14 August 2015: School’s out

In the 1950s and 60s, the NSW state government had to meet a growing demand for higher education as a result of the post war baby boom and increased immigration to Australia. This increased population put pressure on the public education system, particularly secondary education, as did the introduction of the Wyndham Scheme in 1962.

The scheme was ‘based on the premise that secondary education was for all adolescents … [formalising] the gradual shift from a hierarchical system of secondary schools where students were streamed on the basis of sex, intelligence and performance to a system of comprehensive, co-educational high schools’ (Sydney and the Bush, p. 232).

Undated image showing a model of the doughnut schools designed by Michael Dysart, NSW Government Architect’s Branch (AIA NSW Dupain Collection)

Undated image showing a model of the doughnut schools designed by Michael Dysart, NSW Government Architect’s Branch (AIA NSW Dupain Collection, http://architectureau.com/articles/designing-australian-schools)

The Wyndham Scheme saw changes to the curriculum which had a more student-centred approach and the introduction of the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate (HSC). Students were obliged to take an additional year of secondary education to complete their HSC.

The NSW Government Architect’s Branch met this demand by innovating new designs for high schools which could be built quickly and cheaply. These included the so-called doughnut schools, designed by Michael Dysart, which were an open square with a central landscaped courtyard. The doughnuts were then linked together by away of covered walkways. Some of the first doughnut schools were built at Turramurra, Ryde and Pendle Hill.

Binishell construction at Randwick Girls High School 1974 (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No d3_24650)

Binishell construction at Randwick Girls High School 1974 (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No d3_24650)

Another innovation was the binishell, built as libraries and gymnasia at high schools throughout Sydney and NSW throughout the 1970s. They were designed was by Italian architect, Dante Bini, who was commissioned by the Government Architect’s Branch to bring his design to NSW schools. Most of the binishells were built in the northern suburbs of Sydney – there were 14 were built in total, with ten of them remaining.

Find out more about the innovative work of the NSW Government Architect’s Branch in the period 1958-1973 in this master thesis by architect Russell Jack: The work of the N.S.W. Government Architect’s Branch, 1958-1973.

 

Binishell at Kuringai High School 1977 (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No d3_37511)

Binishell at Kuringai High School 1977 (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No d3_37511)

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31 July 2015: Bare Island

Bare Island is a small island in Botany Bay near La Perouse. The island, so named because it was bare and rocky, was designed and reshaped as a defensive fortification between 1877 and 1889. The fortification was an integral part of Sydney’s coastal defences, built in the 1870s and 80s, and was specifically designed to protect Sydney’s ‘back door’ from potential attack.

Bare Island before fortifications were built (American & Australasian Photographic Company, State Library of NSW, Digital Order No a2825016)

Bare Island before fortifications were built (American & Australasian Photographic Company, State Library of NSW, Digital Order No a2825016)

But by 1902, the fortification was obsolete. Ten years later, a veterans’ home was established on the island. This marked the beginning of veterans care in NSW.

The island refuge provided residential accommodation for ex-soldiers and sailors who had fought in conflicts dating back to the 1850s including the Crimean War, the Indian mutinies, Abyssinian campaigns and the New Zealand (Maori) wars. In 1912, when the veterans’ home was established, there were an estimated 100 veterans in the Sydney metropolitan area. Most were experiencing extreme hardship and poverty, despite the introduction of the Old Age Pension to NSW in 1901 (and at Commonwealth level in 1909).

Bridge between La Perouse and Bare Island c.1900, photographed by A J Perier (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No: perier_34481)

Bridge between La Perouse and Bare Island c.1900, photographed by A J Perier (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No: perier_34481)

The campaign to establish the veterans’ home on Bare Island was largely led by middle-class women. The first residents moved in on 20 March, and the home was officially opened on 2 July 1912. The residents lived in the former barracks building, were dressed in uniforms and regularly marched in the parade ground. But it was a lonely life for many of the old men – the island was inaccessible from the mainland (it was reached by way of a timber bridge from the tram – now bus – terminus at La Perouse) as well as greater Sydney.

http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16132254

The Guard of Honour on the occasion of the Governor-General’s visit to Bare Island in 1924 (Sydney Morning Herald 17 June 1924, p. 10).

Despite a brief military use during World War 2, the island remained a veterans’ home until 1962. The last residents moved out and the island was handed over to Randwick Historical Society. In 1967, the island came under the control of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In recent times, Bare Island has been home to the monthly Blak Markets.

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24 July 2015: Victoria Barracks, Paddington

 

Victoria Barracks in Paddington stands as a physical reminder of colonial Sydney’s military history and the strategic positioning of the British Imperial army in Sydney’s early history.  While it is now the home to units of the Australian Army, it was constructed to house those British regiments that were stationed in Sydney.

In 1841 work began on the construction of the new barracks.  Prior to this, the military had been housed in a barracks complex on George Street, bounded by the modern streets of Barrack Street (which aligns to the southern boundary), George, Margaret and Clarence Street.  The parade square aligned with what is now York Street and Wynyard Park covers part of this space.  By the late 1830s, as Sydney was becoming increasingly confident as a commercial and trading hub, the land occupied by the barracks was needed for the growing CBD.

Men of the 50th Regiment at Victoria Barracks c1870 (SLNSW SPF/23)

Men of the 50th Regiment at Victoria Barracks c1870 (SLNSW SPF/23)

The site chosen (in 1836) was then on Sydney’s sandy and rocky eastern fringe, with almost no development, however when the site was confirmed, the first land subdivision sales took place, with developers banking on the business the new barracks would bring.  Small houses were soon being built to house some of the tradesmen, stonemasons and quarry workers who were employed on the massive barracks projects.  As part of the first workforce, over 150 convicts were put to work quarrying stone on the site, as well as over 50 free stone masons and builders and numerous contractors, many with their own convict workers.  Amongst the convict stonemasons were some Canadian rebels, transported in the late 1830s and after which the suburb Canada Bay is named.

Although originally hoped to be finished in two and a half years, it was not until 1848 that the barracks was ready for occupation.  The completed barracks was 225m long, making it one of the longest (if not the longest) sandstone building in the southern hemisphere, and at the time, the largest building in Sydney by a long way.  The initial work had been carried out under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel George Barney.

The first unit to be garrisoned there was the 11th North Devonshire Regiment, who were also responsible for building some of the external wall after they arrived.  The 11th had arrived in Sydney in July and marched, with fife and drum four abreast from the docks at Circular Quay, through the city to the newly completed barracks on the 24th, 167 years ago today.  There was to be no doubt in Sydneysiders mind that the Regiment was in town and were a serious force.  All up five Imperial British regiments were stationed at the Barracks until the withdrawal of British forces from Sydney in 1870.  At least two left from the barracks for active service in the Maori Wars in New Zealand and to fight in India, reinforcing the barracks role in Britain’s wider imperial strategies.

Men of the Sudan Contingent at the Barracks 1885 (AWM P00751.001)

Men of the Sudan Contingent at the Barracks 1885 (AWM P00751.001)

From 1870 the barracks were used first by NSW Colonial militia and military units, and after 1901, by the newly formed Australian Army.  During the 1930s it was also home to the Royal Military College, then on a hiatus from Duntroon in Canberra.

Today the barracks remains as an active and busy army and defence site in Sydney, 167  years after it opened.

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3 July 2015: Sydney’s lost shopping arcades

If you go into the centre of Sydney today, you’ll find the palatial Strand Arcade linking George and Pitt streets. It is Sydney’s only surviving Victorian shopping arcade dating from the late 19th century.

Royal Arcade, photographed by Brian Bird in 1949 (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No. a3267004)

Royal Arcade, photographed by Brian Bird in 1949 (State Library of NSW, Digital Order No. a3267004)

It was once one of six covered shopping arcades built in the city centre between 1881 and 1892, concentrated in the area between George, Castlereagh, King and Park streets.

The lost arcades of Sydney were the Royal Arcade (between George and Pitt streets), the Victoria Arcade (linking Castlereagh and Elizabeth streets), the Sydney Arcade (between George and King streets) and the Piccadilly and Imperial Arcades (linking Pitt and Castlereagh streets but around a block apart). Some of those names may sound familiar but what we see today is not a patch on what went before!

Strand Arcade 1970s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC17476)

Strand Arcade 1970s (City of Sydney Archives, SRC17476)

Sydney’s 19th century shopping arcades were based on the European arcade architecture of the early 1800s. Shopping arcades were a transition from street level shopping to the department store experience of the 20th century. Arcades were effectively covered streets aimed at high end consumers, which provided customers with a place to promenade, and the opportunity to shop at individual shops concentrated in one place.

Imperial arcade under construction 1965 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 48/4742)

Imperial arcade under construction 1965 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 48/4742)

But as shopping trends changed in the 20th century, with a move to the large department stores in the 1920s and 30s, and as sandstone Sydney was sacrificed to glass and steel, five of the six Victorian shopping arcades were demolished. Only the Strand Arcade remains, although there’s a glimpse of the Sydney Arcade’s facade on King Street. The Piccadilly and Imperial Arcades live on in name only.

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26 June 2015: The Powerhouse Museum

In 1879 the International Exhibition at the Garden Palace in Sydney included a display of the latest technological and industrial innovation in New South Wales and the Australian colonies.  People flocked to the Botanic Gardens to marvel at the latest inventions in transport, communications and industry.  Exhibitors were invited to show their latest product or development to show the advances being made in the young colony.

With the end of the Exhibition it was decided that the exhibits would form the basis of a new technology museum collection to be held at the Palace.  Sadly, in 1882 the Palace burnt down in one of Sydney’s most spectacular urban fires.  The much of the collection was also lost, but what remained was then relocated to a pavilion in the Outer Domain.  Renamed as the Technical, Industrial and Sanitary Museum (which hints at its focus), by 1886 it had outgrown its pavilion and visitors complained of the cramped conditions and difficulty in viewing the displays.  25,000 items were in the collection by 1887.

In 1888 the museum was presented with the Whitbread historical steam engine.  Coming from a London Brewery, the engine was then 102 years old.  Built in 1785 by Bolton and Watt it remains as one of the most significant pieces of industrial technology on display at the Powerhouse and is the oldest operation steam engine in the world.  With donations of this calibre, it became increasing obvious that a purpose built museum was needed.

The old Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Harris Street (SLNSW)

The old Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Harris Street (SLNSW)

In 1892-93 the decision was made to build a new museum as part of the Technical College in Harris Street Ultimo.  By this time the collection was under the direction of the Minister for Public Instruction, who also managed the Technical College.  As the centre for technical education, and surrounded by industry, wool stores and trades, Ultimo was considered the perfect fit for the new museum of technology.

The new building opened in August 1893 and was quickly a popular attraction.

Six years later, in 1899 further north on Harris Street, a new powerhouse was opened to provide electrical power to the growing Sydney tram network.  The first electric tram line ran from George Street to Harris Street, utilising the powerhouse supply and reinforcing Ultimo’s place as Sydney technological and industrial hub.  The powerhouse later also supplied power to the Sydney train network.  It operated until 1963.  The ending of the tam network in Sydney (back now though) and better power supply for the trains made the site obsolete.  The gradual closure of the woolsheds from the early 1970s onwards also marked the end of the industrial expansion of the Ultimo area.

In 1988, as part of the Bicentennial celebrations,  the old Technology Museum  moved into the former Ultimo Powerhouse.  The building was a perfect fit for the scale and size of many of the exhibits, with the vast spaces of the old power station allowed trains to be on full display, the Whitbread steam engine to work its magic, for airplanes and other large scale displays to be suspended from the rafters, and enough floor space to have permanent displays of small items and large travelling exhibitions.  It also saw the museum renamed to be the Powerhouse Museum.

In February this year the NSW Government announced that the Powerhouse would be relocated to Parramatta and the site sold for developers.  A new museum for Parramatta is a great idea, but seeing as the Powerhouse has enough stuff in its Castle Hill storage for 3 museums, build a new one and keep the old one in its historical precinct.

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12 June 2015: Busby’s Bore

Busby’s Bore, which runs under Sydney’s streets between Centennial Park and Hyde Park remains as one of the most impressive pieces of convict built infrastructure in Sydney.

In the mid-1820s, Sydney was in the midst of a water crisis.  In the space of 30 years, the European settlers had managed to make their main fresh water source, the Tank Stream, undrinkable through its use as a sewer, an outdoor bathing system and a livestock watering place.  Residents had been digging wells for a number of years to supplement the fresh water the stream once provided, but drought years and an increasing population meant another source was desperately needed.

In 1824, the mineral surveyor John Busby arrived in Sydney.  Seeing the problem he suggested to Governor Darling that a tunnel or bore could be built linking the fresh water Lachlan Swamps in the east to the city, where the water could be stored in a large reservoir.

Busby was commissioned to build the tunnel in 1825 and work started in 1827.

Busby's Bore delivery system in Hyde Park (SLNSW SSV1/WAT/1)

Busby’s Bore delivery system in Hyde Park (SLNSW SSV1/WAT/1)

Using convict labour, the bore was started at the city end near the present day corner of College and Liverpool/Oxford Streets.  The process involved sinking shafts down to the required depth along the route and then tunneling through to each shaft, before sinking the next series and continuing.  For 10 years convict gangs worked under the streets cutting the tunnel with hand tools through the sandstone and shoring up the sides and roof with Pyrmont sandstone when it moved into the sand dunes of east Sydney.

Water began to flow from seepage streams from 1830, with sufficient water to provide drinking water to the public.  This was delivered by an elevated pipe line on a trestle erected in Hyde Park.  In 1833 pipes were extended to Circular Quay and water sold to visiting ships there.

When it was completed the bore delivered between 1, 360, 000 and 1,818,000 litres per day.  Water was collected in water carts at the pipe end and sold around the city.  In 1844, reticulation pipes were connected delivering water direct to about 70 homes in the city, with more connected in the following years.  Fresh water delivered to homes and pubs, transformed domestic life in Sydney at the time.  Public water fountains were also set up throughout the city.

Inside the tunnel, stone lined and capped (City of Sydney Archives)

Inside the tunnel, stone lined and capped (City of Sydney Archives)

The bore was supplement in 1854 with a small pumping station near Centennial Park to push water through it and remained as the sole source of fresh water to Sydney until 1858, when the Botany Swamps Water Supply Scheme started.  However it continued to supply water to the city, Woolloomooloo and other inner suburbs into the 1880s and was still running and used in the Botanic Gardens into the twentieth century.

In the 1870s the Bore was cleared of debris and in doing so one of the reasons it had taken so long to build was revealed.  Busby and his team of overseers had managed the project from the surface, not wanting to go into the dark tunnels with the convict workers.

The workers then had managed the underground work unsupervised.  The tunnel was discovered to not go in straight lines between each shaft, but rather to run the course of least resistance.  If a particularly hard area was in the way, the convicts backed up and tried a different route.  There are blind alleys, exploratory drives and irregular passageways all through the system.  The tunnel also varies from just under 1 metre square in places to large caverns of over 3m high and 3.5m across.

Although long closed off it is still all there.  28 shafts remain under the surface of Oxford Street, through Victoria Barracks, at the back of the football stadium and Fox Studios and into Centennial Park, with the stone lined tunnel a hidden reminder of the convict workforce that built the city we live in.

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5 June 2015: Sydney Film Festival revisited

22nd Sydney Film Festival.

22nd Sydney Film Festival.

Back to 2013 for a history of the Sydney Film Festival.

See more here on the SFF’s online archive.

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