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
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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

Women of Woolloomooloo is one of eight murals painted on the railway pylons at Woolloomooloo, showing the history and people of this suburb.

This mural is devoted to the women who lived and worked in Woolloomooloo throughout its history. It commemorates the everyday lives of the working-class – school girls, seamstresses, domestics, textile and laundry workers – as well as the strong, courageous women who led the fight to save the suburb during the 1970s.

Brenda Humble and Honora Wilkinson, founding members of Residents of Woolloomooloo, and Nellie Leonard, founding member of Woolloomooloo Resident Action Group, are given pride of place in this artwork.

The artwork also depicts the local villains, like notorious gangster Tilly Devine. Tilly terrorised the neighbourhood in the 1920s and 1930s with a vicious razor gang, and ran the biggest and most lucrative brothel network Sydney has ever seen.

In the centre of the artwork, is the face of an Aboriginal woman – a stark reminder that the original inhabitants of the valley were driven from their homes by the European settlers. By the time this artwork was painted, only a small Aboriginal community survived in Woolloomooloo, and their way of life had been changed forever.

Painted using details drawn from historical records, newspapers, archives, photographs and the personal memories of the local community, Women of Woolloomooloo celebrates the diverse roles played by women in the suburb’s unique 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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