Penrith Museum of PrintingPosted: December 4, 2022 Filed under: Western Sydney | Tags: letterpress printing, penrith, penrith museum of printing, print museum 12 Comments
The jacaranda trees are in flower around the Paceway, and a carpet of mauve petals surrounds the unassuming green shed that houses the Museum of Printing. Apart from the row of flags which announce the museum is open, swaying in the wind, and the magpies pecking at the lawn by the racing track, all is still. It is Sunday morning and, apart from the sound of the traffic on Mulgoa Road, it would seem like not much is happening in this quiet corner of Penrith.
Inside the museum it is a different story. At first I’m not sure what to expect from the sign that promises I’m about to meet the Linotype machine, the Eighth Wonder of the World. I am not quite able to imagine what lies behind the folding doors with a print of woodcut of a 15th century printing workshop on them. As an introduction, a display cabinet in the lobby has a display of various pieces of printerly ephemera: an invitation to the Copy Boy’s Picnic, instruction manuals and samples of type. I’m looking at this when the doors open and one of the museum guides welcomes me in.
It is busy in the print museum: every corner of it has a volunteer working away at something. One man has the top of one of the machines open and is cleaning it with a strong-smelling solvent, dipping a paintbrush into a saucepan, then leaning down into the mechanism to apply it. In the back corner, two men work with trays of type, and on the other side of the room, another operates a printing press. There’s a whirring, rattling sound as the press operates, which resounds through the room. It is as busy as I imagine print shops were when machines such as these produced anything printed: newspapers, books, office stationery, leaflets, everything before printing technology changed and these kinds of machines were thought to be redundant. Many of them were scrapped, but others, like these machines in the museum, have been saved by the efforts of printers who worked with them for decades, cared about their historical significance, and wanted to see them preserved.
Everything here works, the guide tells me, gesturing to the printing presses and the linotype machines. One tall iron press at the back of the room is painted green and has a gold eagle on the top: a weight, the guide tells me, not just a decoration. It is a Columbian Press, which was used to print the Carcoar Chronicle and then had another life on display in the foyer of Fairfax: the first copies of the Sydney Morning Herald had been printed on a similar press.
As we move around the museum, parts of the story are taken up by each of the volunteers. A compositor tells me how you could handset type as small as 2 point, so small it was barely readable, just by knowing the location of it in the case. He asks my name and, quick as a flash, hovers his hand over a tray of type and my name is set, upside down and back to front, in the composing stick. For posters they would use big blocks of wooden type, to print things like headline display posters, the kind that would be put outside of newsagencies. Another compositor tells me that, when Elvis died in 1977, they had used the largest letters of all to make the headline announcing this, as if that didn’t happen very often.
On to the eighth wonder of the world: the linotype machine. The man with the saucepan and brush pauses his cleaning operations and turns to show me how the Intertype – a tall and complex metal cabinet with a small keyboard at the base – operated. It had been invented in the 1880s by a watchmaker, he told me, who applied the mechanics of watch movements to devising a typesetting machine that would cast text out of molten lead, line by line.
The typesetter sits at the keyboard and types out a line of text, activating the machine, which rattles into life. The matrices – the metal pieces used to cast the type – drop down from a cabinet above and move through the machine with such precise, swift action that, by the end of the demonstration, I agree it is indeed a wonder. The typesetter had worked in a room that had 136 of them, noisily churning out the daily news. You were paid by the line, he told me, and if the machine malfunctioned you had to ring a bell that would bring the mechanic over to fix it. All major newspapers had rooms of linotype machines, like this one from around 1930, at the Sydney Morning Herald.
So I continue around the museum, seeing each of the machines in action. The largest of the presses, the Wharfedale Press, had begun the museum’s collection, along with other machines that had printed the Nepean Times, a local paper that had ceased operation in the 1960s. The inventor of the Wharfedale, the printer told me, would, when he was devising it, wake up in the night and sketch out ideas for the mechanism on his bedhead. Printers, I note, are drawn to details and idiosyncrasies. They seem to have a great respect or even love for the machines that they operate: feeding in sheets of paper, typing out lines of text, activating the foot pedal that drives the press to make its impressions.
The museum has been here, in the green shed at the corner of the paceway, for over twenty years, and is unique in its status as a working print museum. A few days before visiting I had been alarmed to hear that, with a proposed new sports stadium development in the planning, they are threatened with eviction. While known and loved in the printing community, the museum has a quieter presence in Penrith than other attractions: the prominently signposted Museum of Fire, or the ever-growing Panthers. The museum faces an uncertain future, but for now, the machines print on.
Thank you to Stephanus, Graham, John, George and all at the Penrith Museum of Printing.
A Telex from BankstownPosted: July 6, 2022 Filed under: Technology, Time, Western Sydney 20 Comments
To the north side of Bankstown station the rows of shops are under a cloak of rain, with a grey sky above. It has been a few years since I’ve last been over this way, and through the gloom of the rain I look for some of the details I remember: a ghost sign for curtains and home linens, ‘Optical House’, and the inscrutable facade of the Telstra Museum. As long as I’ve known it to be there I’ve wondered what is inside, the building’s plain appearance only heightening its mystery.
This time, I go up to the entrance, and seeing that it’s a Wednesday and the sign indicates it is open, I press the doorbell. Nothing happens for a little while, but I wait. There are few clues to it being open from the street, the windows have frosted glass and heavy grilles, which make it difficult even to see if the lights are on inside. But after a minute or so the door opens, and a museum guide welcomes me in.
Never have I been in a room with so many telephones. Immediately it is clear this is a comprehensive and loved collection of telecommunications objects, arranged by type and category, in aisles signposted ‘telephone exchanges, public telephones’, or ‘morse code, teleprinters’. Soon I’m examining a row of public telephones, pointing out to the guide the ones I remember: ah, the gold phone, phone of my teenage years.
Telephone technology has undergone constant change since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century, progressing from contraptions of wires and bells and plugs, through a series of advancements towards digital systems, a narrative documented here in the Telstra Museum through objects and ephemera.
My guide, like many of the museum’s volunteers, had worked for PMG, the Postmaster General’s Department, which handled post and telecommunications before the services were split in the 1970s, into Australia Post and Telecom. He shows me how the switchboard exchange mechanisms worked and we take up a bakelite phone each to role play a phone call as he guides me through the operation of the pyramid switchboard. Switchboard operators were generally women, who were thought to be more patient and polite for a job which required continual conversations with callers: my fumbling attempts were once actions conducted with great speed and precision.
We examine exchange equipment, morse code machines, teleprinters, and the Muirhead-Jarvis Picture Transmitter, which relayed news photographs by telegram, in a machine housed in a cabinet something like a piano, that prefigured the fax machine and the photocopier. One aisle is dedicated to domestic telephones, including a rotary dial phone in gold, which is, I see when I go up close, ‘the one millionth telephone manufactured by STC’.
Other phones have tapestry covers, or are wall mounted and in a range of colours (Powder Blue, Maize Yellow, Cinnamon). A photocopied illustration shows the Dolly Vardin cover that was fashionable in the early 1900s with those who found the sight of the telephone unattractive, a doll with a long lacy skirt, tall enough to cover over the telephone underneath.
These phones and communication devices were once regarded as new, then became everyday items, then were outmoded, to finally became museum pieces. In one section are the first mobile phones and car phones, big clunky bricks that cost many thousands of dollars in the 80s and 90s. I’m drawn to an earlier innovation, an alternative 1960s design for landline phones. The Ericofon, the guide tells me, came to be popular for use in airport operations, but they weren’t so popular in homes, because if you needed to put the phone down mid-call you had to remember to put it on its side, or else you’d hang up on the caller.
In the last row of the museum, beside a radio studio and ‘television operations centre’, is George the Speaking Clock. You have George? I ask, with a growing sense of excitement. In 2018 I wrote an essay for the Powerhouse Museum book Time and Memory, and researched 20th century methods of time keeping and recording, of which George was one. I draw closer to the machine which had once announced the current time to callers, from a series of three glass discs on which was recorded the voice of a radio announcer named Gordon (not George) Gow. One disc held the hours, one the minutes, and another the seconds, and the machine selected the correct combination of numbers according to the current time.
In the essay, I had described a call to George: “Upon calling B074, callers heard Gow’s voice cycling through the 4320 announcements that made up one day’s worth of time. At the hour, when the time announcement was followed by ‘precisely’, his voice seemed to relish the crispness of the word — indeed, the speaking clock was advertised as being accurate to within one-hundredth of a second.”
In his heyday, George attracted many thousands of calls a day, but here, in the Telstra Museum, he reads the time just for me, as the guide wakes him up for a solo performance.
Telegram stationery, pneumatic tubes, post office memorabilia, Beepa the Owl (the 1980s Telecom mascot), Telecom-patterned tableware… there was seemingly no limit to the technical and cultural ephemera of communications, and I vowed to return, another day, for a morse code demonstration and further investigation of the collection.
Like George and the Goldphone public phone, the crockery was familiar to me too. Many years ago I’d bought a Telecom teacup from an op shop, and so after navigating the wet, potholed streets back home, I settled down to warm up with a cup of tea in my own piece of telecommunications history.
With thanks to Jeff and Bob for their museum tour and demonstrations.
Ten Years of Mirror SydneyPosted: May 20, 2022 Filed under: Announcements | Tags: Mirror Sydney 7 Comments
Ten years ago, in May 2012, I pressed ‘publish’ on the first post on this blog. With Mirror Sydney I wanted to turn a reflective eye onto the city and the suburbs, and record observations of places that were in some way out of step with the more rapaciously-changing, exclusive version of the city.
I started with a place that had been emblematic to me when I first moved into the inner city, the Camperdown Velodrome. When I came to know the velodrome, in the late 1990s, it was disused and overgrown. A few years afterwards it would be remodelled into a park and would cease to have a hold over me, but for that in-between time it carried the promise of the kinds of places I was drawn to, ones outside of the ordinary, where there was a stronger sense of the layers of time that make up the city. In its abandonment it had a sense of possibility, one shared by many places I have written about since. Such places suggest through time, and into the many versions of Sydney that co-exist, clashing and interweaving.
Mirror Sydney has become a view of the city that brings attention to what is just outside of immediate perception. This might be places hidden in plain sight, that hold some kind of resistant or subversive force, or anachronistic places that meddle with the illusion of now being only the present moment. Many of these places might be considered vanishing, or disappearing, but Mirror Sydney is as much about endurance, and persistence: what remains around us in our daily lives, in our memories, and in the stories we tell about the places that mean the most to us.
Thank you for reading and supporting Mirror Sydney in its various forms – blog, book and podcast – over the last decade, and I hope it has gone some way to inspire your own thoughts and connections with the city and its places. The Domain Expressway still runs, the ghost platform still fascinate, new contenders for the city’s ugliest building regularly arise, and there is always more to notice.
In Bexley NorthPosted: May 8, 2022 Filed under: Gardens | Tags: 1964 olympics, bexley north, Gardens, the cure, Wolli Creek 18 Comments
At the main intersection in Bexley North, traffic snarls by, lurching towards or away from the M5 on-ramp on the far side of the Wolli Creek valley. On one side of the intersection are shops, built in the 1930s, when the East Hills railway station opened and the suburb with its rows of red-brick houses came into being. On the other side is the Bexley North Hotel, a supermarket, and a row of shops with a wide carpark in front of them, hidden behind a screen of trees, lawn, and overgrown garden beds. This, a sign indicates, is Nairn Gardens.
I wasn’t paying Nairn Gardens particular attention, apart from noticing it had a substantial sign for a small, nondescript park, but as I continued on the path through the gardens, something else caught my eye. A round bronze plaque with a colourful insignia on it, on the side of a concrete structure that enclosed a row of benches. From this, I learnt that the Gardens had, in 1966, won second prize in the Sydney Morning Herald Garden Competition. I looked up, across the overgrown rockeries, a tangle of rosemary, foxtail grass, and tall conifers leaning askew, and tried to imagine the prizewinning garden hidden somewhere within it.
In 1966, it was described by the judges thus: “Much thought has been given here, with a rather difficult terrain, to produce a delightful effect which will improve even further as some of the subjects mature”, and further, “Several young poplars form an attractive background to an Olympic torch fountain, while an outstanding soulangiana magnolia and crotalaria added their charm. A well designed rock garden, with rosemary, hebes, dwarf conifers, nandinas, goldfussia, diosmas, mesembryanthemums, sedums, and alpines, gave a great permanency to the display.”
The rocks were still there, in terraced rows leading down from street level, and the rosemary and the conifers had matured into unruliness. Essentially, though, the winning garden had disappeared, apart from the plaques that commemorated the prize. It felt something like coming across a trophy in an op shop, engraved with a name and achievement, but disconnected from its champion.
The fountain had been installed with great fanfare in 1964, in commemoration of Bexley North’s Olympic medallist, the swimmer Robert Windle, who had won gold in that year’s Tokyo Olympics. The fountain had a prominent position on the corner, instantly noticeable to anyone passing by, whose attention would have been captured by the sight of a giant metal tulip, with a curtain of water cascading down from its stem, rising up out of a concrete dome into which slabs of stone were set. I like to imagine that when, in August 1980, The Cure played at the Bexley North Hotel, Robert Smith might have wandered across the carpark to contemplate the fountain’s lonely prominence on the corner.
Vanished fountain, unruly garden, the mesembryanthemums long gone. In 1995, the fountain was removed, and replaced by lawn and a row of flagpoles, and the garden’s flowers were replaced by hardier species. I sit on one of the benches and look over a palm tree in a hexagonal concrete planter, set in the cusp of the park benches as an object of contemplation. The wind blows big dry leaves from the plane trees and wisps of trash across the lawn and the path. Occasionally someone comes past, carrying a bunch of Mother’s Day flowers or a bag of shopping back to the carpark. The sky is a bright blue, with big mottled stripes of clouds cutting across it. I sit on the bench in the late-afternoon sun and watch them move and disperse, slowly changing into different shapes altogether.
Liner Notes: time travel in Five DockPosted: March 12, 2022 Filed under: ghost signs | Tags: five dock, ghost sign, QE2, the concorde, travel agency, wangal land 15 Comments
Signs go up in shop windows, announcing relocation, or the final sale, then the buildings stand empty. Nothing happens for a while, and it seems like maybe nothing will. But one day the demolition team arrives and begins to take the buildings down. The first thing they do is take off the awnings, so the buildings have a stripped look, pared back to the bricks. Where the awnings used to be attached a stripe of plaster, or brick, or sometimes the old signs of former businesses are revealed.
In Five Dock the strip of shops on the corner of Great North Road and East Street is the site of the new Metro station. The shops have been vacated, and the awnings removed to begin the process of demolition.
Above 163, a stretch of blue-painted sky is revealed, under which a cruise ship sails and an aeroplane lifts off. Not just any aeroplane: its distinctive wing shape and beak-like nose identify it as the luxury supersonic passenger jet, the Concorde. A trip on the Concorde was a journey like no other. Travelling at twice the speed of sound you would nevertheless be in perfect comfort, sipping French champagne. Smoked salmon and foie gras was for entree, lobster Newberg for main, and heart of palm for dessert, as you flew swift and supersonic over the ocean.
Mostly the Concorde flew the transatlantic route, between London and New York. But in 1985 the Concorde made a special record-breaking flight from London to Sydney. This was the second time a Concorde had made this journey. The first time had been for a publicity tour in 1972, when the jet was met by aviation enthusiasts as well as protesters, who carried signs that read ‘Ban the Boom’, ‘Doomsday Plane’ and ‘Atomic Fart’. Powerful jet engines and its distinctive shape gave the Concorde the ability to travel at such high speeds, but created a loud, startling sonic boom in its wake. As peaceful as it was for the passengers, on the ground below windows shook with a sound as loud and startling as an explosion.
In 1985, soon after landing, the crew were photographed on the boarding stairs holding bunches of flowers and a giant cardboard pocket watch, displaying their arrival time of 4pm, commemorating their record-breaking 17-hour flight. While this was happening, the Concorde’s passengers were transported to the harbour to start the next leg of their journey, on the QE2 cruise liner. This liner was the slow-going but sumptuous ocean equivalent of the Concorde, then the grandest, as well as one of the largest, cruise ships in the world. Fireworks and a lavish Valentines Day ball awaited them.
In Five Dock, I imagine the artist who painted the sign above the travel agency on Great North Road, up on a ladder, carefully at work, perhaps with this event in mind, and all that it promised for the future of luxury travel. The artist paints in a pale blue sky, and clouds trailing like streamers above the cruise ship. Birds flock around the ship’s hull and silhouettes of people cluster on the deck, looking over towards where the Concorde ascends. They were not to know the Concorde would only ever visit Sydney occasionally, before a devastating crash in France in 2000 would put an end to supersonic passenger travel. The skies were clear, the ocean wide.
North Sydney and the Expressway TreePosted: January 8, 2022 Filed under: concrete, Northern Sydney, Sydney Trees | Tags: Cammeraygal land, casuarina, north sydney, offices, trees, warringah freeway 17 Comments
With the festive season over, decorations have almost disappeared from shop windows and front gardens. Suburban frontyard light displays have been packed away, and the dry, dead remains of Christmas trees protrude from green waste bins. The decorations that are still up seem stubborn or stale, behind the times, which have churned on into an already stressful new year.
Driving through North Sydney, I’m not yet thinking about Christmas decorations or anything much except making sure I’m in the right lane for the Arthur Street turnoff. Berry Street splits in two like ram’s horns, left to go north, right to the bridge. Choose wisely, for the Warringah Expressway awaits below. There’s an intensity to this intersection, perched as it is at the edge of the North Sydney high-rises. Here the view opens up towards the sky and the harbour and the far shore of the eastern suburbs. Below is fifteen lanes of surging motorway traffic although this is, from this high vantage point, out of sight.
I turn into the lane closest to the edge, which is hemmed in by a barrier and a railing. Beside the lane is a narrow strip of concrete, which runs the length of the road. Something glittery catches my eye. A short way along the roadside, from a crack in the concrete, against the odds, a tree is growing. It is a casuarina tree, about two metres high, roughly the shape and size of a Christmas tree. Evidently someone had noticed this, as its lower branches had been decorated with glittery plastic ribbons. What a tenacious little tree, there amid the concrete and the traffic, thriving where no tree is meant to grow.
I might have noticed the tree and keep going on my way, but instead I change lanes and travel back around the block. I park the car in a laneway between two rows of office buildings, where the mood is concrete, security cameras, and garage doors with ads for Magic Button (featuring the cheerful mascot of a magician figure in a tuxedo with a button for a head, pressing down on the top of it to release a shower of sparks).
No one much is around, a combination of it being the first week of the year and the recent huge upsurge in Covid infections. This means there’s less traffic, too, which is helpful as I dash across the road, to the siding just before the strip of pavement with the tree. Here it’s wide enough to stand to take a photo, though I feel conspicuous as the cars go past. Like the tree, here by the precipice of the motorway, I stand in an unlikely place. For a moment I take in the view of the lanes of traffic below and then the harbour, before dashing back across to safety.
Later, I look up the slices of time captured by Google Street View to follow the tree’s growth. It’s not there in November 2017, but then by the next image, October 2018, it’s a small, sturdy sapling. By November 2019 it’s up above the railing. I watch it get taller over 2020, then 2021, until the last capture in May, in which it looks much like it does now in its decorated form. I think of it growing these last four years, nourished by the sunlight and the rain, as the skies filled with bushfire smoke for months, and then the traffic dwindled as the city went through lockdowns. Maybe it was during lockdown that the person who decorated it had noticed it, in that time when local details were our comfort.
I walk the long way back to the car, deciding to look around North Sydney a little bit. My mental map of it is outdated by decades: going past on the expressway I still look up expecting to see the clock/temperature that used to be up on the side of the Konica Minolta building (then the Sunsuper building). I had a childhood association with it, where it represented for me both the high rise world of business and something closer to home: the orange numerals resembled a bedside alarm clock. A few years ago the view of it disappeared when a new gleaming glass office tower was built in front of it, but I could see it was still there, a black box high up in the top corner, visible in the gap between the buildings.
All was quiet around the offices buildings, apart from a few construction sites and removalist vans. The smokers’ courtyards were empty, and few people waited to cross at the street corners. I watched my reflection move across mirrored glass that sealed off the views into office windows. Only real estate signs gave a sense of what might be inside them.
Rainy Night at the RegentPosted: November 17, 2021 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: cinema, richmond regent 7 Comments
Late on a rainy night, the lights of the Richmond Regent cinema reflect on the wet road in front of it like moonlight on water. The lights are on in the lobby and in the upper-storey windows, but the building has a dramatic, shadowy presence, befitting the drama that happens on the screens within.
The Regent dates from the picture-palace days of the 1930s, when the grand facades and elegant interiors of art deco theatres offered transformation: a new atmosphere, one elegant and magical, elevated above ordinary life. The Regent opened in 1935, a handful of years after its architects had designed another landmark theatre, the Roxy in Parramatta. It is not difficult to imagine the Regent at this time. Apart from its conversion to a twin cinema in the 1990s, it has changed comparatively little.
There are posters for the new releases affixed to the doors, and the potted palms that were once by the columns in the lobby have been replaced by a hand sanitiser dispenser and a check-in table, but the same feeling comes over me when I step inside. The Regent is the kind of cinema I visited as a child, with the same textures of velvet and carpet, and the hand-painted signs, and the sense that I had already begun to enter another, fantasy world just by stepping through the door.
Perhaps the Regent has retained its identity so strongly because it has remained independent, and only ever had three owners. The first two, coincidentally, for they were not related, were both called Michael Walsh. The third and current owner John Levy, or ‘Mr Movies’ as he is known and referred to in the cinema’s communications, bought the cinema in 1989. Now in his 80s, he will retire in January, and the cinema will be taken over by new owners. Often when I’ve come to the Regent Mr Movies has been in the box office, dispensing tickets (all tickets, all day, every day are $12), but tonight it’s just the two young staff at the candy bar.
We buy tickets to the late screening of No Time to Die and linger around in the lobby for a little while, looking at the framed photographs hung on the wall that capture it in previous incarnations. A letter from the 1930s owners around the time of the cinema’s opening promises patrons that will be experiencing “the best the world can offer” in terms of sound quality, and of comfort, with the theatre’s Dunlop Cushion Pillow Seats. A wooden sign on the stairs announced the upstairs area was closed: disappointing as up there is a 30s/80s lounge area, with mirrored columns and gold velvet armchairs.
The downstairs theatre is the original of the two: in the 90s the mezzanine seating was walled off and converted into the second theatre, but there’s still a sense of how it would have been as one big, cavernous room. The film isn’t due to start for another quarter of an hour. The curtains are drawn, and there’s no sound except for the rain outside, and no one else here, yet. A spotlight illuminates the curtains, as if at any moment someone is about to walk out on stage. I sit back in the plush red seat, a child, an adult, in the past, in the present, waiting for the film to start.
Hunter ConnectionPosted: October 23, 2021 Filed under: Shops, Sydney City, Underground, Underground Sydney | Tags: Hunter Connection, sydney city, wynyard 7 Comments
The Hunter Street entrance to the Hunter Connection shopping arcade is a canopy of mirrored tiles and neon lights, like the entrance to a 1980s nightclub. The mirror panels reflect the street and the people walking past, the angles and edges scrambling and distorting the scene below. Go under the mirrors and inside and you’ll find that the mall’s irregular shape, each floor slightly different, and the narrow stairs and escalators that lead between them, give it a maze-like quality.
Hunter Connection opened in 1982, positioning it, in the history of Sydney city shopping arcades, between the 70s excesses of Centrepoint and the postmodernism of the late-80s Skygarden. Despite the travertine marble floors and the 150 metres of skylights noted in the newspaper articles heralding its arrival, its main drawcard was its efficiency as a thoroughfare: “Soon we will be a city of hedgehogs!” wrote the Richardson and Wrench real estate news, weirdly, in 1981, “the Hunter Connection – a pedestrian refuge and mall… will provide undercover links directly from Wynyard Station through to Hunter, Pitt and George Streets.”
There’s a satisfaction which comes from navigating the city underground through its subterranean shopping malls, an experience arising from the combination of the underground railway and later 20th century high-rise developments. Picking up on this potential, the early 1970s a Wynyard Pedestrian Network had been planned, an integrated system of walkways extending out from Wynyard station. The plan proposed that navigating the network should be “a visually interesting experience for the pedestrian. Walkways should not be barren or dull; they should be full of interesting things to look at as the pedestrian walks through – changing wall and floor textures – varied spaces – differing character and atmosphere.”
This has indeed occurred, though not in the way intended by the Wynyard Pedestrian Network. The Network never came to be, but walkways were eventually built, with Hunter Connection in the 1980s, and more recently the walkway on the west side of the station linking it with Barangaroo. On the Hunter side a change in atmosphere was brought about by the refurbishment of Wynyard station, which produced a jarring underground transition between the updated sections (wide, grey, slick shopfronts) and the original underground arcade (low-ceiling, mirrors and marble).
Across the concourse from the ticket barriers there had once been steps down to a stretch of arcade which housed niche businesses such as Odette’s Perfumery and the Wynyard Coin Centre. This part of the walkway is gone, but follow the new tunnel along and you soon find yourself back in time at the Hunter Arcade.
In this section I’ve always enjoyed the infinite regress effect of the facing mirrors, and the retro, pill-shaped signs.
Hunter Arcade flows on into Hunter Connection, joining up with the lowest of its three levels. Down here the shops are of the kind that deal in minor improvements: alterations, shoe repair, nail salons, and barbers, and Wayne Massage with its window display of enthusiastic endorsements, printouts from online reviews: ‘Sir Wayne “massage” king is da “miracle” worker.’ The alterations places have displays of face masks, made of fabric offcuts or novelty prints: unicorns, chickens, kittens wearing Santa hats.
It is just over a week since lockdown lifted and some of the stores still have their shutters down or are only tentatively open. A tiny watchmaker and jeweller’s store is open but has the grille pulled across. Inside at a trestle table a man sits on a stool, bending over a repair, holding the green rubber balloon of a dust blower in one hand, a watch in the other. Handwritten signs announce that the shop is closing soon, after being in business since 1972.
From this lower level I follow the escalators upwards. There’s another wing of the arcade here, which extends out to Pitt Street. It too once had a mirrored disco entrance, although it has now been replaced with a more contemporary design: perforated beige panelling that looks like the breathable panels of an athletic shoe. Instead of heading towards Pitt Street I linger outside an alterations business (their fabric face masks include one of an illustration of a chicken, divided up into cuts of meat), looking towards the escalators that lead up to the food court on the top level. On the wall beside the escalators is a feature wall of vertical lengths of silver and smoky-tinted mirror tiles, which reflect the menu boards of the restaurants. It’s hardly the most lavish wall feature, but there’s something Tetris-like about it that pleases me.
The food court level is the busiest, and with its mirrored ceiling and gold handrails it is reminiscent of one of the Chinatown malls (a cross between Dixon House and the Sussex Centre food court, perhaps). My favourite part of this food court is the narrow terrace, just wide enough for a row of six tables, where you can sit and overlook the street as you eat your lunch. It has a view over Hunter Street, where the road dips down and then angles up again, following the declivity which marks the path of the Tank Stream as it flows towards Warrane.
Sitting at one of the tables on the terrace, I watch the clouds drift over the patch of sky in between two buildings, and listen to the city, its roar of traffic, air conditioning units, and the crunch and clang of construction.
The city continues to be torn up for the Metro, which has claimed numerous city blocks. The Hunter Connection will not escape. It is slated for demolition too, to be replaced by a station, and already some of the businesses have relocated. Handwritten signs are taped to their shutters, some noting their new addresses, others just offering thanks and farewell.
On the foot court level is the walkway that leads to George Street, another stretch of marble tiles and gold handrails. I could follow it out to the third of Hunter Connection’s street entrances, across from the George Street entrance to Wynyard Station. If you enter this way you have the choice of going up, via the walkway, or going down, on the path that leads down to the lowest level. The downward path, with the intersecting angles of the three buildings surrounding it, has an unusual geometry, the red bridge of the walkway in conversation with the textured concrete wall it faces.
Instead of going out to George Street I stop halfway along the red walkway and follow another set of escalators up, following the signs for the GPO Box Centre. Unless you rent a GPO box, or you have engaged in a thorough investigation of the Hunter Connection, you likely wouldn’t know that this is where the General Post Office Boxes are located, instead of, say, the actual General Post Office (now a hotel). Upstairs from the post boxes is the Post Restante counter, the staffing of which must surely have been the quietest job in Australia Post over the last few months.
I like it in here with the GPO Boxes. It’s calming, this open space with plants in tall pots and buzzing fluoro lights overhead. Walls of post office boxes extend and follow corners which lead into hallways with more rows of post office boxes. Walking through here the theme song from Get Smart plays in my head, and I imagine I’m here on some kind of secret spy business. That I know which, out of the 7119 post boxes that wait above the Hunter Connection, is the one that holds the message for me inside it.
Tichy TilesPosted: August 28, 2021 Filed under: Uncategorized, vladimir tichy | Tags: ceramic murals, murals, vladimir tichy 15 Comments
In this month’s edition of Artlink: In Public/Inside is an article I’ve written about ceramic artist Vladimir Tichy, and the large-scale ceramic murals he made in the 1970s and 80s. Regular readers of this blog would know that I keep an eye on the remaining city Tichy murals – on York Street, Foveaux Street, and in the underground mall at Hyde Park Square. In the article I follow the story of these three murals, and the development of Tichy and his distinctive earthy, dreamlike style.
Vladimir Tichy was a ceramic artist who came, with his wife and daughter, to Australia in 1968, as a political refugee from Czechoslovakia. He had been well known as a ceramicist there, known for his work with porcelain, but after coming to Australia, worked in architectural ceramics, making striking, large-scale, ceramic murals.
In partnership with Rudolf Dybka at Studio Tichy, then as sole director at Studio Tichy, he created murals and tiles for newly-constructed commercial buildings, bars and RSL clubs, and government buildings. The 70s and 80s were a busy and prolific time for Tichy, and his works could be see throughout the city and suburbs, but now few remain. I always keep an eye out for them.
The Sydney of Gentle and FiercePosted: July 10, 2021 Filed under: Announcements 9 Comments
My new book, which has just been released, Gentle and Fierce, is a memoir that reflects on animals, place, and memory. Although it’s not as location-focussed as Mirror Sydney, much of it takes place in Sydney, and so I thought I’d take you on a short tour of a few of the Sydney places that appear in the book.
1. Devonshire Street Tunnel
The tunnel is fluorescent-lit and green-brown in tone, and walking through it I always feel as if I’m in a race with myself, zigzagging between the other walkers. I used to measure my journeys along it by the painted murals – the spaceman, the circus, the boy swimming – but, in the mid-2000s they were removed and replaced by soft-focus digital art featuring trains, that neither drew my attention nor stuck in my memory.
The tunnel invariably resounds with footsteps and the overlapping strains of buskers, echoing off the grubby tiles, but I have an affection for it. Rarely do I think about the rail lines that extend above it, even though often I’ve just alighted from a train that travelled over them; the tunnel completely seals me into its atmosphere of grime and haste. In Gentle and Fierce it appears twice, near the start and near the end, as if it marks either side of a journey.
2. Goolay’yari/ Cooks River
Which I walk along at least every week ordinarily, and more often now that we’re in lockdown. Unlike the tunnel, the river’s atmosphere is expansive, as it reflects the sky and the tide rises and falls.
A few days ago I watched the pelicans, the goolay’yari of the Dreaming story that gives the river its name. A row of them were asleep on the boom that stretches out into the river to capture the bottles and floating trash. One pelican turned to peer up at the bridge above, watching with its cartoon eye, before looking back to the water, which was moving swiftly, flowing west. In the centre of the river a moorhen swam against the flow of the tide, paddling hard and barely advancing, but continuing to swim regardless.
3. Suburban Houses
Gentle and Fierce moves through a series of houses, many of them my childhood houses: small square mid-twentieth century houses of middle-ring suburbia. Many of these particular houses have been demolished by now, but they have a firm hold in my memory, and in my dreams. And even if the houses I lived in don’t exist anymore, there are plenty like them around, similar if not the same. L-shape, blinds over the windows like eyelids, a patch of front lawn, flowers whose yearly blooms mark the passing of time.
4. Mahon Pool
My favourite ocean pool, Mahon pool was cut into the rocks to the north of Maroubra Beach in 1935. Low and square amid the sandstone outcrops, it becomes gradually visible as you descend the stairs from the park above, and I can never predict exactly how it’s going to be: low and glassy, high and sloshy, busy with kids or with only a few solitary lap-swimmers fighting the cold and the waves.
In Gentle and Fierce I write about the magpies that live on the headland, which sometimes come up to me when I sit on the particular rock at the side of the pool that is my favourite. They’re more interested in my brioche than my notebooks, where I write about the moment they stand around me, singing.
If you’re interested in Gentle and Fierce, there’s a website with some more of the stories behind the making of it here, and it’s out in bookstores (I did manage to visit it on the new release shelf in Berkelouw, just before lockdown started).