Photojournalist and communications professional Jo Wallace admits that she’s just a little bit nosey. She loves a good yarn and is inquisitive about people, and Sydney’s iconic inner-city suburb of Newtown provides no shortage of fodder for a curious storyteller such as herself.
Having lived in the heart of Newtown for the best part of two decades, Jo has, over the years, observed the many quirks and charms that make it such a vibrant and distinct pocket of urban Aussie life.
Eager to somehow document how her fellow locals like to live, work and play, Jo wondered how she might photograph and write about these people; how she might encapsulate what makes them tick and why they feel so connected to their community.
Her idea bubbled away beneath the surface until one day in early 2014 when she came across the myriad Humans of webpages while surfing the net. Currently, there are well over 280 Humans of sites, including the original blog Humans of New York. The blogs, each with their own unique style and voice, tell the tales of local community members around the world through words and pictures. And so Humans of Newtown was born.
After establishing the blog, Jo found the project quickly took shape – countless people started opening their hearts and baring their souls (and, in some cases, various body parts!). Ironically, by engaging through social media, community members found they were more likely to talk face to face with complete strangers. After years of people seeing each other around the neighbourhood but never saying hello, barriers were dropped and friendships were formed as faces were put to names, and names put to faces.
In addition to this wonderfully surprising outcome, Jo was very quickly able to get a sense of Newtown’s heart and soul; to form a snapshot of what makes it such a unique and accepting place. When asked what they thought about Newtown, most respondents said that Newtown is great because it’s unique; it’s different. But at the core of people’s messages was also a sense of general acceptance, and a genuine love and compassion for one another. In Newtown, if you wore your pyjamas down the street, no one would bat an eyelid – you can be yourself and you will always feel accepted.
The more people opened up, the more others became inspired: some admitted to Jo they were moved to tears, others felt motivated to be a better person, while many were simply content at being reminded that life was pretty good, that we all have hardships to overcome sometimes. Newtown’s heart and soul is made up of the collective beating heart of all of these beautiful, brave humans who, one by one, revealed a little of themselves for this project. And for that, Jo is sincerely thankful.