Donna the Hearing Guide Dog

In the park on the Railway Square side of Central Station, set back from the path, is a small sculpture of a dog’s head mounted on a sandstone plinth.

Donna the Hearing Guide Dog Memorial

Donna the Hearing Guide Dog Memorial

The memorial commemorates Donna the Hearing Guide Dog, “friend and constant companion” to John Hogan of Pyrmont; both were regular travellers on trains around NSW. Donna also has the distinction of holding a title in the Guinness Book of Records. She is the world’s longest living hearing guide dog. She died at the age of 20, in 1995.

Donna is easy to miss, but from the day I first noticed her I have always looked for her when I pass by. On a recent visit to Donna I noticed her nose looking rather red – I wonder if people are rubbing it for luck, like Il Porcellino?

Closeup of Donna the Hearing Guide Dog Memorial

Closeup of Donna the Hearing Guide Dog Memorial

 

 

Central Station

Looking at Central station from above it appears orderly compared to the cluttered streets of Surry Hills and Chippendale around it. It’s hard to imagine the busy network of platforms, tunnels, entrances and exits that connects the station together.

In this photograph from 1947, Central station looks much as it does today, although other buildings are long gone: there’s no longer a Victorian-era exhibition building in Prince Alfred Park for example, nor a brewery on Elizabeth Street across from the train lines.

Prior to the construction of Central station there was some debate about where it should be built. One plan suggested building it in Hyde Park, as shown in this artist’s impression of the proposed building from 1898.

Rather than replacing Hyde Park with a train station it was decided that the terminal be built further to the south, on the site of the Devonshire Street cemetery and the Benevolent Asylum, a home for people with disabilities. The foundation stone was laid in 1902 and construction soon commenced.

One of the foundation stones of Central Station - this one was laid in 1903 at the base of the clock tower.

One of the foundation stones of Central Station – this one was laid in 1903 at the base of the clock tower.

While Central station has undergone plenty of changes since it opened in 1906, the experiences to be had there are much the same now as they would have been a hundred years ago. Rushing for a train against a tide of people surging in the opposite direction, waiting on a platform and watching passers-by, the exasperation of just missing a train or triumph of catching one at the last minute. Central is the setting for an ever-repeating succession of train station moments and dramas.

While the majority of services from Central station are regular, timetabled trains, sometimes there is a special service, such as the Elvis Express, which conveys a train full of Elvises and Priscillas to the Parkes Elvis festival in January every year. And on some Sunday mornings, you can come across the unlikely sight of a steam train puffing its way out of Central Station as it chugs its way to Clyde and back.

Other special services are one offs, such as the 1945 “Brides’ Train”, which conveyed the Australian brides of US servicemen to Brisbane, from where they were to sail to the USA. The Argus newspaper reported the women clutching flowers and woolly koalas, and one girl with a large teapot in her luggage, “to teach relatives in New Hampshire how Australians drink tea”.

Central is divided into two realms: the “upstairs” area with the grand concourse; and the “downstairs” suburban network with its tiled tunnels and stairwells. The platforms adjacent to the grand concourse were originally for steam trains, while the ‘downstairs’ section of the station, opened in 1926, was for the electric trains that began services in that year.

Although the days of steam trains are long over (apart from the occasional surprise Sunday sighting), the grand concourse retains a kind of past-time grandeur, at least in its architecture. In the middle of the concourse is a clock suspended in the centre of the hall, telling travellers to either to relax or rush by the position of its ornate hands. The clock has calmly ticked the seconds away as millions of passengers have passed underneath it, from the days of having a drink at the soda fountain before boarding a steam train, to now.

The concourse soda fountain, around 1920. If you look closely you will see that everyone in this photograph is wearing a hat.

The concourse soda fountain, around 1920. If you look closely you will see that everyone in this photograph is wearing a hat.

There was much more advertising in the concourse in 1958 than there is today. The advertisements complement each other, although I don't know if this was intentional: wine, analgesics (Vincent's APC), and Stamina "self supporting" Trousers.

There was much more advertising in the concourse in 1958 than there is today. The advertisements complement each other, although I don’t know if this was intentional: wine, analgesics (Vincent’s APC), and Stamina “self supporting” Trousers.

The concourse in 1981 had a kind of 1970s sitting-room aesthetic, with indoor plants and bright orange moulded seats.

The concourse in 1981 had a kind of 1970s sitting-room aesthetic, with indoor plants and bright orange moulded seats.

The concourse today.

The concourse today.

People consulting their fate on today's indicator boards.

People consulting their fate on today’s indicator boards.

While the ‘downstairs’ suburban platforms may not have a lofty concourse, they do have one of Sydney’s favourite secret places: the ghost platforms, numbers 26 and 27. They were constructed at the same time as the platforms beneath them, which service the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra line. A glimpse of them can be seen as you travel on the escalators between the concourse and platforms 24 and 25. Look up at the striped green panels above the escalator shaft and you will briefly catch sight of the lights of the ghost platforms.

The ghost platforms are identical to the Eastern Suburbs line platforms beneath them, although in a raw concrete state and no tracks have been laid below them. At either end there are stubs of tunnels, for whatever future project might require them. For now the ghost platforms have a quiet existence, mostly undisturbed apart from visits by the occasional tour group.

If the ghost platforms are the most peaceful part of Central, one of the busiest is the Devonshire Street Tunnel, the pedestrian underpass that travels under the railways lines between Devonshire Street and Railway Square.

The Devonshire Street Tunnel

The Devonshire Street Tunnel

The pedestrian tunnel has been a part of the station since it opened in 1906, although it is hard to imagine it before the days of murals and buskers, its two main features besides the endless stream of pedestrians. The walls have been decorated by murals since the 1980s, when the Public Art Squad produced a series of painted murals along the length of the tunnel. Now the paintings of the shirtless man wearing flares and juggling globes of the world and the boy swimming among the water lilies have been replaced by digital prints of scenes from NSW Railway history.

One of the Public Art Squad murals, photo from http://devonshirestreettunnel.blogspot.com.au/

One of the Public Art Squad murals, photo from http://devonshirestreettunnel.blogspot.com.au/

One of the current murals in the tunnel.

One of the current murals in the tunnel.

There are plenty more Central Station secrets to discover, and if you do find yourself missing a train and with a long wait until the next one, there’s a self-guided tour of the station that reveals the story of the station. But for now we will say farewell, as our train is about to depart.

All archival photographs in this post derive from State Records NSW.

 

Town Hall House

Behind the Town Hall is Town Hall House, a Brutalist structure built in 1977. The two buildings are snugly placed side by side, sandstone meeting concrete, 19th century meeting 20th century.

Sandstone meeting concrete, Town Hall and Town Hall House

Sandstone meeting concrete, Town Hall and Town Hall House

Town Hall House is where the administrative business of the City of Sydney takes place. There is a small branch of the City of Sydney library in here, and an office where people come to lodge forms and pay rates and do other council business. Next to this office is something unexpected.

City Model Room, Town Hall House

City Model Room, Town Hall House

The City Model Room, on the first floor of Town Hall House, includes a complete model of Sydney, built in the 1980s, but continuously updated to remain accurate. The model is used for design and planning purposes: one example given of this is to test shadows cast by proposed developments. Like the model in the foyer of Customs House, it’s satisfying and a little strange to see all the city at once like this, and to tower over it like a giant.

Model of Hyde Park and Sydney CBD

Model of Hyde Park and Sydney CBD

 

 

 

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.

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!

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.

 

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.

Looking up in Sydney

Hermes statue

Hermes statue

Inspired by the roof garden visible on top of Booth House, across from the Museum of Sydney, I got to thinking about other above-street-level surprises on Sydney’s streets.

My favourite is at the corner of Castlereagh and King Streets. I have walked past this corner many times but one day, looking up, I was surprised to see a horseman on the roof of the corner building.

What was this Napoleon-like gentleman doing on top of a Sydney office building? The answer lies in the sign behind it, as he is one of the symbols of Hermes; a similar statue decorates the roof of the Hermes building in Paris. It is good to know the explanation, but this doesn’t make it any less unusual a sight.

What other strange things exist above street level in Sydney? Let us know if you have any favourite rooftop sights.

Museum of Sydney

In the early 1980s there was a plan to build an office tower on the corner of Phillip and Bridge streets, where the Museum of Sydney now stands. At the time of the plan for development, the corner block was a carpark, and before that it had been a temporary headquarters of the public works department. Before that, it was a carter’s yard. In 1899 it looked like this:

Photo from State Records NSW

Photo from State Records NSW

Today, the same street corner looks like this:

Photo: Ronald Woan, on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rwoan/8512828953/

Photo: Ronald Woan, on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rwoan/8512828953/

Yet for many decades this street corner was a conspicuous gap among the grand sandstone buildings of Bridge Street. These grand buildings, like the Department of Lands building and the Chief Secretaries building, have facades decorated with explorers and muses, characters who have watched over the street since the 1870s. Continue reading →

The first performance at Sydney Opera House

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg7bPgrosAE[/youtube]

The first performance at the Opera House occurred during its construction, when singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson performed for the workers in November 1960. After his performance Robeson signed the gloves of the many workers who lined up to meet him, and he was presented with a hard hat inscribed with his name.

Since that time, the Opera House has been the site of many thousands of performances. In 2008, the concert hall was even transformed into a forest by French artist Pierre Huyghe, for the Biennale.

What memorable Opera House performances have you experienced? We’d love you to comment with some of your own Opera House memories.