The General Post Office

The image above is a wonderful snapshot of a building which, today, is undergoing a controversial chapter. The General Post Office, or GPO, is a well known and important land mark in Sydney, both geographically and historically. Today, it is the subject of controversy with moves to sell the beautiful historic building to the Chinese are disclosed. Yet beyond the current controversy is an amazing history which often Sydneysiders are unaware of.

The first regular postal service in Australia started in 1809 when former convict Isaac Nichols was given the position of postmaster. This was a position which he kept up until his death 10 years later. Nichols lived in George Street and his home was used as the post office throughout his time as postmaster. Then, in 1825 the Legislative Council introduced the Postal Act of 1825, which then regulated the postal service and allowed postmasters to be appointed not just in Sydney but throughout the colony. Three years later a regular postal delivery service began to operate with letters and parcels delivered throughout the colony on horseback.

The introduction of the Postal Act also paved the way for the construction of a General Post Office. By the 1830s, a former police station which stood where the GPO stands today was in use as a post office. Even in the 1830s, it was an important meeting place and important building, so in the late 1840s a new, grand portico was added, complete with Doric Columns. Yet as the population of Sydney and the colony more generally grew, so too did the demand for an improved postal service. By the 1850s and 1860s the old post office was becoming cramped and difficult to function from and staff often complained of overcrowding. Eventually, it was decided that a new post office would be built, on the same site. James Barnet was appointed as the architect for the new building in 1862 and the old post office was demolished a year later. The new GPO, and the one we are familiar with today, was built between 1866 and 1892. The main part of the building was completed in 1889 with the grand clock tower finished two years later.

Demolished Sydney – The Union Club

union-club-bligh-street-sydney-front

This week, in honour of the upcoming exhibition at the Museum Of Sydney focusing on lost buildings of Sydney, the Past Present is focusing on one such building. The image above shows the beautiful building, The Union Club, which once stood on Bligh Street.

The Union Club, a beautiful Classical Revival style building once stood at number 2 Bligh Street. The site had originally been occupied by the cottage of Robert Campbell, but in 1857, a group of professional men met together at a leased property in Wynyard Square. The men formed the Union Club, whose first president was James Macarthur, the son of the famous John Macarthur. By August, larger premises were desperately needed, as the Union Club had rapidly attracted members. Several sites were looked at, but the decision was made to use the Campbell cottage, which was not as the name implies a cottage at all, but more a mansion! The Union Club leased the ‘cottage’ for 3 years from 1859, and when the lease on the warehouse next to the residence expired in 1863, the lease was changed to include both properties. The Union Club payed £1000 a year for the two leases. Eventually, the Union Club offered £15,000 to purchase the house, but the offer was declined, as it fell far below the market value.

The club officers of the Union Club then made efforts to find a new site which they could use to build their own club building, but all these sites were rejected. Finally, they started up negotiations again to buy the Campbell property, and in July 1873, they purchased the site for £20,000. Over the following decade, many alterations were made to the original Campbell residence, but eventually, the old mansion was demolished and replaced with a purpose built club house. The beautiful new building, designed by William Wardell in the Classical Revival style was built in 1884. It was demolished in 1955, when the Union Club decided to sell the southern part of the property and build a new clubhouse on the remaining land.

Bark Selectors Hut

A Selectors Bark Humpy Front.jpg

The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the lives, and the living conditions, of so many Australians in days gone by. The simple bark hut, a humpy as the postcard describes it, may appear rough and uninviting by our modern standards, but for many Australians living in the 1800s, and even into the 1900s, such structures were home.

When we think of old Australian houses, we tend to often think of historic homes which have been preserved for posterity, many of them grand houses or country estates. It is true that even in the earliest years of the colony, some people, like the Governor, lived in prefabricated houses brought from England. Yet for most Australians, home was somewhere much rougher and more simplistic. The early colony was tent settlement and even the first more substantial buildings were often made of wattle and daub. Other early buildings were built of timber, with many of the local trees providing long lasting, good wood which could be used not just for roofing, but for the whole building. Particularly popular was ironbark, which could last for 30 years or more, even when exposed to harsh weather conditions. Local timber continued to be a popular building material right up until the Second World War, with many people continuing to use what was to hand in building their homes.

Even when the colony began to become more prosperous, many continued to build using wattle and daub, timber and bark. Such techniques were popular with squatters, who did not have formal rights to their land, and may be moved on as a result. These techniques were also popular with selectors, who used materials at hand to build a simple home, which they sometimes added to, or abandoned for a more formal structure if they prospered. Often the hut was a single room, which may eventually become a kitchen or living room if the family prospered and the house was extended. This is the type of home pictured in the postcard above.

Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital

Walker Hospital Parramatta River Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse into a day out and about on the water. Sydney has many beautiful river and creek systems which feed into the spectacular Sydney Harbour, and these have long been a popular destination for a lazy day out and about, used by residents and visitors alike. Yet this postcard also captures a beautiful 19th century building – The Walker Convalescent Hospital. This building, one which many Sydney residents may not realise exists, has a fascinating history.

The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, which is today known as Rivendell, is a stunning building, surrounded by beautiful grounds, on the banks of the Parramatta River. The story of the hospital begins in 1886 with the death of a well known Sydney philanthropist, Thomas Walker. Walker had left a bequest of 100,000 pounds for the purposes of building a convalescent hospital, and also set aside a portion of his estate at Concord as the hospital site. The executors of Walkers will held a competition in April 1888 to select a design for the convalescent hospital, a competition won by John Kirkpatrick. Yet Kirkpatricks design was criticised as too expensive, and in mid 1889 it was announced that although his design would be built, the architects engaged in the building of the hospital would be another firm, Sulman and Power.

Building of the hospital commenced in 1890 and the hospital opened in late September 1893. It was built in the Queen Anne style, and positively reflected the influences of Florence Nightingale on hospital design and organisation. The final cost of the hospital exceeded the bequest by Thomas Walker by 50,000 pounds, and the extra funds were donated by Walkers daughters Eadith and Joanna, and Eadith’s childhood friend, Anne Sulman. The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital was used for convalescents right up until World War Two, when the military took possession of the building. Patients at the hospital were not charged for their care, with Thomas Walker’s bequest providing for four weeks of care per patient, with the option of a two month stay if needed. After the war, the trustees of the hospital regained control and it continued to act as a convalescent hospital until 1976, when control was given to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Today, the site is known as Rivendell, and acts as a rehabilitation centre and school for adolescents, under the direction of the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Unit.

Sydney Panorama

complete panorama

This week, The Past Present is doing something just a little bit different. Usually, the focus is on a specific place, but the series of postcards above (six in total), show not one place, but many. This is a series of panoramic postcards, which fit together to create a complete and uninterrupted panoramic view of Sydney. Such panoramic photos, whether sold as a series of cards, or as a single, intact panorama, have a fascinating history.

Today, panoramic photographs are quick and easy to produce. Cameras and various devices with cameras featured in them are able to take a panoramic photo with the simple click of a button. In the past though, panoramic photographs were extremely difficult to take. They involved several unique photographs being taken, and then ‘stitched’ together to create a single, seamless view. The earliest photographic panorama of an Australian scene is believed to date from 1854 and is an eight panel view of Melbourne taken by Walter Woodbury. Sydney photographers were not far behind though and the first panorama of Sydney was taken just four years later by the Freeman Brothers.

The most famous of the Sydney panoramas were taken by Bernard Otto Holtermann and his assistant Charles Bayliss (Bayliss being the photographer, and Holtermann providing funding and photographic assistance). The famous Holtermann Panorama as it is known was taken in 1875 and made up of 23 discrete photographs, taken from the top of a specially built tower. This tower, which became known as the Holtermann tower, was part of Holtermanns home in Lavender Bay, and was used for many years as a photographic tower. Some even suggest it continued to be used after Holtermann’s death. The panorama above was taken not from Holtermann’s tower but from Miller’s Point and dates from the early 1900s.

Audley in The Royal National Park

Audley

This week, the weather has been quite lovely, with the days warm but not as hot as they have been. Should the weekend continue the trend, many people will be looking to spend some time in one of our wonderful National Parks, perhaps by or even on the water. Our National Parks have long been popular destinations for holidaying, or just for spending a day amongst Australia’s beautiful bush. Audley, in the Royal National Park, has long been one such tourist destination.

The Royal National Park, established in 1879, is Australia’s oldest National Park, and is in fact very nearly the oldest National Park worldwide. Only Yellowstone in the US is older! One of the most popular destinations within the park is Audley, with its weir and boatsheds. Originally, when the National Park was established, it was managed by the National Park Trust, who were given the powers to develop the park for the people of the colony. They set about building roads, and buildings, establishing gardens with exotic trees and even introducing animals!

Most of the attention was focussed on the Audley area, where a small village of sorts was established in the style of a pleasure garden. A causeway was built to provide navigable water for boats, and a fresh water habitat for introduced fish. The area was landscaped with extensive lawns and paths, and a train line between Loftus and Audley was even installed to allow visitors to more easily access the area. By 1940, Audley was so popular that a proper dancehall was built! Today the Audley area continues to be popular with visitors, and you can still hire boats and enjoy the lawn areas of this historic spot.

The Art Gallery Of New South Wales

Art Gallery New South Wales

This week, The Past Present turns its attention to one of the many beautiful and somewhat iconic buildings around Sydney. Sydney has spectacular architecture displayed in many of our old buildings. One of the most spectacular, with its beautiful facades and imposing columns, is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, pictured above on a postcard from the early 20th century. Intriguingly, note the building work going on, indicating that, at the time of the postcard, the Art Gallery was yet to be completed!

The Art Gallery of New South Wales has its inception in the 1870s,when an Academy of Art was established to promote fine arts in Sydney. With funds contributed by the Government of the time, the Academy purchased the first works to be held in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Over the next decade the collection developed and grew, and a permanent home to house the collection quickly became a necessity and John Horbury Hunt was asked to submit plans for the gallery. This original building, which became known as ’the Art Barn’ was not much more than a series of thick walls, but provided a temporary home until funds for a more appropriate building could be obtained. In 1889 Hunt was asked to complete a further set of plans for the gallery, and in total he submitted three designs. However, none were viewed as appropriate, being too large, too grand, and too much a hybrid of architectural styles.

The trustees of the gallery really wanted a Classic Ionic design, a temple to art in the Greek style, and they looked to Walter Vernon to provide it. At the time, this was quite different to the type of architecture Vernon was known for, but his design certainly met with the demands of the trustees, though what we see today is a little more austere and less ornamented than Vernon envisaged. The building was completed in four stages and by 1901 the southern half of the building had been completed and in 1909 the front of the gallery was complete. However, nothing further of Vernons designs was built, despite plans to do so during the 1930s. Further extensions to the building were completed in time for the 1988 Bicentenary, and there have been many additions and alterations since.