This morning on 2SER, Lisa talked to Nic about the fantastic exhibition she’s been working on which commemorates the City of Sydney Council’s 175th anniversary .
This major exhibition, which Lisa has put together with the City’s Archivist and Curator of the City’s Civic Collection, presents the civic and social histories, events, people and places of the inner city from 1842 to 2017 and demonstrates the impact of Council as the administrator of the city over 175 years.
Four major themes – Governing, Building, Working and Inspiring – are explored through 175 objects, photographs, documents and hundreds of other supporting materials, and provide an opportunity to look at some of the amazing things that the Council has been involved in.
Local governments effect all of our lives as they are responsible for everything from water and sewerage to rubbish and roads, and as the first council that was formed in Sydney, the City of Sydney was really responsible for developing Sydney as a place.
The City of Sydney was incorporated in 1842 when the Sydney City Incorporation Act 1842, declared ” the Town of Sydney to be a City”. The first elections were held on 1 November 1842.
One of the first tasks of the new council was to look at paving, draining and cleaning, and for that they decided they needed a “minutely and accurately taken” detailed survey of the city.
This task was undertaken by Francis Webb Sheilds, Draftsman and Assistant to the City Surveyor, who worked on the survey in daylight hours either side of attending his duties at the City Surveyor’s office. This map was used extensively and eventually was copied in 1896–1897, and this copy is on display in the exhibition.
Lighting the City was another issue the Council has been responsible for since 1842, and one of the first committees established was indeed the Lighting Committee. Oil and gas lighting was the order of the day at that time, eventually replaced by electric lights. On display in the exhibition is a ceremonial lightbulb from 1904, when the electricity was first switched on, and a letter from Thomas Edison from 1882.
The plans for the Queen Victoria Building are also on display, as well as gorgeous photos of the building under construction like the one below showing construction workers on the site.
There’s a gorgeous bookplate from the special children’s library which was established in 1918, the first of its kind in Australia. Prior to this, libraries had only been for adults. Even so, the minimum age for a reader’s card was 12, although this wasn’t strictly enforced. There was even a wash basin (with soap) for children to wash their hands before using the books.
The beautiful 2 meter long plans for Hyde Park which landscaper Norman Weekes completed in 1927 are on exhibition as well. After large portions of the park had been excavated for the construction of the City Circle line underneath, it was redesigned to take the form we know today.
The exhibition also covers rat catchers, inspectors of nuisances, water and toilets and sewerage, and even a traffic count for George Street in 1886, with a tally of how many carts and horses went past the Town Hall.
Nearly everything in the exhibition is from the City’s own archives and Civic Collection, and it’s an amazing opportunity to see the kinds of material managed and cared for by the City.
The themes of the exhibition – Governing, Building, Working and Inspiring – have been central to the ethos of the council over the last 175 years. While the services and emphasis of focus might change over time, fostering community to make the city a better place to live is still the City of Sydney’s guiding principal, and this exhibition allows an insight into the City’s challenges and achievements .
In addition to the exhibition, the City is also celebrating the anniversary by commissioning Sydney composer Austin Buckett to compose a contemporary work that explores the unique characteristics of Sydney Town Hall’s Grand Organ, showcasing how the Grand Organ can meaningfully function in contemporary music and art worlds. Organist Grace Chan, with the assistance of two registrants, will perform the work at Sydney Town Hall in a free premier concert in Centennial Hall on 5 November. A Q&A with the composer Austin Buckett will follow. Head to the City’s website here for details.
The exhibition is on now at Sydney Town Hall, in the Lower Town Hall, but only until 12 November. Don’t miss out! It is open from 11am till 4pm daily, and 7pm on Thursdays.
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and the former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.
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