Thursday, 3 May 2012

Sydney's GPO - once a facade always a facade

Here be the George Street facade of the General Post Office (GPO) whose address is No. 1 Martin Place. However, it is no longer the GPO, although there is a post office still within the building. It has been gutted and turned into a swanky hotel. You know the drill: inside all brushed aluminium, Scandinavian Ashe, and frosted glass, whilst the outside remains sandstone and marble. Good, solid, dependable stuff that indicates 'this lady's not for turning'.

And it has ever been so. What you see here is the second GPO to have graced this central CBD site. The first GPO was given a facade to hide the squalor of what was behind. A facade of a facade.

Sydney's first PO was established on 25th April 1809 on Hospital Wharf on the west of Sydney Cove, and was run by Isaac Nichols. Upon his death in 1819, George Panton became the Postmaster - as well as being the coroner. When he died in 1829, the role was taken by James Raymond who was known as the Postmaster-General. By then they had moved into part of an old police station on the site of the current GPO. By 1845 the post office had taken over the entire building and a classical portico was attached in 1848 to up the esteem of the service in the eyes of the community. Over time, the stench from the polluted Tank Stream, and from nearby stables had the workforce and the public up in arms, and the original GPO was demolished in 1863. The new GPO was opened in 1874.

The architect was James Barnet. More on him in my Taphophile Tragics post next Tuesday. Suffice it to say that he cowed to few people. He was instrumental in the highly decorative facade. Here is a taste of the George Street frontage. As well as the very French effect I showed yesterday, here is the kangaroo and the emu in shackles leading straight to the lion atop a crown. Remember, this is in 1874, and Australia was not federated as a Commonwealth until 1901. This is eerily like the Australian Coat-of-Arms.

13 comments:

Steffe said...

Impressive building. And the façade work is amazing.

NixBlog said...

Interesting post and lovely photos, Julie. Poor old kanga and emu are in chains!

Margaret said...

Oh this area brings back memories, I used to work in the building to the left, I think it was called Angel Place,the lift in the foyer was staffed at the time and Keith the "driver" knew which floor everyone worked on.
I used to love the flower barrows on the Martin Place side, it was allways so busy.I found the achitecture of the whole city endlessly fascinating.
I even saw B Miles a few times,I read her life story many years later and was amazed.

Julie said...

Marg: I have photos of her resting place out at Rookwood. She was scattered at the base of her parents gravestone. I will post in a couple of weeks.

Jane Bennett Artist said...

I love your posts about the GPO, Julie.I've always had a soft spot for sandstone marsupials in bondage, there just aren't enough of them in modern architecture. Hopefully the sculptor used his imagination rather than carving from live models.

Kay L. Davies said...

Somehow I can't see this opening up to brushed aluminum. Strange how that happens. If I were in charge of turning a post office into a hotel, I think I might try to have an interior in keeping with the facade, sandstone marsupials and all.
K

Ann said...

I never realised they were in shackles. Although I don't mind the interior, its a great shame they didn't keep the period features, as they did with the QVB.

Jim said...

Such detail.

Joe said...

Thanks for the photos and info. I have never noticed the Kangaroo and Emu in shackles surveyed from above by a lion. Very blatant symbolism of the colonisation of Australia by the British Empire me thinks.

JM said...

Absolutely beautiful details! Love the previous post too.

PerthDailyPhoto said...

Excellent series about the GPO Julie, it's very much like ours here in Perth too, the facade is in tact but the PO only occupies a tiny corner of it now, it still has all the lovely parquet flooring..OMG I fear I may be a 'Luddite' ..no, in fact I know I am!

PerthDailyPhoto said...
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Julie said...

I shall come back to the GPO, Grace. Just had to detour for a favourite B&W meme which is my challenge each week.