Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Father of Australia in Lights (Sydney)

There is an old clichéd travel joke that encapsulates Australia’s convict history. It goes something like:

A man approaches the immigration officer at the airport. The officer takes his card and asks “Do you have a criminal record?. A little despondent, the traveller responds “No. I didn’t know you still needed one”.

When Lachlan Macquarie became the colony’s fifth governor in 1810, the fledgling British outpost had more convicts and ex-convicts than free settlers, with more prisoners arriving regularly. Macquarie took dramatic decisions that set about Australia developing as a nation, bringing early prosperity to this distant land and earning him the epithet of “Father of Australia”. Macquarie’s name appears all over Australia as suburbs, towns, waterways, streets, banks, hospitals and rivers.

Completely changing the standards of the day, Macquarie ordained that emancipists (convicts who had completed their sentences or been pardoned) were to be treated as equals and were to be given the full opportunity to contribute to the emerging country. Some were offered high roles with ex-convicts becoming head architect, a judge and poet laureate among others.

Other convicts on suitable completion of a difficult task were pardoned. The road over the restrictive Blue Mountains which blocked Sydney from the wide open farming lands of Australia was built to a high standard in just six months, with the convict construction crew offered free land to farm along with their freedom in exchange. Indeed, Macquarie is credited with Australian’s value of classless society and a fair go.

Impressively, Macquarie built reasonable relations with the (rightly) suspicious native Aboriginals and unfashionably greatly respected and promoted women’s rights. He planned cities for the future, introduced banking and coinage into Australia, and commenced projects to explore the vast lands and construct key buildings for the future. His canny judgement often overrode the English rulers of the day, his being on the ground being more important than the thoughts of his superiors back home.

Today, along the broad Sydney boulevard of Macquarie Street in Sydney that runs from the Opera House to Hyde Park are many of Sydney’s key historic buildings, including the state parliament, state library, mint (no longer functioning), original convict barracks, an early hospital, St Mary’s cathedral (where Macquarie laid the original stone) and botanic gardens.

To celebrate the bicentenary of Macquarie’s governorship, his stewardship over Sydney and Australia's development and his considerable legacy, the Sydney Vivid festival recently highlighted his achievements in lighting and film projected against these remarkable buildings.

While six buildings were lit, the projections onto St Mary’s cathedral and the Conservatorium of Music were simply spectacular. The columns, arches and doorways were accounted for with the lighting needing such precision that altering a projector by the width of a coin would have completely upset the images.

The photos through this article highlight a small number of these remarkable lighting spectacles enjoyed by thousands of Sydneysiders and visitors alike in an exhibition titled Macquarie Visions, all a part of the Vivid Sydney festival. Other events included a concert for dogs and a Bollywood production over water.

While today, it is nearly impossible to imagine the difficulties of settling a new country, over 12,000 kilometres away from the home country, there is little doubt that Australia enjoys the fruits of visionaries like Lachlan Macquarie that built the foundations of the cultural and civil fabric of today's Australian society.


Anonymous said...

HI Mark,

Your fantastic photographic images and detailed historical account make me feel that I really missed something in not seeing this. Also makes me happy to be an Aussie - knowing that we have learnt to celebrate our achievements.

Barbara Weibel said...

Sydney is such a beautiful city on an average day, I can only imagine what it must have looked like with these spectacular lights. Loved the joke and historical persepctive.

Sherry Ott said...

Wow, I love the idea of having light images on the buildings. Non-destructive and temporary - but beautiful. I hope to see more of this!
Thanks for the Australian history lesson too!

Caz Makepeace said...

I had someone tell me there friend said that at Sydney and the immigration officer sent them home on the first flight back and denied them entry.
I like the ending to that one. Don't mess with us convicts anymore!!

Ashley said...

I love your pictures! It looks like the light show was pretty nice. I don't know too much about Australian history, so this was a great post...thanks!

Mark H said...

@anonymous: Thank you.

@barbara: Sydney is an especially beautiful place.

@sherry: It was really effective and made a great sight on our historical buildings.

@caz: Never joke with immigration officials!!

@ashley: Thank you

Erica said...

Those pictures are fantastic! I got to see a light show like this in Puerta del Sol (Madrid) for New Years and it never ceases to amaze me.

Good stuff!

Mark H said...

@erica: Thank you. Light does make a fantastic way to "paint" buildings.

Heather on her travels said...

I love these lightshows - a great example of public art for everyone to enjoy and a great way to honour your enlightened governor - sounds like his thinking was well ahead of its time

cheap ticket said...

I was not known about this fact, its really interesting and worth to reading your post

Cheap Air Tickets to Australia

Mark H said...

@heather: I think lights are a great way to tell a story.

@cheap tickets: Thank you.

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