Farewell from the Public Sydney blog

The Public Sydney exhibition has closed and it is time for us to wind up our blog too. We’ve met some fantastic people, drank from the best bubblers [and the worst], been chased by ibis and become better acquainted with our city.

The power of the pig, Il Porcellino on Macquarie Street, wasn’t really evident to our volunteers but we will continue to pat him.

Vanessa Berry, our fabulous guest blogger, has taken us to places we’ve never been before and taught us to always look up, down and all around when walking the city streets. Be sure to stay connected with her here.

Our other guest bloggers have helped us think differently about our public spaces. We’d like to thank everyone who commented, emailed and, on one memorable occasion, stopped Nerida at a bubbler to assist with a review.

If you love Sydney stories and places keep in touch with us via our Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out other blogs on our website including the Cook and the Curator – a great one for Sydney foodies. And, speaking of food, be sure to visit the upcoming exhibition ‘Eat your history: a shared table’ at Museum of Sydney.

Hey, have you noticed that during this blog’s time the Town Hall clock has been uncovered again, the monorail is slowly disappearing and Ravi the Hyde Park flair bartender seems to have a few new followers…our public spaces never stop changing!

Sydney monorail track being removed

Sydney monorail track being removed

More cats required

We thought we’d share some of the comments that have been trending on the ideas wall at the Public Sydney exhibition. Cats…and plenty of them! Here is a sample of some of the comments (click on an image to enlarge it):

Ducks have once again made an appearance, suggesting they are a very desirable animal to have frequenting the city’s public spaces.

Today, one of the SLM team was delighted to spot a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo sitting on one of the street lights at the corner of Market and Castlereagh streets. Before he could take a photo, the Cockatoo made its way back to the less frantic surrounds of Hyde Park.

Let us know if you’ve spotted any interesting animals enjoying the city’s public spaces!


Ninety9 launches

Ninety9 launch

Ninety9 launch

For those that have been following the blog posts by Vanessa Berry, you may be interested to learn that Vanessa is just about to have her new work, Ninety9, published by Giramondo Publishing.

Ninety9  is an illustrated memoir of Vanessa’s teenage years as a music fan in the 1990s where she writes of her discovery of alternative music and underground cultures.

The book will be launched in Sydney on August 14th at The Midnight Special in Enmore.

Be sure to also check out Vanessa’s blog related to Ninety9 (featuring the notes and ephemera behind the book) here.


Statues for sale

Statue of Governor Macquarie with red dot sticker

Statue of Major General Lachlan Macquarie with red dot sticker

Nerida’s post about Shivering Statues reminded me of the time I walked past one of Sydney’s newer statues, Major General Lachlan Macquarie, at the Macquarie Street entrance to Hyde Park. This particular statue had only recently been installed when I noticed that it was already ‘sold’ to an anonymous buyer! While I’m assuming the red dot sticker was meant as a light hearted joke, it did make me appreciate that it had stirred up enough of a reaction that someone pretended to purchase it. I started to think about some of the more unusual public art – the ones that we accept and love and the ones we’re not so sure about!

My favourites would have to be ones that feature water, such as Golden Water Mouth in Haymarket and Robert Woodward’s Spiral Water Feature in Darling Harbour. I’ve often felt the temptation to walk to the centre of the Spiral Water Feature but it seems to be constantly inhabited by children getting called to by their parents: “Come back out of the water!”

Not on the day I took this photo though!

Spiral Water Feature

Spiral water feature

Sydney’s water features are in such fantastic supply that they even make for great walking tours! Walk on Water is a walking tour by City of Sydney, which also offers the history and meaning behind the sculptures and water features.

Shivering statues

Governor Bligh statue

Governor Bligh statue

The popularity of Il Porcellino has prompted me to have a closer look at some of the statues that populate our public spaces. At the Sydney Living Museum’s head office at the Mint on Macquarie Street we have a statue of Governor Lachlan Macquarie who was responsible for the creation of many of the surrounding buildings. I’ve been told this statue is known affectionately as ‘The Flasher’ because of the placement of his hand on his coat.

Another statue that always catches my eye is that of Governor Bligh who is in the Barney and Bligh reserve, near the Museum of Contemporary Art. To me he always looks cold, as though the stiff winter breezes from the Quay are making him shiver. Over the next few weeks the Public Sydney team will be investigating some of Sydney’s most loved, and hated, pieces of public sculpture.

Library music

Design students in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection. Photographer: Nicole Davis

Design students in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection. Photographer: Nicole Davis

There has been a lot of talk lately about libraries. Their purpose, their cultural value, their social benefit and even their very existence has come into question in the age of mass digitisation and the growing online convergence of our cultural institutions. Despite a debate that raises serious doubts about the long-term physical survival of libraries as we know them, there continues to be a surprisingly persistent public discussion about noise within libraries. People argue about whether library visitors should be ‘shushed’ or whether kids and family activity should be segregated from other library users.

I should declare from the outset that during the twelve years I’ve worked in libraries in Sydney I’ve never had to ask anyone to ‘keep it down’. Perhaps this is because I have always worked in small ‘special’ libraries such as the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection at Sydney Living Museums. The intimate architectural spaces common to these subject-specific libraries and the particularly focussed research of their visitors combine to provide a self-regulated environment, where library users carefully adjust their noise levels according to the size of the room and whether someone is sitting next to them. This discipline of ‘cooperative quiet’ can even be a little intimidating for library staff who are most often the noisiest people in our library.

Matthew Stephens with students in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection

Matthew Stephens with students in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection

As a researcher I’ve visited dozens of libraries both here and overseas and some of my strongest associations with these places relate to sound. The composer Claude Debussy once said that the essence of music is the ‘silence between the notes’, so perhaps it is the quality of the silences between the ‘notes’ that provides each library with a unique soundscape. Or maybe it is the nature of contextualised silences that we are really talking about.

While noise in a library is most often made by its visitors, the shape of the sounds is often dictated by the physical space within which they are made. The sounds will vary depending on the size of the library space, the height of the ceiling and its shape, whether the room is carpeted or not, whether there are many books on its shelves and the construction of its furniture.

Each of us interprets these sound shapes differently. The small eddies of human sound floating within the vast space of the Mitchell Library reading room, at the State Library of New South Wales, have many connotations. For some it might take them back to a school room, a moment in which everyone is silent, thinking, and where the only noise is the scrape of a shoe on the floor, a dropped pencil, the clatter of nails on a keyboard, and the turning of pages. For others it is like the dead silence of the Australia bush where sounds seem isolated and drift alone in limitless space.

One of my most memorable ‘noise moments’ was in the Mitchell Library when a woman burst into the centre of the reading room, operatically fell to her knees, raised her arms and shouted: ‘for God’s sake would someone get me a book!’ She was seated by library staff and duly given something to read. I think her passion was admired by many of us in the room that day.

Mitchell Library Reading Room

Mitchell Library Reading Room

I find the public interest in noise in libraries heartening because it is really part of an ongoing discussion about the purpose of libraries and about human beings congregating and negotiating in a shared space. It is less about the individualistic consumption we so often associate with electronic access to information and more about the physical and the collective. Somehow, I just can’t imagine that a person on their knees in a library screaming for a Wi-Fi password would evoke as much empathy as my witnessing of a desperate need for a book all those years ago.

Peace and quiet

Mitchell Library

Mitchell Library

My favourite public building in the city is the Mitchell Library. I love the golden-orange colour of the sandstone on a bright day. I love the feeling it creates of a warm and snugly refuge from the weather on a wet day.

The replica Tasman Map, stained glass windows, classical carvings and even the doors celebrating Australian explorers are an enticing invitation to seek knowledge. Whenever I see the stained glass panels in the reading room I vow to go home and dig out my copy of Chaucer’s works – I haven’t yet but they still prompt this response after years of visiting the space. I appreciate the silence as I work in an area of the city where the noise of buses is a constant soundtrack. I often seek public spaces that are quiet, no mean feat in today’s bustling city, especially if you are not in the mood for sprawling in a park.

I was once roused on by a librarian in Mitchell because I was speaking in what I thought was a whisper to an intern about using the small pictures catalogue. ‘Shhh. Please conduct your conversation outside’ she politely said, indicating the doors to the ornate foyer. When I told a librarian friend about my misdemeanor she said, ‘Well I never Shhh! anymore. Public libraries are more lively today’. I was a bit torn by this as they are a valuable public retreat from the sounds and electronic bustle we encounter in every other public building but I also understand the impulse for discussion and interaction in this place of learning.

My learned colleague, Librarian and library historian, Matthew Stephens, will explore the idea of silence in public libraries in a later post.

Entry floor mosaic

Entry floor mosaic

Free yoga in June

Lunchtime yoga

Lunchtime yoga

If you happened to be walking past Museum of Sydney at lunchtime yesterday you may have noticed a yoga class taking place on the grass.

As part of our Public Sydney forecourt experiment, we’ve invited yogi, Simone Skinner-Smith, to run lunchtime yoga workshops each Tuesday in June – and it’s free!

Simone teaches ‘Hatha’ yoga and has been practising yoga for over 11 years in all corners of the world including India, Bali, Mauritius, London and most recently in her home town of Sydney.

Sessions run from 12.15pm-1pm, with mats provided, so just turn up in your yoga clothes and join in.

Classes are limited to 15 people only so it’s first in, best dressed.

Some of our yoga experimenters yesterday said that the city location of this yoga class offers a unique experience, especially when reaching up to the towering buildings above!

The details: 

Free yoga classes on the Museum of Sydney forecourt (First Government House Place)

Dates: Every Tuesday in June

Times: 12.15pm-1pm

Mats provided. Classes limited to 15 people on a first in, best dressed basis. Wear appropriate clothing for a yoga class. No yoga experience necessary. Classes are weather dependent and will not proceed in rainy weather.  

Lunchtime yoga

Lunchtime yoga

Yo-yoers on the forecourt

Museum of Sydney forecourt

Museum of Sydney forecourt

We have it on good authority that there’ll be some talented yo-yoers taking over the Museum of Sydney forecourt today at 1pm. The group have been known to show off their yo-yo skills around some of the city’s other public areas, so we’re excited to have them come try out our space.

If you’re in the city, come along and watch them do their thing!

Museum of Sydney forecourt (First Government House Place), 1pm, Wednesday 29th May. 

We blog the city

Image credit: Rachael Holt

Image credit: Rachael Holt

This Sunday at Museum of Sydney, come listen to Public Sydney and Mirror Sydney blogger, Vanessa Berry, when she speaks at our Vivid Sydney talk, Digital City 1 – We blog the city.

Vanessa will be joined on stage by 52 Suburbs and 52 Suburbs Around The World blogger, Louise Hawson, as well as My Darling Darlinghurst blogger, Violet Tingle. Find out what inspired these bloggers to share their experiences of the cities and suburbs they’ve explored!

For details and tickets click here.