No, not Sydney but Newtown! Newtown is a suburb of Sydney about four kilometres south-west of the CBD, and about five minutes by train, and was originally developed as a farming and residential area in the early 19th century. By 1870 tiny terraced houses were springing up throughout the area—literally two-up, two-down with adjoining walls only one brick thick, most of these houses were only four metres (around 13 feet) wide. Hundreds of these houses remain; many renovated and modernised with only their façade showing their history, while others have developed into the shops and cafés that adorn the main street: King Street. Newtown was subsumed into the City of Sydney in 1949. But Newtown today is so much more than its history shows.
Take a walk with me down King Street. We’ll start at Newtown Station and walk to St Peters.
The street has changed little in design since it was built. The shops all have verandahs extending over the footpath so we can walk in the shade in the summer and shelter from the rain in winter. A thriving café culture provides the opportunity for coffee and cake on the footpath or in the open windows, where we watch the world go by—and what a world we see.
Newtown’s population is a hotch-potch of society including gays and lesbians, and even those somewhere in between; students from the nearby University of Sydney; young public servants and corporate managers; aging hippies who have yet to move on from the 60s, and younger 20 and 30 somethings looking for what the aging hippies once had. All of them pass by our café.
Live music is coming from somewhere down the street. Ah yes, here come the younger hippies in their flowing, flowery dresses and colourful tie-dyed pants and t-shirts, singing and dancing as they weave their way along the footpath. No-one pays them much attention—it’s fairly common place in Newtown.
Revived by the coffee we pop into one of the many op-shops selling pre-loved, brand-name clothing at a fraction of the normal price. A pair of bright lime green leather boots attract my attention—dammit they’re not my size. Would I have bought them if they were? Well I could have been tempted—let’s face it you don’t see lime green boots every day …
Further along we can have a tarot reading by Psychic Sarah, or get a temporary henna tattoo for $15. More op-shops; second hand furniture shops; book shops; a shop selling nothing but buttons of every shape, size and colour imaginable; and another with the most divine stained glass lamps that twinkle in vivid blues and rich reds; yet more cafés and restaurants and finally we reach our accommodation—a slightly up-market backpacker hotel.
This hotel was built in the 1920s, and although it’s been modernised and lost its old façade, its rooms still have the original parquetry flooring. It’s three storeys and there is no lift. There is however a lovely guest lounge complete with large squishy sofas, and a modern kitchen behind the reception which also has the original old flagstone floor—worn so smooth that it’s established a shine all its own.
As well as the beautiful parquetry, each room has its own tiny railed balcony accessed by some lovely old French doors. The balcony is just big enough to take a small bistro table and two chairs that can be moved inside the room in inclement weather. Each room also has its own bathroom—hence the up-market aspect. But the best thing about this hotel is its location—smack in the middle of King Street.
We unpack, sort ourselves out, and set off for dinner. Turning left onto King Street we can choose Italian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese or the Steak House. Turn right and we can have African, Thai, Indian, Korean or simple fish and chips at a place called Newtown Beach. The fish and chips come wrapped in newspaper and we eat them with our fingers while sitting under sunshades and pretend we’re at Bondi Beach instead.
On our way back to the hotel we pass a pub where we stop for a nice glass of red and listen to some smooth jazz by a group of young lads—very talented and probably from the Sydney Conservatorium.
By the time we get back to our room it’s raining. We open the French doors and sit by the balcony sipping another glass of red while listening to the sound of the rain on the Plane trees, and gazing across the night sky watching the planes flying low as they come down to land at Sydney airport.
That’s another thing about Newtown—it’s directly under the flight path of Sydney’s third runway. The planes are so low their landing lights almost touch the roofline. There is however a curfew from 10pm until 6am when the jets wake us up. But no matter—we’re in the most fascinating place in Sydney and the early wake-up means no waiting for the warm ham and cheese croissants and hot chocolate from the French bakery round the corner.