“Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing.” ~ Banksy
I’ve always been a massive proponent of street-art. Whether it’s high calibre murals by government bodies or unauthorised tags plastered against back alleys, street-art holds an omnipresence in any urbanised society that I can’t help but be captured by.
We’re living during a pivotal point in world history. In the face of the Ukraine war, the regressive anti-trans laws wracking the globe, and the ever-present institutionalised racism baked into our society, protest in all forms is more important than ever in the fight for a better future. Whilst marches and picket lines may be the most salient manifestations of this protest, an often forgotten byproduct of this change is the ground level street art that adorns the walls of every epicentre of bleeding edge politics.
In this spirit, over the last two weeks I ventured to all the major street-art hotspots and murals across the Sydney region. From the North Shore to Illawarra, to the inner suburbs to the fringes of Sydney, I have catalogued and explored all the major street-art in Sydney, curating a guide to all of my favourite local spots for fellow street-art aficionados.
University of Sydney Tunnel
My winter break excursion began with the famed University of Sydney Graffiti Tunnel; nestled between Manning Road and Science Road on the Camperdown campus. In 1969, a sizeable chunk of the student body was consumed by a deep anti-war sentiment in the face of the Vietnam war. As protest began to take root, graffiti and flyers began to plaster the walls and buildings of the university in tandem.
In response, university management – wanting to smother the vandalism – designated the tunnel an open access canvas to anybody and everybody who wished to contribute. As the years pressed on and the bleeding issues of the world changed, so has the personality and ecosystem of the tunnel.
Half a century later this extension of the student voice continues. Trevor Howells, a former senior lecturer at the university, describes, “If archaeologists could scrape away each layer, recording as they went, an extraordinarily rich vein of the University’s social life would spring to life”. This makes the tunnel an important patchwork mural for the region.
The next major instance of protest manifesting as graffiti comes from Redfern and its deep history with the Aboriginal civil rights movement. Ever since the movement began to gain momentum in the 1950s, Redfern has acted as an epicentre for activism, social services, and community for Indigenous people.
Organisations such as the Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Housing Company, Aboriginal Medical Service, and the National Black Theatre, all came from the suburb during the 1970s civil rights movement. Even nowadays protest and modern civil rights continue to thrive in the suburb, with First Nations activists fighting against modern Indigenous issues through systems and projects such as the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and the Pemulwuy Project.
Whilst it’s these organisations, frameworks, and protests that act as the most obvious symptoms of and agents for change, a by-product of this rich history of bleeding edge politics is the vibrant ecosystem of high and low brow street art that now adorns the suburb. Whilst it’s generally the nameless art that defines much of the space and pushes public opinion the furthest, official pieces from Scott Marsh, Aley Wild, Sophi Odling, and Fintan Magee all act as highlights of the Redfern street-art scene, marking the region as a must-see for any touring street-art virtuoso.
Now going westward, we find ourselves in Newtown, a region regarded by many as the spiritual home of Sydney street-art. Acting as a centre for counterculture since the 1970s, the major street-art of the region concerns itself with all range of key points of modern protest. From the gay liberation movement, the fight for Indigenous representation, through to dissent for the Russia-Ukraine war, the back streets and hovels of the suburb share a wealth of this low-level passive protest.
Newtown earnt its title and renown within street-art circles for its spirit and long drawn history of fostering and promoting all forms of graffiti throughout its culture and events. From the annual Newtown festival to the way small businesses embrace street-art, this artistic persona and the protest it implicitly welcomes is apparent across the entire region.
If you’re looking for high density in a street-art tour, the main streets of Newtown are a perfect place to start. Artists and murals to take note of include but aren’t limited to: Crisp, Karen Farmer, Nelio, Ox King, Phibs, and Ruebszz.
St Peters and Marrickville
Continuing with local highlights, the next region on the agenda takes us Southward to the stretch between St Peters and Marrickville – namely Mary Lane and its associated industrial precincts.
This region has been home to several waves of immigration over the last few decades, leading to a swell of street art and graffiti concerning itself with migrant representation. Art from Travis De Vries, Peque Vrs, Sid Tapia, and Brad Robson were highlights through Marrickville, with anonymous pieces nestling themselves along the main streets and into the peripheries of the suburb, acting as mainstays in their own right.
Moving on towards St Peters we find Mary Lane. In 2010, a factory owner by the name of Tugi Balog decided to curb the constant tagging plaguing his business by transforming Mary Lane into an open-air gallery for local artists. Now a decade later, Mary Lane continues to act as a canvas for street-artists everywhere, making it the epicentre of this Sydney street-art hotspot
Whilst these are just the local and accessible hubs of graffiti around campus, there are several honourable mentions across broader Sydney that I would be remiss to ignore. Bondi Beach and the Bondi Seawall, Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and the We Are Here mural, the Cronulla street art trail, and more are all worthy additions to the Sydney street-art ecosystem. All of these locations act as melting pots of both local and international talent and are all worth checking out.
Protest is indescribably important. Whilst the marches, sit-ins, and picket lines of the world are powerful, street-art will always be one of the most enduring manifestations of public outcry against the status quo. Civil rights movements throughout history tell us that meaningful change and awareness can only be developed through protest, and it’s these murals and deplorations on all of the walls of Sydney represent the unspoken opinions of local people. So, if you’re ever walking through these suburbs and regions, know that the art adorning the walls are all a part of a greater movement for a better future— authorised or not.