In the center of Sydney Australia is a huge patch of green. It originally was the colony’s first farm and a large park that was reserved for the colony’s first governor. It now consists of three primary sections:
Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Garden which includes the site of the colony’s first farm the Governor’s residence (Government House) and the Gardens that used to be the preserve of the governor’s family. The grand, turreted, sandstone residence is isolated behind a fence and an open park. The beautiful gardens, in contrast, are totally open, with paths that circle the bay and lead to clearly labeled sections of the garden devoted to different ecosystems and plant types, such as herbs, palms, ferns and succulents.
The Domain, an open park just south of the garden, contains even more open space that is often the site of concerts and festivals. It also contains the lovely Art Gallery of New South Wales (see the discussion in our Sydney Museum post).
Macquarie Street, a lovely tree-lined avenue that runs along the side of The Domain, contains some of the city’s oldest, most historic public buildings. These include:
- Hyde Street Barracks. This 1819 building is considered the masterpiece of architect Francis Greenway, a convict architect that Governor Macquarie pardoned and appointed as the chief civil architect and designer of more than 40 of the city’s early civic buildings. Not only were the barracks designed by a convict, they were also built by convicts as their own first official home. (Prior to that, convicts had to find their own lodging). While the building has since been used for a number of functions, it is now, as discussed our Sydney Museum post, a museum that focuses primarily on its own history.
- State Library of New South Wales consists of two sandstone buildings. The older of the two, the Mitchell Building, was built in 1910.
- St James Church. Across the street, another Greenway building, the courthouse, which was adapted to become St. James Church.
Three other major buildings on the block all occupy the site of, and indeed consist of parts of one of Governor Macquarie’s most ambitious undertaking—a hospital for the colony’s convicts. London denied the governor’s original request for the funds of a grand hospital. Not one to give up, he struck a deal with three of the colony’s most prosperous merchants: If they built the hospital, he would grant them an exclusive right to import rum and other distilled spirits in the colony. They built the so-called “Rum Hospital” (completed in 1816) which provided to be far too large for its intended use. One section of the original hospital that was in danger of collapsing, was demolished in 1879 to make room for another hospital. Two other wings of the original hospital, however, were repurposed as:
- Parliament House, which, while twice expanded, has been the home of New South Wales’ parliament and parliamentary offices since 1829. It contains both the parliament’s chambers, its administrative offices and a central courtyard with a fifty-year (1950-2000) oil painting retrospective of Sydney by Wilmette Williams. Like other parliament houses in Australia, the public can enter (no id required but you do go through a metal detector) and even sit in the big chair.
- The Mint, which took over one of the remaining hospital wings in 1854 to convert Gold Rush gold into bullion and currency. While it operated until 1927 as the first branch of the Royal Mint to be formed outside of London, it has since been repurposed for many other functions before becoming the headquarters of the Historic Houses Trust.
- Sydney Hospital, a number of sandstone, Classical Revival buildings built in 1894 now stand on the site of the demolished central section of the original hospital.