General Post Office | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


General Post Office

Item details

Name of item: General Post Office
Other name/s: GPO Sydney, Postal Hall, Westin
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Postal and Telecommunications
Category: Post Office
Location: Lat: -33.8677553205 Long: 151.2077070290
Primary address: 1 Martin Place, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT11 DP881681
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
1 Martin PlaceSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Australia PostFederal Government03 May 99

Statement of significance:

The Sydney GPO site is a significant place in the Australian National Estate and NSW and is of national importance. The Post Office has been on the site since 1830 and the fabric reflects the history of postal, telegraphic and telephonic services in N.S.W. and Australia. It contains several buildings of varying cultural significance.

The exteriors of the buildings contribute much to the significant quality of the streetscape of George and Pitt Streets, and the western end of Martin Place.

The site has potential for archaeological investigation of past methods of construction, way of life etc. and for the proper conservation of buildings. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1991: 13)

The General Post Office in Sydney is significant for its association with the development of an integrated national postal and telecommunications system after federation. It was the venue for three conferences on the subject in the period 1896-1900, the last of these meetings drafting the Commonwealth legislation under which the national system was created.
Date significance updated: 01 Oct 97
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: James Barnet, Colonial Architect
Builder/Maker: John Young
Construction years: 1866-1874
Physical description: The GPO is constructed of Pyrmont stone and consists of a basement, ground floor, mezzanine, first, second and third floors. The ground floor is dominated by an open arcade which runs around the three street facades and which is covered with domical vaulting. This arcade is supported on polished grey monolith columns from Moruya on rougher, quite massive bases, and surmounted by carved capitals of the same materials. The main facade facing Martin Place is quite symmetrical with nine bays to each section of the arcading with end pavilions, and a massive central block surmounted by a fine clock and bell tower rising to 210 feet. (Burn 1967)

The Martin Place building is inspired by the Palazzi Communali of late Medieval and Renaissance Italy and is the finest example of the Victorian Italian Renaissance style in NSW.

Load-bearing sandstone walls support wrought iron composite beams or girders. Coke breeze arches without structural function span between the beams, with suspended timber floors and ceiling joists above and below respectively. The actual ceilings are lath and plaster with some cast plaster and run detail. The parallel interior load-bearing walls of the George Street wing have been removed.

The 1927 building is a seven storey Beaux Arts Classical style rendered, brick clad, steel framed structure.

The 1942 building is a nine storey Moderne style, concrete encased, steel frame building clad in granite and terra cotta tiles. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1991: 10, 22-23, 123)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Archaeological Potential - Medium
Physical Condition - Refurbishment currently being undertaken
Date condition updated:11 Aug 97
Modifications and dates: 1874 - First stage of building fronting George Street completed.
1887 - Second stage extending through to George Street and a clock tower completed.
1897-1905 - Mansards built in George and Pitt Street wings and then linked to the tower, completing a fifth storey.
1898 - George Street frontage of the building widened by two bays.
1900 - Alternative entrance for mail carts fron Chisolm Place (now Ash Street) under Martin Place to the basement of the GPO.
1904 - By this stage a fourth storey with two mansard roof section had been added to the George Street frontage.
1925-27 - Structures in yard and main stair to Martin Place demolished. Ground floor of post office completely remodelled.
1927 - A second building constructed
1942 - A third building constructed.
-Tower taken down.
1964 - Tower re-erected.
1985 - Extensive stonework repairs and lead flashings carried out to street elevations. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1991:ii, 20-21)
Former use: Post Office


Historical notes: The George Street General Post Office, reputedly designed by Francis Greenway served as the Police Office and Customs House before adaption to post office use in 1830. By 1860 it was found to be too small and inefficient. Plans for a new post office were prepared by Phillip Hardwick in London and sent to NSW in 1854. They were never used.

In 1864 instructions were given to design a post office with frontages to Pitt and George Streets and a new lane way between. James Barnet, newly confirmed as NSW Colonial Architect, submitted plans for the first stage in February 1865 on the old Post Office site on George Street. The developed proposal linked George and Pitt Streets, with a public colonnade intended to front to a large public space - the future Martin Place. In the meantime, this would be a laneway. The relatively narrow site allowed little space behind the main structure for necessary outbuildings - such as stables and lavatories.

In 1865 a temporary timber post office was erected in Wynyard Square and the old GPO was demolished.

The first contract, for foundation work, was awarded to Aaron Loveridge on 13 February 1886 and work began that year. A contract for carpenters, joiners, slaters, plumbers, painters and glaziers was awarded to John Young in December 1866, shortly followed by the same tenderer's offer on masons and bricklayers. The contract for wrought iron beams was awarded to P.N.Russell & Co.

Physical changes were made to the building during construction. Political changes and difficulty in obtaining opinion as to the interior arrangements were cited as reasons for delays in the completion of the building. Celebrations for the opening of the new building were finally held on 1st September 1874 by a 'conversazione' to which 2000 people were invited.

The first George Street clock, with Roman numerals in the centre indicating the hour was not liked because its single face could not be seen along George Street. By 1880 the clock was replaced by the present projecting clock with its three faces.

In August 1879 Barnet submitted plans for the extension of the post office to Pitt Street. Tenders were called and in 1880 laying of the foundations began. The finishing stone to the tower was laid in 1885 and the colonade along the northern side of the post office was opened to the public in May 1887. The tower clock was not completed until 16 September 1891.

During construction of the Pitt Street wing further expansion became necessary. The Post Office Cafe, south of the GPO along George Street, was resumed in 1883 to house the Railway Parcel and Ticket Office. In February 1896 the decision was made to extend the GPO onto this site. W.L.Vernon, NSW Government Architect submitted plans in September and work was begun in 1897.

A decision to add a fifth storey, beginning with a mansard addition at the Pitt Street end of the building was also made in 1897. This was completed in 1899 and a similar mansard was begun over the George Street wing. Between 1900 and 1905 both Mansards were linked to the tower and the storey was completed.

In 1900 an alternative entrance for mail carts was built from Chisolm Place (now Ash Street) under Martin Place to the basement of the GPO. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1991: 19-21)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Communication-Activities relating to the creation and conveyance of information (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The physical growth and development of the building fabric on the site has been in response to the growth and development of postal, telegraph and telephone communication in NSW and Australia. The three buildings on the site constructed for Post Office use represent three stages of this growth and reflect the evolution of attitudes to postal and other communication services.
These include:
-the organisation of postal functions marked by changes in planning.
-technology evidenced in the growth of the telegraph and telephone departments and their decay or removal.
-attitudes to staffing; for instance the use and later disuse of observation galleries over the main workers within the buildings; and the increase in natural daylighting and ventilation to work areas.
-the structure of the Post Office organisation, for instance, the removal of the Postmaster General's office.

The site also covers part of the route of the Tank Stream, Sydney's first water supply and later first sewer. (Lucas, Stapleton & partners 1991: 12)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The GPO is situated in the heart of a group of nineteenth and twentieth century buildings forming a streetscape of cohesive form, materials, and scale. The Martin Place building makes a positive contribution to the streetscape, while the 1927 and 1942 buildings are sympathetic to the streetscape in scale and use of materials.

The Martin Place building is the finest example of Victorian Italian Renaissance in NSW and its long colonnade is a rare architectural element in Australia. The building has the finest monumental stone street facade in Sydney, constructed across an entire city block, and is the largest and most impressive post office building built in NSW. Together with the Melbourne GPO, the Sydney GPO is the largest and most impressive in Australia. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1991: 12 & 22-23)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The General Post Office, Sydney, has occupied its site continuously since 1830, playing a prominent role in the life of Sydney and NSW during this time. (Lucas, Stapleton & Partners 1991: 12)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The site contains evidence of equipment from various periods of development in the postal, telegraph and telephone services since the 1870s. This situation would not exist elsewhere in Australia, except in other General Post Offices of similar age and character, such as the Melbourne and Adelaide General Post Offices.

Through the early use of the site for official purposes and the considerable numbers of successive structures built there, it is a potential resource for archaeological study of former building techniques, way of life etc. Although much of the site has been excavated for basements, there may be significant deposits around the perimeter of the buildings, under the lowest floors, or within sealed cavities such as floor spaces. The building fabric is also the best source of information available for accurate reconstruction works. The site has potential also because the tank stream flows beneath. (Lucas, Stapleton and Partners 1991:12)
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act See file for schedule

Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
1. any works to the 1927 building above Postal Hall skylight and below the Postal Hall floor slab (except to remove support for the Postal Hall);
2. maintenance, restoration and reconstruction works to exteriors and interiors (terms as defined by Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter);
3. demolition of fabric introduced after 1905, but only where specifically identified and dated in the Conservation Analysis, prepared by Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners, Vol.3, dated June 1985, and only other than in the Postal Hall and adjacent spaces S5, S6, S7 (a) within the colonade and as below;
4. erection of new partitions, floor coverings and false ceilings in spaces ranked 4 in Figures 18A, B and C in the Conservation Management Plan, prepared by Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners dated November 1991, and provided that these are installed in such a way that they can be removed with minimal damage to significant fabric;
5. Erection of new partitions and replacement of pre-1905 surface finishes, fittings and fitments in spaces ranked 5 and 6 in Figures 18A, B and C in the Conservation Management Plan, prepared by Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners dated November 1991;
6. Installation of services within the building provided that:
(a) the installation does not involve damage to pre-1905 fabric in spaces ranked 1-4 in Figures 18A, B and C in the Conservation Management Plan, prepared by Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners dated November 1991, other than penetrations less than 100mm in diameter, and
(b) the installation is concealed from view within the pre-1905 fabric of spaces ranked 1-4 in Figures 18A, B and C in the Conservation Management Plan, prepared by Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners dated November 1991, other than for service points (GPO, switch, recording, grille, etc.);
7. Accurate recording, dismantling and re-erection of the Postal Hall (spaces S1 and northern half of S2) including skylight, wall panelling and, if possible, the parquetry flooring, reusing all salvaged elements but excluding counter fitments, all in accordance with policies and in the Conservation Management Plan, prepared by Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners, dated November 1991;
8. Any works at or below ground level within the 1 metre strip outside the line of the title boundary;
Dec 3 1993
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0076302 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0076303 Dec 93 1347108
Local Environmental PlanCSH LEP 4 07 Apr 00   
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   
Register of the National Estate  28 Sep 82   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Commerce Walking Tour View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Commerce Walking Tour View detail
OtherC.L. Biddulph1874The GPO Waltz - dedicated to "The Hon., The Post Master and his staff" View detail
WrittenClive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners Pty Ltd1991General Post Office Sydney. Conservation Analysis and Draft Conservation Management Plan
WrittenJ.S.Burn1967The General Post Office. National Trust Listing Card
WrittenLe Sueur, Angela & Quint, Graham2017'Trust Action: Sale of Sydney's GPO Building: a national disgrace'

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045424
File number: S90/03821

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