Wollongong is just around an hour south of Western Sydney and is a buzzing coastal city known for its beautiful beaches and stunning sandstone escarpment. On the traditional land of the Dharawal people, the name is believed to have originated from the Dharawal word, Woolungah, meaning ‘five islands’. With a population of over 300 000, it is the third largest city in New South Wales, and with any major city, it’s a treasure trove of gems to find. In fact, across the Wollongong LGA, there are over 170 permanent pieces of public art.
Like much of the Wollongong area, the central district around the ever-popular Crown Street, has been revitalised as an art and culture precinct. A wander through the city centre makes for a fascinating day exploring and appreciating the power that public art has in reinvigorating a place.
An easy drive or a train trip from Western Sydney, start your day with a stroll from Wollongong Station into the CBD.
Your day of colour begins at the bright and colourful Goodies Coffee at the top of Crown Street for a cuppa and chat. They serve award-winning White Horse Coffee and also have some very funky and arty merch. You also must go to Millers’ Local Bakehouse right nearby and pick up a freshly baked pastry and loaf – Friday and Saturday mornings only, and until sold out. Look for the line and get in early.
After you’ve loaded up on caffeine and pastries, head down Crown Street where you’ll pass many Art Deco style buildings which have been refurbished.
You’ll then come to Keira Street which is a vibrant retail precinct and the location of some very iconic public art pieces. Take your time wandering up and down Keira Street – you’ll spot The Illawarra Hotel, a wonderfully refurbished pub with a stunning Art Deco façade.
Next, wander into Crown Street Mall, you’ll see the striking work ‘Illawarra Placed Landscape’ by Mike Hewson. In case you miss it, this artwork is a 17-metre-high uprooted palm tree strapped to street light pole. The work is inspired by Wollongong’s native palm trees and is surrounded by some oddly placed rocks representing the Illawarra escarpment. Take a step back, and you’ll realise the installation is also a children’s playground.
Take your time as you explore the shops, boutiques, bars, cafes, and restaurants along this popular pedestrian mall in the heart of Wollongong. In recent years, it’s also been revitalised to include al fresco dining areas and live music spaces.
Make sure to head through the colourful and quirky Globe Lane, just off Crown Street. Here, you’ll be blown away by the huge works that line the walls, many created during the Australian street art festival Wonderwalls. One of these is Nowra artist SMUG One’s work depicting a striking mural depicting a man playing the harmonica.
Parallel to the mall, you’ll find McCabe Park which is filled with colourful public art and great architecture. One of these is Ken Unsworth’s ‘Nike’, a stunning 25-tonne steel sculpture in McCabe Park. It highlights the local steel industry which continues to play a major role in Wollongong’s economy.
From here, you can also see the huge and very impressive mural on the David Jones building on Burelli Street. This colourful work depicts an aged man and was also painted by SMUG One.
Spend time meandering through this area and you’ll spot plenty more colour and places for recreation including the basketball courts outside the colourfully decorated Youth Services centre.
Head back towards the eastern end of Crown Street and you will notice more and more colourful murals and moments of public art. Here you’ll find Wollongong’s art precinct which is in the area in and around the Wollongong Art Gallery. There are not many places that you can stand without an incredible artwork clearly in sight. Explore the little lanes and build walls around the precinct which each tell a story of creativity.
One notable work is the mosaic fountain ‘Gurangaty Water Place’ on the corner of Crown Street and Kembla Street. Installed in 1997, it is one of the oldest public artworks in Wollongong and was created by indigenous artists Nick Brash and Aunty Lorraine Brown. It sits above the Gurangaty creek which was a key water source used by the Dharawal people and early European settlers in Wollongong.
The Wollongong Art Gallery itself is a very impressive and colourful art deco style building. You’ll find it on the corner of Kembla and Burelli Street. The gallery is one of the largest regional galleries in the state, and hosts important indigenous, contemporary, and Asian collections. There are also many exhibitions that run throughout the year, so whenever you visit, you’re bound to see something special and new.
After you’ve explored the gallery, you might be looking for some equally as arty places to eat and drink. Just behind the Art Precinct, there’s an array of unique, trendy, and still very arty bars.
There’s Night Parrot, a small bar slinging great cocktails, great wine and delicious Asian inspired street food. They’ve certainly made a name for themselves as a cosy, lively, and aesthetic place to visit for a date night, friends catch up, or celebration.
For another different bar, head around the corner to Howlin’ Wolf Whiskey Bar for an array of spirits, whiskey included. Named after an American blues singer and guitarist, Howlin’ Wolf is a vibey dimly lit bar with over 350 whiskeys to try.
And for some loud music, crowds, and fun, head over to La La La’s. This is one of Wollongong’s liveliest venues, popular with a young crowd on the weekends, you’ll love La La La’s for some post-dinner fun and beats.
Moominn Bar is a Czech bar, known for their Czech dumplings and pancakes as well as their Czech beers on tap. Mae Mabel is another understated cocktail bar with a very sophisticated vibe and menu. Visit on a weekend, and you’ll enjoy vinyl DJs and live music. And if you feel like some smoked meats, visit 2 Smokin Barrels for the classic combo of Beer and American style barbeque.
There’s plenty to see and explore in Wollongong, and a walk down the main roads shows you how much is happening and ever-changing. The reimaging and revamping of Crown Street is what we love about Wollongong and right across Western Sydney.
It’s a great day out and full of surprises, the unexpected and a casual cool and calm that the Gong does so very well.