One of Sydney city’s hidden places is Macquarie Place, just off Bridge Street. Tucked in between Loftus Street and Pitt Streets It is a little bit of green. Rather dull hidden from direct sunlight. A little bit tired, a little bit at heel amongst the skyscrapers and traffic congestion. A space in the city for todays world of financial gurus, hotshots and lawyers.
Macquarie Place Park is triangular shaped space that has seen the city change around over the 200 years. Once upon a time it was an open space in the elegant part of town for the colonial elite next to the Governor’s House precinct, on the high ground above the Tanks Stream.
The New South Wales State Heritage Inventory states
Macquarie Place was the first formally laid out public space in Sydney and thus in Australia. Governor Macquarie was responsible for its formal layout, befitting its important situation at the centre of the colony. The park and the memorials standing in this park outline the development of Sydney since its foundation.
On the harbour side of the park The City of Sydney states that some of Sydney’s prominent early colonial businessmen held leases. They included Simeon Lord, Thomas Randall, William Chapman, Andrew Thompson and Thomas and Mary Reibey.
The park was formalised when the sandstone obelisk designed by Francis Greenway was erected in 1818. It was to mark Sydney’s first public square and the place from which all roads in New South Wales were to be measured.
The construction of Circular Quay between 1839 and 1847 saw an extension of a number of streets and took up a portion of the park. The reserve was enlarged in the 1970s when Macquarie Place (street) was closed and incorporated into the park.
Over the years its position at the centre of its world change. Government House was moved up to Macquarie Street and by the end of the Victorian period Macquarie Place was surrounded by the world of government administration and commercial offices of shipping merchants and shipping agents.
In the eyes of many the fate of Macquarie Place is representative of the changing faces of the city, from a working maritime harbour to part of the 24/7 global financial network which never turns off. The wheeling and dealing of today’s financial houses are reminiscent of the 17th and 18th century which shaped the future imperial London and the British Empire and appeared around the park in the late 19th century.
Macquarie Place has always had a global feel from those who passed through in the past in the Victorian and early colonial period and the international financial hotshots and hipsters of the present. It has been a transient place for those who occupied it and the current batch of latte sipping dealmakers are no different. The space is a site of both continuity and change.
The space was fill with monuments to the commercial pioneers (Mort) and relics from the seafaring age (Sirius anchor) and the symbols of power of colonial administrators. Macquarie Place monuments represent the changing period of the usage of the city and the world.
In 1907 the anchor and canon from the HMS Sirius (1780-1790) were place in Macquarie Place. HMS Sirius was one of the naval escorts of the First Fleet out to the founding of the New South Wales colony in 1788. The anchor was brought to Sydney after HMS Sirius was wrecked at Norfolk Island in 1790. The HMS Sirius was built in 1780-1781 as an Eastern Indian trader and named Berwick of 510 tons. It was purchased by the British Admiralty as a store ship in 1781 and renamed HMS Sirius in 1786. It was armed with 10 canons, carried 160 men and could do 10 knots with a strong wind.
There is the bronze statue of Thomas Sutcliffe Mort. The dedication on the plinth:
A pioneer of Australian resources, a founder of Australian industries, one who established our wool market.
Mort (1816-1878) arrived in Sydney in 1838 with his parents. He was a successful and flamboyant Sydney businessman, auctioneer, mine owner, pastoralist, manufacturer, horticulturalist and churchman. He lived at Darling Point where he was a keen gardener.
There is also the 1908 domed toilet building with Edwardian Art Nouveau ironwork, and an 1857 cast iron drinking fountain.
The beginning of the Remembrance Driveway from Sydney to Canberra is marked by two plane trees planted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.
The New South Wales State Heritage Inventory states:
Macquarie Place is now the oldest town square in Australia. Together with Hyde Park, it is also the oldest urban park in Australia and has been in continuous operation as a public space for at least 195 years.
What the park does do is provide a breath of fresh air between the city towers that now enclose it. Today Macquarie Place is a world of cafes which are frequented by Sydney’s financial gurus who determine the future of Australia. The Victorian edifices to colonial administration are silent awaiting the wishes of latest rent seeking developers.
Read more about Macquarie Place at
Anne Marie Whitaker, ‘Macquarie Place’, Dictionary of Sydney