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

Woolloomooloo NSW 2011, Australia

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

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

This mural celebrates the wharves that were central to the life of this waterfront community, and the diversity of the people who lived and worked there – sailors, naval personnel, fishermen, factory workers and waterfront labourers of many nationalities.

By the early 20th century there was a growing fishing community in Woolloomooloo. Waterfront boarding houses were filled with single men from Italy and Malta, who manned the fishing fleet or worked on the wharves as stevedores, painters and dockers.

The suburb was originally home to Sydney’s fish markets, and even after the markets were moved in 1910, Woolloomooloo remained at the heart of the local fish trade. With the fishing fleet moored at Brown’s Wharf, to the west of the iconic finger wharf, fishermen were always a part of Woolloomooloo’s street life.

As the embarkation point for troops leaving for war, arrival point for migrants and returned servicemen, and from 1956 as the city’s passenger terminal, Woolloomooloo’s wharves have played an important part in Sydney’s history.

The top half of Passing Through Customs is devoted to the people who passed through these docks over the decades.

Passing Through Customs was painted using details drawn from historical records, newspapers, archives, photographs and the personal memories of the local community.


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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