Thursday, May 28, 2009

Inner West Light Rail

There was some excitement in the Sydney media this week as it appeared the NSW government was starting to take the idea of extending Sydney's light-rail to Dulwich Hill vaguely seriously, after years of entrenched resistance.

Ever since Sydney's light-rail system was extended to Lilyfield in 2000, there has been agitation to further extend it in various directions. The two that have gained most traction are a CBD loop; and taking advantage of an existing goods line to extend the existing line to Summer Hill and then to Dulwich Hill. Sydney Council have been vocal in lobbying for a CBD loop, utilising either George or Castlereagh Street, and have gone as far as to fund several feasibility studies. However the NSW ALP government have always given these ideas short shrift, preferring (famously) to release, re-release and cancel various heavy rail and metro projects; at the same time pooh-poohing light rail as a toy solution that wouldn't work on Sydney's narrow streets.

Closer to home, the Summer Hill (or Dulwich Hill) extension seems like even more of a no-brainer. Clearance and tracks are already in place, and in this age where trillion is the new billion, projected costs for the more expensive option - at less than $100 million - seem like small change. There's a lot of interesting information on the EcoTransit lobby site - they've gone as far as to release newsletters and nail up posters supporting this push.

Light Rail map from EcoTransit website

The supporters of the Greenway are also keen (their proposed nature route from Iron Cove to the Cook's River would share a large part of the trail), although their very detailed studies have identified problems with a pinch point in Dulwich Hill that is not wide enough for both light rail tracks and the cycleway/path. I'm sure a clever resolution can be found; either single tracking the light rail at that point or implementing a shared cycleway/pathway/tramway.

Bruce Ashley/Friends of the GreenWay Inc., 2008

It seems that in David Campbell, the Premier might have accidentally chosen a Transport Minister who evaluates transport projects based on community/environment benefits rather than headlines and kick-back possibilities. See private eye Nick Possum's amusing and informative website for more on that ! However, he is still actively pushing the dubious benefits of the CBD Metro plan - more on that one another day.

Fingers crossed then that the Dulwich Hill extension gets up. Already the remnants of the Costa regime have tried to sabotage the process (so early) but the Councils called their bluff and the process is still on track - indeed Clover Moore may also have got the CBD option a bit more oxygen.

Newtown Junction c1912 -
reproduced with permission from City of Sydney Archives

What about Newtown then ? Of course, Newtown was an important junction of Sydney's original tram network, and there are those who'd like to see a line installed down King Street, potentially looping back to the City via Green Square. As much as I'd love to see that, I'm not sure how the shopkeepers would react to losing parking on one side of King Street - and unfortunately King Street way too narrow to support a central track.

Another view from c1908. Thanks to Nick Possum

Any thoughts ? Could Newtown support light-rail ? Is there anywhere else in the Inner-West that would benefit from light-rail ? Are you in favour of the Dulwich Hill extension. Comments please !

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Bit Shit

Our Newtown, while being the best and most famous, is not by any means the only Newtown in the world. Close to home, and close-ish in feel, is the Newtown in Wellington across the ditch. Near a hospital, home to many students, famous for its grungy feel, it in many ways resembles Newtown (Sydney) circa 1988. Hell, it even has a Wilson Street !

Towards the end of last year there was a bit of a stink in the Wellington press when a local resident created the t-shirt above: Newtown - It's a Bit Shit. The local progress association and council got involved - displaying a total absence of a sense of humour, and generating priceless publicity for the shop that was by now selling them. There's a good summary of the blue in this article on the excellent Wellingtonista website.

Your mayor, who was there at the time, tried to buy one but was put off by the price (70 Kiwi bucks), and more concretely, by the fact that the store selling them on Cuba Street was always closed. I did, however, spot one at the Eveleigh Markets a couple of weeks ago and I'm sure there's a market for an enterprising enterpreneur (is there any other kind ?) to start making some similar here using a photo of one of the Top 5 Eyesores.

For those interested, there are 5 Newtowns with their own postcode in Australia - the others are in Toowoomba and Ipswich - home of Hanson - in Queensland, and Geelong and Ballarat in Victoria. No fewer than 23 Newtowns have earnt an entry (or stub) in Wikipedia - including Newtown in Pennsylvania which recently celebrated its 325th Anniversary - surely it will soon be time to rename it Oldtown ? There are other clusters of Newtowns in Ireland (5), Northern Ireland (5), California (5) and the rest of the United Kingdom (12), but strangely only one in Canada. Special recognition to the Newtown in Wales, owner of the domain, and, having been founded in 1321, almost certainly the oldest Newtown in town.

I've only been to the Wellington Newtown so far - I think I can feel a junket coming on. Anyone visited any others ? Any visitors from other Newtowns to this blog ?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Notes about a New Venue

Notes Live

There's a new venue in Newtown. While it doesn't (yet?) seem to form part of the Newtown Entertainment Precinct, it seems that Notes Live, at 73-75 Enmore Road near the bridge, has ambitious plans to be a permanent part of the Newtown Entertainment scene, at least judging by the yet to be active website, extensive upcoming gig list, and branding. With a fancy menu accompanying the Monsieur Camembert invitation, it seems the inspiration is very much Newtown's Vanguard.

The official opening this Friday (15th May) will feature Vanguard favourites Monsieur Camembert, although the venue has been there for a while, operating as a sort of occasional Greek nightclub and function centre. The fact that the premises are a converted funeral parlour shouldn't be an issue given the success of Kinselas in Darlinghurst.

Any new venue is good news for Newtown in the Mayor's opinion, although I only hope it doesn't impact on any plans for The Hub to re-open as a venue. I'd be pleased to hear from anyone who has already been there, or is attending the opening - let us all know what it's like as a venue.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pub Talk II - ZanziBar / The Oxford

ZanziBar - or the Oxford as many locals prefer to call it - occupies an important location in the history of Newtown. It was here in 1832 that Sam and Eliza Webster opened New Town Stores, from which Newtown takes its name. The owners quickly discovered that alcohol was more profitable and the New Town Store became the Daniel Webster Hotel, Newtown's first. While that building has long since been replaced, the Oxford also holds the honour of being Newtown's oldest pub.

ZanziBar was the first cab off the renovation rank. Unlike the Bank, the Oxford was kept open while it slowly and painfully transformed itself into a Moroccan themed bar - in fact there was a box on the counter for a while to suggest the bar's new name. As well as a new name, the Oxford got itself a new floor and Newtown's first rooftop bar from the renovations. The rooftop bar is the highlight; although thanks to the neighbours, numbers are strictly limited which means that access is often denied on a Friday/Saturday night, even though the bar appears empty. Pet hate - people who live in Newtown and complain about the noise at 9pm on a Saturday night. Move to Wahroonga.

The Moroccan theme divides locals - some find it tacky (which it is) but I appreciate the effort to distinguish itself from other bars in the area - and the middle floor in particular, with its middle eastern tapas bar, and lounges, is a welcome addition to the Newtown scene. Best of all, the tradition of late night cheese gerkins and bikkies was alive and kicking the last time the Mayor ducked in.

At one stage, the downstairs bar seemed exclusively for out-of-(New)towners, however Zanzibar has recently undergone a second, less drastic renovation that has toned down the more wacky Moroccan-ness and as a result the locals have returned, and indeed there's almost a Darlinghurst feel to it these days. It's still reliably tacky on Friday and Saturday night, and the bouncers are a lot more human than the trogdolytes across the road at the Townie.

Two mayoral thumbs up for the rooftop and one each for the lower floors.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mystery Photo II - Quiet Please

An easier mystery photo this time - where is this inviting library entrance ? Answers (or guesses) to mayorofnewtown at, or via twitter please !
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mystery Photo I - Revealed

Congratulations to Twitterers Glebe2037 and Portek, and the blogger Stubborn Mule for correctly identifying the first Mystery Photo as the old Majestic Theatre on the corner of Wilson St and Erskineville Road. The picture from the Register of the National Estate captures the destruction of the Majestic Theatre (later Elizabethan Theatre) in 1980.

Not so majestic today

The Majestic Theatre had quite a history. It was built in 1917 by the Fuller family, had a capacity of 1642 (roughly) and was a popular venue for variety shows and weekly melodramas. According to Alan Sharpe in his Pictorial History of Newtown: "In the late 1920s a season of Shakespeare opened to the guffaws from residents of other suburbs but it ran for 16 weeks."

It switched to movies with the arrival of 'talkies' in 1928, and was the location of a John Curtin inspired labor party 'Unity Conference' in the late 30s. After brief wartime service as a military showroom, the Theatre came of age in 1955 as The Elizabethan, home of Australia's first national theatre company, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. Among many others, The Elizabethan was the scene of the Sydney debut of Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1955, and Doug Stewart's Ned Kelly, starring a young Leo McKern and with set design by a certain Sidney Nolan, in 1956.

However, the location of the Elizabethan, off the beaten track in a working class suburb, put it at a disadvantage, and shows were less and less well attended. Amazingly there was little protest when the Theatre suspiciously burnt down in January 1980.

There are some more photos of the insides of the theatre here and here - I'm waiting for permission to publish them directly. There is also a collection of posters of performances at the Elizabethan at the Powerhouse Museum.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mystery Photo I - The Great Bite

Copyright DEWHA, Photographer Charlton, K.

The first in an occasional series of posts where the mayor will share an old photo with you and you have to guess where it is. First correct answer wins a year's free subscription to Newstown :) As do all other correct answers.

Where was the above photo taken ? What monstrosity (there's a clue) replaced the half-eaten building on the corner ?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Hive of Non-Activity

In neighbouring Erskineville there has been a recent hullabaloo over the planned conversion of the old Sydney Mardi Gras warehouse (also known as the Hive) on Erskineville Road into a Supermarket. A very vocal and effective campaign was waged by the local pressure group 'Village Friends' - their excellent website is worth checking out - and Sydney City Council eventually rejected the application due to traffic issues and the impact on surrounding businesses. The appeal to the Land and Environment Court was also rejected in January this year.

A new Development Application has just been received by Council for a grocery store (far less threatening than a supermarket) on the same site. At first glance it seems that many of the residents' objections have been addressed; the area of the proposed grocery store  is less than 900sqm, compared with the 2138sqm of the orginal proposal, and there are only 16 car spaces envisaged. The proposal is only for a single story building which is the same as the existing building, as opposed to the previous double story plans.

The Economic Impact Assessment is the most interesting document submitted as part of the DA, explaining (or at least claiming) that the smaller grocery store will only attract locals and limited passing traffic, rather than being a destination store attracting (car based) shoppers.As anyone who lives in the area can tell you, that part of Erskinevile Road is chockers  and most times of the day and really doesn't need any more traffic. Still, at 900sqm the proposed store is only slightly smaller than King Street's Franklins (1200sqm) and Foodworks (1042sqm), neither of which are small 'grocery stores'.

So what do people think ? Does this DA go far enough in meeting the council's requirements ? Is this a positive development for Newtown/Erskineville (technically the Hive is in Newtown although most would consider it part of Erskineville) ? Let me know !

By the way, like the Hub, the Hive is available for short term rent while the DA gets processed.