Newtown in the 1990s MapPosted: October 21, 2013
Apart from Mirror Sydney, my other project this year has been Ninety9, my recently published memoir of growing up in Sydney in the 1990s. A lot of the book is about music: my early teenage years coincided with the shift in pop culture in the early 1990s in which the newly labelled “alternative” culture flourished. Music, zines and community radio were all an important part of connecting me with a more underground version of Sydney, but there was nothing like visiting Glebe and Newtown to make my misfit self feel as if I’d found my true home.
When I walk along King Street it’s through a patchwork of time and memories. What is there now mixes with what used to be there and other less fixed memories: rumours, other people’s stories, displaced memories that are vague enough to be like dreams. I first visited King Street as a teenager. I’d try on secondhand clothes at The Look or go to the night markets in Burland Community Hall, or just watch the people a little older than me, goths and punks, people with bright hair and weird clothes, whose lives I hoped to emulate. I soon started seeing bands at the Sandringham Hotel and at Feedback, the venue above Newtown Station with rickety back stairs on the edge of a precipice above the train tracks.
When I moved out of home in 1997, spray painted in huge letters on the wall alongside the Footbridge Theatre on Parramatta Road were the words: Don’t Move to Newtown. These words were no doubt directed at the influx of suburban misfit teenagers like me, who had grown up aspiring to live on King Street and were now finally old enough to move out of home.
Despite the fact many had come before me, I felt that King Street and the inner west was the home that I had chosen, rather than the home I was born into. I browsed books at the Cornstalk Bookshop, drank cheap carafes of wine at the Happy Chef and long blacks at Cafe Solea, spent late nights at the Oxford Hotel writing stories on beer coasters with my friends and going to parties in Newtown back streets.
On King Street these days I often navigate by what used to be there rather than what is, and use the mainstays as landmarks. There’s the “Goulds end” of King Street, and I still call the building above the station Feedback (others might call it by its previous names: Tracks, or “Toucan Tango” as it was in the 80s, with a giant Toucan and palm trees painted on the facade).
Despite moving much further along the gentrification scale, and the sudden proliferation of frozen yogurt stores, there is still plenty of 90s Newtown around. I decided I’d make a map to record the places that remain and those that are no longer.
I started by making a map from memory, listing the places I remembered best.
Then I discovered that on Archivepix there are photos of every building on King Street in 1991, which were taken for a study of heritage paint colours. Search “heritage paint scheme 1991” and you can travel all the way down King Street in 1991! It was before my time but it was lots of fun to see desolate south King street and Coles where the Dendy is now, and the Coopers Arms as the Shakespeare Hotel, the old cars, the people caught in mid-stride. From this, and old address listings online, I made a version of the map with street numbers.
Things were taking shape. I struggled with matching up the sides of the street and working out the placement of the side streets, but eventually came up with a hand drawn King Street I was happy with. There was a lot to include and so I decided to focus on the area from the Sando to Goulds.
Finally I put it all together. Here, dear readers, is the 1990s map of King Street, Newtown.
Comments, suggestions, additions welcome – please let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed or if you have a particularly strong King Street memory in any of these places.