Sunday, January 24, 2010

suburb No 20: Newtown

After the muted tones of Lidcombe last week I needed a burst of colour and movement. As much as
I enjoyed unearthing Lidcombe's delights it was hard going - I wanted somewhere more extrovert,
a suburb that wore its heart on its sleeve and was happy to let it all hang out.

Then I was talking to a potential book publisher (!) early in the week and she mentioned Newtown
and I was all, Newtown, that's it. Aside from being flamboyant and unreserved, Newtown would 
also give me an opportunity to test my theory that even when you think you know somewhere, 
unless you go there on a mission to scour every corner of its being (or as many as you can in three 
or so short visits), you may not know it very well at all. I lived in Newtown in 1990 for four years 
and I’ve been back many times since – but did I really know it? 

Yes and no it turns out. At a glance it seems more or less the same. But when you look closer 
you notice the evolution. More gloss, less edge. More prams, less goths. Previously slightly dodgy 
pubs re-named and renovated, now patronised by those that 15 years ago wouldn’t have dreamed 
of setting foot in the place. 

But King Street still streams with life and The Hub’s future is still up in the air. And my regular 
haunts are still there, looking a little older like me but pretty much the same. Carlisle Castle, 
Kuleto’s, The Sando. The houses I shared with friends in Fitzroy and O’Connell Street. Gould’s 

Some of the best and worst times of my life happened while I was living in Newtown. So as well as 

the hit of colour and movement I was craving, I also found myself on a bittersweet walk down 
memory lane. 

But just as I’d start to reminisce I’d run into another larger than life character that would yank 
me back to the present. It seemed to me that while the suburb may have lost some of its colour, 
it still attracts the colourful and off-beat (as well as the much maligned ‘yuppie’ and their ‘designer 

I left feeling like I’d just scratched the surface, wondering about all the other stories playing 

out in Newtown’s hundreds of tiny terraces…

Part 1: King Street and beyond - the buildings of Newtown

After the Cadigal people 'left' the area, Newtown was formed in 1862, a suburb of 200 houses. 

King Street is still Australia's longest continuous shopping strip with an eclectic mix of mid-Victorian, 
Federation and 20th century architecture - some of it lovingly cared for and some left to age 

the well preserved

no sign of botox here

guilty as charged

how about it Queenie?

is there light at the end of the tunnel for The Hub?

Trocadero, once a dance hall, soon to be offices

there are stacks of bookshops in Newtown (the latest is right across from my old house, in an old factory)

nice tiles :: 1

nice tiles :: 2

'a house of models?!'

Part 2: The red/pink/purple heads of Newtown


Lucille Ball is alive and well, living in Newtown (her doppleganger, 90 year old Meghan)

it's all about the fringe


scarab beetle

she wears the boots

even the buildings are pink :: 1

even the buildings are pink :: 2

Hare Krishna in green and pink

Part 3: Express yourself

all the world's a stage

Part 4: Art on the streets

off to the shops for some milk

is it just a dream?

the light

and sympathy

hot in the city

purple heart

unchain my heart

Part 5: Playing dress up in Newtown

girls just wanna have fun

Part 6: Night falls

as sure as night follows day

women in uniform

living art

the blue

of the inner-west

a castle fit for a king

watch where you walk on the way home

Is there beauty in Newtown? Yes, if you're prepared to raise your gaze from street level 
to the many lovely old facades. Or look closely at the crowds, to find the bright sparks that live a 
more colourful life than many.

See you next week.


  1. Beautiful work as usual but I'd love to see the more obscure and remote suburbs of Sydney ie the 3 you mentioned in the beginning - Yowie Bay, Blair Athol, Canoelands?

  2. Funny you say that - Canoelands will be soon!

  3. there's a suburb called canoelands?! i look forward to the stories behind that. :)

  4. Excellent, as always. Those tatts are incredible.

  5. Hey I sorta know that chick! I'm gonna link her to your blog.

    Also...I've done many a series on the gorgeous vintage architecture nobody seems to bother to look up at! Nice work.

  6. I really hope the book publisher was the one I urged to visit your blog - there absolutely MUST be a book of these gorgeous images. It's not just the photos, of course, but your inspired pairing of them that makes these pages riveting.

  7. What was Meghan up to?
    Was she at the movies or just doing a spot of shopping?
    Wish I looked half as good at less than half her age!

  8. foraggio
    Thanks - and yes, those tattoos and their owner are incredible.

    Thank you - a book would be very cool.

    Meghan was amazing - I was at the Carlisle Castle Hotel taking shots, turned around and there was this gorgeous woman. She was about to enjoy a small pink drink - "non-alcoholic" of course. When she told me she was about to turn 90 I was speechless. Her secrets - her piano playing, Welsh heritage and no-sun policy. Still, 90!


  9. Wow! I am very excited about the idea of a book! I would totally buy a paper version of "52 Suburbs". How would you ever choose which photos to include though? I would want all of them!

  10. Re "Model House" - it has a fascinating story. It was built as a "Show home" by a builder in the area to show off his abilities. Makes the AVJ's et al of the modern era seem pretty rough and ready!!!

    Can anyone find links to it's history? Tried to find quickly, but without luck

  11. Lovely as always Louise (or do we call you '52') - and thanks for the visit - I figured you'd drop by eventually !

  12. Anon - The idea of choosing pics for a book is quite overwhelming - in a good way!
    Bernard - And I think I read where all the rooms in the Carlisle Castle were plastered differently to show off the plasterer's handywork?
    Mayor - I never really intended to do Newtown (as I think you said many months ago, it's not exactly remote) But I'm glad I did - so alive and the trip down memory lane was fun.

  13. Re-the Carlisle Castle - Got my facts straight now - "The plasterer, who decorated each room (in the hotel) differently to showcase his work, owned number 14, the 'Model House'..." (Historic Newtown, Walking Map, Wendy Canning and Pamela Horsnell)

  14. I love the pic "The well preserved", sometimes I forget that there is a lot of beautiful architecture in Sydney and actually, there are many similarities with Buenos Aires although you would not think it. Thanks for showing me how great and diverse our country is!

  15. A friend just linked me to your blog, and what a great place to start, cause I have a very big soft spot for newtown. I'm ex-Sydney, and I miss it, so I will live vicariously through your blog for a while I think. Really loved this post. The Dramatic sharpness of your architectural shots is awesome against the quirky portraits. Me like. :)

  16. Thanks for that! As a relatively recent arrival, I moved into an old terrace in Newtown 18 months ago and have loved every minute of it. I can't imagine living anywherre else.

    Your pictures are excelent and I for one wil buy at least two copies of your book when it comes out, please add me to your list!


  17. I've lived in newtown all my adult life - close to thirty years now - and it has changed so much in that time. I wander up king street and say to my self "where did these people come from, why are they in my suburb?". To be honest, I don't think the newer middle class, apartment dwelling, designer alternative lifestyle people are as intersting, or as accepting, of the long term residents as when I was younger. I suppose change will always happen whether one likes it or not, but the place is in danger of becoming bland suburbia.

  18. Yep, that is why I love Newtown. Life, diversity, difference.

  19. Carly - Buenos Aires looks amazing. Interesting you reckon it's similar to Sydney.
    Katie - Vicarious living is good!
    Web wanderings - Why stop at two!!
    Anon - Imagine how much Newtown has changed in Meghan's 90 years of life (the older 'Lucille Ball' looking lady in the photo). I wonder how it will be in another 90.
    Ganga108 - Indeed.

  20. Hi Louise, I love your blog. Love the compositions, love the subjects, love the pictures pairing and love the words.

    Please keep blogging :)

  21. loved it - still found the colour of what was once one very colourful suburb. fav would have to be meghan followed closely by 'off to the shop for some milk'.

  22. just arrived from Italy...
    I love this city and you have a fa bu lous point of view!Love your colour mix!!!!

  23. foodwink - Thank you - comments like yours help me to keep up the pace!
    Suey - Meghan is a stunner isn't she?!
    capitocome - Welcome and hope I can inspire you to visit the Sydney 'burbs.

  24. i've just discovered your blog and i love it! i think your photo projet is great and very "open minded".

  25. Love the pics!! I live at New Town in Tasmania completely and absolutely sooo different! will be visiting Sydney soonish, I feel even more keen to visit New Town now, probably will be staying at a cheapish place in the Glebe, the place I spent my teen years, but in Tassie.

  26. Love love love your photography. Am thinking of doing a similar thing in brisbane- but going to a new suburb each week searching for uncovered restaurants!

    Great blog- love it!

  27. Bloody marvelous! I want the book AND I still want an SBS show made out of this.

  28. scream4noreason - A TV show would be fun! There's actually someone making a short video piece on my project in the next few weeks - it'll be interesting to see how it comes across. There's a lot of just wandering around, searching - not sure how riveting that would be!

  29. Oh Newtown, how I love thee. You always make me feel so at home. Don't ever change.


  30. You went to Newtown and not a single mention of Thai restaurants!? :-)

  31. Great post! Being an ex Newtown resident (now living in San Francisco for the past 3.5 years), it's good to see it's the same ol suburb I miss so much.

    - Patrick.

  32. Patrick - There's a lot to miss about Newtown but San Francisco, what a great city too.

  33. The purple heart is part of a little mural a guy (who was working on a fence down the street) did for us for free when we were married in that church in april last year. I feel a bit thrilled it is on your website!
    I love the idea of this challenge. Can't wait to see more.

  34. Kt - Nice guy, to paint a free mural for your wedding! So glad you like the blog - a challenge indeed!


  35. oh i've many good times in newtown! being in the UK at the moment, it makes me a little homesick.

    beautiful pics, so glad i found your blog!

  36. I love the juxtapositions making fabulous shots even more meaningful......

  37. Trocadero - not offices, but a library of theological books for Moore College.

  38. Oh Louise, discovered you today - and I'm your biggest fan!

    From the Auburn & Lidcombe (still waiting for Granville) of my childhood, to the Newtown & Surry Hills of my misspent youth. I love LOVE it!

    Byron Bay is essentially a satellite suburb of Sydney, so I hope to see you here soon! jx

  39. Jen@ Bluecaravan - welcome!! so glad you dropped by. Byron - now that would be fun to do!!


  40. Great work. Left a bit of my heart there last year when I moved back to Europe - thanks for the reminder! It's a truly great place - hope it keeps evolving.

  41. Awesome photos. Your photos are ones that I was once inspired to do but never got around to, and mine would never have been anywhere near as good as yours. Congratulations! Can't wait to see the book!

    But I thought Sydney Road in Melbourne was the longest shopping strip in Australia?

  42. Amazing photographs !

    Ive also emailed you !
    please reply soon :)

  43. My old suburb too, I just LOVE Newtown, I think it's my favourite place ever!

    and there is so much more to it, I think you could easily dedicate an entire book to it.

  44. I grew up in Newtown and lived there for many years, the best years of my life and it is where my heart is. I often photograph the architecture or the gorgeous ironwork on the terraces. The huge trees in my parks and my schools, which were my father's and my Nan's, she loved Newtown. The people have evolved as has the suburb but it's unique, it has remained true to itself, a caring, thoughtful, artistic, alternative, non-judgemental and exciting place! You captured it's true essence!