I am expecting graffiti, tattoos, cutting edge hairstyles and interesting shops on my Newtown discovery. The edgy inner city suburb is a short bus ride from Central. I’ll window shop King Street and explore highlights of the “Gritty Newtown historical walking tour”.
I alight near Queen Street and find myself peering into a tailor’s shop. Inside are two mannequins dressed in half-finished jackets, faded photographs and posters bluish with age.
There’s no one in the front room, but a low hum emanates from the back room. I call out. Getting no response, I peak round the corner to see an elderly man hunched over a sewing machine. When he feels my presence, he turns around. Mario Conte has been tailoring in this shop for almost 50 years. These days he seldom gets asked to make suits from scratch. His business now is mostly repairs.
Newtown Shopping Strip
A young tradie leans out of a passing ute and hurls abuse in my direction. Was that really meant for me or the person a few steps behind me? I look inside a Tattoo Shop. I’m not bold enough to ask for a photo. A sign outside ‘The Granny Square’ declares “Yes, I knit. No. I am not old.”
People wait for a bus outside Gould’s Book Arcade, one of the oldest stores in Newtown. Kerrie Lowe Gallery displays interesting ceramic pieces.
I stroll down Georgina St, wondering if it is still a sought out address in this suburb. Many of the terrace houses are, at the very least in need of a coat of paint.
A young girl seems very interested in the interior of a parked ute. I wonder what she’s up to. Is it because I’m in Newtown that I’m suspicious? Later, I see her driving the ute limping along trying to get the hang of the manual transmission. It’s a ‘drive my car’ share car. I chide myself for my earlier suspicions.
Large planter boxes line the pavements on either side of King Street. Those on the eastern side are in flower. They must get more sun. A man with long grey hair, hands in pockets barks a loud “bah” at me as he walks past. Did I look at him for a moment too long?
Off King Street now, I meander through some of the back streets where early timber cottages nestle among boring bare brick 60s unit blocks. I pass a community garden and the tiny O’Connell St pocket reserve. It’s a small patch of grass with an interesting feature – a tiled wall retained after the demolition of a Council Depot.
The enormous fig tree near the entrance to St Stephens Church dates back to 1848. The huge above ground root system is quite beautiful. I wander through the cemetery, enclosed by a large wall lined with headstones. The other side of the wall is covered in graffiti. Young mums with strollers, dog walkers and people having lunch make good use of Camperdown Memorial Rest Park.
I walk through the park, back to King Street photographing graffiti as I go. In Lennox Street, a row of four terrace houses catches my eye. They are each named after a flower. Tulip, Lily, Aster and Lilac. A fifth was demolished to make way for a car park.
It’s lunch time and I head for The Pie Tin. My American friend always brings her overseas visitors here. The generous fillings are rather more trendy than the basic Aussie pie. I very much enjoy mine. I stop to take in the now heritage listed “I have a dream” mural. A local directs me to the “we have the dreaming” mural on the adjoining wall.
Black Star Pastry
At the former Newtown Town Hall (now a community centre), I turn down Australia Street. The imposing courthouse has been in continuous use since 1885. I pass the well-known Black Star Pastry. A satisfied customer gives it two thumbs up. And the layered strawberry and watermelon cake three thumbs up. The cake is almost too pretty to eat with edible purple flowers and strawberries and a layer of watermelon. Update February 2021: Black Star Pastry has moved to 325 King Street and there are now more locations throughout the city.
Rosie Boylan, hat maker extraordinaire, is a few doors down and further along the street, a sign “Welcome, our porch is your porch” welcomes strangers to share their verandah. I keep walking and am thrilled to find an old wooden deed box at ‘Drunk on the Moon’. I’ve been looking for such a box for a long time. I promise to return before 5pm to pick it up.
I explore the street art behind the community centre. It has changed since I was last here. An interesting group of people sits on the steps outside The Hub. Tim chats to me easily and poses for a picture.
There are numerous eateries, bars and interesting shops. Clothes shops display bold window designs and vintage wear. An art supply shop doubles as a book store. Shops sell organic food and vegan food. A Pastizzi Café. There are plenty of vintage and retro stores – great for fancy dress parties. The many second hand furniture stores are jam packed.
I pass vinyl record shops and browse a poster shop. I buy a gift for a little friend at Bodhi. I pass Lentil as Anything, where you pay according to how you feel, and T Totaler which is all about the perfect cup of tea.
The small workshop at the back of Social Outfit provides work for seamstresses and teaches people from refugee and new migrant communities sewing, marketing and retail skills. Their exclusive designs are beyond my budget, but I buy a couple of cards. There are Panama Hats at Caramba Hats and hard to find buttons in All Buttons. There’s King Street and New Theatres and an ‘escape room’ aptly called Cipher.
Parliament on King
Parliament on King looks relaxing and welcoming. A smiling face at the open door asks if I want coffee. At first I refuse, but decide that a cup of tea would be refreshing. It’s amazing what a friendly smile does. Things here are a bit random. A man is drawing the portrait of a thin pale youth dressed in black with sleeves of tats. He, in turn, is telling how he once had holes in his ears big enough to fit a coke can through.
Back at home I look Parliament up on the internet. Described as being on the bohemian end of King Street, it’s a social catering enterprise where asylum seekers and refugees are taught and practice hospitality skills. I knew there was something special about this place.
I return to Australia Street, to pick up my box. I must get there before closing time. A woman is playing a game with her son in the communal porch. She comes here regularly but has never met the owners. We chat about ‘community’ and she tells me that other people have started to leave games there.
I’ll be back
I love Newtown and its difference. I’ve only scratched the surface today. Next time I’ll spend time sitting in a café watching the passing parade. I’ll go back to Parliament on King now that I know more about it and hopefully I’ll find one or two items of clothing different from the norm.
For another take on Newtown: take a look at this post about a Newtown Street Art Walk by another Sydney blogger, Sydney Expert.