Local Brew - new publication by You Are Here Launched Wednesday April 28th at Serial Space Chippendale
Under the influence
Chippendale is a small suburb nestled between Broadway, Cleveland St, Central Railway Station and the University of Sydney. The land had rich soil, fresh water and has a long history of Indigenous ownership but got its current name after William Chippendale was granted a 95-acre estate over the area in 1819. Chippendale sold his namesake for a couple of hundred pounds and the fledgling settlement passed through a few hands as it grew into an urban slum known for its narrow streets and substandard housing. In 1835 the fortunes of the area shifted when Kent Brewery was established between George and Regent St with a pub springing up on each corner. As the amber ale began to flow so did life in Chippendale, with many poor people coming to the area to live and work. A sobering thought is that today the tiny suburb reportedly has the smallest amount of open space of any in Sydney.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its small size Chippendale’s cramped streets have enabled an intoxicating combination of cheap inner city living, beer and creativity to develop - fermenting within its tiny borders much of Sydney’s underground performance, art and entertainment venues, spaces and places. From Boomalli in the 80s, Jellyheads in the 90s, Lan Franchis Memorial Discotheque in the 2000s to Serial Space today Chippendale has seen many “on the hop” artist run spaces which have emerged briefly to challenge, delight and intrigue Sydneysiders before staggering off into the night.
The heart of Chippendale was the Kent Brewery. Long before the liquid lunch of the ‘80s the brewery had established “beer o’clock” for its workers giving them time-out for a schooner to refresh their working spirit - plant operators were even allowed to tap a leaking cask (the honey pot) to drink at their leisure. When the stout men of brewery management tried to ban the honey-pot the Industrial Relations Commission initially upheld it as a worker’s right: “fare shake of the barely mate”.
Eventually however stout men got the upper hand and the honey-pot was outlawed. Kent Brewery was also eventually sold - its operations bottled off to more efficient Queensland and WA breweries. The massive complex lay wasted for years with a stoush raging over its future. In 2007 the liquid gold of Old Kent was replaced by a more solid variety: Frasers a major construction company bought the site for redevelopment. The state government and council must have been wearing beer goggles during the negotiations - Frasers were granted permission to build 11 towers the size of the adjacent UTS building housing as many new residents as currently already live in the area. The staggering size of the proposed development left Chippendale seeing double.
To allay concerns over the frothy pace of change Frasers set aside one part of the development for artist studios and a steady stream of Sydney’s artists started to flow through the doors: after all, everyone thought, it was their shout. But as artists jostled to get free drinks at the bar there were mutterings that the beer tasted like piss and no one felt like it was their turn to get the next round.
As the night wore on news spread that while the rest of us had been fighting over the dregs the banks and developers had been drinking on the house: they were totally plastered with Frasers particularly unsteady on its feet. The Brewery was already knocked down, a massive hole gaped from the middle of Chippendale and everybody could “feel a cold one coming on”.
The artist runs spaces which had enlivened Chippendale for so many years were severely under the hammer, many had passed out and the few that remained survived on Dutch courage alone: the hole in the wall venue was losing out to the hole in the ground developer.
We were being drunk under the table! A challenge was thrown-down to defend the traditions of this tiny suburb - a toast was proposed to those who made Chippendale what it is today: the workers, the artists, the poor, the revelers. Chippendale may have been cramped, industrial and lacking in green spaces, but it was home and nothing tasted as satisfying as a good local brew.
This publication is a joint effort with Keg de Souza and is published by You Are Here. Keg and I have both had residencies at Fraser Studios and part of our contribution to this book comes from our research during our time there. We hope this small book will be a toast to the suburb of Chippendale containing stories from some of the bar-flys who made it what it is today and some of the (brew)haha of its local history. Cheers!
Enjoy development responsibly.
To order a copy of Local Brew email email@example.com
Short video from a You Are Here residency with Performance Space at Redfern Community Centre, 2008/2009, where we conducted animation workshops with people who access the community centre. Workshop participants: Ted, Wasana, Naryma and Marcelo.