My research of Surry Hills has left me a bit befuddled. The list of interesting places, specialised coffee shops, great eateries and hip bars, galleries and vintage stores is long. As I don’t have time to visit everything, I have some hard choices to make. Where do I go, what do I include and what do I leave out?
Leaving Central Station, I walk up Foveaux Street, where building works disrupt the pedestrian traffic. I’m not ready for a coffee and decide to bypass the Reformatory Caffeine Lab this time. I have enjoyed the coffee here previously. It is one of many specialist coffee places in Surry Hills. Further up Foveaux street is the Button Bar. This cocktail and wine bar will fill with locals later on. I like their door sign.
Before turning left into Riley Street, I photograph an old corner pub. Two nuns duck into a doorway when they see my camera. Further up the road, I reflect again on the many green spaces which have been preserved for residents of the City of Sydney. Frog Hollow Reserve is just one of many. In the early 1900s in a warren of streets and laneways, the houses of Surry Hills were packed together. Frog Hollow was known as “one of the most depraved areas of Sydney”. Things are very different now. Much is gentrified and still I hear and see plenty of building and renovation happening around me.
In Reservoir Street, I read that Waterboard staff lived in many of the surrounding terrace houses. They worked in the water reservoir and pump house which was built here in 1859. The sandstone and iron fence, part of the original reservoir boundary fence, is pretty much all that can be seen today of a reservoir that provided 85% of Sydney’s water in the 1860s.
It is a short walk up Campbell Street to Taylor Square where I admire a tall art deco building and the “always was always will be” artwork by Reko Rennie. It references his association to north western NSW and the Kamilaroi people. He also painted “Welcome to Redfern” featured on my Redfern post. The more suburbs I explore, the more links I discover between suburbs.
Resisting temptation, I pass Christopher’s Cake Shop with its wonderful array of sweet treats. A large colourful “No Parking” mural on a garage door down a side lane seems to be effective. Over the road, an 1847 Wesleyan church is now the Edward Egar Lodge which provides crisis accommodation for homeless people. Formaggi Ocello sells an amazing selection of cheeses. If I was going straight home, I would get something special to have with wine at our boatshed tonight.
Over the road is Mary’s Place where the brutal beating and rape of a lesbian woman is remembered by a lamp and inscription:
This is a lane with a name and a lamp in memory of the woman who survived being beaten and raped here. She happened to be lesbian. When the sun sets this lamp keeps vigil along with you who read this in silent meditation.
There are a lot of boarding houses in this area. Many have signs indicating “maximum permissible stay indefinite”. The Badger and Fox Gallery is appointment only so I can’t visit. Nor can I stop for coffee at Folomono (“from For Love Not Money”) which is closed today (being Monday). I would have liked to stop here. I am always on the lookout for community enterprises and this not for profit eatery gives all their profit to charity.
Continuing down Bourke Street another interesting looking corner hotel is boarded up. The Hopetoun Hotel, once a centre for live music, seems to have run out of hope. There is chatter that it will reopen later this year. I turn left then right into Marshall Street, to find my next discovery. McElhone Place (which like much of Surry Hills was once a slum area) is a delight. Here, what started as a few pot plants outside one home, the footpaths now overflow with greenery. Gardening on the footpath encourages people to meet and connect and community is alive and well in this little lane. Even I, as a stranger to these parts experience this. As I wander through, a man greets me and says “there are worse ways to spend your time”.
I walk into Bennett Place and look back. A large figure in the form of a sculpture is perched high up on the overhead structure joining two buildings. In Bennett Street, cottages with matching wooden balconies are a reminder of times gone by. I duck down Prospect Lane to see what’s there. More terraces, but different as some have awnings and there is a range of balcony styles. Marshall Street takes me back to Bourke Street where on the opposite corner, another trendy coffee shop is also closed today. Monday may not be the right day to explore the inner city? Artificer is a specialty coffee bar and roaster which only sells coffee. I walk up and down Arthur Street looking for the verge garden that I have read about. All I can see are plantings around the mature trees. They provide a pleasant break from the bitumen side walk. The Carrington Hotel on the corner is a welcome sight. I have learnt that pubs are good places for a bathroom stop.
Further down Bourke Street, I admire street art on Whittell Street, and then continue to the Heritage listed Bourke Street Public School, dating back to 1884. On either side of the main entrance to the school are two circular entrances, one designated for girls, the other for boys. How things change. Over the road, the old Police Station dates back to 1895.
It is past my lunch time and Café Kentaro has an inviting menu. I enjoy my lunch and return up Bourke Street to the well-known Bourke Street Bakery which now has a queue out the door. The Book Kitchen over the road has closed after business halved due to the light rail construction right outside its door.
It is not far to Roper Street and the Brett Whiteley Studio which has a smaller version of his “Almost once” sculpture mounted beside the door. Returning to Devonshire Street, I pass Ray Hughes Gallery I discover is like most galleries I have seen today – appointment only. Central Station and the train home is only a short walk down the street. In the same building the Special Group Studio space has rotating exhibitions. You can walk in off the street, but be mindful this is a workplace.
When I began discovering Surry Hills this morning, I wasn’t sure how I’d go. My list of places to see was the longest I’ve had in almost a year of suburban discoveries. Well, I for the first time, I’ve divided my suburban exploration into two parts. I hope you come back for “Surry Hills Part Two” in a fortnight.
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Next Stop: Surry Hills Part Two
Sometimes you need to go. I use any or all of the following: pubs or hotels, train stations (not always open or clean). I always use the facilities when stopping for lunch. This Toilet Map may assist you.
Click here to plan your trip.
Many galleries are view by appointment only. Check their websites by clicking on the links above.
Brett Whitely Studio is open Friday to Sunday.
Folonomo is open Tuesday to Sunday.
Artificer is closed on Mondays
And a map to assist you:
(If you would like a pdf of the map, email me via the contact page, and I will send one to you).
(NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):