In 1994, we asked the archaeologist Robert Varman to paint us a picture of how the guardhouses were furnished and fitted out, based on marks, holes and gouges in the brickwork. Robert’s drawings, shown below, are sketchy but accurate and give us some idea of how convict guards and later caretakers made use of this cramped room, by attaching shelves, cupboards and fireplace furniture to the brickwork and leaving tell-tale traces.

North guardhouse interior before 1819

North guardhouse interior after 1819

North guardhouse interior after 1848

These drawings are reproduced from Robert Varman’s Background report toward a plan of management west compound wall and structures Hyde Park Barracks / Dr Robert V J Varman for the Hyde Park Barracks 1994 (with later illustrations). Report held in HHT’s Caroline Simpson Reference Library.

Matthew Aberline pointing the way at Hyde Park Barracks Museum today. Photo Gary Crockett

As ‘Domes Day’ approaches, or should I say approacheth, Matt Aberline and Nicole Canham from Polyartistry are gathering random, off-the-cuff observations from passers-by, using a giant inflatable arrow to focus attention on the job at hand.

What would you say about our beautiful new domes… an important addition, whimsical fun, crowning achievement or needless expense?

Intact mid 19th century ‘torpedo’ bottle (ug269) recovered from north guardhouse in 1982, on display at the Barracks. Photo Gary Crockett

At least 25 alcohol bottles, along with 8 flower pots and 1 ‘sauce’ bottle, lurked beneath the ground in the north guardhouse, according to archaeologists working here in the early 1980s. Could this mean that the 19th century occupants were big drinkers, and pot plant enthusiasts? Its more likely that the room was used for dumping rubbish.

Among the many bottles uncovered were stoneware vessels for stout, black glass bottles for beer or porter, square base bottles for gin and even one for schnapps. The ‘torpedo’ bottle shown above was one of 2 discovered. These were used for carbonated water and designed to be lying down to keep their corks moist, swollen and air-tight. Archaeologists have dated this deposit between 1870 and 1898.

If anyone’s got a suggestion about the flower pots, we’d be keen to hear about it.

Skyline Design participants in action at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum this week

This week Polyartistry has been holding skyline design workshops in the museum of the Hyde Park Barracks.  It’s all part of our conversation around the restoration of the Hyde Park Barracks Domes.

We talk a bit about favourite Sydney buildings and why they are important, we think about other symbols and signs that we pass by all the time and discuss the meaning that they have for us…and then we spend some time in the lovely silhouette room imagining and making new buildings and spaces for Sydney.     Why would we stop and chat about buildings in this way, or have kids create something from their imagination rather than focus on facts or another more obviously educational outcome?  Because there needs to be some starting point in the journey from the personal meaning that we invest in precious familiar objects to a more outwardly focussed caring about our shared spaces which reflect the heritage and values of a community of people rather than just one person or family.  When we do this, we are building stuff – giving other people an opportunity to build stuff for themselves – not only in terms of making buildings themselves, in this case, but also in terms of contributing to a set of experiences which enable kids to make connections between their inner world and the world around them.

Those of us who are passionate and knowledgeable about art, or music or architecture need to keep in mind that preserving this heritage requires custodians both now and in the future to ensure the ongoing care and maintenance of places that tell collective stories.  One way to do this is by creating a welcoming intellectual space for young people, an entry point into ideas of what we preserve and why, and what we would create if we had the chance.  It’s great to offer kids a beautifully presented and engaging museum space where they can discover many things they didn’t know, but in order to have them leave with a sense of caring or ownership about what might happen to that place in the future requires its own conversation.  A conversation where they can imagine the future of our shared spaces, and how they might be part of it.  That’s really what’s at the heart of the domes restoration: caring about a space that is significant in the story of our society to the point that we want to see it returned to its completed state.

We have one more Skyline Workshop today, Saturday 8 October, at 2pm.  We are also talking to people from midday to 1.30pm. Come and tell us what you think about the domes!

What symbol would we use to get your attention in a public space? A big blue thumb (like this) sign? A giant red arrow?

Just as a special gift might reflect how we feel about another person, we find clues as to how different people feel about our society, and what our life should contain in our surroundings. There are stand-out architectural examples that dominate our skyline. Think of the Sydney Opera House with those amazing sail-like shells –people all over the world who see a picture of that building associate it with Australia and with Sydney. It’s a calling card for us all. There are things we walk past everyday loudly vying for our attention, like enormous illuminated advertisement billboards, and then there are special occasion instances like the light projections we find every year as part of the Vivid Festival. But what did we do in earlier times when engineering and design were more modest, when we didn’t have electricity, when the idea of marketing and brands and getting people’s attention was in its infancy? Where might we find the clues in our early buildings? Well, in Sydney, it all started with a dome.

The interesting thing about the settlement of Australia by Great Britain in the late 1700s is that it was designated a penal colony and rather than building a gaol and putting people in it, the whole country became the prison settlement. So you might imagine that it was rather a momentous occasion when, for the first time, it was decided that everyone who lived outside of the Hyde Park Barracks was a free man, and those who were incarcerated were the people who were serving time for their crimes. For Governor Macquarie, this was a significant shift in our thinking about Australia and a move towards the ‘civilising’ of our society. The addition of domes to the guardhouses of the Hyde Park Barracks was an important part of symbolising this shift in thinking. A ‘civilised’ society incorporated fine architecture which included decorative features like domes. Today, people walk past the Hyde Park Barracks without giving a second thought to the importance of that building in our history or the meaning of those fairly modest objects being reconstructed underneath a shield of scaffolding and hessian. And yet that symbol, and the act of thinking that we were capable of building a society with all the benefits and finery we could possibly imagine, were the beginnings of the modern Australia that we enjoy today.

Dome on Carlton Hill

It is human nature to attach meaning to different symbols and objects, to define spaces for specific purposes – we do it a lot with smaller objects that represent aspects of our own lives. A favourite coffee cup, a pair of earrings given to us for a birthday or anniversary, a dirty, beat-up toy that a child refuses to part with…all those objects have meaning for us beyond the value of the materials themselves. It’s what we see there and how it makes us feel about ourselves that gives the object its importance to us. How often do we stop to use this way of seeing things – some might call it seeing with your heart – in our shared public spaces? To admire the outline of a building, the placement of a park or to notice something else that pleases us and to realise in that moment that other people have been responsible for that; that someone else has left a message of something interesting or beautiful for us to see in our comings and goings in daily life. Of course we are all very quick to complain when we find a sculpture or construction site that isn’t to our liking. How good are we at practising the discipline of appreciating what others preserve for the benefit of us all?

We’d love to hear how you would design your own ultimate Sydney building, or reclaim a famous Sydney place at our Skyline School Holiday workshops, or through our Domes Shingle competition where you can add you own design to our shingle template, send it in and have a chance at winning a great prize!

The Firkin Crane, Ireland’s National Centre for Dance

We’d love to hear from you about favourite old Sydney places that are being used in new ways.

Hello…and welcome to the first of several guest blog posts I’ll be contributing to the Historic Houses Trust blog in the lead-up to the unveiling of the Hyde Park Barracks Domes currently undergoing restoration.

A classical musician doesn’t usually have the opportunity to wander into other domains like architecture so this particular project is a real treat. In my capacity as a member of Polyartistry, I’ll be creating some activities with my colleague Matthew Aberline and the wonderful HHT team around these domes.  Poly’s main brief is simple: we want to know what you think about things, and then we use those thoughts to create new works of art, or to animate spaces and ideas in myriad ways.

What does butter have to do with dancing? A quick detour in Google to see what butter + dance turns up directs me to a low-fi animation of a piece of butter dancing to “pump it” by the Black Eyed Peas …interesting… but not the only connection between butter and dance.

Reimagining and reclaiming spaces once used for industries that have been relocated for a variety of reasons is nothing new, and in August I found myself working in what used to be a Butter Factory on a dance performance that is based on a book written in the 1920s. Ireland was an international centre for butter making – and the Firkin Crane was one of the buildings that formed part of the Butter Exchange in the 19th century, which was the largest in the world at that time. Now the Firkin Crane continues its life in the Cork community as Ireland’s National Centre for Dance and the sense of industry and producing an essential product continues, but this time the product is art.
In our old spaces, we find remnants of the way life used to be – socially, economically and culturally – and we can be inspired by what used to take place there in order to influence what we create there in the present. There are so many examples of imaginative ways in which we’ve reclaimed spaces that were once utilitarian in value and now house centres for creativity and ideas. Here in Sydney, Australia, The Historic Houses Trust maintains a number of our most significant spaces, providing us with a window into our past in order that we might see those spaces as significant pieces of the puzzle that makes present-day Australia what it is.

The Hyde Park Barracks has been an important place for Australians without most of us realising it, so accustomed are we to skyscrapers and modern design, technology and a much flashier way of making our spaces. But what HPB symbolises for us is the birthplace of modern Australia – the beginnings of everything that we see around us today. The vision of people like Macquarie provided the foundations for our modern skyline, both in an aspirational, but also a practical, sense. What really cemented the idea that Australia could be a modern, civilised nation that might one day rival any other country in the world? Two elegant, simple wooden domes that were the beginnings of a vision for our nation in which we were free people rather than an oversized penal colony at the end the world, equal to other societies, and just as capable as anyone else of creating a community in which people could work together to build a better future. Perhaps today it seems like a humble beginning, but imagine starting with nothing but bushland, creating all of our early settlements, having to improvise and make do with what was at hand: the domes, being decorative, represented a completely different view of what we might be capable of. Architecture has for a long time had a function of inspiring us to better things – whether it is feats of engineering once thought impossible, or representing a level of magnificence beyond our everyday imaginings. How often do we stop to look at the skyline, though, and consider the meaning of it, to read in the outline of our surroundings the traces of belief in our capacity?

Tell us about your about favourite old Sydney places that are being used in new ways.

Scott Carlin talks thorough the installation of the 2nd dome onto the southern guardhouse of the Hyde Park Barracks.

Sean Johnson, Clive Lucas architects and John Wallis, builder on site at the Hyde Park Barracks today. Photo Gary Crockett

Julie McKenzie (with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects) 1998 interpretation design for ‘Deputy Superintendents Office’, Hyde Park Barracks Museum. Photo Gary Crockett

Many thanks to Peter Tonkin of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects for presenting a very thoughtful lecture at Hyde Park Barracks last week. It was great to learn about the conservation work that has already taken place at the museum, in particular the design elements created by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer such as the ‘floating’ display units and steel staircase sculpture which were designed to complement Greenways original building plan. I now look forward to following the progress of the domes restoration project, the next step in piecing together the history of the site. (thanks to HHT staffer Claire Wilmott)

Image: detail of watercolour ‘Light House, South Head of Pt. Jackson’ in the album Drawing in Sydney 1840-50 PX*D123 State Library of New South Wales

You’d think it would have been a simple and straight forward project…re-roof a couple of tiny guardhouses with timber framed domes, covered in a handful of shingles. Find out why there’s more to this than hardwood, hammers and nails in a series of ponderous talks on what makes this challenging project tick, what’s been learnt and what’s been gained.

Join us at the Barracks for lunchtime talks on 27 July (Clive Lucas) and 3 August (Kate Clark) – find out more here.

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