“The fashion for holding exhibitions, where countries could show off their industrial and manufacturing might as well as their agricultural riches and artistic skills, began in 1851 with the London Exhibition. It was housed in the purpose-built Crystal Palace.”
The Garden Palace was Sydney’s answer to the Crystal Palace. It was a marvellous extravagant exhibition hall with domes and a tower that dominated the Macquarie Street skyline.
The exhibition ran until April 1880. There were 724 classes of goods and produce on exhibition, from huge pieces of machinery to fine porcelain and Aboriginal artefacts.
While the exhibition made an impact upon Sydneysiders and our city landscape, it all went up in smoke just a few years later. At dawn on 22 September 1882, the Garden Palace spectacularly burnt down, with reports of blackened iron pieces landing as far away as Rushcutters Bay.
By this time the building was being used for occasional events and as office space for various government departments. Records, including those of land occupations, the 1881 Census details, and railway surveys, all went up in flames. So too did 300 uninsured canvasses from the Art Society’s annual exhibition, the grand organ and the foundation collection of the Technological and Mining Museum (now the Powerhouse Museum). All of the Aboriginal artefacts compiled by the Australian Museum for the exhibition also went up in flames.
These dramatic episodes in Sydney’s history and the enduring legacy of the loss of Aboriginal cultural artefacts from across south-east Australia is being explored by Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones in his installation work barrangal dyara (skin and bones) [from the local Sydney Gadigal language]. This sculptural installation is being presented by Kaldor Public Art Projects as a major contribution to the 200 years of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The vast installation will outline the footprint of the Garden Palace, and cover some 20,000 square metres. The project summary provided by Jonathan Jones explains:
“Thousands of bleached white shields will echo the masses of rubble – the only remnants of the building after the fire – raising the layered history and bones of the Garden Palace across the site. A native kangaroo grassland will form the heart of the installation which will be activated and enlivened by presentations of Indigenous language, performances, talks, special events and workshops each day.”
Separate exhibitions within the Royal Botanic Garden and at the State Library of NSW and Art Gallery of NSW tell the different stories of the Garden Palace and the international exhibition. There were a range of symposiums that led up to the final installation of the work, which are also accessible through the project website.Don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to explore the Garden Palace, and its enduring legacies of loss. This is a landmark public art project and a major engagement with Sydney’s Aboriginal and European history.
The installation opens on 17 September in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney and will be on display daily from 10am until sunset until 3 October 2016.
For more details, and to see the installation in progress, go to the Kaldor Public Art Project here.