Traditional industries like mining and manufacturing have defined the Illawarra for decades, but a fast-growing collection of artists, designers and musicians are giving the region a new name.
Nowhere are these creative types more concentrated than in the northern suburbs, in the narrow wedge of coastline between Bulli and Stanwell Park sometimes known as the Coal Coast.
While their work couldn’t be more different to the heavy industries now facing rapid decline, many of these artisans have claimed the area’s history as their own, stamping references to coal on cold drip coffee labels, album covers or gallery openings like a badge of honour.
Black Gold – a collective and something of a microcosm of what the creative Coal Coast community does best – is no different.
While technically just the space above Thirroul’s Finbox cafe and surf store, Black Gold has become many things in its 18-month existence: a website, gallery space, co-working hub, record store and music venue.
The idea for the collective was instigated by travel photographer and website administrator Aaron Hughes.
“Originally a couple of us wanted to not work at home, and [Finbox owner] Chris Kelly was keen to open a cafe,” Mr Hughes said.
“There was this space above the cafe, and it just developed from there.”
Among the dozen or so people who work out of the building are graphic designers, photographers, a textile artist, a record label owner and a lead singer/draftsman.
The various tenants share the rent, giving them a dedicated office close to home that they couldn’t otherwise afford and an inspiring place to work with like-minded people.
“Working at home, there are a lot of distractions and it’s hard to get motivated,” Mr Hughes said.
“We didn’t necessarily know each other before we came here, but we’ve found we’ve been able to share a lot of our expertise and ideas, even across very different fields of work.
“We’re all from the surrounding suburbs and are really keen to build on the creative community here.”
Music also plays a big part in the space, with Shining Bird frontman Dane Taylor using it to work as a draftsman, and Spunk Records’ Aaron Curnow basing his music label office there.
As well as selling records, Mr Curnow has been hosting intimate gigs for the artists he represents.
On Thursday (October 22), The Ocean Party, Gold Class and Stolen Violin will play at Finbox as part of a 21-date Australian tour.