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)
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)
Archaeological Potential - Medium
Physical Condition - Refurbishment currently being undertaken
The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters (Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani).
Prior to European settlement the Millers Point area was part of the wider Cadigal territory, in which the clan fished, hunted and gathered shellfish from the nearby mudflats. Shellfish residue was deposited in middens, in the area known to the early Europeans as Cockle Bay; the middens were later utilised by the Europeans in lime kilns for building purposes. The Millers Point area was known to the Cadigal as Coodye, and Dawes Point as Tar-ra/Tarra (Sydney City Council, 2019).
With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney (Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani).
General Post Office:
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.
James Johnstone Barnet (1827-1904) was made acting Colonial Architect in 1862 and appointed Colonial Architect from 1865-90. He was born in Scotland and studied in London under Charles Richardson, RIBA and William Dyce, Professor of Fine Arts at King's College, London. He was strongly influenced by Charles Robert Cockerell, leading classical theorist at the time and by the fine arts, particularly works of painters Claude Lorrain and JRM Turner. He arrived in Sydney in 1854 and worked as a self-employed builder. He served as Edmund Blacket's clerk of works on the foundations of the Randwick (Destitute Childrens') Asylum. Blacket then appointed Barnet as clerk-of-works on the Great Hall at Sydney University. By 1859 he was appointed second clerk of works at the Colonial Architect's Office and in 1861 was Acting Colonial Architect. Thus began a long career. He dominated public architecture in NSW, as the longest-serving Colonial Architect in Australian history. Until he resigned in 1890 his office undertook some 12,000 works, Barnet himself designing almost 1000. They included those edifices so vital to promoting communication, the law and safe sea arrivals in colonial Australia. Altogether there were 169 post and telegraph offices, 130 courthouses, 155 police buildings, 110 lockups and 20 lighthouses, including the present Macquarie Lighthouse on South Head, which replaced the earlier one designed by Francis Greenway. Barnet's vision for Sydney is most clearly seen in the Customs House at Circular Quay, the General Post Office in Martin Place and the Lands Department and Colonial Secretary's Office in Bridge Street. There he applied the classicism he had absorbed in London, with a theatricality which came from his knowledge of art (Le Sueur, 2016, 6).
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 extension of the post office to Pitt Street. Tenders were called and in 1880 laying of foundations began. The finishing stone to the tower was laid in 1885 and the colonade along the northern side 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.
Walter Liberty Vernon (1846-1914) was both architect and soldier. Born in England, he ran successful practices in Hastings and London and had estimable connections in artistic and architectural circles. In 1883 he had a recurrence of bronchitic asthma and was advised to leave the damp of England. He and his wife sailed to New South Wales. Before leaving, he gained a commission to build new premesis for Merrrs David Jones and Co., in Sydney's George Street. In 1890 he was appointed Government Architect - the first to hold that title - in the newly reorganised branch of the Public Works Department. He saw his role as building 'monuments to art'. His major buildings, such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales (1904-6) are large in scale, finely wrought in sandstone, and maintaining the classical tradition. Among others are the Mitchell Wing of the State Library, Fisher Library at the University of Sydney and Central Railway Station. He also added to a number of buildings designed by his predecessors, including Customs House, the GPO and Chief Secretary's Building - with changes which did not meet with the approval of his immediate precedessor, James Barnet who, nine years after his resignation, denounced Vernon's additions in an essay and documentation of his own works. In England, Vernon had delighted his clients with buildings in the fashionable Queen Anne style. In NSW, a number of British trained architects whow were proponents of hte Arts and Crafts style joined his office and under their influence, Vernon changed his approach to suburban projects. Buildings such as the Darlinghurst First Station (Federation Free style, 1910) took on the sacale and character of their surroundings. Under Vernon's leadership, an impressive array of buildings was produced which were distinguished by interesting brickwork and careful climatic considerations, by shady verandahs, sheltered courtyards and provision for cross-flow ventilation. Examples are courthouses in Parkes (1904), Wellington (1912) and Bourke, Lands Offices in Dubbo (1897) and Orange (1904) and the Post Office in Wellington (1904)(Le Sueur, 2016, 7).
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).
Grand general post offices from the 19th and early 20th centuries provided a range of essential services for major cities. Even today they serve as the official point(s) from which road distances are measured. But as their once-immence importance was eroded by the latter-day technological and communications revolution, these huge buildings, in search of a new purpose, were inevitably converted to luxury hotels (Dennis, 2019, 2).
From 1995 into the early 2000s the building was redeveloped with a new tower block behind as an (The Westin) Hotel (Sydney, with 416 rooms) and the former GPO was redeveloped as a complex of lobby, shops and restaurants. This included redevelopment of the 1927 wing (ibid, 2019).
On 18/10/2019 the former GPO began another chapter. It opened as the Fullerton Hotel Sydney, refurbished, remodelled and facade refreshed. The new owner, Singaporean-owned Asia-based Fullerton Hotels and Resorts group, has been down this preservation route before - it runs The Fullerton Hotel Singapore (1928), which was also once a GPO building. As part of the re-badging of the property, the Fullerton group is introducing unique guided heritage tours from November 1, to showcase the building's precious heritage features as well as the stories of the people who worked in the building over its 130 or so years as the headquarters fro Australia's postal service. The tours will be available to hotel guests and the public (ibid, 2019).
The Fullerton Hotel Sydney is the brand's first international expansion. In 2018 the GPO was subject of a controversial $150m sale by Australia Post to the Far East property group, owners of the Fullerton Hotel brand. Far East has thus far proven its bona fides with one of its first tasks on taking control of the property being to extensively clean and repair the imposing sandstone facade, including the marble statue of Queen Victoria, looking onto Martin Place. There's the choice of staying within the modern high-rise wing of the hotel or in one of the rooms in the heritage building. The public spaces have been smartly spruced-up and rebadged under the new brand. Fullerton Sydney's owners have brought a welcome taste of Singapore in the menus of its dining outlets, namely 'The Place' and 'The Bar', and also introduced the 'Sydney Sling' - an antipodean retort to the city state's famous tipple. Free tours of the GPO are a real bonus for guests as well as an asset to Sydney (Dennis, 2020, 20-21).