“This used to be a laneway that men would pee in“, I told the woman I was chatting with. She works at nearby Belvoir Street Theatre, and was really interested in the gathering of about twenty people (story-tellers) in the laneway between Crown Street and Wilshire Lane in Surry Hills.
“I walk through here two or three times a day and I don’t want to smell your pee”, I’ve told them. Though mostly they’ve responded with a stream of expletives comparable to their stream of pee, one did once apologise.
In the last few years, there has also been a homeless guy called Matt who has often slept rough in the laneway. Though Matt can have his “moments”, I don’t mind him sleeping there so much, and have had a few interesting conversations with him.
“Matty’s got some permanent accommodation at St Peters now” Astra told us. “That’s one of the really good things that’s come out of COVID-19: it seems like lots of Sydney’s people who sleep rough have found accommodation”, she added. Astra Howard is the artist responsible for “Village Voices”, a visual arts project in the laneway.
The art in the laneway attracts a lot of attention, and you’ll often see people walking along Crown Street pop into the laneway for a selfie. The shelf of the art project also attracts a bit of rubbish, as people think it’s a good spot to leave their pizza boxes or soft drink containers, even though there’s a couple of garbage bins only metres away. I do “my bit” to help keep it clean by picking up the rubbish and transfering it to the bin.
The artwork has really transformed the laneway, and generally speaking, men no longer use it as a place for a quick pee.
We were there the other night for a COVID-safe story telling night, a collaboration between a number of groups, including Surry Hills & Valleys, a collaborative website that I’m involved in maintaining.
It was a terrific event, as a number of people shared their stories of “life during COVID”. The stories and photographs will appear on the website over the next couple of months, so I’d recommend regularly popping over there for a look.