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Stories of 200 George Street

The new 37-storey Mirvac development designed by architects, Francis Jones Morehen Thorp at 200 George St, Sydney, is steeped in history.

Over four years GML provided heritage services to Mirvac to identify, manage and interpret the significant Aboriginal and historical heritage of the development site. Services included:

– Heritage Impact Assessment;
– Due Diligence Assessment;
– Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment;
– Historical Archaeological Research Design;
– archaeological permit applications;
– archaeological investigation—Aboriginal and heritage testing;
– post excavation report; and
– heritage interpretation throughout the project, including on the hoardings during excavation, as well as a strategy, plan and concepts and content for the finished building.

A rich collection of historical maps, photographs and newspaper articles, combined with archaeological excavation, revealed many intriguing stories of a vastly different landscape and place. The waters of Sydney Harbour once lapped the rocky sandstone outcrops, covered by a forest of eucalypt and she-oak, with pockets of maiden hair ferns and lilies. This natural bounty was and still is the traditional land of the Gadigal people, through British colonisation fundamentally changed the landscape and the lives of Aboriginal people.


Figure 1—Display cases on Underwood Street create a timeline of the site.

As the city prospered, manufacturing and trading took hold.  For a time, the site boasted  a shipyard, houses and kitchen gardens. Throughout the nineteenth century, a bewildering array of industries operated along George Street, including the Ah Toy Cabinet Factory a Chinese timber furniture manufacturer.  Industries soon gave way to more commercial interests that sought prime real estate.  An eclectic range of shops operated for more than 100 years, including grocers, pharmacists and specialist retailers such as ‘The Young Zoo’, which traded in animals, especially unusual and exotic birds.  In 1971, the first high-rise building was constructed on the site. Today, several of these stories are featured in display cases along the Underwood Street frontage of the new building (Figure 1). An interpretive ground inlay shows the original foreshore, highlighting just how much the City has changed over the past 200 years (Figure 2).


Figure 2—A ground inlay shows the original shoreline of Sydney Cove.

A total of 23,715 artefacts were recovered from the site by GML in 2013. Some of these artefacts are displayed in the wall of the sweeping grand staircase on the north side of the building (Figure 3). Accompanied by website content and a QR code for further information, visitors can easily delve into the lives of the site’s previous occupants (Figure 4).

Figure 3 Artefact display cases are built into the Grand Staircase at 200 George Street, Sydney. Historical quotes, Aboriginal language and a QR code provide additional information.


Figure 4—A visitor to the grand staircase receiving a glimpse of life in the past.


Artefacts on display include Chinese and Victorian ceramics, glass bottles and steel cutlery that show the enduring connection between Chinese and British people to their countries of origin. Personal items such as a metal comb, jewellery, and bone toothbrushes reveal the care given to hygiene and appearance (Figure 5). Attention was also given to the appearance of the home, as evidenced by the collection of exotic shells and figurines used for decoration. Other household and industrial items are displayed, including candlewick scissors, writing tools, marbles, coins, sewing pins and fabric.


Figure 5—A selection of personal and household artefacts on display at 200 George Street, Sydney.

GML’s advice and innovative archaeological and interpretive techniques have contributed to creating a modern, cutting-edge building (Figure 6) that uniquely weaves the stories of the past into the present.


Figure 6—The foyer of 200 George Street. (Artwork by Judy Watson)