REVIEW: Sydney Cultural Walking Tours: Discover The City Differently On Foot

While moves are definitely afoot to revitalise Sydney’s inner city, much of the grassroots cultural scene is currently to be found in the small suburbs around the city fringe, including Newtown, Darlinghurst, Pyrmont, Chippendale and Surry Hills. Walking tours are a great way to discover everything these artistic enclaves have to offer. Reviewed by: Joanne Karcz, The Big Bus - May 2017

It’s known for its food, art and design, and is steeped in the early history of settlement. It also has a great community feel. Surry Hills is one of the cultural hotspots covered by Culture Scouts – which offers Sydney cultural walking tours with the aim of helping guests to ‘discover Sydney differently’. On today’s tour that’s exactly what I hope to do.

It’s only a short walk from Sydney’s Central Station to the meeting place on the corner of Devonshire and Bourke Streets. In 2004 the Bourke Street Bakery started in a little corner store here. They now have eleven outlets across Sydney. I have time for a coffee and a bite to eat and I choose a ginger crème brulee tart to accompany my flat white. This tart is one reason (the sourdough bread is another) that many locals and visitors alike make a beeline for this bakery. It definitely lives up to the hype.

Our guide Sophia begins the tour by leading us down a little laneway. On our right is a door set into a large dark wall. To the right of the door is a scaled down version of a sculpture I recognise. The full-sized ‘Almost Once’ is located outside the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It is the work of esteemed artist Brett Whiteley, who lived and worked in this converted warehouse in the 1980s. I am excited to finally visit his workspace. Downstairs is the exhibition space, while the living area and studio are upstairs. Music from Whiteley’s collection is playing. It’s been chosen to complement the current exhibition (which changes regularly). Entry to the Brett Whiteley Studio is free. It’s open to the public from Friday to Sunday.

The Head On photography festival is on this week in Sydney and one of the exhibitions is displayed at the Special Group studios. The interesting series of photographs is called ‘Resist Laughter’ by Alana Holmberg. They explore the experiences of young feminists in Turkey. I wish I had time to examine each photograph more closely, but we have to move on.

On either side of a half-open red roller door is some great street art. I’m told the pieces are by ‘Ears’. I expect the work was commissioned by The Pottery Shed in Nickson Street, which is our next stop. Joseph Darling who founded The Pottery Shed, tells us that in three two-hour lessons beginners can walk away with basic pottery skills and a thrown pot that they have made themselves. As Joe demonstrates the technique on a wheel, he talks about the meditative value of pottery. I find myself itching to get my hands into the smooth clay; to feel it taking shape. I decide to sign up. Pottery classes will be a fun activity for me to do with my daughter. As we leave, other tour participants express similar thoughts.

At the end of a covered laneway, another surprise awaits us. ‘Village Voices’ is an artwork that was commissioned by the City of Sydney. We are lucky to have the artist, Astra Howard, present to explain the work and how it came about. The artwork features regularly changing text in the form of short stories, which are developed in workshops with locals or submitted by individuals. The text has strong local relevance. Large white plastic letters form the words, which are placed in rows along the wall. The work is thought-provoking, encourages conversation and is a wonderful way of reflecting and promoting a sense of community.

Where there is art, there is often a need for a frame. We are taken to Acme Framing, which has had a workshop in Surry Hills for many years. They have an innovative approach to their craft and like to meet the challenge of an unusual framing request!

Further up the street is The Standard Store, a clothing boutique popular with local creatives. Nicola, the owner, travels overseas regularly to source unique items of clothing that reflect the nature of Surry Hills. While her store has an online presence, she prefers the ‘bricks and mortar’ of fashion retail, and enjoys meeting her clients who live and work in the suburb.

Sophia explains that Culture Scouts likes to tailor tours of Surry Hills to meet the needs and interests of participants. Today’s tour has been curated as an introduction to the Surry Hills Festival, which is happening later in the year. Other tour options include one with an emphasis on coffee – where a visit to roasters and brewers in and around Surry Hills is the order of the day. A tour combining food, wine and coffee is also a popular choice, while art lovers might choose an itinerary with an emphasis on art and history.

As Sophia says: ‘’Our tours embrace all things art, design, architecture, food and bespoke retail. We want people to experience our city as a creative and cultural destination’.

All too soon this tour is over – and what a great mix of experiences it has been. Even though I am a Sydneysider, I have been continually surprised by what we’ve seen. That’s what discovering Sydney differently is all about.

Joanne travelled as a guest of Culture Scouts. 

Giles ColliverComment