When the then premier Jack Lang opened Sydney’s grand T&G building in the early 1930s he declared it would stand for another hundred years or more. At 68m to the top of its impressive tower and with no less than 12 expansive floors it was then the city’s tallest office building and an architectural marvel of its day. Forty years later and it all came crashing down, demolished in 1975 to make way for a soulless edifice of concrete, glass and steel.
Just another sorry chapter in the ‘knock em down’ mentality that has characterised Sydney from the early 1900s onwards, the legacy of a city that was never properly planned and has allowed cowboy developers to run riot for decades – especially in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
If unfettered private construction was not bad enough, the landscape of civic vandalism has only been further denigrated by mindless Government and Council decisions – the kind of so called forward planning that gave us the infamous Sydney Monorail (RIP). The recent resolution to move the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta is just another episode in rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic and a ridiculous overspend of public funds.
Flashback to Sydney in the 1980s and the CBD was pitted with enormous water filled pre-construction holes, the legacy of shameless real estate grabs by millionaire crooks like Alan Bond. Once the largest department store in Australia, the Anthony Hordern Building was demolished along with the wonderful old Regent Theatre. Nothing was sacrosanct at the time and there was even talk of knocking down the Queen Victoria Building and the State Theatre.
If the demise of the T&G building was any example, we could well predict a syndrome of build, destroy and then build again – set to plague Sydney for the next hundred years. From 1879 until 1961 we had a perfectly good system of trams in Sydney but all that vanished when the private motor vehicle was given precedence in the 60s. Over a half decade later and the trams are coming back, a two or possibly three billion dollar fiasco that has crippled small businesses along the route and created years of disruption in the CBD.
We knocked down perfectly good buildings at Darling Harbour to build an even bigger Convention Centre and who knows what disarray will prevail when the planned Sydney Square begins construction in front of the Sydney Town Hall?
Sydney is a bit like one of those chronic home renovators who start on a project but never quite get around to finishing it. As a result they find themselves living in an almost permanent construction zone with all the pain and anxiety that this enduring chaos tends to generate. Somewhere along the way they come to the conclusion that things would have been much better left as they were, as in the old adage – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
If you have an interest in Sydney during the 60s and 70s join me this Friday May 4 at The Experiment in the East Sydney Arts and Community Centre where I will be giving an illustrated talk on the some of the forgotten music clubs of that era. The night also features an amazing line-up of avant garde talent including the remarkable Bud Petal, electronic performance artists Ben Hinchley and Andrew Batt-Rawden, the incredible child prodigy Christian and DJ Miss Death presenting her own version of Rage.
Details at: www.facebook.com/theflyingnunbybrandx