Somersby

Apr 042015
 

Timeline

Date TBC 1 – Frank Fox, owner and entrepreneur 2 Robert Irving, then senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales appointed Research Director by Frank Fox prepare the documentation for the buildings to be erected along with four research staff. The project was focussed on the Pre-Macquarie period and the ideal of unimpeachable authenticity. 3

it was arranged that the first year students should erect the very first buildings at OS as a major component of their first year studies. All 130 students, divided into 13 groups, carried out historical research for each one of their chosen buildings, made scale models, calculated the required materials and prepared ordering lists, in the process learning the simple trades as necessary for each building at the Randwick workshop of the UNSW. Then afterwards they spent two weeks camping on the site and building each structure. A dozen members of staff and I lived there for this time too as supervisors. Frank Fox arranged accommodation and catering as well as obtaining and delivering the materials. In that fortnight we built and mostly finished the thirteen buildings, learning to lay bricks, wattle-and-daub, shingles, tiles, thatch and other primitive materials just as the convicts were known to have used. Perhaps the most interesting to be erected was Bennelong’s Hut, the original having been the first privately-occupied brick building erected in Sydney. Workmen at the site afterwards finished off what the students had been unable to complete. The whole exercise was a very successful and indeed memorable learning exercise for the first year students (and for the staff).

The research team were tasked to produce building not only documentation for the continuing building program, but also documentation of landscaping, decoration, furnishing, costume, food, activities and such like for the attraction. A building campaign began, under the direction of Frank Fox and his sons Michael (architect) and Stephen (management) and the other staff who had by then been assembled. The Projects completed included what was called Heritage Hall (The entrance and reception complex) and an increasingly large set of buildings including the first pub and restaurant. Some, such as the gaol and the church, were never finished. The windmill, which I personally researched, was eventually almost completed but was never opened. 4

26 January 1975 – Old Sydney Town was officially opened by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

30 July 1975 – Old Sydney Town: The outrageous days of Sydney Cove in 1810 have been recreated at Somersby, near Gosford. Hail a waggon or bullock dray and travel 1810 style. Non-stop demonstrations of the early colonists going about their business. Open daily 10 am to 5 pm. Admission $2.50 adults. 75c children. 5

2012 6 – Robert Irving discovered that the more perishable buildings such as convict huts and the Observatory were in poor condition, but the brick and stone ones were sound. The windmill was almost complete (it was only partly constructed when I resigned). The whole site looked just as if the population had simply deserted the place and walked away. 7

20 February 2014 – “Firefighters were called to the former theme park at Somersby at around 3:30 this morning, finding one of the buildings well alight. Arson has been ruled out as the cause of a blaze that destroyed part of Old Sydney Town….” 8 The Fire was within the front entrance to the theme park.

Other useful information

During the early 1970s the Sydney Town Hall conservation began and underneath the Town Hall House area a series of burial places were discovered in what had been the early burial ground. Several small brick-vaulted grave chambers were uncovered, including one thought to have originally and possibly contained the body of master brick-maker James Bloodworth who died in 1804. Judy Birmingham of Sydney University directed the archaeological investigation. When it was determined that it could not be preserved and incorporated in the new structure, it was offered to Old Sydney Town. I measured, photographed and documented the tomb, numbering every brick. After careful dismantling, the bricks were taken on pallets to OST and placed in storage in one of the ancillary buildings. I never saw them again, and my later enquiries resulted in the statement that the bricks had been stolen. 9

Old Sydney Town commercial (1980’s)
Classic Australian Television Commercials 10

Several Facebook pages have been created in support of protecting and reopening Old Sydney Town:
Heritage List Old Sydney Town
BRING BACK OLD SYDNEY TOWN!

Notes:

  1. Date TBC
  2. Irving, Robert. E-mail date unknown (prior to 31 January 2015)
  3. Irving, Robert. E-mail date unknown (prior to 31 January 2015)
  4. Irving, Robert. E-mail date unknown (prior to 31 January 2015)
  5. Australian Women’s Weekly. Wednesday 30 July 1975 Pg15
  6. Date TBC
  7. Irving, Robert. E-mail date unknown (prior to 31 January 2015)
  8. NBN News
  9. Irving, Robert. E-mail date unknown (prior to 31 January 2015)
  10. Classic Australian Television Commercials. Youtube