Artist
Artists: Merilyn Fairskye, Michiel Dolk
Date Installed
Installed 1982
Location
Cathedral Street, Woolloomooloo (between Bourke Street and Forbes Street)
Project
Project: Woolloomooloo Murals
Tag
Tag: Wall work

Artwork Description

We tried to remain true to the history and consulted a lot with residents. Once the community felt we had the right narrative they left us to work out the compositions.

– Michiel Dolk and Merilyn Fairskye

The Waterfront is one of eight murals painted on the sides of the railway pylons at Woolloomooloo, celebrating the history and people of this suburb.

It shows the harsh reality of life on the wharf in the 1900s, and the struggles of the people who earned their living there. Under the ‘Bull’ system, only the strongest, fittest and most obedient men were chosen to work each day.

It took decades of strikes, but by 1972 waterside workers finally had a 35-hour week, fair pay, paid holidays and safer, more sanitary working conditions. But just 10 years later Sydney’s port activity was transferred to Port Botany, and Woolloomooloo’s docks fell quiet.

Michiel Dolk and Merilyn Fairskye created this mural to ensure the story of the dock workers is never forgotten.

Painted using details drawn from historical records, newspapers, archives, photographs and the personal memories of the local community, The Waterfront captures the story and atmosphere of this important piece of Sydney’s history.

ARTISTS

The Woolloomooloo murals were designed and painted by local artists Michiel Dolk and Merilyn Fairskye. Wanting to preserve and celebrate the suburb’s unique history, the artists approached the Woolloomooloo Resident Action Group with the idea in 1979.

Before putting paint to panel, Fairskye and Dolk spent a full year piecing together the real story of Woolloomooloo from archives, and the memories and photos of the families who lived it.

Hundreds of donors and community groups raised funds for the materials, but the artists worked for free. The murals took three years to create.

Woolloomooloo Murals

Woolloomooloo was traditionally a suburb for waterside workers and their families. In the 1970s, the area was under threat from developers, who wanted to construct high-rise developments.

Residents refused to leave and, with the support of their unions, managed to save many homes.

The Woolloomooloo Mural Project was conceived by activist artists Merilyn Fairskye and Michiel Dolk in 1982 to celebrate the suburb’s people and history.

There were a total of 16 murals commissioned by the Woolloomooloo Residents Action Group. The murals were originally intended to last 10 years and have now been on display for over 25 years.

With extensive consultations, eight of the sixteen murals were identified as being of high historical significance and aim to become an active link to people’s memories of the area.

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