Sunday, April 29, 2012

Across the Border: Potts Point: Reader Story: Apartment Buildings: Byron Hall

This is a history of Byron Hall written by someone who lives in the building - what could be better than that? 
I enjoy writing about all the excellent early 20th-century buildings, and 19th-century buildings in our area, but it's so much better when it comes from someone who lives in it and loves it. 
Here is Ms X's journey through Byron Hall on Macleay Street - a building that is unmissable if you are into that kind of thing. 
Internal and fireworks pix by Ms X; externals by me.

2011 Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks display from the roof of Byron Hall.

"Given the new year has well past, it's about time I delivered on a promise to a woman I have never met.
"My Darling Darlinghurst is a favourite blog of mine.
"I love hearing stories from 2011 and share the author's fascination with the strange timetable the 311 bus keeps.
"A while back I happened to see that Violet had created a hand-coloured zine and was sharing them with her fans/readers.
"I was quite the excited one on the interwebs, and a quick email secured a copy.
"Shortly thereafter Violet fed it under the front door of my apartment building.
"In return for that kind gesture, I’m introducing her and you to the insides of my home at Byron Hall.

"Byron Hall sits at 97-99 Macleay Street and was designed by Claud Hamilton.
"Hamilton was a fairly prolific architect in the area, and also designed other apartment blocks like The Savoy (1919) and Regent’s Court (1925).
"He and the construction workers of Sydney finished Byron Hall in 1929, the year of the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression.
"Byron Hall is a mix of styles: many aspects are art deco, some a little Georgian (like the windows), and others classical (such as the pediments).
"Until the 1950s the building was a series of serviced apartments.
"Maids lived on the top level and the caretaker in a small flat on the ground floor.

"The foyer is the grandest part of the building, and the caretaker’s office is usually occupied in the early part of the day by one of the longest-term residents who is now in her 90s.
"She arranges the more basic repairs and trouble shoots any issues, but more than that she is a pretty impressive collective memory of the old building. 

"Just outside the office are the original and still-used letterboxes, so tiny and made for an era when post-delivered objects had a smaller and more uniform size I expect. 
"Anything that does not fit has to sit on top in piles, each resident sorting through the pile. 
"It is terribly inefficient, but a reminder that it really is OK to spend a minute or two extra in the foyer collecting mail and chatting to neighbours. 
"There are two lifts, with wonderfully un-automated doors, which tend to inspire two types of reactions. 
"On the one hand there are the friends who squeal with glee (squee!) at things so well aged and beautiful. 
"On the other, those who cannot be convinced that the lifts, despite recent and full refurbishment, are safe. 
"The basement and an area on the top floor are the two other common spaces.
"The company (the building is company title) still own the flat the maids previously resided in, and you can access a small balcony and a meeting room.
"The view from the balcony is beautiful — straight across The Domain to the city and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
"The meeting room contains the original name board from the foyer, listing some of the first residents against their flat number.

"The basement has a communal laundry and the boiler room. 
"While not quite out of Nightmare on Elm Street, it is a little dark and spooky. 
"The basement also houses the building’s bike racks and ‘The Shed’: a giant old wooden workbench where you can repair things, sand things, paint things and generally make a mess.
"One thing you are always conscious of living in Byron Hall, is how lucky you are. 
"Lucky because the building is wonderful, but also because 2011 is home to a great many people who are without homes. 
"For that reason I'm a Friend of the Wayside Chapel, who live next door to us at Byron Hall. 
"They are often a friend to those who are in need, so perhaps you might think about become friends with them as well?
"The sun is pretty low in the sky as I finish writing this, streaming in to our lounge room and demanding I get organised for dinner. 
"So goodnight from Byron Hall."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Across the Border: Town Hall: Art and Culture: Michael Kelly's Nightworks, at Gaffa

 So welcome to my very first blog post without any pictures. It's a damn shame because my words don't really stand up to scrutiny when they're alone on the page and the thought of publishing such a piece is quite intimidating.
Unfortunately Blogger, which hosts my blog, hasn't allowed me to add pictures for about the past five or six days, which is why it has been all quiet on the My Darling Darlinghurst front.
And the real shame is that I wanted to tell you about an exhibition of paintings that you really must go and see if you are interested in artists' depiction of this area. 
I have photographs of the artist, Michael Kelly, and - most importantly - some images of his works, which I had hoped would lure you out of Darlinghurst to the Town Hall area where the gallery is located.
And the exhibition closes on Sunday, so there is not much time to waste, and without a fix to the Blogger problem, I will now have to do my best with words only.**

You may remember Michael Kelly. He was the artist that my dear friend Ruby Molteno photographed painting with oil paints en plein air at the end of Barnett Lane about a year ago
Well, Ruby and I were at King Street Gallery on William recently, checking out their current exhibition, The Animal, which features paintings, sculpture, taxidermy and installations all to do with animals, when I picked up a flier on my way out advertising Michael Kelly's new show, Nightworks
I showed Ruby the flier, which featured an image of a painting depicting Green Park in Darlinghurst, and said, "hey, he's that chap you photographed in your alley about a year ago. His new show is opening next week - do you want to go?"
Well, of course Ruby said yes, because she was hoping the exhibition would feature a painting of her apartment building that she had seen him doing, and if she happened to be feeling both rash and rich, she could buy it, mount it on her wall and always have a personal story to tell about its provenance when guests came calling and remarked on the marvellous picture.

So with that in mind, last Thursday evening Ruby, myself and a friend, Milly Fisher, met outside the Gaffa gallery at 281 Clarence Street, just around the corner from Town Hall train station.
During the day, Gaffa lures people in with a cafe and a range of "pop-up shops" that sell arts and crafts. I really hate that term, "pop-up shop" because it's such an overused buzz term - but whatever.
When we arrived at night, there were hip-looking young things loitering about on the footpath outside and when we walked in, we were drawn straight to a small desk at the back of the hallway, where there was a young man selling glasses of wine for a $2 "donation".
We all donated some money, grabbed a glass and precariously climbed up some flights of stairs to the gallery space on level two, where Michael Kelly's exhibition is hanging.

The show is comprised of 16 artworks - paintings mostly, but also illustrations - depicting street scenes from Darlinghurst, Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills. 
The works range in price from $1600 to $11,100 and most of them are quite large - with one up to 1.5m x 1.8m.
You will recognise many of the streets in the oil paintings, but with others you will have to scratch your head and think and guess.
One of my favourites, mainly because of the subject matter, was a small ink wash on paper, Stairway (35x45cm, $1400), which featured Beare's Stairs.

But I also loved the large oil paintings, which show the detail in the architecture of inner-city buildings, but focus mainly on the people in the foreground, and specifically, those who are experiencing homelessness.
There is no judgment of the people, or serious comment on society, just an honest depiction of the everyday: the beauty, the mundane and the rituals of daily life.
There is Footpath Library (oil on linen, 113.183cm, NFS), captured in Woolloomooloo, showing a group of people looking at the books that have been laid out on the footpath for free.

Green Park (oil on linen, 102.137cm, $7700, above) is painted from an insider's angle, from the grass, looking south to where the park meets the Sacred Heart Hospice. Three figures are gathered under a street light near the footpath on Darlinghurst Road. 
It is a lonely picture for me, because I used to live around the corner on Hardie Street and would often walk past the park at night. It was always so cold and quiet, with people huddled in the shadows and sleeping on benches.
Night is the key to these works and it soon becomes clear that Kelly has spent a lot of time loitering around these inner-city streets after dark, and in the process has formed relationships with some of the characters that inhabit these quiet night spaces.
There was no picture of Ruby's building, because that was painted during the day, Michael Kelly told us when we went to say hello.

He is an interesting character and thankfully not from the arrogant Woollahra or Paddington mould, but a down to earth, slightly eccentric person who appears to only live for the paint and brush.
Kelly quotes from poet-librarian Christopher Brennan's 1902 poem, The Wanderer:

"All night I have walked and my heart was deep awake . . ."

In his artist's statement, Kelly goes on to say:

"The wanderer, like the flaneur of Baudelaire and Benjamin, walks the city in order to experience it and like the Symbolist poets of the late 19th-century sees in it the reflection of his own soul.
"More recently, the writer Chris Jenks refers to the concept of "minatorial geography" being that which is experienced by the flaneur, as both fascination and a rebuff or intimidation, and "an acknowledgement of the ontology of the occupancy as an act of respect that honours the integrity of social sentiment that binds a community."

Don't let Chris Jenks' academic speak throw you, for Kelly goes on to write, more personally - and more truthfully:

"Like Christopher Brennan, the Sydney poet and scholar influenced by the French Symbolist poets, I too have spent many nights walking the streets of Sydney after having been away from the city for several years.
"The works from this exhibition have evolved from drawings and sketches I've made while walking the streets of Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills.
"The city, its parks and overlooked corners appear not as thoroughfares to and from the busy metropolis, but rather as the backdrop to the human dramas and everyday life lived out there.
"It is more the atmosphere of these places and these times that I'm attempting to evoke."

I urge you to go and see his show and to also walk the streets at night and perhaps see a reflection of your own soul.

Michael Kelly
19-29 April 2012
Gaffa gallery
281 Clarence Street
Sydney NSW 2000
02 9283 4273
My Darling Darlinghurst Facebook photo gallery of Nightworks

**Blogger is still buggered, but I am nothing if not industrious, and have found a way to post pix.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Across the Border: Kings Cross: History: Hensley Hall

You may remember, back in May last year, I invited you along on a tour of Hensley Hall, the 1912-built former private hotel and boarding house on the corner of Bayswater Road and Ward Avenue.
At the time, caretaker-resident, Barry Minhinnick, was about to be evicted after 20 years of living in the 36-room residence.

Well, almost a year later, Barry the bower bird is gone and a big padlock keeps the front door shut tight. The lettering, Hensley Hall, has been removed from the front facade.

Cyclone fencing has been put across all the window to keep out unwanted guests.

And the entire building has a horrible locked-up, dormant feeling. 
All life has left Hensley Hall. 
It is a building in neglect.
And where is Barry? He says he is happily settled in another inner-city suburb, but I have the impression that after a generation of living in Kings Cross, he misses the old neighbourhood dearly, despite his apparent optimism for his new home. 
And I also think his old neighbourhood, and Hensley Hall, too, miss him  - and need him.

Since Barry left Hensley Hall, the building has been in steep decline.
 Squatters moved in for about three months, using a garbage bin as a ladder to climb over this fence out the back. The police were called and the trio were kicked out about three weeks ago.

But the saddest aspect of the building's decline is the vandalism of Barry's "Simple Garden", which was once a curious paradise of found objects and plants that was bursting with joy and life.

The fence palings have been kicked in, rubbish litters the garden and thieves have taken anything of value, proving that dormant or neglected buildings become easy targets for vandals and their pointless destruction. 
I heard along the grapevine - and I don't know how accurate this is - that the owner has accepted a $100,000 deposit on Hensley Hall, conditional on the building being given development approval from the City of Sydney. 
Apparently, a development application for a 24-room apartment building on the site was approved in 2007. The new would-be owner wants to push that to 54-rooms. 
Apparently the original DA was approved on the condition that the facade of the building, which is an important historic feature of Bayswater Road, be kept if the development proceeds.
But as I said, I have no idea of the truth of any of this, and it's possibly just gossip.

In the meantime, and for the future, I would hope that someone steps in - the City of Sydney, perhaps - to ensure that Barry's garden is maintained now, and also kept in place if the development proceeds. 
The garden is not just part of Barry's legacy or a lesson in reuse and recycling, but it is part of the heritage of the site and a reminder of the life and lives that came before. 

I hope it doesn't disappear from neglect and ambivalence.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Darlinghurst Blog: Churches: St John's Anglican Church

How many times have you walked past St John's Anglican Church in your lifetime? One hundred times, 1,000 times, 10,000; for me I'd guess about 1,500 times. 
Located on one of the highest points of the hood, the church became a landmark in Darlinghurst after it opened for "divine worship" on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1858 - 154 years ago.
Designed by Gould and Hilling and made from soft Hawkesbury sandstone, it was built for the wealthy residents that lived along the ridge.
They weren't happy however, with the finished design, and in the 1870s Edmund Blacket was enlisted to design the tower and spire, which made it even more famous.

After the spire was built in 1873, the church was known across the harbour and became a distinct feature of the Sydney skyline, and could be seen from ships as they entered through the heads into Sydney Harbour.
Even today, the 139-year-old spire's presence can be felt across the neighbourhood: I can see the 43-metres high tower when I am walking along Nimrod Street, Craigend Street, from afar as Macquarie Street, and even when I am flying over Sydney in a plane.
But while I have long loved, and taken comfort from, the exterior of St John's, I had never once set foot inside - until one balmy weekend about three weeks ago.

I don't know what compelled me inside. I wasn't seeking any spiritual succour; perhaps I was just bored and looking for something to pass the time, and I love being a tourist in my own neighbourhood.

Fortunately, near the entrance, just past Blacket's bell tower, there was a collection of pamphlets, including one entitled, "A 10-minute Tour". 
I picked one up and stepped back to the tower section as instructed on the pamphlet: "Start your tour here".
There I learned that the first bell in the tower was from the Dunbar, a ship that wrecked at Sydney Heads on August 20, 1857, killing all 121 people on board.

The Dunbar bell is still there, but no longer rings the start of Sunday service, that duty is instead left to the tubular bells that were cast by Harringtons of Coventry, England, in the 1880s and installed in the tower in 1889.

The wreck of the Dunbar must have had a huge impact on Sydney at the time, and obviously Darlinghurst, too, for on the southern wall of the church is a marble Dunbar memorial (above), which was placed by Charles and Mary Logan, who lost their three children on the ship.

On the western wall I was fascinated to find this shiny brass memorial to Wilfred Lawrence Docker, who lived across the road in The Statler, and who I wrote about here.

One of the larger memorials is also, to me, the creepiest. 
It is a baptismal font in memory of Emma Holdsworth, who died aged five in 1877. 
I don't know why anyone would want to baptise their baby at a memorial for a dead child.
But churches are strange like that. 

Obviously, one of the highlights of being inside a church is the ability to admire the stained glass windows that can't be appreciated from the outside. 
The "10-minute Tour" flier sheds little light on the origin or artist behind the glass-work, and instead has a simple description of what is depicted on each window. 
For example, "These depict Jesus as a child in the temple, carrying the cross and ascending to heaven".

For a more comprehensive history - that lasts longer than 10-minutes - it's probably best to read Paul Egan's Serving the Cross, St John's Darlinghurst, A short history, which can be purchased from the church through an honesty box.
I had a flick through the pages and it seems to be a thoroughly researched history of the church and its congregations over the years.

The church is laid out in cruciform, that is, it is shaped like a cross, with side extensions or "transepts" from the central area - known as the "nave" - where the congregation sits.

At the head of the church, behind the pulpit is the chancel, which is home to "the table" and a  "beautifully executed" mosaic tile floor.

The window behind the chancel was erected in 1888 and depicts the fishes and the loaves bible story, when Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 hungry people from five loaves of bread and two fish. 
The window cost 500 guineas, was made by Messrs Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster, England, under the instruction of architect John Sulman and was donated to the church by William Edward Sparke of St Monans, Elizabeth Bay, in memory of his parents.
Sparke once owned Maramanah, which was located where Fitzroy Gardens in Kings Cross is today, and was responsible for giving the mansion its name.

Beneath the stained glass window is this amazing reredos, or alter piece, which is intricately carved from sandstone. I have never seen sandstone carving with such minute detail. It's astounding. And was donated to the church by Frederick Tooth, of Kent Brewery fame, as a memorial to his wife, Jane Tooth.

I was less impressed by the pulpit, which looks a bit over the top with its painted white stone, rounded staircase and red carpet. It doesn't really suit the rest of the church, despite being designed in 1886 by the Blacket brothers, Cyril and Arthur, who also helped their Papa out on the tower and spire.
The pulpit is dedicated to the memory of the first rector of the parish, Thomas Hayden (1856-1882) and its carvings depict gospel scenes. 
I suspect its hideousness owes a great deal to whoever chose to paint the stone white. Perhaps the church could employ a heritage restorer to remove the white paint, but I suppose there are more important things to spend money on.

Finally, there is the organ chamber, which is located on the southern wall of the chancel, a short distance from the organ console - where the organist sits and plays - in the north transept.
Do you like all this church lingo?
Anyway, the organ chamber was built 127 years ago by William Hill and Son and was first played at the church the following year, on August 26, 1886.
It was restored in 1998 and when I entered the church was being played solemnly; its spooky, morbid sounds echoing in the 43-metres high ceiling and adding a distinct religious feeling to my tour.

St John's Anglican Church
120 Darlinghurst Road
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9360 6844

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Darlinghurst Blog: History: Save The Bin Rally

This Saturday there's going to be a rally in Royston Street to protest the proposed demolition of the arced garbage bin cover that forms a turning circle in this little street. 
The "refuse container" was built in the early 1980s to house garbage bins for the many apartments in this street and is covered in a 31-year-old Wisteria vine.
Apparently the City of Sydney council wants to demolish the "refuse container" and build a new structure to house all the bins.
I received a flier in my mailbox this week from the Darlinghurst Action Group (DAG), who are organising the rally on Saturday April 7, from 11am, to protect this "important landmark and valuable piece of Darlinghurst's social and waste history".

The DAG, a coalition of residents from Royston Street and surrounding streets, go on to say that "this bin structure represents a big change in the way we dealt with waste in Darlinghurst and was built during a critical time in the city's move towards recycling and reuse, which is now commonplace."
"To demolish a structure like this is to demolish 30 years of memories of household waste and the evolution from a wasteful society to one that carefully considers what they put in their bins each day," the DAG writes.
"The bin structure is not just an emblem of society's changed attitudes towards waste, but also provides a crucial circle in this street for drivers to manoeuvre.
"This turning circle is known to hundreds of residents, as well as to visitors to the neighbourhood, and is a landmark of Royston Street."

I didn't really think much about the bin structure, but after delving around on the valuable Trove site have learned that in the late 1970s, during the early green movement, there was a community campaign from Royston Street residents for better waste sorting and removal.

By the early 1980s, work had begun on this important waste structure.
Designed by council architect and engineer John Aubrey, the structure was designed to be a turning circle for the street while also providing a practical area for the management of household waste.
The curves of the arched gazebo, which was to be covered in Wisteria vines, were designed to mimic the curves of the Arc De Triumphe in Paris, which Aubrey had visited as a child.

The initial budget for the project was estimated at $20,000, but in February 1981 The Sydney Morning Herald reported that costs had "blown out on the project due to a labourers' dispute".
The then council took the labourers to the NSW District Court in order to escape their contractual obligations so that work could be finished on the project.
The matter was settled out of court and in April 1981, The Herald reported that the project was finally completed at a cost of $35,000. 
For 31 years, Aubrey's waste management structure has serviced the hundreds of residents that have come through Royston Street.
The council timeline to demolish the structure is set to begin in June 2012.

John Aubrey's wife, Jan, poses next to the completed structure, known as the Arc De Triumphe of waste disposal in April 1981. Source: City of Sydney Archives.

The Save The Bin Rally is being held this Saturday, April 7, from 11am. 
For more information, visit the DAG website here.