Taking stories as old as time to a contemporary setting in the heart of Sydney | Kanebridge News
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Taking stories as old as time to a contemporary setting in the heart of Sydney

It’s a part of Sydney traditionally associated with Australia’s colonial past, but a cultural shift signals a more layered approach to history through public art

By Robyn Willis
Mon, Jun 5, 2023 10:11amGrey Clock 3 min

If Sydney is Australia’s premier destination, then Circular Quay is the gateway to the Emerald City. Best known for its access to the harbour, with the Sydney Opera House on one peninsular and the sandstone terraces of The Rocks on the other, it’s a hotspot for tourists and history buffs alike.

Unless, of course, your notion of history extends beyond the past 250 years.

In recent years, there’s been a move to reflect a more layered notion of the past that better reflects First Nations’ stories – a history that stretches back thousands of years. As this part of the city undergoes yet another renewal process, developers have taken the opportunity to engage with Indigenous artists to integrate stories that are thousands of years old into some of the newest buildings.

The latest edition are art installations that form part of Sydney Place, a new casual dining precinct connecting Pitt and George Streets near Circular Quay.

Following on from his success at the Venice Biennale, Indigenous artist Daniel Boyd was invited to create an interactive art installation as an entry point to the dining space at Sydney Place. Working with architect David Adjaye, Boyd has designed a soaring steel canopy on the George Street frontage featuring a roof punctuated with round holes to reflect the constellations of the night sky.

The art installation by Daniel Boyd reflects the night sky

The full extent of Indigenous understanding of astronomy is only just beginning to be revealed but the artwork stands as a reminder that even in the centre of the CBD, there are larger forces at play.

“I was trying to create a building and space that wasn’t static and trying to use light to take the building into motion,” Boyd said. “It’s macro and micro at the same time, understanding that point in time and space.”  

Boyd said the notion of layering histories over such a built-up site was one to be welcomed.

“It’s about acknowledging the history of the site in a more inclusive and equitable way,” Boyd said. “These opportunities to open spaces give First Nations people the chance to feel comfortable. 

“They don’t have to grapple with the language of the built environment because it’s an open space that invites layers of association.”

Kamilaroi man Dennis Golding and fellow artist Louise Zhang also created work for Sydney Place in a collaboration using neon lights combined with traditional Chinese and Indigenous motifs.

Golding said both he and Zhang drew on their family experiences as migrants – Zhang’s from China and Golding’s from Gamilaroi and Biripi country – to create an artwork in the heart of Sydney.

This artwork in Sydney Place is a collaboration between Dennis Golding and Louise Zhang

“My family moved to Redfern for affordable housing, work opportunities and education and that’s where that community grew from the late 60s as families moved into the city,” Golding said. “We all worked on the rails. It’s that shared experience of being from somewhere else and coming to Sydney for work.”

The latest works in Sydney Place are part of the growing Indigenous art presence, which includes five integrated artworks Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi man Jonathan Jones created for the nearby Quay Quarter Lanes redevelopment, as well as the bara, or fish hook sculpture, by Judy Watson on the Tarpeian Precinct Lawn on the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Tarpeian Way, Royal Botanic Gardens features bara by Judy Watson. This public artwork is part of the Eora Journey. Photo: Chris Southwood/City of Sydney

Curated by Hetti Perkins, bara is part of City of Sydney’s Eora Journey, and is designed to offer greater recognition of Indigenous culture and heritage.

It follows an international review of cultural interpretation undertaken by Perkins and architect Julie Cracknell in 2010. Public art is one of four components of the Eora Journey, which also includes access to education and employment and training opportunities.


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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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