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Social historian and muralist David Houston has been a part of the city’s graffiti scene for 36 years. He recently authored a book titled ‘WILDFIRE’ that traces the movement’s golden era in Adelaide from 1983 to 1993, with arresting photographs and stories from its key players.
David brings the clandestine and colourful world of graffiti, inhabited by outcasts with friendships forged on walls, to the surface.
“You can do it in the dark of night, you don’t have to apply for permission, and all you need is a bit of get-up-and-go – and some paint – and the sky is the limit,” David Houston tells CityMag.
David first picked up a spray can when he was a 13-year-old Glenunga High kid in 1985. He hasn’t put it down since.
This first encounter with graffiti was roughly one year after Adelaide’s scene truly kicked off.
David says the movement began in the postcode 5000 with a rag-tag group of school friends who spent every waking minute poring over record covers and break-dance films, while scouring book stores for the highly sought-after New York publication Subway Art, for any scrap of information on the subculture.
Decades later, in 2021, David (right) published the 246-page book titled WILDFIRE: Australian Graffiti LIVE FROM ADELAIDE, which tracks the “golden era” of graffiti in Adelaide from its 1983 origins until 1993, when the lauded Red Hen trains were taken out of service and the scene solidified itself artistically.
“A lot of the guys that were doing this naive artwork in the ’80s honed their skills a lot more and hit their straps by the ’90s,” David says.
“So you really start seeing really sort of creative artwork, that even Joe Blow on the street would appreciate.”
David spent 12 years compiling notes on this era, reaching out to fellow “graffiti writers” in London, Denmark and even Darwin for their accounts and photographs. Rather than just posting the history online, like some of David’s contemporaries had, he decided to turn it into a book.
“I thought that time deserved more than that,” David says.
“I loved it more than that. I treasure it more than that. And I refuse to cheapen what we did and how we did it by just wasting the images online.”
The result is an intimate account of the (mostly) underground world of graffiti, and the author’s role in it.