It’s time to pop the champagne and launch the fireworks. Yesterday, I finally made it back to Sydney University, my former stomping ground. I can’t remember when I was last there. However, it’s been at least 15 years. Indeed, I’ve never gone back with Geoff or the kids and shown them what really is a part of myself. I don’t know why, but it’s a glaring omission. After all, as an Arts student 1988-1991, Sydney Uni was my home and raison d’etre. I was active in student life and lived just off campus for at least some of that time. Moreover, being such a sentimental sod who revels in returning to the road once traveled, it really makes no sense.
So, what changed?
Well, yesterday I attended Carer’s Day Out at the Redfern Community Centre and uni was only a short hop, step and a jump away. Moreover, on the way, I could even check out my first home away from home, a terrace house on Abercrombie Street.
So, now I’d like to invite you along on a photographic tour of Sydney Uni starting out at Redfern Station and finishing up at the footbridge crossing Parramatta Road.
Leaving Redfern Station, we turn left into Lawson Street and are immediately swept along in a steady stream of pedestrian traffic. It feels so good to be back here and soak up the ambiance again. A good friend of mine used to live in one of these terraces so it’s not a stranger. Yet, there is an unfamiliarity as well. My camera’s hanging round my neck and I’m on the prowl, hunting for prey. I spot a mural and break with the flow to photograph it and became an island in the stream.
Next, I turn left onto Abercrombie Street. Before we reach my old terrace, we’re walking through a row of shops. Rewinding to 1988, I gave my first poetry reading at the Reasonably Good Cafe, which was somewhere along here. Of course, the original is etched permanently in my memory. However, we’re talking 30 years ago and there’s no brass plaque marking where it was for posterity’s sake. There are still a few cafes and my best guess is that it was a cafe now called Tripod. Unfortunately, it was closed yesterday so I couldn’t take a closer look.
Now, I’m crossing Abercrombie Street to take a closer look at the terrace house which used to be home. It used to be on the pedestrian crossing and we could sit up on the balcony and watch the crowds milling past and call out to our friends. In terms of being a part of things and really experiencing student life, this place had location! Location! Location! Location aside, our student hovel didn’t have a lot of creature comforts. There was the semi-outside loo, not having a running hot water and needing to heat a gas thingy to have a shower, and the backyard was an industrial wasteland. This was character building stuff and besides, slumming it gave you added cred.
Walking further along Abercrombie Street, I’m turning right and within a few metres, we’re now at the front or back of campus depending on your perspective. First up, we come across the engineering faculty and before long we reach the Carslaw Building (has always sounded too much like coleslaw or cold sore for my liking) which is the big union service building on this side of campus and where the science students and engineers etc used to hang out. I catch the lift up and walk over the footbridge over City Road and stop to take a photo looking towards my beloved Newtown, which will have to wait for another day.
That’s when I spotted a row of noticeboards. Naturally, I was interested in checking out the posters and issues which are important on campus now. However, I was also intrigued by the noticeboard itself. You see, the surface was made up of layer upon layer of paper fragments and a gazillion staples. This mashed composition wasn’t glamorous or informative in anyway. Yet, it intrigued me…this detritus of a million ideas. What were they about and who put them there? So many hands and minds who perhaps like myself have all drifted away. I was once one of those people stapling up posters in a past life. A campaigner and a believer, this is our legacy.
I keep walking.
What with all this peering through the lens, I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment or draw an “X marks the spot” where I spotted the iconic Main Quadrangle (or “quad”) peering out above the trees. However, I was dazzled. Blown away. Not only by its architectural splendor, but also by the familiarity. It was like seeing a long lost friend after a break of thirty years. OMG! If it wasn’t a building or so big, I would’ve wrapped my arms around it for a hug.It meant so much to see it again.
As the university’s architectural crown, the Main Quad was always special. Yet, when you see it everyday, it becomes part of the scenery and taken for granted. Now, as much as I love it, it also looks like an alien spaceship which has crash landed in Sydney and would appear rather out of place if other similar buildings hadn’t been built around it. Designed by Edmund Blacket in the Victorian Gothic Revival style, it was based on the buildings at Oxford and Cambridge and is England transplanted to the Antipodes. Apparently, this style was already out of date when it was built and its always been anachronism.
However, before I head up to the Main Quad, I stop off outside Fisher Library. To be perfectly honest, not all of my memories of that place are good. That place was the scene of many rushed essays, voluminous photocopying and note taking and on a lighter note, there were also a few sightings of the male of the species. Indeed, out the front of Fisher Library used to be a popular meeting spot and I remember arranging to meet friends as well as a few “prospects” there.
By the way, Fisher Library is nowhere near as glamorous as virtually every other building on campus and looks more like an old demountable classroom that got too big for its boots. Right next to Fisher, there’s a soaring tower known as “Fisher Stack”. I can’t remember quite what was up there but it was considered dangerous for women to venture in there and rapes were more than urban myth. Or, at least that’s what I thought. I still haven’t forgotten that sense of all pervading terror when I had to find a book in there. It was so incredibly creepy and unlike the rest of campus where there’s always someone, Fisher Stack was deserted.
Finally, I was on my way to the Main Quad. This was the first time I’ve really focused on its architectural details. It’s also the first time I’ve actually photographed it as well zooming in on the omnipresent clock face and soaking up all the stone work around it with my eyes. In addition to the architecture, the Main Quad was also famous for its large jacaranda tree which always flowered during exam time and was a poignant reminder of stress and trouble. Tragically, the Jacaranda tree died a few years ago. Two trees were planted in its place. However, the Jacaranda is very spindly and can’t hope to catch up for a very long time to come. On a more positive note, I still remember being out in the Main Quad after my graduation. It was such a momentous occasion and by that stage, I’d had enough of study and felt long overdue for the real world.
Next stop, is Manning House. This was the union building where the Arts students hung out. Back in my day, there were three levels. Only level one was open in the mornings and I remember hanging out there for many hours and then heading upstairs to Manning Bar. I wasn’t much of a drinker, but the bar attracted a more bohemian set. Level three was where the snooty private school types hung out wearing their Country Road clothing…the yuppies. As a former private school type myself, I did venture up there at times, but it wasn’t entirely my scene.
After leaving Manning, I headed for The Graffiti Tunnel which connects Manning to the Holme Building. This tunnel is the only place on campus where you’re allowed to use spray paint. It’s pure grunge and almost feels like a living, breathing organism. Back when I was running for election to edit the uni newspaper, Honi Soit, a friend and I painted the tunnel. Our team was the Antonyms and the ant was our mascot. Indeed, one of our team members built a six foot ant which we mounted on top of a car, which we drove around campus. We also made up all these posters featuring ant words and had our own t-shirts. However, chalking was probably the main form of advertising. Our rivals, Newshounds, had very, very bright fluoro orange paint which you could’ve spotted from the moon. Consequently, our pink chalk, became more intense and so did the rivalry. All that rivalry climaxed in the Graffiti Tunnel. We’d started painting brown paint and black ants at the Holme end, converting it into an ant tunnel. Meanwhile, the Newshounds had started out at the other end at at around 5.00am we crossed paths. I can’t remember what was said. However, let’s just say it was heated. By the way, you’ve probably already guessed that Newshounds won. Word had got out that much of our team were Christians and members of EU (Evangelical Union). The other half was quite bohemian, but we were sunk. I’d been friends with many of the Newshounds prior to that campaign and sadly our friendships never recovered.
Naturally, I was looking forward to returning to Graffiti Tunnel and seeing what the students of 2018 are saying. What’s their take on life, the universe and everything? To be perfectly honest, I still don’t know. There was certainly a lot of colour. However, what I did notice was that there are quite a few doors in the tunnel, which I hadn’t noticed before. While I can’t speak for what’s behind all of them, but at least a couple led into lecture or tutorial rooms.
Next stop, was across the road to the Holme Building. This was where most of the mature age students hung out back in my day, although I went there sometimes as well. Not sure why. However, I also remember having my Year 11 school formal in the Holme Building and it was also where the Arts Ball was held each year. That was a ripper. So much fun. Seizing the opportunity, I had to sneak into the dining area which was set up for a function, and photograph the scene of such exuberance. Why did I have to grow up? Why did I have to become responsible?
Perhaps, that’s one of the greatest mysteries of life.
Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve chopped the university into such little bits and pieces here and I don’t know whether you can truly appreciate it as a whole. This effort feels incredibly inadequate, but for those of you who haven’t been here and are unlikely to ever make it to Sydney, it hopefully conveys something of an impression.