This used to be the Sydney GPO or General Post Office – the most central place in Sydney, from which all distances were measured.
Today it is known as 1 Martin Place on which stands the swish and modern Westin Hotel with a luxe complement of restaurants and bars.
There is a small fully functioning post office on site which not only services tourists and local businesses, but also carries a wide assortment of souvenirs, T-shirts and assorted kitsch. 😉 But that’s not the reason you have come here, right?
You are here to admire this beautiful building. To gaze at it’s neo-classical sandstone facade stretching a 100 metres long down Martin Place, bounded on each side by George Street and Pitt Street. And to take a stroll along the street level colonnade running around the building. While you are at it, look up at the arches and notice the intricate carvings around them. There are carvings of symbolic figures representing the Arts, Agriculture Commerce and Science. On the keystones are heads representing Neptune, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Minerva. And there’s the spandrel sculptures (sculptures in the middle of the arch) – a series of them above the Pitt Street archways depicting ordinary people at work in a comical manner e.g. a postman (appears to be a portrait of the post-master general Francis Wright) delivering a letter to a servant girl who is flirting with him which caused much controversy at the time of construction. One would wonder now what was all the fuss about but at that time these sculptures were deemed most inappropriate for this grand building. See if you can figure out who’s who of the numerous carvings on royalties, explorers and past governors of New South Wales by Italian sculptor Tomaso Sani. I can’t tell you how many times I have visited the GPO (to pick up our mail from the post box) before I started to notice these carvings.
The GPO building was designed in Italian Renaissance Palazzo style by James Barnet, New South Wales Colonial Architect. The main entrance is located at the centre of it’s facade facing Martin Place. Here is where you’ll find the central carving (carved from one block of stone) of the New South Wales Coat-of-Arms. The central features of the main arch are the Royal Arms of Great Britain and Ireland, a seated Queen Victoria and below her are two female figures stretching towards each other (representing Britannia and New South Wales). Above the Queen’s head are two winged cherubs, Heralds of Fame, holding a laurel wreath over her head and on either side of Queen Victoria are the twenty four faces of the GPO representing Continents, Countries and State’s of the British Empire.
Above this stands the clocktower. During WWII, the original clock tower was demolished to reduce visibility of the GPO in case of an air attack on Sydney. The current clock tower was rebuilt in 1964.
The GPO was constructed in two stages from 1866-1892 with the building opening in 1874 on completion of the first stage. It was used as New South Wales central postal office until 1996 when the building was sold and the central post office relocated to Hunter Connection. Following its closure, extensive alterations began in 1997 with work done to the postal hall and the grand staircase. Additional buildings were added including offices and a 31 storey hotel at the rear of the building. Today the building house the luxurious Westin Hotel, with bars, cafes, restaurants and shops on the lower level. The former postmaster’s residence is now the Heritage Long Suite.
I had a GPO postbox here which was on the open side facing Martin Place. Then the postboxes were moved to the back and inside where the main entrance of the hotel now stands. It was there for a few years while the hotel block was being built and the facade refurbished. Then, all postboxes were distributed in sections to 3 or 4 different parts of the city in proximity to the original building. Mine is still the same number as it was originally and for many years has been down the street in a retail block. If you want, you can send me a postcard of your city to say “Hi” and tell me a bit about yourself and what you like about the SoSydney site.
I promise to reply to you personally if you send me your email address on the postcard.
You can send the postcard to:
G.P.O. Box 2345
Sydney, Nsw 2001 – Australia.
Did you know?
Tank Stream, Sydney city’s first supply of drinking water used to run underneath the foundation of this building.
“The development of the Sydney GPO led to the conscious remodelling of the surrounding area. Records in series C3994 detail the resumption of the entire side of an opposite block and the development of the precinct in a style that was sympathetic to the GPO. St Martin’s lane became Martin Place – lined with the GPO and new suitably statuesque buildings, it became an important public space in Sydney”…[from: National Archives of Australia]
See vintage photographs of GPO from the Powerhouse Museum