For three weeks in late May/early June each year Sydney comes even more alive than it normally is with a spectacular light, music and ideas(?) art show – Vivid Sydney.
I last visited in 2015 when Sydney’s most recognisable buildings and other structures became a canvas for the most amazing of light projections. Canvases included the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the Museum of Contemporary Art at The Rocks (picture 4) , Customs House (Circular Quay – picture 3), commercial buildings in Martin Place (the Commercial Travellers’ Association hotel - picture 1), Star City Casino and a number of other buildings around Darling Harbour and many, many more – around 50, I read. The events organisers claim that Sydney becomes the world's largest outdoor 'art-gallery' for three weeks each year.
I found many of the ever changing (though, of course, they are loops of varying lengths) projections mesmerizing – especially that on the Opera House which I could have sat and watched for an hour or more, alone. I probably spent half that time but had to move on as everything was worth a look. See the first picture on my Sydney Opera House review for just one of the images projected onto the Opera House.
While the major buildings and structures lit up were, for me, the major drawcards of the show, the city was full of smaller, and no less interesting, light art displays with many of these being interactive. For example, the face on the head shaped display, at Martin Place, depicted in image 5 is that of a visitor (not me!). The large inflatable bunny and koala, in picture 2 attached, were massively popular with kids of all ages, including me. In Darling Harbour, regular water shows (obviously lit up) were also part of the overall show in that area and certainly the one I saw was well worth the ten minutes or so it took.
Music of all sorts, including local and international acts outside the Opera House, complement the light shows as do numerous food stalls especially set up for the occasion.
In addition to being a festival of lights and music, organisers slated it as a festival of ideas. Hmmmm … if that aspect floats your boat go for it! I, like most visitors, was happy to remain superficial and just enjoy the great light shows and decent music.
While crowds were large, especially around Circular Quay, they were not oppressive though I did go on a Sunday and not on a Friday of Saturday night. I suspect had I visited on a Friday or Saturday night things may have been rather different.
If you are in the city while Vivid is on, I thoroughly recommend you spend a full evening walking around the city enjoying the light displays, music and food on offer. Surely the epitome of optical stimulation.
While the focus of the show, and as I have indicated the crowds, is around Circular Quay and the Opera House other parts of the city are also lit up – especially worth visiting are Martin Place and Darling Harbour. While I didn’t visit them, various locations outside the central area including the University of Sydney, Chippendale and Chatswood were also part of the show in 2015.
Unless you set aside a few nights you will not be able to see everything so it’s a matter of picking and choosing what appeals to you or just wandering around the city till the lights go out at around midnight. The latter was my approach.
Should you visit Canberra I can also highly recommend a similar event there – See my Canberra becomes Enlightened review on my Canberra page here on VT.
Vivid Sydney 2016 will run from Friday 27 May 2016 to Monday 13 June 2016.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
In 1820 the Old Sydney Burial Ground was closed and in 1867 Devonshire Street Cemetery was also closed, though some burials did occur there after that date. Both cemeteries were deemed full.
By the mid 19th century Sydney had run out of space for both the living and the dead. Something had to give. The living won out and by 1901 the dearly departed in both city cemeteries mentioned above had been exhumed and found new homes in more distant cemeteries making way, respectively, for the current Sydney Town Hall and Central (Railway) Station.
Rookwood Necropolis opened in 1868 to house the increasing number of dead emanating from the city of Sydney. It has since grown to be the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere. This is in no small measure due to the fact that it had its own railway station (in fact three) used to receive funeral trains from Sydney. In fact Rookwood would not have been a viable cemetery, located where it was some 15 kms distance from the city, were it not for the funeral trains. These funeral trains left the city from a specially dedicated station which was incorporated into Central Station.
I refer to Mortuary Station later renamed Regent Street Station but today again called Mortuary Station.
This small though very ornate 13th century Gothic style station, mainly in sandstone, was designed by James Barnet, New South Wales Colonial Architect, and not Florence Mary Taylor, as a large billboard on the platform would have one believe. Ms. Taylor, Australia’s first female engineer and architect was born, in England, ten years after the station’s completion in 1869.
While Mortuary Station and Cemetery Station No. 1, also called No.1 Rookwood Receiving Station, at Rookwood, also designed by Barnet, both had a very ecclesiastical look with sandstone carvings of angels, cherubs, acanthus leaves, gargoyles and stars neither station was ever used as a place of worship, in-situ. Interestingly, however, is the fact that the Cemetery Station No. 1 was subsequently dismantled stone-by-stone and re-erected in Canberra becoming All Saints Anglican Church in the suburb of Ainslie. A must visit if you are in Canberra.
As you might imagine special funeral trains with purpose built wagon to hold coffins were used to carry Sydney’s dead to their final resting place. While coffins travelled for free mourners had to buy a ticket which in 1927 cost a rather hefty four shillings for a wooden seat in a classless and oft overcrowded carriage. Paupers were also allowed to travel for free. The hearse carriages came in two sizes, those carrying 10 and 30 coffins. It is hard to believe that so many funerals would occur in one day but they did.
When the trains arrived at Rookwood coffins would be carried from the train using ‘wheeled hand-propelled litters’ – stretchers on wheels. These were often used to carry drunken mourners back to the train for the return trip later in the afternoon!
By the 1930s Sydney’s roads had developed and funeral trains gave way to motorised hearses such that less and less use was being made of Mortuary Station. The station was closed for funeral trains in 1938 though a very limited cemetery service continued, from Central Station, until 1948 when the cemetery line to Rookwood closed. Post 1938 Mortuary Station, renamed Regent Street station, was used for dog and horse trains, which took dogs and horses to races in Wollongong and Gosford. It was subsequently used a parcel office before finally closing in the early 1980s.
After a major refurbishment, in 1986 four train cars were stationed beside the platform and the now heritage listed station became a pancake parlour – the Magic Mortuary, if you will! This abomination thankfully only lasted three years (into a fifteen year lease) and the station was again closed.
Since then, apart from hosting the odd special/private function the station has rarely opened for public access.
I have been wanting to get in for a look for a number of years now and finally got my chance on 1 November 2015 when it opened for a day as part of the annual Sydney Open (day), run by Sydney Living Museums. It was actually the most visited of the 50 buildings open on that day with near 4,000 visitors passing through in the six hours it was open.
While you can view the exterior of the station from Regent Street, if you can avail of an opportunity to get inside I thoroughly recommend that you do.
Having read so much about the station it was rather a surreal experience to actually walk along the platform and see the ticket office and waiting rooms. The sight of a ticket office and waiting room did bring a wry smile to my face as I pondered the dearly departed lining up to buy a ticket and then having to wait for his or her last ever late running train. It would appear that neither heaven nor hell could entice Sydney’s trains to run on time.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Devonshire Street Tunnel
Daily tens of thousands of people make their way though all or part of the 400 metres long Devonshire Street Tunnel with its yellow, green, and red tiled walls, low ceilings and oft times flickering fluorescent lights.
The tunnel, in addition to providing access to Central Station’s train platforms, provides a shortcut under the railway tracks between Railway Square / George Street at one end and Elizabeth/ Chalmer Streets at the other.
While it is aging, under-lit and dank the tunnel has a certain charm and atmosphere making it worth a visit, particularly for those seeking to be underwhelmed.
In an attempt to spruce it up RailCorp has added train and station murals along its walls. Frankly, they are ghastly and have no artistic value whatsoever (in my humble opinion – I hasten to add) which makes them worth a look if you are in the area. I suspect even graffiti vandals give them wide berth - perhaps that's why they are where they are.
It looks like RailCorp has taken poor quality 4 inch x 3 inch photographs and blown them up with a colour photocopier such that they have become 6 feet by 20 feet out of focus blots on the tunnel walls. My pictures make them look better than they are.
Also as you make your way along the tunnel, and I am not sure which has the biggest cringe factor, you will also find some, nay most, of Sydney’s worst buskers, though there are a few decent ones.
Most of the tens of thousands, of mostly commuters, who pass through here daily are totally oblivious to the din and ‘art’ as their focus in on catching their train or bus while listening to whatever it is they have streaming into their ears from their phones and ipods. Actually, watching the zombie like crowd is an added attraction of a visit here.
If I am in the area and it is not too much of a detour for me to enter the station or pass through I am drawn to using the tunnel. Ghastly as it is there is something captivating and intoxicating about it.
Love it or hate it, it has certainly become something of a Sydney institution.
I accept not for everyone, perhaps.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Sydney Open (day)
Like any other city or place in the world the average tourist can only access a fraction of the buildings and other places of potential interest in Sydney. Hidden within commercial business or otherwise lying derelict and forgotten is a wealth of things of interest, at least to the more discerning or time rich visitor.
Like in many places around the world the powers that be in Sydney have realised this and now organise occasional open days when the owners of these normally closed or hard to access properties are persuaded to open up and grant access to the public, for a day.
The Sydney Open (day) as it is called, an annual event, is very ably managed by Sydney Living Museums, a state government entity which manages a number of museums and heritage properties in the city.
I attended the November 2015 Sydney Open. In all there were around 50 properties open on the day - you could not possibly visit each one. These fell into a number of categories – ones that are very rarely accessible to the public (e.g Mortuary Railway Station – something I have wanted to see for years), ones that are open with very restricted hours such as the Sydney Masonic Centre and the Great Synagogue and, finally, ones (including those managed Sydney Living Museums such as the Museum of Sydney) which are open regular hours to the public.
As I can and do visit Sydney regularly, my interest lay in visiting properties generally not open to the public. One might ask, why would anyone want to visit those properties regularly open, especially when the open day only lasts from 10am to 4pm (some places close earlier). Well, two reasons, firstly those properties regularly open normally have an admission fee (in some cases excessive in my view) which is waived for Sydney Open and secondly many of these places put on special talks, open areas not normally open, etc for Sydney Open.
In an extremely hectic day I managed to visit about 12-15 of the properties. This was only feasible as I had carefully pre-planned what I wanted to see, I walked between the properties (this is actually faster than waiting on the free shuttle bus or taking other public transport – though it does require a level of fitness) and I went in saw what I wanted and moved on to the next property without lingering. Also I did not visit the Museum of Sydney in which you could easily spend half a day alone.
Overall the event was extremely well organised, the properties I selected to visit were worth the effort (I would like to have seen more) and the guides at each property (volunteers) were fantastic – even the one I managed to spill a bottle of water on though I don’t need to go into that here.
In terms of being able to pre-plan the event has a fantastic web-site and mobile app and for those more technologically advanced than myself offers twitter feeds, instagram, facebook links and the like. Talking of these things, I was amazed and heartened to see the large numbers of teens and people in their twenties who attended the event – in their own rights as opposed to being dragged along whinging by parents.
By way of improving the event, and I have relayed these views to Sydney Living Museums, I really do believe the event should be spread across two days and opening hours made longer. This would allow those wishing to visit more properties to do so and let others visit a similar number as they do now in a more relaxed fashion.
There are various ticket options available for the event, most of which really only relate to those wishing to take out a Sydney Living Museums membership. These higher price membership tickets, in addition to giving free access to the museums for a year etc etc, also provided priority access to some of the more popular properties and those needing to restrict access numbers for whatever reason.
I just had an ordinary ticket which cost A$49 and, while I did forgo entry to two buildings due to queues, queues were not generally a problem.
Initially I thought $49 was a bit expensive, given the limited opening hours as opposed to what could be seen, especially when I had to add a $56 bus fare from Canberra into the equation. Having taken part, I now think the $49 was reasonable, especially when it let me visit a few smaller museums/properties which I had not previously visited thinking (correctly now that I have been) the general entry fees too high.
Should you be in Sydney on the day or live in the region I thoroughly recommend this event. I do encourage you to have a look at the website to see the range of properties on display – surely something for everyone?
In 2016 Sydney Open in scheduled for Sunday 6 November – they have yet to take note of my advice to spread it across two days!Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
AMP Building – Sydney’s First Skyscraper
My observant reader we have noticed that this is the second building to which I have ascribed the accolade of 'Sydney’s first skyscraper'. You may have noticed though that there was a question mark behind the title of the other review - Culwulla Chambers – Sydney’s First Skyscraper?. As it happened the Culwulla Chambers, while being the tallest building in the city (and remaining so until 1961), actually did not fit the then definition of a skyscraper as it lacked the requisite steel frame.
If you have read my Culwulla Chambers review you will know of the public outcry that accompanied the opening of that building. This lead to the amendment of legislation outlawing buildings in excess of 150ft (around 45m) within the city. This upper limit was incidentally around five metres less than the height of the Culwulla Chambers – perhaps ascertained by the reach of the Fire Department’s ladders!
While many parts of the world, in particular the US, where building skywards in the first half of the 20th century, it is amazing that this height restriction in Sydney remained in force for almost 50 years, until 1957.
The height restriction law was changed at the behest of the Australian Mutual Protection Society (AMP), an insurance company (originally a not for profit organisation – though still often seen as that from its current shareholders perspective!) been established in 1849 now wishing to consolidate its business in one site, here just back from the foreshore at Circular Quay. Of course, getting what was such a prestigious site, was helped by the fact that Thomas Mort, a director of AMP, was also an owner of the 107 years old Mort’s Wool Store which previously occupied the site.
Interestingly, to get the height restriction law lifted the AMP had to build a prototype of its proposed building in an outer suburb such that the public and officials could check it out first.
The AMP Building (not to be confused with the much higher and more recent AMP Centre to its rear) with its two crescent-shaped structures and curved façade facing the harbour was a significant departure from the then standard square or rectangular form of building. Architecturally it is classified as a Post War International Style building (whatever that means) and was designed by Peddle Thorp and Walker. It was opened in 1962 by then Prime Minister, Menzies and at a height of 117 metres (26 storeys) it became Sydney’s tallest building (excluding towers and the like) and, having the requisite construction credentials, its first skyscraper.
While starting to show its age on closer inspection, the now heritage listed building is barely noticeable when one views the city’s skyline from the harbour. However, one thing that is very noticeable is the fantastic views of the harbour, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from its open deck on the 26th floor, if you can make it up there.
While this open deck was, for many years, a publicly accessible viewpoint it no longer is.
Today the building (or rather its 26th floor deck) is rarely open to the public. One occasion when it is open is during the now annual Sydney Open day. One this day many properties in Sydney not normally open, or easily accessible, throw open their doors to the public. I have prepared a separate review on this important event.
On the 2015 Sydney Open day (1 November) I took the opportunity to go up to the 26th floor of the AMP Building and, quite frankly, the view is stunning – hopefully my photos attached do it some justice. If you get the chance to go up here grab it. Of course, if you have $500++ to spend for a night in one of the now overshadowing hotels on Circular Quay you can have similar views on any day of the year. Call me cheap but I prefer the more modestly priced Sydney Open option (you do need an Sydney Open ticket).
Inside on the 26th floor there is a small exhibition outlining the history of the AMP Society. I stopped for a brief look but saw nothing that made me want to linger. You really do come here for the view.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Culwulla Chambers – Sydney’s First Skyscraper?
Dwarfed by high-rises and skyscrapers on all sides is the Culwulla Chambers – Sydney’s first ‘skyscraper’. I draw it to your attention as otherwise you would surely miss it.
I am not going enter into a discussion as to what constitutes a skyscraper as its definition has varied over the years and remains ill defined. Suffice to say for this review it’s a tall building (excluding towers, spires and such like) – tall being relative to the time it was built. Today the world’s tallest building is the 828 metres tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The Culwulla Chambers, designed in a federation free style by Spain Cosh and Minnett, is approximately 50 metres (12 storeys with an additional one added in a 1983 refurbishment) tall and was built in 1912 at the then record cost, for a building in Sydney, of £100,000. To be fair, for that price the owners did get revolutionary high speed lifts, and a ducted vacuum system, in addition to a 50 metres tall building.
Even in its day there was argument as to whether it was a skyscraper or not, being of masonry construction rather than having a metal frame. It technically probably wasn’t a skyscraper but rather a tall building, even if the tallest in the city (and in Australia) at the time.
The construction of Culwulla Chambers resulted in significant controversy. The building was variously described as a brickstack, an eyesore, and a harbinger of disease. Worse than that, it caused dark shadows in the street and people were concerned that Sydney would develop a ‘New York style’ skyline. This latter concern was, of course, before it became fashionable in Australia to hold up and mimic all things American.
Perhaps more seriously the building was seen as a potential fire hazard, as fire ladders could not reach the upper levels of the building.
Such was the public outcry that a subsequent amendment was made to building regulations (Height of Buildings Act 1912) prohibiting the erection of buildings taller than 150ft (46 metres). Amazingly, this regulation remained in force for some 50 years until the AMP Building (separate review) was constructed at Circular Quay in 1961.
Now you know!Related to:
- Historical Travel
The Cenotaph – Martin Place
As war memorials go, Sydney’s Cenotaph is small and rather plain though perhaps this has as much to do with its location, exposed in the centre of Martin Place in the midst of rather large and ornate buildings, rather than the actual Cenotaph itself.
This central location was carefully chosen for the memorial as Martin Place was Sydney's primary place for enlistment during World War I (WWI) and the General Post Office (now the Westin Sydney Hotel) was Sydney’s main conduit for news and messages during the war. Many people see the facade of the GPO as being an integral part of the Cenotaph.
Of course, this key position in the centre of Sydney’s central business district also provides a constant reminder of sacrifices made, to the thousands of local people and visitors who pass it on a daily basis.
In 1926 Sir Bertram Mackennal was commissioned to design and erect a Cenotaph (empty tomb), to be completed by 25th April (Anzac Day), 1929. A Cenotaph was deemed an appropriate form of monument given that the war-dead of Australia had been interred overseas.
The completed product comprises a monolithic Moruya granite block in the shape of a sepulchre, on a granite base, and two bronze statues, a soldier and a sailor, one on guard at either end of the cenotaph.
The granite block is simply inscribed on either long side with “To Our Glorious Dead” and “Lest We Forget”.
The bronze statues, cast in Milan, are modeled on two real life service personnel - Private William Piggot Darby of the 15th Infantry Batallion and 4th Field Ambulance AIF and Leading Seaman John William Varco, who served on HMAS Pioneer 1914 - 1916 and on HMAS Parramatta 1917 – 1919. These two servicemen represent the 300,000 plus Australians who saw overseas service during WWI.
My next July 2015 Sydney review: Youngsters’ in the Street
- Historical Travel
Tank Stream and Tank Stream Museum
Writing back to his masters in London on 15 May 1788 the first Governor of the New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, wrote:
"...we had the satisfaction of finding the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security..."
Fine as the harbour may have been (and it still is), settlement would not have been possible without a readily accessible supply of potable water.
A small stream, soon to be known as the Tank Stream, originating in a swamp to the west of present day Hyde Park and, at high tide, flowing into Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay) at the intersection of Bridge and Pitt Streets provided the necessary fresh water supply for the establishment of a township (see attached sketch). There was no such water source at Botany Bay, the other location considered for the initial establishment of Sydney.
In his ‘An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales’ published in 1798, David Collins relates:
"The spot chosen for the settlement was at the head of the cove, near the run of fresh water, which stole silently along through a very thick wood, the stillness of which had then, for the first time since the Creation, been interrupted by the rude sound of the labourer's axe and the downfall of its ancient inhabitants."
Wander around and look as much as you like today but you will not see the Tank Stream.
In reality the stream never provided much in the way of water and in the first summer it totally dried up. So within a year convict labour was set to digging holding tanks along the stream to retain water for the town. These tanks, there were three of them, gave the stream its otherwise rather peculiar name, the Tank Stream.
As Sydney town grew, and despite a fifteen-metre green belt preserved on either side of the stream and a prohibition on cutting of timber and grazing of stock in the vicinity, the Tank Stream became contaminated and by 1826 had ceased to be used as a source of drinking water.
By the 1830s the Tank Stream and nearby creeks were used as an open drainage system for both waste-water and sewage. By the mid to late 1800s the Tank Stream had been converted into a bricked in sewage and drainage system which today forms part of Sydney’s stormwater drainage system, sewage having been diverted to a separate system. The egg shaped oviform drain design as depicted in my fourth picture (an original excavated section which you can see in the Tank Stream museum referred to below) was extensively used though some much larger channels exist further downstream.
While Sydney Water run occasional (twice a year – tickets by ballot) tours of lower parts of the Tank Stream drainage system those seeking to see relics of the Tank Stream should visit the small museum in the basement of the former General Post Office - GPO (now the Westin Sydney hotel) – entrance on Martin Place. The unmanned (and free) ‘museum’ is actually built into a basement bar area of the hotel and was a little tricky to find as I didn’t see any signs. Off course, I could have asked but I was happy enough having a look around the hotel while I located it. Should finding the museum make your thirsty there are ample bars where you can acquire a little something to quench the thirst.
The museum contains around two-hundred artifacts recovered from the Tank Stream system during engineering work under the GPO in the mid 1990s, mainly mid 19th century ceramics washed into the stream prior to its conversion to a sewage/drainage system.
While I didn’t spot any evidence of it in the museum, there is certainly evidence (alluded to earlier in my extract from David Collin's 1798 work) of Aboriginal use of the original Tank Stream prior to European settlement. Evidence of an Aboriginal campsite was found during the development of the nearby Angel Street area in the late 1990s and it is known that Aboriginal people buried their dead along the Tank Stream. The present location of a skull found during building work on the GPO in the mid 1880s is unknown. At that time it was not uncommon for people to collect the remains of Aboriginal people or to sell them to museums or private collectors in Australia and overseas.
Back above ground there is a five part sculpture by Lynne Roberts-Goodwin (2000) which marks the course of the Tank Stream. One part, depicted in my final photograph, can be seen in Martin Place near the Cenotaph (just outside the former GPO). I will, at some stage, locate the other parts and visit a number of other Tank Stream relics which I have found out about through researching this review.
My first picture attached is a J Skinner Prout watercolour depicting the Tank Stream in the 1840s (courtesy of Art Gallery of New South Wales).
My next July 2015 Sydney review: The Cenotaph – Martin Place
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
The Eiffel Tower - Yes it's True!
A little diversion especially for my European reader.
While overseas, Australians are fantastic ambassadors for their country and, indeed as some will know, we used to have our very own Cultural Attaché to the Court of St James in London – in the form of Sir Les Patterson (aka Barry Humphries of Dame Edna Everage fame). As an aside, I was aghast when I saw Sir Les referred to as an obese, lecherous, offensive, farting, belching, nose-picking figure of Rabelaisian excess on Wikipedia. I can only surmise that this was written by an uncultured European who would never make it into the membership or readership of Virtualtourist.
Let me tell you a little secret. Notwithstanding this outward image, Australians, particularly those of British and other European heritage, have never let go of their mother and fatherlands back in Europe.
Not happy with our kangaroo’s, koalas (they are not bears, by the way), the great Outback, Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Great Barrier Reef and so much more we like to prove that anything Europeans can do, we can do too.
So it was that in 2015 Australia became part of Europe and sang in the Eurovision song contest and in 2016 the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo featuring a full size replica of Edinburgh Castle, the massed pipes and drums of Scotland’s famous Regiments and performers from around the world will be held in Melbourne, Australia. Fear not, Dear Reader, if you were planning to visit a similar event in Scotland I think they will be putting on something there too!
While we can indulge in the good, naturally blame for things which people bemoan in Australia, such as Canberra (my home town) and the Sydney Opera House (close-up), can be attributed to foreigners (Walter Burley Griffin, an American, and Jørn Utzon a Dane respectively for my examples) in the event that we can’t persuade the visitor of the worth of such things.
When in Sydney, should you feel homesick for things European all you need do is position yourself correctly in York Street and look up.
Lo and behold , voilà – the original Eiffel Tower!
Having seen it, I can confirm they have something similar in Paris.
Sydney’s Eiffel Tower, a radio transmission tower, sits atop the AWA (Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd) building in York Street. Unlike its copy in Paris you will need to admire the 48 metres (97 including the building) tower from the ground as a former viewing platform no longer exits. Like the Paris tower the Sydney tower is illuminated at night.
The tower was built in 1939 (and rebuilt in 1994).
The only thing that confuses me is that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was allegedly built in 1889 and Berlin's Funkturm Tower which also shares certain attributes of the Sydney Tower was allegedly built in 1926. Ah well.
My final picture is courtesy of http://www.sydneyarchitecture.com
My next July 2015 Sydney review: The General Post Office (Former)
- Historical Travel
Sze Yup Chinese Temple
The last place I would have ever expected to find a Chinese temple would have been tucked away in the leafy, well to do, backstreets of Glebe but to my surprise that is exactly where the Sze Yup Chinese Temple is located, on a block of land acquired by early Chinese settlers for 325 pounds.
The original temple (central part) was built in 1898, facing Blackwattle Bay in adherence to Feng Shui principles and in the red brick style reminiscent of village temples in the southern provinces of China. The two side chapels – the Chapel of Departed Friends (picture 5) and the Chapel of Good Fortune were added in 1904. The temple you see today is a reconstruction, the original having been lost in a fire in 1953. This should not deter you visiting as the reconstruction has been true to the original and indeed had I not mentioned it, you would easily believe it was the original, as I did until I subsequently read up on it.
The temple’s construction was funded by Chinese immigrants from Sze Yup in Guangdong, hence its commonly used name. It is dedicated to (and in fact formally named after) Kwun Ti a warrior, folk hero and god from the Chinese Three Kingdoms era (220-265 AD). Kwun Ti is renowned for his loyalty, physical prowess and masculinity and was thus a great role model for the early Chinese immigrants into this area. Today the temple continues to welcome new Buddhist immigrants to Australian though not only from Sze Yup but also from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, the remainder of China and, in particular, Indo-China.
The hanging incense coils, outside the very ornate main entrance door (picture 2), initially reminded me of similar temples in Hong Kong, albeit this one is on a much smaller scale. Incidentally if you cannot locate the temple – use your nose. I could smell the burning incense a block away… a beautiful smell on the nice fresh late autumn morning I visited.
All in all, a lovely tranquil place to look around and have a break. Apart from a lady sweeping the yard and a gentleman sitting in the office I was the only other person there. I can’t imagine it ever being busy with tourists, notwithstanding that it is actually not very hard to get to, less than 10 minutes walk from the Jubilee Park Light Rail station. Don’t forget to remove your shoes before entering the temple.
While few tourists visit, the temple remains an important spiritual and cultural centre for the Chinese (and now wider Asian) community in Sydney, many of whom still consult Kwun Ti for his guidance and blessing when making important business decisions. On the altar inside the central temple (indeed the centrepiece there-of) is an embroidered image of Kwun Ti and his guards (pictures 3 and 4).
The main entrance archway, with its two stone guardian lions, was added on 1982.
Go on, enter the gates and immerse yourself in serene calmness.
7 days 10.00am-5.00pm
My next July 2015 Sydney review: Why come to Sydney?
- Religious Travel
The Wireless House - Glebe
While Glebe is a rather hip and affluent inner west suburb of Sydney this has not always been the case. In the 1930s it was a distinctly working class area and many people were hit hard in the depression.
For those families which could afford one, the radio had become the thing to have in the early 1930s and the entire family would often gather around this new fangled device for its evening entertainment.
Those Glebe families hit by the depression would have missed out were it not for the fact that Glebe Council took up a suggestion to establish a Wireless House for public entertainment in Rest Park (now Foley Park) in the centre of Glebe.
The Wireless House, which can still be seen ( the circular ‘artwork' in my pictures is a 2009 addition) in Foley Park today, was a small brick building with a radio in it to which the public could listen having gathered around the building. It opened in February 1935 with the radio having been donated by Grace Brothers, the forerunner of today’s Myer chain of stores, found throughout Australia. It is certainly a concept I have not come across before as a public service.
The Wireless House ‘broadcast’ from 10am to 10.15pm daily to the delight of many, though not the church and sporting organisations both of which lamented a loss of patronage. It was especially popular during World War II, often drawing crowds of up to 100 people.
In time The Wireless House eventually succumbed to accusations that it encouraged the unemployed to idleness and was de-commissioned in the early 1950s.
The Wireless House was re-sounded in 2009 by Dr Nigel Helyer as a public art project ‘creating a contemporary version of its original social function’.
Today it broadcasts pre-recorded social histories and other content, obviously less appealing to the idle unemployed than the content of earlier days. I listened alone and having listened to it a minute or two was not inclined to hang around.
Perhaps of more interest to today’s visitor is that, in a literal play on the word 'Wireless', the site is also the City of Sydney's first outdoor internet hotspot, providing free internet access to suitably equipped visitors.
A nice piece of social history and worth a look if you are in the area.
My next July 2015 Sydney review: Sze Yup Chinese Temple
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
All Hail to Her Majesty
While this building, St John’s Parish Hall - designed by Edward Halloran and built in 1897, is a pleasant enough red brick affair with a nice art nouveau balcony I would not have drawn it to my reader’s attention were it not for a terracotta plaque affixed to the front of the building.
1897 marked the Diamond Jubilee of Victoria’s accession to the throne and the building was built in commemoration of this event. The plaque bears the Queen’s portrait (a typically surly one) and reminds us that her reign to that point, which commenced in 1837, was a record for a British Monarch. The words Record Reign, from the plaque, led to the building being called Record Reign Hall.
Victoria went on to reign, until her death on 22 January 1901, just shy of 63 years.
Also included on the plaque is a personal message from Her Majesty – interestingly directed at her subjects rather then to them. It reads:
From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them
The inclusion of the word “Hail” baffles me. Perhaps my reader can enlighten me?
My next July 2015 Sydney review: The Wireless House - Glebe
- Historical Travel
Glebe Superior Public School War Memorial
I am aware that may old schools have Rolls of Honour remembering those who you took part and died in World War I. Indeed my own former school Portora Royal School in Northern Ireland had one.
Glebe Superior Public School (now, I suspect due to the activity of an active PC lobby, plain Glebe Public School), in the inner west of Sydney is the first one I have come across that has an actual War Memorial of the type more generally found in the centre of towns and cities.
In 1914 when Britain went to war so did, by default, its colonies in Australia and elsewhere. Past pupils of the (primary) school answered the call of duty while current pupils and the teachers supported the war effort through war relief schemes, fund raising, making comforts for the Red Cross and continuing with the school cadets programme.
Between 1914 and 1918, 306 former pupils volunteered and served overseas. Sadly over 50 of those pupils died in Gallipoli, France and the Middle East.
The Maltby family lost three brothers while the Faerbers, Neaves and the Sharpes each lost two.
This memorial, dedicated on 18 October 1919, records the names of all those who volunteered for service. It was designed by William Martin (who also designed Glebe's main war memorial – see my separate review) and paid for with a penny a week contributions by students at the time.
The memorial takes the form of a four metres high red polished marble plinth with the bust of an Australian digger (soldier), easily recognisable by his familiar slouched hat, on top. The column is adorned, about half way up with an Australian Imperial Force (AIF) badge and crossed flags.
The fresh poppies attached to the fence are a reminder that Australia has not forgotten the sacrifices of its youth, now over 100 years ago.
For the reader wondering why a school would include the word ‘Superior’ in its title, the reasoning is simple and nothing to do with it being pretentious or snobby. In the late 1880s schools with at least 20 students who had completed the 'primary course of instruction' were permitted to offer the "higher branches of education" and were designated a 'Superior School'. It is interesting to note that the very poor, along with children deemed unruly, refused admittance to a public school, could attend the Glebe Ragged School. Agh – the days when a spade was called a spade!
Note: In Australia a Public School is what is referred to in the UK, for instance, as a Private School
Off course the wealthy and well-to-do Protestants sent their sons to the Glebe Point Grammar School.
I have yet again digressed. The Glebe Superior Public School War Memorial is well worth a look and a moment or twos reflection.
My next July 2015 Sydney review: All Hail to Her Majesty
- Historical Travel
Victoria Park is a small, nine hectare, triangular park nestled between the busy Parramatta and City Roads and the University of Sydney. Given its small size and the constant traffic on the adjacent roads I imagined it might be noisy and not at all peaceful. This is not so, probably because it is set at a level slightly lower than the roads, though I am no expert on acoustics.
The park was originally part of the grounds of the University of Sydney, the facade of which stands proudly above the western side of the park and is accessed by a series of steps. This explains the 1888 Neo Gothic sandstone Gate House/ University Gardener's Lodge and grand entrance gates near the intersection of the Parramatta and City Roads – the point where you will most likely enter the park if you take a short bus ride (though it is easily walkable from Central Station) out from the city. Today the restored gatehouse is a café while post 1911, when it and the parkland was transferred to the City Council from the University, it has had a few uses though it lay vacant and neglected for a number of years. Prior to its current use (and a lengthy vacant period) it was a block of public toilets – or ‘conveniences’ as the City Council liked to call them in the day.
I didn’t eat it in the café, it hadn’t opened when I passed by, though online reviews of it that I have seen are almost universally very negative – which is such a shame given the lovely building, its proximity to the park's small lake and the lovely view across the park towards the University, on the horizon. Looking at the prices on its menu I would certainly expect something better than average. Perhaps it was best it wasn't open when I passed through.
The park is well shaded and offers lots of opportunity for a pleasant picnic on its grassy lawns while the more energetic might want to go for a swim in the outdoor Victoria Park public swimming pool, located in the centre of the park. There is also a playground to keep children amused and dogs are permitted (including off leash in a couple of areas, at certain times of the day).
In the centre of Lake Northam, named after Bill Northam, an Australian Olympic yachtsman, there is a fountain in the shape of a yacht while the lower part of the lake can be crossed via an old ornamental wooden bridge.
The other notable feature in the park is a rather out of place totem pole. The colourful totem pole, carved by Quamichan man Simon Charlie from Victoria Island, British Colombia, was a gift from the Canadian Government and the people of Canada to mark National Timber Week in 1964.
Unless you plan on having a picnic you won't need to spend long here and, indeed, most of it can be viewed if you walk across the park to get to the University of Sydney which I thoroughly recommend you visit to have a look at the university building itself, its two excellent museums and its small (very small) art gallery.
No entry free applies and the park is open 24/7.
My next July 2015 Sydney review: University of Sydney
- National/State Park
Sydney’s Last Victorian Pissoir
I do try to eke out the unusual when I visit somewhere but I must say that I did not expect to come across a Victorian filigree, cast iron, pissoir in Sydney. For those unfamiliar with the French term ‘pissoir’ it translates to a men’s urinal – though I do feel that when you translate it you somewhat vulgarise the artistic nature of the object.
Following concerns about public respectability and undesirable street behavior – men urinating in public - Sydney’s first public toilets appeared in 1880. These early toilets were exclusively for men - presumably respectable ladies did not stoop to urinating in public. Women had to wait until 1910 when the first public lavatory for them was opened in Hyde Park.
The early (male) pissoirs took the form of ornate cast iron urinals of the type pictured. Indeed this one is the last remaining cast iron pissoir in Sydney, moved to its current location in 1971 from nearby Observatory Hill. Being the last one in Sydney it has now become something of a tourist attraction.
Sydney’s first pissoirs were supplied by George Jennings who exhibited at the 1879 International Exhibition in Sydney and took the liberty of introducing himself to a Mr Roberts on the City Council thus:
I take the liberty of sending you an illustrated price-list of Public Conveniences manufactured by our firm and supplied to most of the Corporations and Sanitary Authorities throughout England and in many towns on the Continent and America. As they have given such great satisfaction wherever they have been fixed I venture to hope you will favour us with a chance of tendering for the supply should your Corporation at any time entertain the idea of erecting urinals in this city. We are exhibiting on the Terrace Floor of the Exhibition several appliances all tending to health & comfort, which I should have great pleasure in shewing you whenever you may feel inclined.
I am dear Sir
George Henry Jennings.
P.S. I left a complete catalogue with Mr Mountain yr. Surveyor a few days ago.
Mr Roberts did favour Mr Jennings with an order for two patent urinals in 1880 and Jennings was still supplying them in 1887 when he sold the council six ‘Class A’ six-person urinals and six ‘class B’ three person urinals.
As far as I can ascertain, this remaining pissoir was made by James Allen Snr & Son of Glasgow and is one of only two Allen pissoirs remaining in the world, the other being a larger model in the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol, England.
Today, in many parts of the world including Sydney, pissoirs, including pop-up ones, are having something of a renaissance but, sadly, they lack the style and elegance of those of the late 19th century.
My next July 2015 Sydney review: Dead in the Town Hall - Old Sydney Burial Ground
- Historical Travel
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