Restoration & recreation

a pile of ‘standard’ 15 inch shingles rescued from an early colonial house in Sydney. Photo Gary Crockett

According to Ralph Hawkins, our hands-on convict historian from the Blue Gum High Forests of Sydney’s northern suburbs, split shingles were always fixed to roofs facing the same way they grew. This meant that rain water ran off the shingle in the same way it ran down the tree. Shingles were mostly 15 inches long, which was roughly the length of a convict’s arm from his elbow to his fingers. This made them easy to carry from the cutting area to the cart or onto the barge waiting to take them away. How about that eh?

Get along to Domes Day at the Hyde Park Barracks on 13 November and hear Ralph Hawkins reveal more fascinating stuff on shingles, domes and convict workmanship.

A shingling party in action around Middle Harbour, Sydney 1870s. Detail of an image in Album of Photographs PXA 969, sourced online from State Library of New South Wales.

More than 2-dimensional: under the rafters of the newly built guardhouse domes. Photo Gary Crockett

Our new domes are indeed sexy, in a splintery, folksy way. But how does their ‘accuracy’, or the quality of their construction, help us know more about the past, or their original builders, or the ragged world that they once were part of…? Surely they’re more than a shape, or a symbol of colonial progress. More than a costly facsimile. Former HHT curator James Broadbent once warned us that re-creation needs to forge new understandings and teach us something about life in the past, otherwise the whole activity is “a self indulgent waste of time and money on the past of its creators, or re-recreators”. Our challenge as keepers of the re-roofed guardhouses is to make them perform – to help them sing for their supper and reveal intriguing things about themselves. Looking good, or being well built, is only part of the job. They need to speak up and tell us something about the world of convicts, constables, colonists, power, pain, terror, cruelty, heartbreak and hope that echoes within their walls and under their (accurately re-made) rafters.

Here’s a conundrum…the HHT has just removed the hardwearing fibreglass coverings from the roofs of its guardhouses and replaced these with frail and costly shingles that will start deteriorating as soon as the sun and rain starts belting down, which is already. We’ve reinstated a key, albeit quirky detail, giving the mighty Barracks its elegant entrance back. But unlike the sturdy brickwork of Greenway’s convict building, the guardhouse shingles will be lucky to last more than 30 years at best.

Why do you think its a good idea to rebuild the domed roofs and cover them with shingles…?

North Guardhouse, June 2009

North Guardhouse Oct 2011

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)

Great article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald helped kickstart our fund raising campaign.

It also raised a few interesting points about architects and their inspiration and the likelihood that Francis Greenway, Barracks designer and convicted forger, ‘lifted’ his idea of the domes from an array of late 18th century building catalogues and off-the-peg plans.

For more information on the campaign and how you might contribute to this restoration project visit the Foundation for the Historic Houses Trust or contact General Manager James Beck on 02 8239 2255.

Curved timber roofing components from north guardhouse. Photo: Gary Crockett

Archaeologists working on the guardhouses in the early 1980s discovered bits and pieces of timber from the original dome structure. These had been hidden in the ceiling area and protected from the weather under a corrugated metal roof. We’ve had fun reassembling these components and can now make out the shape of the circular base plate. We can also see how a series of short, slotted studs were fitted to carry a matching timber circle above. The whole structure looked like a flattened drum, rising up through a big hole in the roof. On top of this drum sat the lovely shingled dome. Stay tuned for more info on this intriguing discovery and how we intend to incorporate these original timber pieces into the new structure.

Over the next few months we’ll be recording and discussing this exciting conservation project – the reconstruction by the Historic Houses Trust of the twin domes of the Hyde Park Barracks guardhouses, decorative elements intrinsic to the original design for the complex by architect Francis Greenway, completed in 1819. This project is commencing during Macquarie 2010, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in the then colony of NSW, and follows the listing of the Barracks as a World Heritage Site.

On either side of the Barracks central gateway the two guardhouses were originally roofed with stone slabs, through which rose domes of timber ribs braced with narrow battens and with a covering of split casuarina shingles. The surviving dome over the present Barracks Café was a larger version of these. Of a similar size the small dome atop the central barracks building functions as a ventilator, and there are thoughts that these domes may have had a similar role. The two guardhouse domes were removed in the mid 1850s, the beginning of a long series of alterations, additions and demolition work that saw the removal in 1918 of the south-western corner pavilion and the entire southern range. With loud calls for the entire complex to be torn down it’s remarkable that the Barracks survived at all.

Apart from these aesthetic losses the removal of the domes and subsequent conservation work has led to ongoing conservation issues, most significantly involving the deterioration of the fabric of the two guardhouse structures. Fibreglass weatherproofing installed in the 1980s has exacerbated the issue, trapping moisture within the surviving building fabric and causing deterioration of the original convict-built stonework. Conservation work is now essential, and this has provided the HHT with the rare opportunity to recreate a feature of Francis Greenway’s most significant surviving building.

The reconstruction of the domes over the Hyde Park Barracks’ twin guardhouses follows the Barracks’ inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Architect, Francis Greenway’s domes (built in 1819 and removed in the early 1860s) formed part of Governor Macquarie’s suite public buildings ornamenting Sydney’s ‘dress circle’ and later street of Government. Through re-instating the domes the Historic Houses Trust seeks to interpret Macquarie’s vision.

For further information on this project and public programs allowing interaction with heritage experts and traditional trade skills see

If you would like more information about supporting the Hyde Park Barracks Domes Project please contact: James Beck, General Manager, Historic Houses Trust Foundation T 02 8239 2255

Image: J. Austin after Robert Russell, Hyde Park Barracks, 1836, lithograph

Historic Houses Trust, Caroline Simpson Library & Research collection