …’.

I wrote about some of my experiences with chalk and pavement in a journal article a few years ago (Eternal City). This nostalgia carries over into my present project, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I am vindicated by British academic Elizabeth Wilson, who writes in her article Looking backward: nostalgia and the city, ‘Although the practice of academic research is meant to be an objective activity, one part of the ‘postmodernisation’ of such work has been a greater recognition of our subjective investment in it. The anthropologist and psychoanalyst, George Devereux, once wrote that all research is autobiographical, and this seems particularly clear in recent writings about urban space and cities’.

Hopscotch, Carlton (Melbourne), 2008

Mouse

Some things written in drying concrete probably don’t deserve to be preserved – trivial thoughts impetuously scribbled. But other inscriptions are sincere and loaded with meaning. When someone declares their love in the concrete, what are they thinking? Do they mean that their love will go on forever? Or do they simply want create a permanent memento of this romantic moment in their lives? Or are they casting a spell in the hope that the object of their love will reciprocate?

Observant pavement-watchers can sometimes follow the progress of a love story over a period of time.

This wet concrete inscription was photographed on the night it was made in June 2008.

'I heart Mouse', Liberty Street, Enmore, June 2008

This stencil appeared not so far away three years later.

'Marry me Mouse', Enmore Road, Enmore, August 2011

I wonder if they are related?

Newtown

 

'I have a dream' Square, King Street, Newtown, 2008

 

A while ago I came across this description:

King Street, Newtown is always more or less busy, but on Saturday night it is seen at its best and brightest.  Fancy a double line, more than a mile long, of brilliantly lighted shops; and “side-walks” so inconveniently crowded that it is often a matter of some difficulty to push one’s way through the throng of people on business and on pleasure bent.

The description seems fairly accurate to me, although it does not mention the vehicles that crawl up and down King Street on a Saturday night while their occupants ogle the crowds on the footpath. But that would be because this passage comes from an article in the June 1889 issue of the Sydney Illustrated News. King Street has been a commercial success for more than 150 years while the demographics of Newtown have ebbed and flowed.

Readers of this blog will have noticed that many of the pavement graffiti examples that I mention were photographed in Newtown. There are two main reasons for this – I live close by; and Newtown is a hub of graffiti activity. In fact, it was small esoteric stencils on the footpaths of Newtown that sparked my interest and prompted me to start my collection of pavement graffiti photographs in 1999.

Stencil publicising The Blair Witch Project movie, King Street, Newtown, 1999

Newtown was incorporated as a municipality in 1862. Cast iron roof-water outlets set into the kerb In King Street still bear the letters NMC, even though Newtown Municipal Council ceased to exist in 1949. These days part of Newtown is included in the City of Sydney, while the remainder falls within the Marrickville local government area.

Roof water outlet to gutter with embossed letters ‘NMC’, King Street, Newtown, 1999

I have discovered that this kind of information and much more is available on the Newtown Project website, which has been created by the City of Sydney Archives and various volunteers to bring together historical information about the Municipality of Newtown. The information ranges from Council Minutes to the history of the street-art group Unmitigated Audacity, whose works included the I Have a Dream mural. There is a self-guided walking tour and plus lots of early photos of Newtown streets, buildings and people – and  contemporary photos as well. Definitely worth a look.

Wilson Street

When I posted a photograph of an embellished ‘bicycle route’ stencil in Little Eveleigh Street , near Wilson Street, back in March 2010, I suggested that the bike rider with a giant penis was not simply a joke but an expression of tension between local residents and the ‘greenies’ who cycle through on the way to and from the city.

It seems I was not wrong. The battle between cyclists and locals has escalated in this neighbourhood. In August 2010 I posted another photo from Wilson Street, this time a verbal blast: Eco-cycle rapists. This week on a walk through Darlington I found another angry notice, still readable even though it has been hashed over:  Attention bike Nazis no entry!

Wilson Street is a long back street stretching from Redfern Station to Newtown Station, and passing through Darlington and MacDonaldtown on the inner-city fringes of Sydney. It has been undergoing change for some years. Its corner shops have become art studios; Sydney University threatens to engulf it as it devours real estate to the north; and along the street’s southern side the former Eveleigh Railway Workshops – which would have provided employment for many residents of the little terrace houses in years gone by – have been turned into a theatre and arts centre. ‘Gentrification’ is the name of the street drama that is being performed here daily.

Whenever I visit Wilson Street it never fails to provide me with material for my pavement graffiti collection. This week, not far from the warning to cyclists, I noticed a worn little stencil in the middle of the road: Save the shark. According to other bloggers it’s been there a few years.

Near the ‘CarriageWorks’ cultural centre, some fairly recent wet concrete scratchings include an Aboriginal flag. In the background of this photo you can see the Skippy Girls painted on the corrugated iron fence.

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