The Space: beautifully ugly Foster Street

Published:  November 14, 2011
Clinton Duncan

Boasting at least 35 creative businesses of every description (not a bad ratio for a street where the numbers only go up to 60), Foster Street in Surry Hills, Sydney may just be the most creative street in Australia.

Foster Street is a place with a special spot in my heart. The experiences I’ve gained from this quirky little corner of Surry Hills have left an indelible mark on me and my career as a designer, thinker, writer (well, occasional blogger/shit stirrer) and general nuisance. I worked on this street for a number of years early in my career, and now I find myself back on what I jokingly refer to as ‘the most creative street in Australia’.

An interesting theme I’ve enjoyed exploring has been the place where ugliness and beauty can combine. To me, the polished, the slick and perfect is boring, overdone and far removed from the real world that I find myself in.

From galleries, artists, graphic designers and illustrators to digital, advertising, PR and media, Foster Street seems to have it all. There are also fashion designers, photographers, stylists and modeling agencies side-by-side with architects, interior designers, and furniture and fabric retailers.

To service these so called ‘trend setters’ is a mix of cafés: Spanish tapas, Thai restaurants, a legendary sandwich shop from two of Sydney’s most infamous purveyors of schnitzel and one of Sydney’s few remaining ‘authentic’ bars and my personal favourite hangout – the Hotel Hollywood. On any given day, a typical Foster Street scene might see an impossibly beautiful model carting her book up to Chadwick Models, past the graphic designers and architects waiting at the café for a coffee. Glances from behind dark sunglasses watch her glide past, and then talk resumes of the latest projects, the latest exhibition or the latest, well, latest whatever really…

Contrasting with this air of über cool pretension is the large number of nearby homeless shelters, mental health facilities and halfway houses. On Foster Street, the harsh reality of the most disadvantaged in our society is never far away. One anecdote springs to mind: for many years an old guy, with a beard as long as your arm and ragged wildly unkempt hair walked the streets screaming at the top of his lungs, “It’s wrong, mumble mumble, swear word, it’s wrong!” For years many in the area knew him as the ‘It’s wrong guy’.

On my way to work one spring morning, I turned a corner, abruptly finding myself face-to-face with him, only his familiar wild and wizened visage had been replaced with a newly clean shaven face and scalp. Mistaking recognition with familiarity, I offered, “Got a haircut mate, looking good!” to which a barrage of swearing and “it’s wrong” followed. I rather hurriedly walked/ran to work, him following me screaming.

Later in the morning, I was popping out for a coffee and there he was, again – but this time I was treated to another unexpected sight of him – unzipped and urinating on the doorstep. A knowing look on his face betrayed his recognition of me from our earlier run-in, and I bravely offered, “Now that is wrong!” He chuckled, zipped up and was off. Yelling and screaming again.

Ugly, and beautiful, it’s a street that inspires and terrifies me in equal measure, and reminds me how lucky I am to be paid for doing what I do. I can only hope it does the same for the fellow creatives I share this street with.

From desktop magazine.

Illustration: Letitia Buchan

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