The Wattle Street Island

The Wattle Street Island is a triangle of land with two wide fig trees, broad enough to keep the island in permanent shade. In the centre is a structure with the unmistakable aesthetics of a public toilet block. Yet all entrances are sealed, no doors, no windows, a giant pale yellow casket. The walls have the patchwork look of endless partial repaintings, covering the tags it must be so tempting to inscribe upon its surface.

Wattle St 1

On one side of the island is an orderly road crossing with traffic lights, on the other is a perilous corner where pedestrians nervously wait for a gap in traffic. People gather on the western edge of the island watching the cars driving up Broadway and turning into Wattle Street. It’s a take-your-chance corner, and while there have been surprisingly few pedestrian accidents here, it’s an odd feeling to know that the cars don’t have to stop. At busy times of the day it sometimes feels impossible to leave the edge of the island. Then, when the group reaches critical mass and spills over onto the street, you feel a momentary rush of collective power as the cars are forced to stop to let you across.

WS Island 2

Besides the people waiting at the edge few people linger on the island. There’s little to see: a garden bed of patchy ivy, a drinking fountain, a square metal hatch which must surely lead to the underground. The trunks of the fig trees are scarred and scratched at street level. Further up their branches spread out into a tangle which would be good to climb if ever you could get away with it. Posted on the side of the casket the list of rules suggest further illicit possibilities: there is no camping or staying overnight, no lighting fires, and no roller-skating allowed.

WS Island 4

I walk around the casket, sure that I’ll find a doorway if I go around enough times, but it stays resolutely sealed. Although the interior will be, at best, a disused public toilet, there’s something enigmatic about buildings that have no obvious entrance. While it is obviously disused and closed up tight, it’s not uncared for. Graffiti is painted over and the ivy garden is kept clear of trash.

There have been plans to remove the island to improve pedestrian safety. But for now it remains. Like the fake ruins and decorative towers of 19th century follies, the casket is there for us to puzzle over, to contemplate purposelessness. It’s a monument to anxiety in the city, at the corner where the cars might never stop, and the road might never be crossed.

Wattle Street Island 1930s

The island in 1937. Archive Pix 002/002928.