Drawing Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Nearly every day for the last thirty years I have jumped on the number 11 tram to travel down Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. I have wandered along the shops, eaten kebabs, and enjoyed cappucinos and eggs benedict in the cafes. But it took a trip overseas for me to come home and truly “see” Brunswick Street. Now I notice the shapes of the rooftops, the ghost signs, the towers and the cast iron lace. I can’t believe all this beauty has been here in front of me for so long and that I have simply taken it for granted.
No longer. I have challenged myself to a very long term project of drawing the buildings along Brunswick Street. As a librarian I also want to research the history of the area so that I can learn more about the people who lived here in times past. I want to learn more about this local community of mine, and discover how I fit in. It’s going to take a very long time – years in fact – so that in itself will be a lesson in patience and mindfulness for me. If you would like to follow along with me you can keep an eye on this blog, or follow me on Instagram.
Acknowledgement of country
Before going any further, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land around Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, the Wurundjeri people, and to pay my respects to their ancestors and elders both past and present.
My drawings highlight a fairly recent urban history, only since the 1850s, and I’ll be getting my stories from passers by, vintage photos and old newspapers. The indigenous history of the area is much better described by people other than myself, and you can read more about it here – https://aboriginalhistoryofyarra.com.au/ and https://www.wurundjeri.com.au/
Videos about my Brunswick Street sketches
Blog posts – sketching in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Fitzroy has been a place of constant change. The pink building crowned by birds in my drawing is almost unrecognisable unless you spot it next to Davies Drapers shop in 1861. I could see cracks which suggested a shapely curve over the windows when I was sketching, but couldn’t imagine what was missing. Sadly the beautiful draper’s shop on the corner has been torn down. What a loss.
Cohealth and the Brotherhood of St Laurence snuggle up opposite the housing commission flats. I love the green building next to cohealth and the bright red flowers flowing from the window box nearby. These must have been built after 1910, because the previous buildings exploded!
My friend Alf laughs at how long it took me to draw every building on the west side of Brunswick Street from Victoria Parade to Gertrude Street. He says it was a year, but he exaggerates – it was just six months. It was a special occasion as I picked up my sketching things and we finally crossed at the lights. Back in 1866 they didn’t seem to need traffic lights. Or did they?
I have been drawing Brunswick Street for nearly 2 years, and I move along very slowly. You can see how the seasons change from one picture to the next. There are lots of clues about when I was there. Look closely. Were the bins out? Was a house for sale? Were there leaves on the trees? One day I spotted bright pink magnolias blooming and rushed back to paint them. The next week they were gone …
I began drawing Brunswick Street at the corner of Victoria Parade in January 2019, starting with the three storey building once known as the Belvidere Hotel. It doesn’t seem to have changed much since 1864,, at least on the outside, although I do wonder what those men with top hats were up to! Old news articles suggest scandalous behaviour and it is where union members started their fight for the 8 hour working day.
Fitzroy Library Exhibition November 2020 to January 2021: Brunswick Street Fitzroy sketches and urban history
Brunswick Street Fitzroy: sketches and urban history is an exhibition of sketches, illustrations, vintage photographs and clippings from old newspapers that share my long term passion for the architecture, history and community of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. All of my artwork was drawn on location over the last couple of years, with watercolour added to the longer streetscapes in my studio.
Instagram – #helendrawsbrunswickstreet
Australian artist, urban sketcher, librarian with a long term project to draw all of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Prints available through my website.