Foley Street (between Palmer & Crown Streets), Darlinghurst
Curated by Juliet Rosser, Platform 72
Sarah Howell, Dylan Demarchi, The Dirt, byrd and Gui Andrade
A parade where the street becomes a stage.
WE ARE HERE is an inclusive proclamation of present and past. A spectacle inviting you in; you are here and WE ARE HERE.
The WE ARE HERE mural transforms Foley Street into a time-travelling, rambunctious romp through the complex history of the local area. Taking its cue from the hundreds of celebratory and solemn parades that have travelled up Oxford Street, the work turns the façade into a topographical map to create the WE ARE HERE parade route.
Deeply connected to the location this parade is filled with a motley crew of heroes, villains, musicians, bohemians and gangsters. Imbued with the ghosts of those who’ve come before; the prancers and preeners; bakers; brewers and street workers. This is a celebration of the folk who’ve made Darlinghurst their home or the source of their bread and butter.
The work - collaboratively executed by artists Sarah Howell, Dylan Demarchi, byrd, The Dirt & Gui Andrade - revives lost fragments of the area’s history and brings it firmly to the present. Using paint, collage, mixed media, photography and stencil, the mixed and contrasting mediums employed by the artists play with the inherent polarities of the Darlinghurst and Oxford Street narrative.
The often dark and gruesome history is melded with times of celebration. The work rejoices in the swinging pendulum of its fortunes, from cultural backwater to creative epicentre, from slum to designer living, a place of protest to a place of celebration, from the six o’clock swill to sophisticated cocktail culture, criminal to respectable, addict-ridden to health-driven. This is an area that has seen and been it all.
While the work honours the past, it also firmly places a stake in the ground for the present, celebrating the renewed creativity that is re-emerging in and around Oxford Street. The artists and the culture creators are here once again, building it with their hands (or the click of a mouse) and proclaiming: WE ARE HERE.
Juliet Rosser, Curator
A back street in the city’s backyard
Originally a bush track that ran along the ridge between Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour, by World War I Oxford Street had morphed into a boulevard that joined the city to the suburbs to its east.
The history of this street - how it came to be built, and the people who came to live here - emulates the history of the city. Early in the 19th century, Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, for largely strategic reasons, constructed a road to the South Head along that ridge. However, it soon became a place claimed by Sydney ‘society’: a place to parade, to see and be seen.
As the city grew, and Darlinghurst and Surry Hills were subdivided, a web of smaller streets and even smaller back lanes spread out into what eventually became suburbs of the city. In the 1840s, a new courthouse and gaol brought significant public buildings to the area. Gradually the South Head Road was becoming a ‘high street’, a place of commerce and communities; its commercial success in turn led to a name change - it became ‘Oxford Street’. With aspirations to elegant London shopping, a merchandising revolution saw the advent of new department stores, many located in lower Oxford Street.
Foley Street edges along these lower reaches of Oxford Street and forms a kind of backstage to the main stage of the boulevard on the ridge. It is in lanes like this the life that supported the main street has played out: where the supplies arrived at Oxford Street shopfronts; where the kegs of beer were offloaded for the pubs; and where the detritus of daily life was taken away by garbage and night soil collectors. It is where corpses were discreetly offloaded by hearses to be installed in the funeral parlours facing Oxford Street; and it is in these lanes where prostitutes and their clients have danced the dance of desire.
It is here you’ll see cats preening in the late afternoon sunshine, locals wind their way back home and a drag queen fix her makeup before launching herself onto Oxford Street.
A back street in the city’s backyard, Foley Street has seen it all.
Clive Faro, Author, Street Seen: a history of Oxford Street