Thursday, 30 June 2011

Redcoats & Convicts Festival - Living history


Up on the third floor of The Barracks is the hammock room. This is a brilliant idea by the historians to bring history to life. Classes of school children, and community groups, are invited (for a cost!) to stay over for the night and experience life as we think it may have been for the early inhabitants of our city.


Hyde Park Barracks was a form of gaol. I guess. This is where convicts were housed durng the night and before they went out on their work gangs over Sydney town. It housed convicts for only 30 years. Only! It must have seemed an eternity to those poor blighters.

When it was converted into a museum in the 1970s and 80s, it was stripped back and everything under the floor boards saw the light of day. I got a real feel for the paucity of their existence as I wandered the rooms. Sydney Town at that time sprang to life in my imagination. Sydney has a short history, and its early population could be regarded as the 'dregs' of London of the time. However, those years from 1788 to 1821 set the national psyche up until more recent times.


As I stumbled back out into the sunshine of the present, I came face to face with a couple singing along to the drone of a hurdy-gurdy. This instrument is not everyone's cup-of-tea, but it does recreate the sounds of the times. A Hurdy Gurdy is a wheel fiddle. The sound is made by hand cranking a wooden wheel that acts as an endless violin bow, sounding drone strings and melody (chanterelle) strings. Wooden tangents are pushed against the melody strings, stopping them at different points to produce the different notes. Note the marvellous head on this model.

18 comments:

Kris said...

Some great pics here. I need a nap now, looking at those hammocks!

Ann said...

I'm really impressed by the education program at the Barracks. We never did anything that interesting. The geometry of the hammock shot is excellent.

Want to go to Parramatta on Sunday (the program is up on their website now) but not sure what time as there are no trains on my line this weekend and I have to bus it to Central. We could try and meet somewhere if you decide to go. Would like to get there for 10.30 but not sure if I'll make it.

brattcat said...

That hammock shot is excellent.

Ann said...

Is it closer to Westmead than Parramatta. Was going to walk from Parramatta Station.

J Bar said...

Thanks for showing all these exhibits. I've never seen the inside for myself.

Virginia said...

Of course I'm in awe with all your images but the top one, oh my. I"m blown away.
V

Bob Crowe said...

Oh, what that would do to my spine. The composition to the top photo grabs my attention - not exactly the shape but the feel of a cathedral.

Mark said...

Great shot of the hammocks. Hyde Park Barracks are one of my favourite buildings in old Sydney Town. Macquarie designed such a beautiful and simple building. I haven't been inside for sometime, another excuse for a visit to the big smoke.

Bergson said...

An Impressive row of hammocks

Peter said...

Agree the hammocks are so evocative, looks a sunny day.

Joan Elizabeth said...

What a great shot of the hammocks. I really like this museum and the cafe at the Barracks is good too ... or at least it was when I went there a few years ago.

Thérèse said...

Such an interesting post and the pictures are excellent.

PerthDailyPhoto said...

Beautiful Photos Julie, the wooden carving on the hurdy gurdy (what a fabulous name for an instrument) is so lovely, the wood is such a gorgeous mellow colour.

Dina said...

I love your Festival series and the history and feeling you convey.

Joe said...

Fascinating post Julie. A hammock room. All good homes should have one.

Petrea Burchard said...

I recently read an article in Smithsonian Magazine (they always do a thoughtful job) about Australia's convict history and the national psyche. As an American schoolkid I learned about that history but not in great depth. I don't know how you feel about the tourism angle, but knowing what I do about how impossible life was for the poor in England at the time (especially London) I think it's interesting.

Julie said...

Petrea, I will copy this back at your place, too.

The tourism angle gives us a false impression. This was all clean, and neat and well-packaged. Attractive and well-nourished. People with an aim and a purpose in life. All things which I suspect was missing during the times of the convicts in Sydney Town.

Having said that, however, I do believe that many convicts were better off here that in the crowded misery which was their life in London. Here the sun shone, the air was fresh and it was every man and woman for himself. Not in every case, but in many. Indeed, history contends that one of the reasons that Macquarie was eventually recalled as 5th Governor was because he treated the convict who had served his time as an equal in this new society. This really got up the nostrils of landed gentry like John MacArthur and his ilk.

However, what I say for Sydney Town could not be said for places like Port Arthur in Tasmania. That is a chilling place to visit. There is a bit of 'convict-life-for-tourists' but mostly there are shells of buildings which reek of the brutality and futility of servitude.

As for the effect on the national psyche, I believe that is finally wearing off, a process that has increased in tempo over the last 50 years. We think we are an egalitarian society, but we aren't. We think we cock-our-snoot at authority, but in reality we form queues quite readily. There are patches of this old attitude within our society, but it is bordering on the absurd, the comic, and dare I say, the desperation to face the past instead of the future.

Petrea Burchard said...

Here's what I said in response on my blog:

"Tourism will always clean it up. You may have seen some very nice dungeons in England, for example.

As for egalitarian society, we talk talk talk about it here, too. But we are in the process of straying further and further from that ideal."

I wish I had solutions for such societal weaknesses. One tries to be positive, to bring some joy, to fight the small fights where one can. There are the days when it feels futile and there are the days of small victories. I suppose it has always been that way.