Designing Sydney, 1879-1891: Visions of an Antipodean South Kensington

School of Humanities, University of New England
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Journal Article
Journal of Australian Colonial History, 2009, 11 pp. 147 - 166
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This article traces the post-Sydney International Exhibition (1879-81) proposal to site Sydney's educational and cultural institutions in close proximity to each other, along similar lines to the educational, scientific and cultural complex at London's South Kensington, and explores a failed attempt at urban planning. A tangle of personal endeavour, political procrastination, competing educational ideologies and economic realities resulted in a protracted battle to find suitable sites for the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Free Public Library and the Technological Industrial and Sanitary Museum. This article considers the broader context of the competing socio-political and economic interests that pitted these institutions against one another. It examines their collective urban prehistory, starting with the Sydney International Exhibition and the debates it stimulated about education and cultural advancement. Ultimately an antipodean South Kensington was not achieved: the Technological Museum was constructed away from the city centre at Ultimo, and the National Art Gallery and Free Public Library were sited near where the Exhibition's magnificent Garden Palace had once stood. An understanding of the reasons behind their final locations enhances the cultural significance of these institutions.
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