(Interviewer: H. Renwick, Photos: V. Kravchenko)
Surry Hills, one of Sydney’s inner-city suburbs, engenders many misconceptions, or conceptions. Phaedra Wilson, who moved to Bourke Street just over three years ago, is loving life here.
‘It’s a ten minute walk to the city and to uni. There are really good markets on the weekend. And there are some really cool places to go, like, you’ve got lots of bars and cafés. People are really culturally aware of the space they spend time in: you don’t just have a snack in a café, you spend time there and you want it to be interesting, inspiring, innovative. But some places like The Shakespeare or Shady Pines are shitty but good. A lot of the places here are a bit crap but that’s what Surry Hills is all about – understanding that a dive can be a good dive.’
Phaedra agreed to meet me on a Sunday afternoon to answer some questions about Surry Hills. At the door, she apologised for looking ‘awful’:
‘I had some people come over after Clambake last night and they just stayed til the morning, you know … my friend Ruby just left half an hour ago,’ she explained.
In a trend characteristic of big cities, a lot of young professionals have moved into Surry Hills, once a cheap down-and-out suburb. Phaedra says the change since she first moved here from her parents’ house in Bellevue Hill has been too noticeable.
‘It’s just full of suits, so yuppie. It was better when people didn’t want to live here, like, it used to be just misfits like my housemates and me. And there were people in housing commission and students and a bit of crime, and that was good. But I guess this always happens, creative people make a crap suburb good and then rich people buy them out. I think it would be really sad if Surry lost its edginess and the little places got shut down for, like, Baker’s Delight. But it’s happening.’
The rest of the interview was conducted on foot. Phaedra had to meet a friend at a popular Surry Hills destination ‘The Cricketer’s Arms’ and after she had a quick shower, I accompanied her there.
On the way, Phaedra told me that she hears many people talk about Surry Hills as the place of ‘hipsters’.
‘I think people here are a bit trendy and different. Some probably don’t fit into the norm. But I would say they are just more open-minded. I don’t like labels like ‘hipster’ or ‘indie’. Sure, I buy clothes from op shops but that doesn’t necessarily make me a hipster – I don’t believe in labels,’ she told me.
I asked her if she thought Surry Hills has a welcoming community.
‘Well, you have to be the right sort of person. Like, you can’t just run around in Supré or Billabong and listen to Katy Perry. People are intelligent here. And you probably have to know what a good coffee is and either start smoking or be really good at Yoga or both. You have to make an effort, socially. No one is going to come running into the palm of your hand. But once you’re in, it’s great. People here have so much fun together, we don’t really need anyone else.’