Jones Bay Quarry Site, 1986

Jones and Pyrmont Bays Quarries

Jones and Pyrmont Bay Quarries, Pirrama Road, Pyrmont
By the beginning of the 1880s, Quarryman Robert Saunders had abandoned quarrying sites on the western side of the Pyrmont peninsula and moved on to the harder stone to the north, leaving gaping holes in the landscape which filled with stagnant water. Eventually he worked practically the whole of the north east end of the peninsula, the two main quarries being at Jones Bay and Pyrmont Bay opposite Darling Island.

These quarries produced stone blocks used in the construction of many of Sydney's sandstone buildings of the late Victoria/Federation era. In 1883, when the McCredie brothers purchased stone from Saunders for the Pitt Street extension of the General Post Office, he employed 27 cranes, 100 men and over 50 horses at work in the quarry on their project alone. The majority of the last Sydney buildings to be built of sandstone had their stone sourced from the James Bay and Pyrmont Bay quarries. The advent of the Great War saw the end of large scale sandstone quarrying on the Pyrmont peninsula and at these two quarries.

For many years the quarries at the north-eastern end of the Pyrmont peninsula had the appearance of an abandoned and unsightly wasteland. In recent years, the gaping holes of the quarry have been filled with apartment buildings which have been cleverly designed to cover the scars in the landscape left by the quarries. Star City Casino is built in part of the Pyrmont Bay quarry.

Buildings made from itheir sandstone

Lands Department Building, Bridge Street, Sydney (1877-90) (1894): An extravagant Government building which originally featured four iron staircases and lifts operated by water power. Built to the design of Colonial Architect James Barnet, the three-storey Free Italian Renaissance style building was built around a framework of reinforced concrete and steel girders. Inside walls are brick, the floors and ceilings are concrete and the exterior is made from stone quarried at Pyrmont.
Its facade features 48 niches, 23 of which are filled with statues of prominent figures in Australia's early history including explorers Hume & Hovell, Sir Thomas Mitchell, Blaxland, Lawson & Wentworth, George Bass, Matthew Flinders and Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his journey of discovery in 1770. 25 niches remain unfilled. The central copper dome of the building, often called The Onion because of its shape, was designed to take a telescope though one was never installed. The domed roof can be revolved to aid celestial tracking. The telescope guide and window for the telescope lens can be seen when the building is viewed from cnr of Bridge and Young Streets.

Mitchell Library, Shakespeare Place, Sydney (1905-10): The Mitchell Library Wing of the State Library of NSW is the first in a row of buildings which form the majestic streetscape of modern day Macquarie Street. An impressive sandstone building, its striking Ionic columns support the huge vaulted ceiling of the vestibule and look down upon a giant mosaic replica of an old map documenting the voyage of Dutch seaman Abel Tasman in the 1640s which forms the vestibule floor. Only the decrorative aspects of the building's exterior were made of Pyrmont sandstone. The rest of the buiilding was built with Maroubra sandstone and trachyte external walls, and plaster finished brick internal walls. The library's Dixson Wing (completed 1939) was completed in 1939-42 and Public Library entrance and northern office (completed 1942) also used Maroubra sandstone.

Queen Victoria Building, George Street, Sydney (1893-98): Designed by City Architect George McRae in 1898, this spacious and ornate building of Romanesque design was for two decades a produce market. Faced in Pyrmont sandstone, it enjoyed many decades of service as a produce market until it fell into disrepair. After surviving numerous threats of demolition and various uses including that of the City Library, it was refurbished at a cost of $75 million and reopened in its present form in 1986.

Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery Road, Sydney (1896-1908): When it was constructed, what is today the Art Gallery's main building in the Domain was known as The National Gallery. It was designed by Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon, who was assigned the task by the Government instead of the preferred choice of the Trustees of the Art Gallery, private architect John Horbury Hunt, who has designed a temporary brick building erected in 1884.
Vernon followed the Trustees' brief for a Classic Greek-temple style building, complete with portico and columns, not unlike William Playfair's fine gallery in Edinburgh, however the building's present form is a little more austere and undecorated than Vernon had originally intended and is only part of the complex envisaged by him. The main building we see today, which was to be the first wing of a much larger Gallery, was built in 5 stages. In 1902 midway through construction, Vernon gave an eight page presentation album to the Trustees which illustrated his proposed designs for the completed Gallery complex. Much of it was never built, and the main building we see today was completed to its present condition in 1908.

St Mary's Cathedral, Cathedral Street, Sydney (1882): In 1821, Governor Macquarie laid the foundation stone to St Mary's Chapel in Cathedral Street, Sydney, on the site of the first land grant to the Catholic Church in Australia. The original St Marys was built many years later but burnt down in June 1865. It's replacement, which remained unfinished for a further 119 years, is the work of architect William Wardell. His Gothic Revival style cathedral was built and opened in stages, the first in 1882. In 1913, Australia's first Cardinal and Archbishop Kelly laid the foundation stone for the final stage, which was completed in 1928. The Celtic-inspired terrazzo mosaic floor of the crypt took 15 years to complete from 1946 to 1961. The twin southern spires proposed by Wardell were included as part of the final stage but were never erected for financial reasons. The towers stood minus their spires for the best part of a century until a fundraising drive paid for their construction in 2000 along with the purchase of a new organ and renovations to the cathedral's stonework. To comply with modern Earthquake bracing requirements, the spires have steel frames which were placed by helicopter and then used as cranes to lift the stone cladding.

Land Titles Office, Prince Albert Road, Sydney (1908-13): One of the last Government buildings created in the 19th Century style, its designer was Government Architect Walter L Vernon. It was also one of the last of sydney's Government buildings to utilise Pyrmont sandstone. Use of sandstone effectively ceased with the advent of the Great War. It is a three-storey Neo-Gothic sandstone-faced office building with attic storey and basement, of steel-framed construction with reinforced concrete floor and slate covered steel framed roof. The facades contain some elaborate gothic detailing to windows and good carving work to gables and over entrances. The three large gables facing Prince Albert Road are flanked by castellated corner turrets, whilst the facade to Queen's Square has a similar small gable flanked by two turrets on each side.

Pyrmont Bridge, Pyrmont Bridge Road, Pyrmont (1902): The first Pyrmont Bridge was a privately owned timber structure which was opened on 17th March 1858. Following the adoption of the Five Bridges Plan, the bridge was purchased by the government in 1884 for $52,500 and the toll was abolished. As it was a major traffic bottleneck, plans for a replacement bridge were quickly approved and construction commenced.
The new Pyrmont bridge was opened to traffic on 28th June 1902. The bridge and its neighbour at Glebe Island were the world's first electrically operated swingspan bridges. Driven by power from the Ultimo Power Station which now houses the Powerhouse Museum, they follow the design of Percy Allan, who achieved international acclaim for them and went on to design 583 more bridges worldwide. John JC Bradfield, who masterminded the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was a junior member of Allan's design team.

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