Field Notes: Wilson St

Honi explores a sense of place.

Art by Sam Randle.

Every now and again, the odd student wandering around Redfern Station might find their way down Wilson St, Darlington. It’s a long street, stretching from Redfern through Darlington all the way to Newtown.

Some time ago, I lived on Wilson Street. It was the first time I had moved out of home, and quickly, my university memories have become deeply intertwined with this street. The ability to walk down my street and into a busy metropolitan place, to class, to visit a friend, or catch a train was a privilege I’d never had before. Walking became a large part of my life, and public transport was accessible. And before, missing a bus meant being half an hour late to an event in the city, but now, I would never be late to a commitment again.

Though the sheer convenience of Wilson Street has been a core ingredient to my life, it isn’t what I most love. More and more, I’m trying to be conscious of the stories of the land we walk on, the trees we pass, the air we breathe. If you walk down Wilson Street from Redfern Station, take a second to note the invasive ground asparagus (asparagus aethiopicus) peeking through the green metal posts of the fence near the abandoned Eveleigh Chief Mechanical Engineer Office. Ground asparagus is an invasive year-round plant that seeds prolifically, burrowing into the ground through near ineradicable tubers. Their innocuous, furred appearance hides nasty splinter-like thorns beneath, and their stems often bear tiny poisonous berries that go from a pale white-green to a gleaming red when ripe. 

I love that the street glows in the scarlet neon of Reko Rennie’s monumental ‘Remember Me’ that stares out over the city. And the marks of community; the bike lane draped by the tendrils of weeping willow, the Skippy Girls graffiti on a corrugated iron fence, the patch of vine on the corner of Wilson and Shepherd Street where tiny pumpkins grow in the brisk cold every autumn. 

On many rainy nights, I have walked alone through Wilson Street, breathing in the ancient fragrance of the rain-soft earth beneath nature strips planted with trailing tradescantia, lone bromeliads and young trees. The air, cold and tart, feels like a creature alive; it flows from the world to my lungs and back to the wide, open world again. I feel it stir as bats take over my head when I’ve sat beneath the darkened trees in Hollis Park. In my mind’s eye, I gently peel apart the layers of worldly sounds like fresh-baked, flaky pastry: the pitter-patter of rainfall, the faint humdrum of King Street and Broadway, the faint plunk of my boots breaking a puddle in my path, give way to the scurrying of possums in the trees above going about their secret night-dark lives.

Even in this small oasis at the center of Sydney, there is wildlife abound. It’s easy to forget we share this world with littler folk when we trek down concrete paths laid decades before many of us were alive, passing through the shade of terraced buildings echoing an earlier colonial time. I think fondly of the pumpkin patch. I think fondly of the possums scurrying to their families in the trees, and the bats taking flight over my head, off to explore a world of nocturnal noises.