The Cool Street Art of Newtown



On a wall in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Newtown is a vast mural, featuring the face of Dr Martin Luther King Junior above his famous words, “I have a dream.”

To the left is a painting of the world as seen from space, while beneath is the black, red and gold design of the Aboriginal flag.

On a wall facing the mural is a more recent piece of Aboriginal art. The text here expands on Dr King’s statement by adding, “We have the Dreaming.”

“It’s great to see the conversation the different parts of the mural are having with each other,” says Lily, our guide on Culture Scouts’ Sydney Street Art tour, and an artist herself.

Newtown has long been a hotbed of street art, from the political statements of the 1980s to the more playful murals of the present day.

We see a fine example of the latter as we move to Fintan Magee’s mural which stretches down the side of a commercial building, featuring a woman trying to listen to herself via two cans connected by tangled string. There may not be an obvious message here (something about not knowing your true self, perhaps?), but it’s a dynamic piece of art.

It becomes clear that much of today’s street art is legal, some the product of a local council scheme which matches building owners with artists who can decorate their external walls.

We see some great examples in a car park, with one wall covered with the faces of angel statues from a cemetery; and another with a reclining woman surrounded by cats. Local legend says this real-life cat lady was Charles Dickens’ inspiration for the character of the reclusive Miss Havisham in his novel Great Expectations.




As Lily points out, these pieces show different painting methods used by artists – one having been mapped precisely on a computer first, the other created on the spot with a spray can.

It’s at this point we notice a commercial piece of street art, an image painted by a corporation to promote its products, and we tut accordingly. It couldn’t be more different in intent to what we find on the interior walls of a nearby private car park: illegal tags and some impressive edgy murals.

This kind of art is painted by crews late at night, says Lily, and they sometimes sabotage the work of their rivals.

Art is everywhere as we walk onward: animals rendered in a traditional Aboriginal style; a black and white mural blending nature and geometry; and the message “LOVE IS THE ANSWER” which was painted at the top of a wall by an artist hanging from its roof.

At the far end of Camperdown Memorial Rest Park, formerly a cemetery, is a big mural of three blue-skinned women titled Wyrd Sisters, presumably inspired by Shakespeare’s witches.

On Albermarle Street, Lily is keen to show us a vibrant work by an all-female crew, featuring three colourful women on a suburban brick wall. On a nearby pub is a blokey counterpoint, a large painting of former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, shirtless and holding a beer.

There’s plenty more to see, including an art-strewn street just around the corner from a police station. But before we go for a beer at hip local brewery Young Henrys, the last word is spoken by a soaring mural on King Street. It depicts a couple piled on each other’s backs, trying to grasp a home which is floating up out of reach.

As an artistic statement on the gentrification of Newtown and its resulting stratospheric house prices, it can’t be beaten.

Tour: The Sydney Street Art Tour costs $59 (and includes a craft beer).

Accommodation: The Novotel Sydney Central near Central Station is an easy train ride from Newtown

Tim Richards was hosted by Culture Scouts and Accor Hotels.

You can get Sydney included as a stopover on our Discoverer round the world


Published by Stuart Lodge