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March 13, 2018, Australia

Multi-storied Newtown

This Sydney neighbourhood, said to be where rock band AC/DC formed in the 1970s, champions all things alternative. Serene Goh uncovers its distinctive vibe

Serene Goh

NEWTOWN’S outlets, ranging from vegan to vintage, are the most tangible parts of its anything-goes culture; you really could lose hours browsing its shops.

But only encounters with its residents — who sport a spectrum of hair dye and accessories — reveal why Newtown is its own brand of special.

Here, acceptance of alternative cultures is a tattoo worn with pride.

Folks are as likely to engage in a frank debate about politics as to shoo you off for being impolite.

Its main drag King Street, at its best on Saturday nights, consciously welcomes the modern and maverick, weird and wonderful, present and past.

Within a stretch of less than 15m is restaurant Lentil As Anything, which serves nutritious meals to diners who pay what they can; Holey Moley, which combines miniature golf, karaoke rooms and a fast-food menu including rainbow-coloured burger buns; and the office of Jenny Leong, state member for Newtown in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Round the bend is an alley filled with street art.

What you will not find is a McDonald’s (one opened in 1983, but is today Irish pub Kelly’s On King).

Such is the area’s progressive nature that the entire community — including residents from surrounding Redfern, Surry Hills, Camperdown, Enmore, Petersham, Darlington, Stanmore, Chippendale, Lewsham and Erskineville — was dubbed by election analyst Antony Green as New South Wales’ “newest, smallest and funkiest electorate”.

Amid Bloodworth Bellamy’s musty repository of vintage comics and karate posters, owner Nick Cadey, a resettled Englishman with an Australian wife and son, observes why that’s so.

“In every city you have an area for alternative communities, where people feel free to be who they want, think what they want, say whatever they want. There’s definitely a hub for it here.

“Newtown is hard core. Whatever you’re into, you can be into it to the absolute max, and it’s the only place in Sydney that you can do that now.”

His clientele happens to be sentimental about historical artefacts.

He notes that many modern Australians, having descended from immigrants who arrived with only a few items, nurse a yen for items that are multi-storied — a group of people who want to get hold of the past to keep it, and cherish it.

“I deal in stories. Everything in here has got a story, because I want to find out the story when I buy something. So I’d say I sell stories and you get the object for free.” When you finally do emerge from the shop, an ideal way to imbibe that Newtown vibe is to walk its streets.

The City of Sydney Archives and various volunteers curated historical information about the Municipality of Newtown and offer downloadable guides at www.newtownproject.com.au/local-area/walking-tour for researchers, locals and, of course, the curious.

The writer’s trip was sponsored by Singapore Airlines and Destination New South Wales.

GUIDELINES

Singapore Airlines flies four times daily from Singapore to Sydney.

It has an economy class early bird fare (from $678) from Singapore to Sydney until March 31, and a minimum two-to-go fare (from $618) until March 20. Premium economy class fare from now to March 31 starts at $1,738.

Check out http://brandinsider.straitstimes.com/siasydneystories for more information on New South Wales’ attractions.

Places to check out

Better Read Than Dead

Dive into the diverse range of books with everything from children’s books about Yayoi Kusama, to alternative literature, to greeting cards designed by Australian artists. The knowledgeable staff will direct you to other prospects in the vicinity if they can’t find what you’re after.

Where: 265 King Street

Newtown Garden Market

No worries if you happen to miss the sight of jacarandas in full bloom. Amateur horticulturalists will be happy to uncover stories of Aussie flora with the owner of this gardening outlet, Mr David Gillard. Along with the state flower of New South Wales, waratahs, you’ll find a range of seedlings from banksias to grevilleas here.

Where: 538 King Street

Bloodworth Bellamy

It’s tough to listen to Mr Nick Cadey’s stories about his collectibles without catching the bug. His trove of artefacts and historical gems includes science fiction penny books from the 1930s, and soldiers’ trunks that survived World War I.

Info: bloodworthbellamy.com 

Where: 539 King Street

Greenie’s Gold

A hodgepodge mix of 1970s vinyls and antique lamps, with the odd pair 

of roller skates hanging about. Most interesting? A zombie carp on a log, at a bargain price of A$245 (S$255).

Where: 551e King Street

New Theatre

Founded in 1932 as the Sydney Workers Art Club, it carried the slogan “Art is a weapon”. Its productions, 550 so far, helped galvanise opposition to Nazism in the 1930s and have shed light on political and human rights issues. In 1973, it relocated from Kings Cross to King Street. This year, its offerings of Silent Disco (March 22 to April 14) about disenfranchised youth, as well as comedic farce, The Lieutenant of Inishmore (April 24 to May 26), sound promising for arts lovers keen to explore independent theatre.

Where: 542 King Street

Info: newtheatre.org.au

Holey Moley

This outlet is an anomaly among its artisanal, organic or retro neighbours.

Between 18 holes of “the craziest mini golf you’ve ever played”, perch at its fully stocked cocktail bar, or hole up in a karaoke room with generous servings of burgers, along with fries over which you can dispense melted cheddar through a syringe. Great for an afternoon with family or a group of friends.

Where: 387 King Street

Black Star Pastry

Its lovely coffee and delectable Strawberry Watermelon cake — two layers of almond dacquoise, rose-scented cream, watermelon, strawberries and pistachio garnish — are beloved. Right up there are additional winners: its chocolate and hazelnut torte, as well as its pistachio lemon zen and raspberry lychee cakes. Get there early and avoid driving as parking is scarce.

Where: 277 Australia St

Open: Sunday to Wednesday, 7am to 5pm; and Thursday to Saturday, 7am to 5.30pm

Info: blackstarpastry.com.au/newtown/ Gelato Blue

Vegan gelato never tasted so good. The outlet’s Greek owner, Mr Constantinos Platis, creates his own flavours, which are so good they invite lines. If you happen to pass there mid-afternoon on a weekday, don’t miss its range from salted Belgian chocolate to dulce de leche.

Where: 318 King Street

Lentil As Anything

This outlet is a textbook ideal of a socially conscious business. It opened in 2014 with a mission to provide wholesome and nutritious meals to anyone, allowing them to pay what they could afford. Its mission is to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness, hiring volunteers, the long-term unemployed and the marginalised. It also encourages young people to get involved in community-based initiatives.

Where: 391 King Street

Info: lentilasanything.com/sydney Retrospec’d Clothing

This boutique doesn’t stop at selling dresses, jeans, tops and accessories inspired by fashion from the 1940s and 1950s. Its bold prints and joyful palette are enhanced with petticoats and broad belts, all created by sisters Sharon Hanley and Teena Borg.

Where: 451 King St

Info: retrospecd.com

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