Sydney and the Arts

The Art Gallery of NSW The Museum of Contemporary Art The S. H. Ervin Gallery The Australian Museum
The Powerhouse Museum The Observatory Hyde Park Barracks The Museum of Sydney
The Historic Houses Trust The State Library of NSW Sydney Opera House Performing arts
Nutcote

A quick introduction

At some stage, I may need to split this page, but for now, this is where I have everything about galleries and museums.

If you look at the Yellow Pages phone book under Art Galleries, you will discover that there are many in Sydney, provided you take the expression to mean "Art Dealers' Galleries". They are mainly to the east of the city area, mostly centred on Paddington and Woollahra, but there are only a few properly mounted displays of art works.

First must be the Art Gallery of NSW, which is usually free, unless there is a special exhibition on - but then only that exhibition attracts a fee. Then there is the S. H. Ervin Gallery, owned by the National Trust, featuring (usually) Australian works of art, on Observatory Hill, which has a modest charge and a pleasant tea-room.

Everybody calls the State Library of NSW "The Mitchell Library", calmly ignoring the existence of the Dixson Gallery within the same walls. Which is a pity.

If you are more interested in buying art works, or looking at modern stuff, the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald will give you some useful details about what is on, and who is being hung, and, just now and then, on who should be hanged.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is on the western side of Circular Quay, in a magnificent art deco building.

The Powerhouse Museum has always held excellent porcelain collections. In the past decade, it has seemed more like an art gallery than was appropriate, but that era is now over. The museum will still represent the decorative arts, but paintings and other items outside the museum's charter will be less common.

Norman Lindsay was one of Sydney's most famous artists in his time, and you can see many of his works at the Norman Lindsay Gallery, 14 Norman Lindsay Crescent, Faulconbridge, in the Blue Mountains. Be aware that most people only know Lindsay for his glorious and uproarious nudes, and may look at you a little oddly if you say you are going there. The nudes are fabulous, and you should not miss them just because a few prudes may get their knickers in a twist. I mean, the nudes don't get theirs in a twist . . .

For more minor galleries, and galleries beyond Sydney, point your browser at http://www.regionalgalleries.nsw.gov.au/, and look for the art trail organised by the Regional Galleries Association of NSW.

For information about other museums across Australia, including the regional galleries, look at http://amol.org.au/, the Australian Museums Online site.

The Art Gallery of NSW

The Art Gallery of New South Wales sits on the ridge of the Domain, in Art Gallery Road. To most Sydneysiders, it is just "The Art Gallery", a place too many of them have never visited. The first part was opened in 1885, and the newer section, almost doubling the space, was opened in 1988.

The front of the Art Gallery of NSW. The front of the Art Gallery of NSW. The origins of the Gallery lie in the International Exhibition of 1879. Where the scientific and technical collections ended up in the Technological Museum in Harris Street which later became the Powerhouse Museum, and the artistic items which survived the Garden Palace fire went to the Art Gallery, just across the Domain.

You can walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain from Circular Quay to reach the Art Gallery, or you can walk from St James station on the City Circle train line. Go east through Hyde Park, between the Hyde Park Barracks and St Marys Cathedral, and then turn left and head north along Art Gallery Road. For more details, see http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/home.

If you are feeling really lazy, the Domain parking station is nearby, and has a moving footway (which often doesn't). There is also some one-hour parking outside the gallery, and some longer-term parking down the road towards the harbour. The red Sydney Explorer bus stops right at the door. So however you look at it, there is no excuse for missing the Art Gallery, where the staff are a delight, the art is brilliant, the views are incredible, and the coffee is excellent.

Entry is generally free, but there can be special travelling exhibitions from time to time, which may involve charges, generally comparable with those you would encounter in Europe. The main parts of the gallery are still free.

Closed: Good Friday and Christmas Day

If you think Post-modernism is about replacing decayed utility poles, this may be the gallery for you, rather than the Museum of Contemporary Art. The AGNSW features traditional art, plus enough of the "modern stuff" to make you think, as well as having the most marvellous travelling exhibitions.

In the autumn, from late March to the end of May, the exhibitions associated with the Archibald, Wynne, and Sulman Prizes are on display. The prizes are respectively for portraiture, Australian landscape, and "subject/genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist". So something for everyone! This is especially true of the Archibald, where there is a local tradition of disagreeing totally with the judges, once their choice is made known. Blood is rarely shed, but there is always a chance . . .

The Art Gallery's general collection is rich in primitive Pacific art and in general Australian art, but the special collections widen this perspective greatly. Look for the brilliant touring exhibitions, the Yiribana Gallery, featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Art Express early each year . . . look, just GO, and stop asking questions!

There is the obligatory bookshop (which is quite good), and a licensed restaurant/coffee bar: all in all, the Art Gallery of NSW is good value. Note that service in the restaurant/bar is a shambles, as you normally have a separate place to go for food and for drink, but there are no signs to tell you this. The restaurant staff are best described as muppets, but they are hired by a contractor, and their incompetence is not the Gallery's fault. There is much better service at the restaurant in the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens.

Special hint: get there early on a Saturday if there is a special exhibition on, as this is the quietest time, or after about 2 pm on weekdays in school term time, when the school groups are heading back to school again.

The Art Gallery has a friends' organisation, the Art Gallery Society, that offers previews, lectures and other functions.

You are in the vicinity of all of the other institutions listed on this page. Apart from the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain, you are only a short walk from Hyde Park, the State Library of NSW, and Hyde Park Barracks. On a fine day, try the walk around to the Opera House, preferably via Mrs. Macquarie's Chair.

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The Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art, as seen from an approaching ferry.Picture: The Museum of Contemporary Art, as seen from an approaching ferry. The clock tower in Argyle Cut is visible at the far right, locating The Rocks for you.

This gallery is right at Circular Quay: it is an Art Deco building that used to be the headquarters of the Maritime Services Board. If you stand at Circular Quay, looking out over the water, the Opera House will be a few hundred metres away on the right, the MCA will be nearby on your left.

You can find them on the Web at http://www.mca.com.au, and they are open from 1000 to 1700, every day except Christmas Day (December 25). Entry is free, so I won't describe them. You will be in the area, so just go visit, see the shop, try the coffee, and enjoy the art.

What to watch out for

There are usually buskers along the shore in front of the MCA, and all along Circular Quay. Some are good, some less so. You are close to the Rocks, whidh I have yet to deal with, and lots of tourist traps.

What else is around

See Circular Quay for ideas.

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The S. H. Ervin Gallery

Getting there

The quickest way there is to walk to Observatory Park, using whichever route is most convenient, and then follow the signs: the gallery is on the city side of the old Sydney Observatory building. There is a map on the gallery's web site, but it is in a confusing orientation. The have wheelchair access.

In the old days of the area, a fort was to be constructed, a fort that was never finished, but which was commemorated in the name Fort Street. Later, when various schools lived there, they were called by the name of their street. One of them, the local primary school is still there, but the old high school has gone.

Just before World War I, a new high school for boys was created at Petersham, taking the name "Fort Street" out to what were then the western suburbs. To justify this transfer, a small local street was re-named "Fort Street". The old building was still Fort Street High School as well, but now it was only for girls.

In the mid-70s, the old girls school was combined with the boys school on an enlarged site at Petersham, leaving the old building empty, and many old boys and old girls of the two schools furious. Still, they say nice things even of ill winds, and without the move, the National Trust would not have the beautiful building that they now have.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 1100 (Tues - Sun)
Closes: 1700
Entry fees: Adult $6, Conc. $4, occasional higher prices for special exhibitions.
Closed: Mondays and public holidays

What to do there

Look at whatever is on display, use the café, or the specialist gift and book shop.

What to watch out for

The views in
Observatory Park, the Sydney Observatory.

Contact details, Web links

Address: Watson Road, The Rocks
Phone: 9258 0150
Web: http://www.nsw.nationaltrust.org.au/ervin.html

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of several attractions already listed, plus The Rocks and Circular Quay - go for it!

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The Australian Museum

Getting there

The Sydney Explorer stops outside, the train takes you to (wonder how it got the name?) Museum station - or St James station, both on the
City Circle, and plenty of buses will take you uptown. The Museum is an unmistakable building opposite the middle of Hyde Park.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 0930
Closes: 1700
Entry fees: Adult $10 Family $17.50/$25 (depends on numbers) Concession $5, seniors and TAMS members (see below) free.
Closed: Christmas Day

What to do there

The Australian Museum is the place to go for a general introduction to Sydney, and what it is like. It has natural history exhibits, but it has much more as well: fossils, ethnographics, stuffed animals and birds, pinned insects . . . it may sound a bit dry when described like that, but "The Museum" is well worth a day of your time.

There is probably no better place to get a quick run-down on local birds and insects, and stuffed animals have an endearing property: they stay in one place so you can get a good look at them. You can bone up on the local geology, learn about the aboriginal people of Australia (as a matter of policy, the Museum has a number of koori staff), and find about Australia today. On weekends and holidays, you will usually find live entertainers as well. Unlike traditional natural history museums, the "OZ" has a remarkable range of interactives and hands-on demonstrations of scientific principles.

What to watch out for

The best time to visit is on weekdays after 2pm (except in school holidays, when things are quiet after about 3pm) and on Saturday mornings up until about 12.30pm.

One of the best ways of learning about aboriginal life and customs is to spend some time in the displays on aboriginal life. The birds exhibit is superb, the bones in the Skeleton Gallery are old but superbly well-done, and there are fossils and minerals galore.

The first fore-runner of the Australian Museum was opened as far back as 1827, which helps to explain why it is called the "Australian Museum". It was intended to be a collection of unusual specimens collected in the colony, and displayed for the interests of the scientifically-inclined amateurs of Sydney.

When you have had your fill of the displays (see "don't miss", below), try the coffee shop, or the Museum Shop - it is quite a good source for souvenirs with a difference.

Address: Corner of College and William Streets, over the road from Hyde Park.
Phone: 9320 6000
Web: http://www.austmus.gov.au/
, with a special mention for http://www.amonline.net.au/factsheets/ as a source of information on all sorts of things. Or see http://www.amonline.net.au/explore/index.cfm instead.

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of Hyde Park Barracks and the State Library of NSW.

The museum has a friends' organisation, the Australian Museum Society (TAMS), which offers previews, lectures and other functions. This may be worth your follow-up by phoning 9320-6225.

The Art Gallery of NSW, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the State Library of NSW, Taronga Zoo and the Museum of Contemporary Art all have similar member organisations. The Powerhouse Museum has a small but intensely loyal group of supporters as well. TAMS, however, offers the widest range of programs for people interested in science.

TAMS runs a range of activities for members, including tours in Australia and overseas, as well as coordinating fossil digs, one day trips, bush-walking weekends, lectures and films. Most of these are available to the general public, but prices are cheaper for members. Take a copy of their MUSE magazine when you are in the museum, and check their program: non-members can go to most events as well.

The Italian food in "Pasta Gulch", just down William Street, is rather fattening. So walk down William Street turn right at the traffic lights into Yurong Street, and take Stanley Street, second on the left. Forget about parking in the area, and look for a crowded institution - the regulars are fickle but very picky.

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The Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse is without a doubt Sydney's flashiest museum, with a mix of decorative arts, social history, science and technology. It offers a bit for everyone: with a good set of science interactives, plenty of fine porcelain, steam engines steaming on some days, and a serious look at Sydney's social history. Most routes take you past the Entertainment Centre monorail station: from there, you follow a covered walkway to the entrance courtyard of the Powerhouse.

For example, you can walk or ride the Sydney Light Rail from Central Railway: get to Railway Square by tunnel, then go down Quay Street to the Entertainment Centre monorail station, or you can park in the Entertainment Centre Parking Station next to the monorail station (there is no parking at the museum, except by prior arrangement for the disabled), or you can catch a bus down George Street to Haymarket, and walk through from Chinatown to the monorail station. Or you can catch the monorail itself, or walk up from Darling Harbour.

Or you can catch a 501 bus along Harris Street from Railway Square, or you can take the Sydney Explorer bus to the Entertainment Centre, but this is not a good investment, as you will want several hours there. Because the Powerhouse has been put together in a more enlightened age, special care has been given to improving access for everybody than was the case with older institutions. If you have special needs, ring 9217-0111 for more details.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 1000 - 1700 (note: best on school term weekdays after about 2pm, when school groups have gone)
Entry fees: Adult $8, Family $18, Conc. $3, child 5-15, $2, free on the first Saturday of the month
Closed: Christmas Day

What to do there

Late last century, electric trams were introduced to Sydney, and suddenly there was a huge demand for electricity. So, just across from Darling Harbour, a giant power house was constructed, an electricity generating station, just for the trams. To the south of the power house, rather later, a huge tram shed was built. The tram shed became Stage 1 of the Powerhouse, and the old generating station became the nucleus of Stage 2, as it was called when it was being built and set up: to you, it will just be "The Powerhouse". The old Stage 1 is still there, mostly given over to workshops and storage, but most of the general interest lies in "the Powerhouse" itself.

The museum had its origins in the Garden Palace, built in 1879 in the Royal Botanic Gardens. This was built for an international exhibition, and gave people the idea for a museum collection, but most of the collections were destroyed when the Garden Palace burnt down, three years later. There are those who believe that the Palace was burnt down by Macquarie Street residents who wanted their harbour views back, but we will never know now! By 1893, the Technological Museum was housed in temporary quarters in Harris Street. The museum was a favourite with the people of Sydney from the start, but even though everything was too cramped, nothing was done until, in 1978, the Powerhouse was proposed. In 1988, it was opened to the public.

What to watch out for

The Powerhouse people dislike the suggestion that they are a "museum": it has too many connotations which are unsuitable here, in a decidedly unfusty place. The best bet is to head on in and get involved. You can have many different sorts of guided tour: enthusiasts will take you on specialist tours, and experts will take you across the highlights of the whole museum.

Stop by the steam engines if they are running when you are there - this service has been consistently run down in recent years.

Contact details, Web links

Address: 500 Harris Street, Ultimo
Phone: 9217-0111
Web: http://www.phm.gov.au/

What else is around

You are close to Darling Harbour, and even closer to Chinatown.

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The Observatory

Observatory, ball being raised.  Observatory, ball fully raised.  Observatory, ball being dropped. This marvellous institution is located in Observatory Park, as you might expect. It began life in the 1850s as a working astronomical observatory, but mainly to provide a time service to ships departing the harbour, which is why a time ball was dropped each day at 1 pm, two bells in the afternoon watch.

The three pictures here show the ball being raised, fully raised, and dropping, though these days, it is a matter of tradition, rather than of nautical need.

Getting there

There is only one Observatory in Sydney now, the Sydney Observatory, but there was formerly an observatory at Dawes Point, and another at Parramatta. The survivor is a part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, the parent organisation of the Powerhouse Museum, whose management at one stage contemplated turning this into a museum of 19th century furniture on the fatuous argument that it was a19th century building and so must once have contained 19th century furniture! Luckily, these visionaries failed in their attempt.

The Sydney Observatory is situated in Observatory Park, and details of the several ways to the park are listed there. Once you get there, you won't have much trouble spotting the Observatory itself, on top of the hill.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 1000 - 1700
Entry fees: Free during the day, night visits: Adult $8, Family $18, Concession and child $3, with booking by phone essential.

What to do there

Sydney Observatory. Sydney Observatory. In one sense, Australia owes its present to an astronomical past. It was the chance to observe a transit of Venus which brought James Cook to the Pacific, and later to our shores, and so brought about the British enthusiasm for the invasion of 1788. From 1788, the point below Observatory Park, Dawes Point, was a centre for astronomical observation. You can see this observatory re-created at Old Sydney Town .

One of the later colonial governors, Macquarie's successor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, was a good astronomer whose name can be found, for example, in French records of the last century, along with a number of the "greats" of astronomy. It is clear that he was included there as an equal. Brisbane did his work at Parramatta, where he spent most of his time, and not in Sydney. Even so, some of Brisbane's instruments are held at the Observatory.

This transfer came about when Brisbane's observatory ceased operations in 1847, many years after Brisbane himself had left the colony, and after the old observatory and its staff had done a great deal of useful work. There are still a few traces of the old observatory to be seen in Parramatta Park .

Accurate time was essential to ships navigating on strange coasts, especially at first landfall, where a time error of just four seconds could put you as much as a mile out in your east/west position It was essential that ships' chronometers be adjusted regularly. In 1855, Governor Sir William Denison proposed that a simple time ball be mounted on top of what was still Flagstaff Hill, the station from which signals were made to ships in the harbour.

The time ball had to be dropped at one o'clock each day. Noon might seem a more sensible time, but the forenoon and afternoon watches on the ships would have been changing over then, so 1pm it was. At the same time, a gun was to be fired from Fort Denison, and another from Dawes Point. But you couldn't time the ball-drop and the guns, you couldn't tell the time accurately without astronomy in those days.

So the simple plans that were being drawn were quickly enlarged to include a Florentine Renaissance observatory, and the first astronomical observations were made in June, 1859. How modern the plan sounds, though, when we read a 1930 account of it all: ". . . originally it included a residence for the astronomer, space for the transit instrument, a tower surmounted by a dome for the equatorial, a room for the computer and an office for the astronomer . . ."

The computer, by the way, was actually not a calculating machine, but a person, by the name of Henry Chamberlain Russell, who later became the astronomer. In those days, computers were all flesh and blood. Russell was primarily a photographic astronomer, and this work was soon transferred to Pennant Hills, but other observation work continued.

In 1930, the Government Astronomer, James Nangle, could rejoice in the introduction of electric power, as this reduced the smoke in the atmosphere, while still leaving the skies dark enough in the early morning for ordinary observations. Light pollution of the skies has increased, and there is little chance of any scientific work ever being carried out again at the Sydney Observatory. As Nangle predicted in 1930, though, the way was open for an educational institution, which is what the Observatory is now. The viewing is still quite good on moonless nights.

The telescopes are still there, and can be used, the domes have been repaired, and a magnificent new 16" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope has been installed, all for the benefit of the visitors. View the heavens through the new computerised telescope, ask questions, study the various exhibits and interactives, examine the old instruments and observational domes and investigate the whispering chamber effects in the domes, go on guided tours. For the serious astronomer, there is a library with restricted access, while the beginner can still examine binary stars, globular clusters and nebulae through the old telescopes, even with the light pollution of the city streets.

What to watch out for The time ball is still there, and the one o'clock gun from Fort Denison is still fired, though there is no longer a gun fired from Dawes Point. Today, of course, they are purely decorative, but even in the 1960s, my fellow city office-workers and I used to go to lunch when the time-ball fell. These days, of course, few office workers would be able to see the Observatory, such has been the growth of office buildings.

Contact details, Web links

Address: Watson Road, Observatory Hill
Phone: 9217-0485
Web: http://www.sydneyobservatory.com.au/home.asp

What else is around

Observatory Park, The Rocks, the S. H. Ervin Gallery, then you have Circular Quay and the various suggestions to be found in those entries. As you come out of the Observatory, wander round to the rotunda in the park and admire the views from the top, with the Garrison church below you, Pier One and the Harbour Bridge further off, and the old Luna Park on the other side of the harbour. It's almost as though the tourist people had put it there on purpose.

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Hyde Park Barracks

Getting there

The Hyde Park Barracks are at the southern end of Macquarie Street, at the Hyde Park end, just opposite the statue of Queen Victoria that marks Queen's Square. If you are coming by car, try parking in the Domain Parking Station, but public transport is recommended. By train, follow the Macquarie Street exit signs from St James station, or catch a bus from Circular Quay, getting out at either King and Elizabeth Streets, or at St James station.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 0930
Closes: 1700
Entry fees: Adult $10 Family $20 Concession $5
Closed: Good Friday and Christmas Day

What to do there

While you are on the third floor near the stairs, look up at the roof beams. You can still see the adze marks where the beams were shaped into their rectangular cross section. People who worked there at the time of the refurbishment tell me that the absenteeism among the builders was remarkably low, for the restoration of the building brought to light many interesting "finds", some of which were on display on the second floor. last time I looked.

What to watch out for

Despite their name, the Hyde Park Barracks were never associated with soldiers, although they are built on what was once a part of Hyde Park. They were indeed barracks, but for convicts, and later for women, but never for soldiers. In the earliest days of the settlement, convicts had to fend for themselves, so far as accommodation was concerned. They were not locked up in cells at night: there was little need, for there was nowhere much for them to go.

This, thought Governor Macquarie, was not good enough. So he had his convict forger and architect, Francis Greenway, design a building to house the male convicts. Three storeys high, the Barracks were built from hand-made sandstock bricks. The roof timbers were huge beams of iron-bark, floated the Lane Cove River and squared by hand.

The enforced residents of the Barracks were extremely useful to Sydney: their efforts included many public works, including the first Argyle Cut in The Rocks. When transportation of convicts came to an end, the Barracks became the home of immigrant women, at least on the first two floors. Old and destitute women were placed on the top floor: try the stairs and judge how the women must have felt!

After 1884, the law courts moved in, and odd additions were made, hiding the beauty that lay deep within the lean-to bits and pieces. Not until 1984 did the building as we know it now see the light of day, restored as a museum of the social history of New South Wales by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, and then taken over by the Historic Houses Trust in a rather dodgy political manoeuvre that was sanctioned (if not fomented) by an even more dodgy minister, known to his many denigrators as "The Bantam of the Opera".

Contact details, Web links

Address: Queens Square, Macquarie Street, Sydney
Phone: 9223 8922
Web: http://www.hht.net.au/museums/hyde_park_barracks_museum/hyde_park_barracks_museum

What else is around

The State Library of NSW is just down Macquarie Street, past the Mint, while Hyde Park is just over the road, and the Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens are just round the corner, and St Marys Cathedral and the Australian Museum are to the near south.

There is also the major plus of sighting bewigged lawyers parading up and down the top end of King Street. These odd fish are called "barristers", the sub-species of lawyer that actually appears in court as a hired mouth, as distinct from solicitors, the ones that advise, do the paperwork, and other lawyerly things. If you are from a non-British nation, this may be your only chance to see them.

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The Museum of Sydney

Getting there

The museum is just above Circular Quay, on the corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets. Allow about an hour to two hours for your visit, and if the weather is right, have a drink outside (or a coffee) before or after.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 0930
Closes: 1700
Entry fees: Adult $10 Family $20 Concession $5
Closed: Good Friday and Christmas day

What to do there

The Museum of Sydney offers the visitor a potted history of Sydney. Exhibitions, artefacts, films and audiovisual technology cover colonial life, Aboriginal culture, environment, trade, authority/law and everyday life.

It is built on the site of the earliest foundations of British colonisation in Australia, where the foundations of the first governor's house, built in 1788, and buried since the house was demolished in 1846, until archaeologists unearthed the original footings of the house in 1983.

What to watch out for

General Sydney background - this one is good for a quick shallow pass.

The food at the restaurant is not cheap, but it is good: this is a pleasant place for lunch on a sunny winter's day, but I am unsure about high summer - perhaps they have umbrellas.

Contact details, Web links

Address: Corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets.
Phone: 9251 5988
Web:
http://www.hht.net.au/museums/mos/main

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of Circular Quay, the Justice and Police Museum, and the Royal Botanic Gardens

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The Historic Houses Trust

The Historic Houses Trust has managed to acquire control of a large number of historic buildings, most of which are fairly poorly interpreted. There is no panache, no zing, no originality, no creativity and no imagination. They put you in mind of decrepit country houses run by earnest committees of local big-wigs who spend all of their time paralysing and neutralising each other.

Suffice it to say that I am not a fan of the Trust's efforts, though they do a passable job at the Museum of Sydney. Still, if you wish to see the buildings, take a look at http://www.hht.net.au/museums. Quite frankly, I think you would be better off looking at the holdings of the National Trust. Still, if you are targeting a particular building, you may not have much choice.

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The State Library of NSW

Getting there

The library's buildings are in Macquarie Street, opposite the top of Hunter Street, on the eastern side. The Sydney Explorer stops outside. You can walk there from St James station, or from Circular Quay.

The main parts of the State Library of New South Wales are the General Reference Library, the Exhibition Galleries, the shop and the Mitchell Library. In spite of the Mitchell being just one branch, you will find most Sydneysiders know it only as "the Mitchell library". The library building is in Macquarie Street, between Martin Place and Bridge Street.

The original Mitchell Wing was the first built part of the library, being finished in 1929. Old habits, it seems, die hard, for the Dixson Wing was added in 1929, and the central portion came into use in 1942. The whole of the State Library was refurbished in 1988, with a massive building program to enlarge the accommodation. They dug down to just a few metres above the underground railway line, so there are seven floors of library beneath Macquarie Street, but the public don't get to see those.

Now the old General Reference Library has indeed become the Mitchell Library, the main reference library for Australian history, but there is more to the library than just that, as you will discover when you find their exhibition galleries, or when you start searching their Web site. Note that to access some parts, like the full-text databases, you need to be a NSW resident, and you need to hold a reader's card.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: These are complex and may change. Find them at http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/visit/hours.cfm. The exhibition galleries close at 1700 every day.
Entry fees: only for some special exhibitions and talks, held at night.
Closed: Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day

What to do there

The State Library shop (http://shop.atmitchell.com/) is probably the best place to go for books that come under the heading "Australiana". In meatspace, they are open 0900-1700, Monday to Friday, and 1100-1700 on weekends. They also handle mail orders (all major credit cards) through emails addressed to libshop@sl.nsw.gov.au

What to watch out for

The exhibition galleries. The Glasshouse Café is pleasant but pricey, but around September - November, the numbers of Year 12 students "studying" and socialising can be a bit of a problem when school is not on. These young people are in their last year of school, and their future hangs on their examinations, so be kind to them. The Trim Cafe has recently moved to a section on street level at the back of the shop. Nice venue, slow service, and the food is nothing much.

. Outside the library is a statue of Governor Bourke, who gave his name to the western town: to a Sydneysider, the most distant parts are still those places "somewhere at the back of Bourke". Bourke is a little-known Governor, but he was the man who introduced trial by jury to the colony, and an adventurer who crossed South America from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires during his return to England. Mrs. Charles Meredith, an 1840s observer, referred to the statue as "the first specimen of high art which the colony has obtained". It was certainly our earliest bronze, and the first Australian art work bought by public subscription.

There is also a statue of Matthew Flinders, the early explorer, and thereby hangs a tale. It seems that one of Flinders' descendants offered Flinders' papers (and his cocked hat!) to the first library in Australia to erect a statue to the Famous Man. Melbourne already had one under way, but the Sydney mob got in first. Isn't parochialism fun? If you think so, there's lots more to be found in the State Library, including the brilliant Tasman mosaic map in the foyer off Shakespeare Place. Flinders travelled with George Bass, and a cat named Trim.

There is a statue of Trim, on the library wall, not far behind Flinders, and he appears here on the right.

Contact details, Web links

Address: Macquarie Street Sydney
Phone: 9273 1414
Web: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of the Australian Museum, once you get past Hyde Park and the Hyde Park Barracks, the Art Gallery of NSW is just across the Domain, and the Royal Botanic Gardens are just down the hill. That should be enough!

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Sydney Opera House

Note that most of information about performances and the venues at the Opera House will be found on the performing arts page.

The Sydney Opera House, seen from the Manly ferry, looking south-east. The Sydney Opera House, seen from the Manly ferry, looking east. The Sydney Opera House, seen from the Manly ferry.  The low area on the right is the forecourt, and part of the Royal Botanic Gardens is on the far right.
Pictures above, from left to right:

Getting there

Get yourself to Circular Quay by whichever method suits, face the water, and you should have the Sydney Harbour Bridge on your left and the Opera House on your right. Turn right, and saunter off around there: you will find that you can get there almost entirely under cover, if it is raining.

You need to walk along with the harbour on your left and buildings on your right, passing up many chances to dine well and expensively. When you come to the end of the building, at the foot of Macquarie Street, use the escalators to go to the lower level, or walk on across the upper level, keeoing an eye out for traffic.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: Depends on the production. Check the Web site.
Entry fees: Depends on the production.
Closed: Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day

What to do there

Go to a play, an opera, a ballet or a concert in one of the several performance spaces. There are also guided tours. Check the Web site.

Understand that there are four main venues, listed here from largest to smallest: the Concert Hall, the Opera Theatre, the Drama Theatre and the Playhouse. Concerts are generally under-subscribed, so you probably have a better chance to get in. Understand that nasty politics meant that back in the 1960s, the Opera and Concert theatres were swapped, on the spurious ground that we would never fill the large theatre with opera or ballet. As a result, opera and ballet were stuffed into a small space with an inadequate pit, woefully inadequate stage space, no wings to speak of, and insufficient height to fly scenery. Great building, pity about the performers and how they are treated.

Still, they do their best, and their best is pretty good!

If you are not used to opera or ballet or classical music, please note the following points. These observations are based on careful observation of far too many people who have obviously never attended a ballet, an opera or a concert in their own country.

  1. You do not need to dress up. If you turn up in a penguin suit, people may assume you are a lost penguin and throw you into the harbour.
  2. The locals are not there "because they want to see something at the Opera House". They are there because they enjoy it.
  3. Don't feel that you need to applaud everything. Join in, by all means, but don't try to impress the locals with extravagant clapping and cheering.
  4. It is not normal to give a standing ovation, even if that is what they do in the movies. Stay in your seat, so the people behind can see.

Getting a ticket

Most of the best seats are taken up by subscribers. Your hotel concierge may have access to some tickets, probably at an exorbitant price, and there will always be a few returns and cancellations at the box office.

Contact details, Web links

Address: Bennelong Point, Sydney or GPO Box R239, Royal Exchange, Sydney NSW 1225, Australia
Phone: 9250-7111
Web: http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/ (watch out for phony sites that rip you off -- use this link!)

What else is around

Circular Quay, the Royal Botanic Gardens, lots more.

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Nutcote

This was the home of Australian children's writer, May Gibbs, and is described as "the home of the gumnut babies". May Gibbs wrote and illustrated Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and the house was built for her and her husband in 1925. She specified that the house should have "compactness, convenience and charm", and it has been refurbished as a 1930s house. She lived and worked there for 44 years.

Getting there

There is a map on their
web site. Take a ferry from Number 4 wharf, Circular Quay to the Hayes Street wharf at Neutral Bay for a five-minute walk or catch a 225 bus from Neutral Bay. There is no parking at Nutcote, though they say it can be found nearby.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 1100 to 1500, Wednesday to Sunday, last admission at 1430.
Entry fees: Adults $7, concession $5, children $3, family $17, but check their web site.
Closed: over the Christmas period: check their web site.

What to do there

Enjoy the house: this is probably one for Australians who know her works, and of less interest to foreigners.

What to watch out for

Furniture, decor, gift shop, tea shop, views from the sitting room.

Contact details, Web links

Address: 5 Wallaringa Avenue, Neutral Bay, NSW 2089
Phone: 9953 4453
Web: http://www.maygibbs.com.au/ — see the map under "location" to help you find it.

What else is around

The harbour. What more could you want? Go for a ferry ride or two! You can also catch the 225 bus to see some scenery and get a ferry that will take you to Taronga Zoo.

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Getting there

Access, times, entry costs

Opens:
Entry fees:
Closed:

What to do there

What to watch out for

Contact details, Web links

Address:
Phone:
Web:

What else is around

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This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/syd/arts.htm, first created on February 28, 2006. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on October 26, 2006.


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