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So things got a little quiet here for a while, sorry chaps. I was off playing tour guide/tourist for a special envoy from New York. Looking forward to sharing some of our adventures with you now that normal blogging service has resumed, and this seems as good a start as any.

First port of call was the money-shot of Sydney Harbour, from the Glenmore‘s rooftop – after all, nothing completes a view like a beer and a $10 steak. Somehow, I managed to get us lost. But for me getting lost tends to precede some of my best discoveries, and so it was on this day. Getting our bearings beside the growl of the Cahill Expressway, we were suddenly looking down onto a much calmer scene. A giant hot air balloon, adrift in the King George V recreation centre.

How did I not know about this? I asked myself as we peered down upon the mural’s whimsical details; an elephant, a camel, a kite aflutter, some bikes. It’s been there since 1983, the work of artist Peter Day. In a cute (and timely) twist, Day returned 27 years later to paint another mural there. “The Great Southern Wall” depicts the early history of The Rocks, and was only unveiled in December. With this latest contribution, and an army of volunteer helpers, the KGV now boasts that it’s the world’s largest community mural.

Personally though, that dreamy hot air balloon hovering behind the basketball hoops remains my favourite part. When she opened the completed mural late last year, Sydney mayor Clover Moore paid tribute to all the little hands that help finish a work like this. “The first stage in the mid-1980s took a staff of 10 artists and about 500 volunteers – most of them children – nine months to complete.”

It’s ironic that murals can be so easy to ignore. The 80s were the heyday of this most democratic and public of artforms, when artists and communities came together to splash social comment on bare walls in bold colours. Today the paint has faded, and the messages behind them seem quaint and idealistic. We prefer our street art unofficial and unsanctioned, stencilled secretively and cynically. It’s only in places where the authorities work to restore and conserve murals that they stay bright and topical. Like in San Francisco, where Diego Rivera kicked off the whole mural craze in the first place, and whole streets of the Mission still bloom in full colour.

Elsewhere, old brushstrokes fade as small voices debate how best to preserve them. Most grey-beige days we’ll walk past them blindly. But every now and then someone will get lost, and see the same old streets in new light, and feel the promise all those paint-stained kids must have felt back before I was even born.

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