“Look down!” instructs Lyn (a Greeter herself) as our group of Sydney Greeters gather round to learn more about Sydney’s Quay Quarter Lanes, located on what was once Government House Gardens.
Five Artworks by Jonathan Jones
Embedded in the path beneath our feet, none of us have noticed the small green marble, brass lined fish scales created by Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi artist, Jonathan Jones. ‘Magora’ meaning ‘fish’, is one of five artworks created by Jones. You may just make out some of the fish scales in the photo at the top of this story.
All five works reference Arabanoo, an Aboriginal man buried in the area.
Captured in Manly in 1788 on the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip, Arabanoo “was the first of [the Governor’s] proteges”.
I can’t find any informative plaques alongside the artworks. Fortunately, Lyn has done her homework. She explains that the fish scales refer to Arabanoo’s generosity. He was known for sharing his food with others and caring for the sick.
Initially Arabanoo thought the cuffs put on to prevent him escaping were a gift or bracelet. The work ‘Bengadee’ means ornament in the Eora language and alludes to these cuffs. Staring at the large repeat pattern of shackles attached to feathers imprinted into a concrete wall, I reflect on the traumas faced by Arabanoo and his people.
The other three artworks have Eora names. Gwara (Wind), Betūŋigo (oysters) and Weerong (Sydney Cove or harbour).
Lyn tells us to “Look Up”. Woollen flags bearing Eora words float above us on the breeze in Loftus Lane. Jones uses Gwara to remind us that Arabanoo gifted his language to the colonists.
Still looking up Lyn points out a golden ram on the rooftop of Hinchcliff House, one of Sydney’s earliest wool stores. Coated in 24 carat gold leaf, this replica, at 75kg, is somewhat lighter than the 600kg original.
Clusters of brass oysters emerge out of the mortar on the sandstone wall of the Gallipoli Memorial Club sandstone wall. They mark the high tide line. Jones wants Betūŋigo to remind us that Aboriginal knowledge and history is embedded in our city buildings.
Colonists burnt and crushed oyster shells from huge Aboriginal middens (shell deposits) and used them for mortar. You’ll find evidence of these crushed shells in Sydney’s colonial buildings today.
Weerong (Sydney Cove)
Arabanoo used to look out across the harbour at night from his place of captivity at Government House (where the Museum of Sydney now stands). He saw the fires dotted across the landscape on the opposite shore and longed for his family and people. Weerong, a light installation, imagines the fires on the other side of the harbour and their reflections in the water.
When I visited Quay Quarter Lanes independently, I discovered three of the artworks, but as I couldn’t find any explanatory plaques, I didn’t understand their significance. Lyn introduced me to Arabanoo pointed out the two I had missed: Magora and Gwara. She gave me a better understanding of the background to all five artworks.
We take a look at the heritage buildings retained as part of the Quay Quarter precinct.
Heritage Buildings in Quay Quarter Lanes
Hinchcliff House, a large purpose-built wool store is one of two faithfully restored heritage buildings found in Loftus Street.
Again, I look up. A curved sign painted with gold lettering declares the three-storey sandstone building as “Hinchcliff’s Woolstores”. A reminder of the golden years of the wool industry when Australia was known for riding “on the sheep’s back”.
The second restored wool store is home to the Gallipoli Memorial Club.
I learn that there’s a key to understanding the restoration. Anything black, steel and painted is a new addition. Materials that appear raw and unfinished like the sandstone, timber and original iron is original.
Eat, Drink and Relax at Quay Quarter Lanes
Today the multi-level dining and drinking houses an underground bar, Appollonia; Grana, a bakery, coffee shop and casual restaurant and the upmarket restaurant Lana (wool in Italian).
We pass the growing number of interesting retailers which add to the vibrancy of the lanes. There’s gelato, chocolate and Mexican Cantina and Mescal Bar and a new Marrickville Pork Roll outlet, a long way from its humble Marrickville beginnings.
I’ll Return to Quay Quarter Lanes with Guests
Being a little peckish, we decide to wander across to the MCA Café for a bite to eat. The back entrance to Customs House at the end of Loftus Lane is closed due to COVID, otherwise we’d take a short cut and revisit the underfloor 3D map of the city on our way.
I can’t wait to share Quay Quarters Lanes with visitors to Sydney once Sydney Greeters start greeting again.
- Quay Quarter Lanes are bounded by Bridge Street, Young Street, Loftus Street and Customs House
- While you’re there check out Tracey Emin’s bird sculptures in Bridge Street. There are 60 handmade life-size bronze birds perched on door lintels and ledges
- Check out this magazine from Quay Quarter in which Jonathan Jones talks about his work. On page 41 find a link to a video where he explains his work further