While inner city residents continue to debate the City of Sydney’s approval of 30 new off-leash parks for dogs, Newtown firmly reminds everyone of its dominant doggie subculture with canine sculptures at its gates.
Three silver statues of dogs are prominently placed at each of Newtown’s entrances. The poster bollards capped by canine sculptures are located at Newtown Square and St Peter’s station on King Street, as well as the corner of Enmore Road and Stanmore Road.
Collectively known as the Guardian Dogs, the aluminium cast sculptures act as gateways to Newtown’s arts and entertainment district. Having become local landmarks since their installation a couple of years back, amid the furore of the city’s ‘dog wars’ they have more recently taken on the resonance of enforcing Newtown’s pro dog stance.
The sculptures were commissioned as part of the Newtown Entertainment Precinct project, a joint initiative from Marrickville Council and independent theatres of the Newtown area that has also gained City of Sydney Council support.
Seven major independent theatres in the Newtown precinct were founding members of a new association for the ongoing project, from the intimate Edge Theatre to the 2,200-seat art deco Enmore Theatre, to the performing arts complex of the Seymour Theatre Centre. Newtown’s New Theatre is a member and, if it survives its current financial woes, will be the oldest theatre company in continuous production in New South Wales.
The Newtown area, centered on and around King St, has the highest concentration of independent theaters and live performance spaces in Sydney. Traditionally there has been a great synergy between theatres and vibrant street life areas and for the Newtown precinct this is certainly the case.
Acknowledging Newtown’s canine subculture, the sculptures have also provided a renowned local artist an additional medium for his art. Designed by award-winning Marrickville artist Richard Byrnes, he said dogs were an obvious and appropriate choice for the precinct. Byrnes said they reflected the range of residents in the area and its spirit of acceptance and tolerance.
“If I’m on King Street, a goth will walk past with a dog on a rope. They might be followed by an executive with a dog wearing a diamante encrusted collar,” he said. “The dogs reflect these various subcultures as well as somehow unifying them.”
Appropriately enough, the dog statues have the rather pedestrian titles of Standing Dog, Sitting Dog and Walking Dog. Byrnes said they are a classic dog form, with a certain grandness and nobility, of no particular breed. Their internal workings are represented in a mechanised form of cogs and wheels, a recurring feature in his work.
Each dog’s mechanics contains a quirky reference to its surroundings, Byrnes said, with the sculpture at Newtown Square containing a spoon in recognition of the many restaurants in the immediate vicinity. Bicycle parts in the sculpture at St Peter’s station are a reference to cycling at adjacent Sydney Park. “And the star in the sculpture on Enmore Road is an obtuse reference to nearby Enmore Theatre and the other local theatres”, he said.
Newtownresident and artist Adriana Bermudez said she loved the sculptures and they just seemed to appear one day. “To me, they tell everyone you’re in a doggie friendly zone and that here the dogs rule. They’re up high and they’re proud, just the way we like it,” she said.
Stephen Chao runs the Blue Fig Café onEnmore Roadand agrees dogs are king in their parade down to the King Street strip. “I used to own a café in Epping and to let dogs hang around there? No way. But here I had to give up or I would have no business.”
Chao’s partner in life and the café, Jenny, goes even further in meeting the needs of alfresco canine customers. “They are just so smart,” she said. “I bring them water and they like to have a massage. They smile and smile so much I have to give them a breakfast sausage.”
Newtown remains an eclectic mix of alternative cultures, ethnicity, sexuality and lifestyles. The precinct provides a haven for the great diversity of its inhabitants, a multi-faceted list to which can now safely be added its highly revered, masterfully clever and benevolently ruling dogs.
– Linda Daniele
*This article was first published in the South Sydney Herald, June 2008.