A highlight of my week in Sydney in 2017 was an exercise in the Heineken effect – reaching the parts other tours can’t reach. Patrick O’Neill, who I had met while working for Sydney ADFAS in 2011, offered to take me to places in Sydney I had not myself discovered.
He picked me up at 10.00am and drove me around central Sydney pointing out landmarks and drawing my particular attention to the Sydney Observatory [https://maas.museum/sydney-observatory] which, like the old observatory at Greenwich, was built for navigational purposes as much as astronomical exploration. It was designed by Alexander Dawson and completed in 1858. Its primary function was to operate a time-ball precisely at 1pm so that ships in line of sight could synchronise the chronometers they needed to navigate accurately. A cannon fired simultaneously from Fort Denison, an island in mid-harbour, provided a time-signal to ships in coves further away.
Paddington, once rough and deprived and threatened with post-war clearance, is now gentrified. On the way, along Oxford Street, Patrick pointed out that I should seek an opportunity to visit Victoria Barracks: http://www.armymuseumnsw.com.au.
Part way along Oxford Street, next to the impressive Paddington Town Hall (1890-91) lies the remains of Paddington Reservoir (1866), one of Sydney’s numerous underground water-supply storage reservoirs: https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/explore/facilities/parks/major-parks/paddington-reservoir-gardens. It ceased to function in 1899, and was adapted as a garage until part of the roof gave way in 1990. It was then adapted as an intriguing public garden which opened in 2008.
Patrick drove down street after street of small terraced houses, with balconies and ironwork, once the homes of artisans, and later post-war immigrants, and now changing hands for remarkable amounts of money. The area is awash with hotels, art galleries and high-end retail outlets. The pavements of some streets are lined with fig trees, which look both attractive and curious, and must be a problem to high-sided vehicles because their branches spread diagonally from the trunk.
We cut through a sequence of inner-city suburbs – Surry Hills and Redfern, where the New South Wales Government Railways workshops were sited – to Newtown where Patrick and his artist wife Stella live, to drink very fine coffee in very fine cups under the veranda at the back of the house. Over the garden wall is St Michael and all the Angels Cathedral, the seat of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Saint Michael Archangel in Sydney, essentially an orthodox group in communion with Rome.
Then we explored Newtown – Hollis Park, a sequence of residential streets with a synagogue, which Patrick thinks indicates the religion of the original developer, and the main shopping street and former tram-route, King Street, picking off the Trocadero Ballroom (1889) [http://sydneyarchitecture.com/INW/INW22.htm], a fine post office, a town hall and St Stephen’s Church (Edmund Blacket, 1874), which is surrounded by Camperdown Cemetery [https://www.neac.com.au/grounds-and-facilities/cemetery].
Much of the cemetery has been cleared, but I observed two curious nautical monuments which I later identified online – the anchor from Morts Dock commemorating the SS Collaroy which ran aground in 1881 and the detached pediment with a carved ship ploughing through the waves placed as a memorial to seamen, which came from either the old Maritime Services Building (c1850) or the former Harbour Trust Building, Circular Quay (c1902), depending which source you believe.
In the evening Patrick picked me up again and took me to dinner at home with Stella. As we drove down a main street he pointed out fruit bats in the sky, like a horror movie, and later we heard their cries as we were having dinner.
Nothing makes visiting a place more memorable than knowing hospitable locals.