An ode to Sydney's public spaces

Last updated 08:25 26/04/2013
Chess_Landscape
Reuters

LARGER THAN LIFE: A man plays chess on a giant board at Hyde Park in central Sydney.

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Bartenders tossing bottles in the air, a man who talks to eels and the etiquette of park chess are all part of an Australian exhibition telling the story of some of Sydney's most beloved public spaces.

Inspired by a book about drawing the city, curator Nerida Campbell and her team at the Museum of Sydney fanned out across the streets, choosing five public spaces and talking to people about how they enjoy them.

"It opened my eyes to how much Sydneysiders valued their public space," she said of the "Public Sydney: Stop, Look, Live" exhibit.

"Talking to people about buildings and how they love the carvings and the sandstone. These are not architects, just people who walk past."

Ultimately the curators chose places representing five aspects of Sydney life: the Museum of Sydney as a cultural site, Hyde Park as a green site, Central Station as a transport hub, Town Hall as a political building and Bennelong Point, with its view of the Sydney Opera House and harbour foreshore, as an iconic tourist site.

Setting up the exhibit, which includes photographs, drawings, objects and video, brought a number of unexpected discoveries and surprises.

One of them was Max, a middle-aged man who talks with eels at a pond at Bennelong Point on Sydney Harbour, Campbell said.

"I assumed people go to the Botanic Gardens to relax and spend time with their families, but Max told me he goes there to interact with the eels. He has a thing about eels, he understands them," she said.

"He feeds the eels, they come up out of the water and you can pat the eels - apparently, I haven't tried. (But) when I mentioned this to people thinking it was quite unusual, they said, 'yes, I do that'."

The exhibit also looks at how the use of public places has changed, such as how bicycle couriers have taken to hanging out on the steps of the General Post Office at one main thoroughfare in central Sydney, the way the postmen - known affectionately as "posties" - did for so many years.

And in a nod to the modern world, the exhibit encourages viewers to "look around you twice" during the course of their day and contribute their discoveries to a blogging site.

Another discovery was the elaborate social rules that govern who can use the chess boards in Hyde Park, or the "flair bartenders" - those who make a performance out of mixing drinks - who practice on the grass at the same park.

"They love it there because there's no ceiling to smash bottles and the grass is soft," Campbell said.

"Public Sydney: Stop, Look, Live!" runs until September 8.

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- Reuters

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