Arts & Entertainment

Discover the history of Taronga Zoo in ‘How To Move A Zoo’

NSW State Archives

There is a little-known history about Sydney, when in 1916, the zoo at Moore Park was moved to Taronga. Animal by animal, strategy by strategy, they were transported through the streets of Sydney and across the harbour, decades before the construction of the Harbour Bridge.

It was a pretty wild operation, and attracted an excited public ready for a distraction from daily news about the war. “It was a brand new and joyful story amidst the war reports going on,” explains Anna Cossu, curator at Sydney Living Museums, who collaborated with The State Library of NSW to mount the exhibit.

In the ongoing process of digitising the State Library’s archives, a trove about the move was discovered, enough to inspire How To Move A Zoo, opening 20 November. The show is partly interactive, allowing visitors to choose a zoo animal and follow its trajectory across the city.

Through an app, they will watch their chosen animal’s progress across through an urban environment digitally constructed from archived images, reflecting an older cityscape. “There are giant floor-to-ceiling projectionsinspired by historic images of animals and [archived] city illustrations. The public will love the stories and whimsy,says Cossu.

The 1916 move resonated in the public’s imagination and people were so fascinated by the new zoo under construction, that authorities offered nominal submissions at weekends, to prevent overcrowding even before the animals arrived.

Part of the intense interest was likely due to the shift from animals in cages to those in more open environments, and the accompanying challenges.

“A monkey did escape after the initial design,” at Taronga, says Cusso. The escape fueled more speculation in the papers, which had already fostered notions about how to get animals from the Eastern Suburbs to Taronga. One of the most challenging was Jessie, an elephant popular for children’s rides. Other animals were able to be transported in cages, but not Jessie. Instead, she walked down Bourke Street through the Domain and then boarded a vehicle ferry across the Harbour. The smallest animal was a native Sugar Glider, transported in a zoo keeper’s pocket.

The exhibition is a window into Sydney life in 1916, says Cusso.

“It’s life reimagined, through these animals and how this move came about.”

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