We’ve been living in Sydney for quite a few years now, and over those years I’ve walked past the old Mint building in Macquarie Street countless times, I’ve always loved the facade, those wonderful old colonial columns marching across the front always look so elegant, so why I’ve never been inside before I couldn’t say, it’s not exactly out of my way, nor is it difficult, or for that matter expensive, it’s actually free to wander around at your leisure, poking your nose in and out of the old building.
It’s a building of quite significant architectural and heritage value for Sydney, built in 1811 it’s the oldest public building in the CBD and has a design based pretty loosely on ancient Greek architecture. The street it’s built on, Macquarie Street, runs along the top of what must have been a ridge of sandstone when the first fleet dropped anchor in Farm Cove just down the hill.
The Governor at the time it was built, Lachlan Macquarie, had arrived in 1810 and realized pretty quickly that Sydney was in dire need of a new hospital, he decided to save the British government some cash and contracted out the job to three distinguished members of the young colony. All three of them close friends with the Governor.
They must have thought all their Christmases had come at once, the three had negotiated to build the hospital in exchange for a three year monopoly on the importation of rum. Sydney was a pretty wild and debauched place in 1811 and everybody loved a drop or three of rum, for pleasure and medicinally as well, warding off all kinds of nasties.
45,000 gallons of rum later and Governor Macquarie was on the back foot defending his decision to award contracts to his mates, setting a sterling example for generations of NSW politicians to follow for the next 200 years.
The original building had three parts to it, a northern wing, that’s still in use now as State Parliament, the central block, that was demolished in 1880 and rebuilt as Sydney Hospital, and still in use as well, and the third wing, the southern, which was converted from the “rum” hospital to the mint when gold was discovered around 1853.
The mint when it opened was the first branch of the Royal Mint outside of England and ran from 1855 right up until 1926, a staggering 1200 tonnes of gold being processed through it in that time.
From 1927 on there was a series of government offices in the building and the place pretty quickly became run down and unloved. It’s hard to believe now but in the 1970’s both the Mint building and the next door Hyde Park Barracks were due to be demolished, you only have to look at the ghastly Supreme Court building across the road to see what kind of brutalist nightmare would have been built.
Thankfully a campaign to save the buildings was successful and they are now part of the Historic Houses Trust.