Newtown has so much history attached to it, so I’ll firstly fill you in on a brief history of the area before I let you know why I frequent the place – The Newtown precinct was originally known as “The Brickfields” due to the high levels of clay in the area which established brick making as a popular form of generating income at the turn of the century. In 1896 it’s location, close to the city centre and the railway line, attracted a lot of businesses to the area and the name given at the time was Burghersdorp, wherein about 7000 people of all races lived. In 1904 when the bubonic plague broke out the local fire brigade was ordered to torch the Location, as it was now referred to, and it burnt for three days. When they rebuilt the area it was then named ‘Newtown’.
I started frequenting Newtown regularly when the first outdoor flea market started on Mary Fitzgerald Square in the 1980’s, along with visits to ‘Kippies’ for some jazz and the ‘Yard of Ale’ just to catch up with friends. There was of course also the Market Theatre that opened in what was previously the fresh produce market, in 1976 and operated as an independent non-racial theatre.
With the new Newtown Junction sitting alongside the Market theatre it helps make attending shows in the evening so much easier for parking and security. There is also a very good tour of the Market theatre which takes you backstage and also points out some of the old signage and pay stations from when it was the produce market. For more information check out their webpage <markettheatre.co.za>.
Newtown to me has always been the ‘Gallery of Graffiti‘, and this is where my love of this art form started. Under the freeway the support pillars of the motorway get painted once a year for the ‘Back to the City’ festival. I love graffiti/street art so I do make frequent trips to see what I can discover as it spills out over the area. Newtown also has some of my favourite pieces of public sculptures – Brenda Fassie outside the Bassline and Kippie Moeketsi outside what was Kippies Jazz Club. Then there are the Newtown Heads by a group of local carvers and recently restored by Americo Guambe who originally lead the team who first carved the heads in 2001.
Other activities that get me coming back are the exhibitions put on at the Market Photo Workshop (www.marketphotoworkshop.co.za) which is also a school of photography, a gallery and a project space opened in 1989 by renowned photographer David Goldblatt.
Sci-Bono Discovery Centre (www.sci-bono.co.za)runs amazing exhibitions such as ‘Body Worlds’ and more recently and still running “Wonders of Rock Art – Lascaux cave and Africa”. Turbine Hall holds the Joburg Art Fair once a year, showcasing up and coming local talent amongst some well known artists.
Other places of interest are – Museum Africa with the Bensusan Museum of Photography along with other displays and occasional exhibitions. SAB World of Beer (www.worldofbeer.co.za) shows you the history of beer and the making of it. Lastly, the Workers Museum which is one of the last surviving examples of a municipal compound built in 1913.
So next time you are on the Red Bus which has a stop outside Sci-Bono, get off and explore the area but I do need to say that you should be vigilant and best be in a group when walking from one area to the next.
A worthwhile site to visit on the internet with loads of information on the area is http://www.newtown.co.za