Power of the Pig update

Il Porcellino

Il Porcellino

One of the test subjects for our Power of the Pig investigation has reported back on her luck. Kate had this to say about her fortune so far:

“Visited the pig on Tuesday this week. Bought a lottery ticket on Thursday… hmmm, maybe I should coordinate this better. I gave him a dollar, rubbed his nose (got dripped on), and made a big general wish – not anything specific. Nothing amazing has happened so far but nothing bad either (touch wood)… but maybe that’s just normal. Come on pig power!”

We’ll be reporting back on Matt’s luck shortly and will continue to check in on how Kate’s life has been changed by the Power of the Pig.

 

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.

Town Hall

Every day a constantly changing array of people sit on the steps of the Sydney Town Hall, waiting for friends or just watching people go by. It is the best known of all Sydney’s meeting spots, one of those city places – like Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station clocks or the “mall’s balls” in Rundle Mall in Adelaide – that has enough prominence and space to override all other street corners, squares and statues to become number one.

Saturday Afternoon, Sydney Town Hall

Saturday Afternoon, Sydney Town Hall

Sitting and waiting on the steps is usually punctuated by the bells of the Town Hall clock chiming out the quarter hours, but currently restoration work is taking place on the sandstone and the bells are silent. The clock tower and western facade of the building are disguised by a large screen printed with the image of the building and the tower: the clock now shows a permanent quarter to 12.

The Clock Tower in disguise, as sandstone restoration work takes place.

The Clock Tower in disguise, as sandstone restoration work takes place.

The Town Hall is the city’s civic heart, and gives its name to the train station below it and the tall 70s office building behind it, Town Hall House. Prior to the establishment of the Town Hall in 1868, when the foundation stone was laid, the site was a graveyard. The Old Sydney Burial Ground was established in 1792, at what was then the edge of the city. Although the graves were exhumed before the construction of the Town Hall, remains are still being discovered on the site, often during building works.

George Street looking north, showing the Old Burial Ground in the left, now the site of the Town Hall. An 1842 drawing by John Rae, courtesy Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales.

George Street looking north, showing the Old Burial Ground in the left, now the site of the Town Hall. An 1842 drawing by John Rae, courtesy Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales.

Sydney Town Hall and George St during the construction of Town Hall station in 1930. Photo courtesy Powerhouse Museum: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27331537@N06/2644640321

Sydney Town Hall and George St during the construction of Town Hall station in 1930. Photo courtesy Powerhouse Museum: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27331537@N06/2644640321

The Town Hall has been site of countless performances, demonstrations, protests, exhibitions, ceremonies and organ recitals (the Grand Organ was, at the time of its installation, the largest in the world) since it was officially opened in 1889. It has been draped in lights, covered in coloured projections, and red carpets have been laid across its steps time and time again.

Sydney Town Hall illuminated for the Inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1901. Image from Wikipedia/State Library of NSW

Sydney Town Hall illuminated for the Inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1901. Image from Wikipedia/State Library of NSW

But on the average day the steps are host to many smaller moments, people waiting, sipping coffee, checking their phones, watching people go by and scanning the passing faces for the person they’re waiting for. Like most people who have grown up in Sydney, I’ve waited on the Town Hall steps many a time. So I decided, for this month’s Public Sydney blog, I would take up a spot on the stairs for an hour one Saturday morning and record a few of these everyday moments.

Waiting on Town Hall Steps

Waiting on Town Hall Steps

When I approached the stairs the people waiting were sitting towards the sides of the steps, leaving the centre vacant. This provided a kind of stage for the boy who was standing in the middle of them, being given directions by his mother. She stood at the bottom of the steps with an iPad, giving him his lines. “Say ‘Here I am at the Sydney Town Hall’,” she instructed.

The boy wasn’t very enthusiastic. Seeing this, two teenage girls leaning against the balustrade began to cheer him on. “This is your moment,” one of them said, “your time to shine!” The boy didn’t look convinced and his mother explained to the girls that they were doing a school project for which he had to visit notable Sydney locations: the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Sydney Tower.

Another Town Hall steps moment: a photograph from the 1920s of a car driving down the steps at the side of the Town Hall. Photo from the Powerhouse Museum. http://www.flickr.com/photos/24785917@N03/4361741782

Another Town Hall steps moment: a photograph from the 1920s of a car driving down the steps at the side of the Town Hall. Photo from the Powerhouse Museum. http://www.flickr.com/photos/24785917@N03/4361741782

This was not the only video made on the steps that day. Soon after the boy and his mother moved on to their next Sydney landmark, a group of people climbed the steps. At the top of them they formed a line and began to practise a dance. This dance was one that is instantly familiar to anyone who has attended a school dance or a wedding in the last three decades. As they revised the movements the song began to play in my head: they call it Nutbush...

Seeing me looking, one of the group came up and asked me if I could film them doing the dance on the steps. “Sure,” I said, and went to stand where the school project mum had been only a few minutes before with one of their iPhones ready to record. “We’re doing an Amazing Race challenge,” one of them explained after I’d recorded their dance with the Town Hall steps in the foreground and amused/bemused people in the background.

An average Saturday at the Town Hall steps.

An average Saturday at the Town Hall steps.

As interesting as the people waiting on the steps are those going by, and it is a good spot for people-watching and concocting stories. Wondering what is inside the big yellow envelope carried by the man in the army uniform, or whether the man wearing the T-shirt that says “As Real As It Gets” thought about the slogan when he got dressed this morning. Noticing the woman wearing all purple, from fingerless gloves to hairclips. Watching people either avoiding, or giving the thumbs up, to the happy man who wears the “Smile for Peace” sandwich board.

Beyond the building’s civic importance, perhaps it is the ever-changing view of passers-by that makes Town Hall steps Sydney’s premier waiting location, imagining where people must come from and where they are going, until it is time to leave the steps yourself, and rejoin the city crowds.

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

Grand old dame of Sydney’s parks

View of the original central avenue looking north, photographer unknown, c 1911, before the major reconstruction of Hyde Park, Daniel Solander Library, The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust

View of the original central avenue looking north, photographer unknown, c 1911, before the major reconstruction of Hyde Park, Daniel Solander Library, The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust

Hyde Park is Sydney’s most loved and used green space, and has a history going back to the early years of the colonial town of Sydney. However the maturing landscape we admire today really dates from the late 1920s when the city engineer Norman Weekes won a design competition for a much needed upgrade of the park. Weekes’s scheme, as partially implemented, followed formal Beaux Arts compositional principles with its central allee, short cross avenues, sunken parkway at Park Street and radiating pathways. At the time the ‘City Beautiful’ movement was also influencing the design of civic infrastructure and this is evident in the fine sandstone walls, flights of steps, light fittings and fountains through the park.

Today’s massive fig tree avenues and expansive lawns belie the fact that for almost twenty years at the turn of the 20th century most of the western side of Hyde Park had been dug up for the construction of the City Circle underground railway line, which was built using the cut-and-cover technique. This required the excavation of a massive trench through the park, parallel to Elizabeth Street, in which the brick railway tunnels and railway stations were built. Construction dragged on much longer than planned and eventually public outcry forced the government and the council to act – leading to the 1926 design competition and Norman Weekes’s winning scheme.

Weekes emphasized the need for large open sunny lawns, for health and recreation; and favoured the elimination of ornamental flower displays in preference for big plantations of trees. He was excited about the horticultural possibilities of Australian plant species and many of the trees introduced to the park were NSW native species – such as the figs, crows ash, flame tree, lacebark kurrajong and hoop pines.

Aerial view of Hyde Park looking south from the tower of St James Church, 1932, photographer unknown, Daniel Solander Library, The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust

Aerial view of Hyde Park looking south from the tower of St James Church, 1932, photographer unknown, Daniel Solander Library, The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust

Weekes’s scheme was gradually muddied by the later introduction of groves of palm trees and much more ornamental shrub and understory planting, as well as the filling up of his grand open lawns with more traditional Gardenesque tree plantations. Successive master plans for the park developed since the 1980s have aimed to reduce these additions. Since the 1990s, tree management has become a significant issue in parks across Sydney generally and Hyde Park has had its share of cultural problems with trees – such as the discovery of Phellinus, a fungus that attacks fig trees, and the gradual over-maturity and senescence of older trees.

Architect Bruce Dellit’s extraordinary ANZAC Memorial building and reflecting pool at the southern end of Hyde Park was not part of Weekes’s park design and its introduction caused considerable controversy in the late 1920s as there was a strongly expressed community view that parks should generally be devoid of extraneous buildings. The growing strength of sentiment around an appropriate memorial to the fallen of the Great War led to the acceptance of the project, which was built through public subscriptions. Dellit’s reserved monumental design for the memorial and sculptor Rayner Hoff’s highly emotive figures and bas reliefs are of such astonishing quality in design and execution that any reservations have long disappeared.

Anzac Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney, pool of reflection, 1934 Harold Cazneaux.

Anzac Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney, pool of reflection, 1934 Harold Cazneaux.

The underlying geology and natural soils and drainage of the park are of great interest to landscape architects and horticulturists, as they help to account for the growth and performance of trees in the park, as well as their decline – but maybe that is a topic for another time!

 

Hyde Park mystery structures

There’s a mysterious side to Hyde Park. It starts with the desire paths through the trees – unofficial paths worn into the ground by people taking the same shortcut – follow them instead of the official paths and you might discover some of the park’s mystery structures.

Path to mystery

Path to mystery

These mystery structures are dotted throughout the park, unobtrusive unless you make a special effort to see them. They are utilitarian, yet upon examining them it is hard to know exactly what their function is. Here are just a few of them.

The first two come under the category of “ventilation mysteries”.

Ventilation mystery 1

Ventilation mystery 1

Ventilation mystery 2

Ventilation mystery 2

The next, “mysterious concrete boxes”.

Mystery concrete box 1

Mystery concrete box 1

Mystery concrete box 2

Mystery concrete box 2

I’m sure some people would look at these and know exactly what they are – feel free to explain the mystery if you know!

Power of the Pig

Il Porcellino

Il Porcellino

One day I was walking along Macquarie Street behind a very well dressed couple who were obviously in a hurry. He kept saying to her ‘We are late already!’ to which she replied tersely ‘I know, I know, come on, it will NOT take long’. They sped off ahead of me but I caught up to them just in time to see what they were up to. The woman had stopped outside Sydney Hospital, where she rubbed the nose of the boar statue, put a coin in the collection receptacle, dropped a kiss on the boar’s head then grabbed her partner’s hand and ran through the hospital gates. Interesting…

Il Porcellino is a bronze statue of a boar, based on one in Florence, which stands outside the Sydney Hospital. The statue was donated in 1968 by the Marchessa Clarissa Torrigiani in memory of her father and brother. It is very popular with Sydneysiders and tourists alike and is often referred to as the ‘Pig statue’. Visitors are encouraged to rub its nose, make a donation and as a result will hopefully have good luck. Read more about it here.

I knew about this statue and its reputation for being ‘lucky’ but had never seen someone who took it so seriously. It made me think about some of the sites of superstition, luck or good fortune in central Sydney. Vanessa Berry has already blogged on the Wishing Tree in the Botanic garden but the team at Sydney Living Museums is now searching for places that are ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’. We are also interested in rituals people perform in public spaces in order to secure good luck, health or happiness.

As part of this investigation we have decided to conduct a few experiments. The first is to test if the pig [OK, wild boar] has the power to change your fortune. Two test subjects, Matt and Kate, have volunteered to see if patting the boar will change their luck. They’ll report back soon so stay tuned; the next big lottery winner may be announced right here on the Public Sydney blog!

Hyde Park

At the eastern edge of the city is the green expanse of Hyde Park, perhaps Sydney’s most inviting public space. It is a space of tall fig trees and stretches of lawn, and grand structures like the Archibald Fountain and War Memorial. Whatever the time, day or night, the park is busy with people and full of stories.

Hyde Park is a romantic place. It’s a place for canoodling on the grass at lunchtime with your sweetheart, carving your initials into the trunk of one of the tall fig trees that line the central avenue, or having wedding photos taken as joggers and lunch-hour strollers pass by.

Ash, Kimbo, and the postcode of Mount Druitt, 2770.

Ash, Kimbo, and the postcode of Mount Druitt, 2770.

Wedding photography

Wedding photography

The park benches are host to a series of ever changing scenes, as people talk on the phone, eat lunch, or read or just sit and watch others go by. A busker moves between the benches, offering songs to the people sitting there. He isn’t having much luck – most people refuse, but then a guy asks if he can borrow the busker’s guitar.

The busker hands the guitar over and the guy proceeds to play his girlfriend all the riffs he can remember from when he used to play guitar in high school. He makes a lot of mistakes, but is undeterred. “I mostly play my own stuff!” he says to excuse his wrong notes, as he serenades his girlfriend with the opening bars of Smells Like Teen Spirit. The busker waits patiently for his guitar back, but not before asking the guy what product he uses to style his hair, is it gel? “No, hairspray… desperate times!” the guy replies. He hands back the guitar and he and his girlfriend resume their walk along the central avenue. Once this tree-shaded path was known as Lover’s Walk.

Lover's Walk, 1912. Photo: National Library of Australia. http://www.flickr.com/photos/national_library_of_australia_commons/8446992740/

Lover’s Walk, 1912. Photo: National Library of Australia. http://www.flickr.com/photos/national_library_of_australia_commons/8446992740/

Hyde Park was established as a park in 1810 by Lachlan Macquarie, and since February this year, a tall, bronze Macquarie – the park’s newest statue – has beckoned from the park’s northernmost entrance. Macquarie looks fresh in his newly minted bronze and people stop to debate his sudden appearance at the gateway to the park.

Statue of Major General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of NSW

Statue of Major General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of NSW

Statue of William Bede Dalley

Statue of William Bede Dalley

Statue of William Bede Dalley

Statue of William Bede Dalley

On the other side of the garden bed is another of the park’s statues, William Bede Dalley. He could tell the Macquarie statue a story or two, as he’s been there since 1897. Dalley has long been my favourite Sydney city statue, for his dapper frock coat and the legend on the side of his plinth, which reads “Born in this City, August 5th, 1831”. Every time I pass by it I think how I, like Dalley, was also born in this city. Dalley was a politician and a barrister, known for his eloquent speeches, signature frock coat and colourful cravats.

"Thornton's Scent Bottle"

“Thornton’s Scent Bottle”

My other favourite park fixture is the obelisk at the top of Bathurst Street. A copy of Cleopatra’s Needle, the Egyptian obelisk that was relocated to the Victoria Embankment in London, the Sydney version was soon nicknamed “Thornton’s Scent Bottle” after its dedication in 1857. Thornton was the mayor at the time, and “scent bottle” referred to the obelisk’s secret; it was in fact Sydney’s most ornate sewer vent. Gases from the sewerage system escaped from the filagree pyramid on top of the obelisk.

Another of Hyde Park’s secrets is the tunnels that run underneath it, although some of these tunnels are used by thousands of people daily. The tunnels were built in the 1920s, in an engineering project that brought great change to the city and changed the appearance of the park to the configuration we know today.

Construction of Museum Station, 1923. Photo from Powerhouse Museum: http://www.flickr.com/photos/powerhouse_museum/8283775668/

Construction of Museum Station, 1923.
Photo from Powerhouse Museum: http://www.flickr.com/photos/powerhouse_museum/8283775668/

Construction of St James Station, 1923 Photo: Powerhouse Museum http://www.flickr.com/photos/powerhouse_museum/8282686781/

Construction of St James Station, 1923
Photo: Powerhouse Museum http://www.flickr.com/photos/powerhouse_museum/8282686781/

The creation of Museum and St James rail stations converted Hyde Park into a vast construction site before the railway was opened in 1926. St James station was constructed with four platforms, although only two were used, as a plan for an interchange there never came to be. The platforms were connected to tunnels that were, in World War Two, used as air raid shelters. Since then, the tunnels are the domain of urban explorers, the occasional tour, and the tree roots from the Hyde Park fig trees which grow through the cracks in the tunnel walls. One of the tunnels which extends underneath Macquarie Street has filled with water and is known as Lake Saint James.

As exciting as it is to imagine Lake Saint James, most people in the park aren’t thinking about what lies beneath it. People stretch out, sunbaking, they play games of soccer, they watch chess players move the big plastic pieces over the giant chess board near the entrance to St James station. They take photos with the Archibald fountain, with its water-spouting turtles and mythological creatures. The fountain was built in the 1930s to commemorate the relationship between Australia and France in World War one, and it is an elegant, art deco presence in the northern section of the park.

Most of the time the fountain is a backdrop for photos but sometimes people trespass their way into it. It is a surprisingly hot day for autumn and two men have climbed into the fountain and are sitting against one of the statues. It doesn’t last long. Soon a police car arrives and they are ordered to get out, as a crowd quickly gathers to watch the developing drama. The men climb out of the fountain but leave a bottle on the head of the statue.

Bottle on the head of a statue, Archibald Fountain

Bottle on the head of a statue, Archibald Fountain

Fountain invasions must be fairly commonplace, although taken seriously by police: a black car with “Riot Squad” on the side drives up and the fountain invaders are interrogated. For all the people who stand watching, plenty of others go about their business as if nothing is amiss. On the lawn behind the fountain a yoga class continues, groups of school children file past on their way to excursions at the Hyde Park Barracks. A man rides past with three large dogs on a cargo bicycle, and for a moment the park is dominated by this surreal mixture of people and activities.

Three large dogs on a cargo bicycle

Three large dogs on a cargo bicycle

At the foot of a fig tree a woman sits with a sketchpad, drawing. I walk over ask if I can peek at her drawing, wondering if she had included the police cars and the lunchtime yoga class but no, her drawing was as clean and peaceful as a commemorative postcard.

Image from hat-archive on Flickr.

Image from hat-archive on Flickr.

 

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