After a spate of rainy weather, it was a relief to have a dry day on a weekend in Sydney, especially one during Vivid Sydney 2010. Grabbing the opportunity, a friend and I headed to Macquarie Street in the city to see the light show on the historical and important buildings on that street. The show begins at St. Mary’s Cathedral and one can follow the plastic lighthouses marking the places of interest all the way to Circular Quay with the lights on the sails of the iconic Sydney Opera House and the buildings of the Central Business District of Sydney.

Macquarie Street is named after Lord Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales between 1810 and 1821, and considered to be the “Father of the Nation” in lieu of all the wonderful public works projects he saw through. At the time, the colony was putting down it’s roots and convicts were being sent by the shipload. It is very tempting to digress into history and talk about Macqaurie and his achievements, but I shall leave that to Wikipedia. This isn’t about him, it’s about Anthony Bastic’s idea of recreating history in light on the facades of the historic buildings on the streets dedicated to the man that laid the foundations stones to the growth of the colony into what New South Wales is today.

The foundation stones of St. Mary’s Cathedral was laid down by Lachlan Macquarie himself in 1821. Macquarie Visions here is dedicated to the role Governor Macquarie had in the many building projects within the colony – Designing the Nation is the theme. These included the building of the first road across the Blue Mountains, the setting up of Parramatta, Richmond, Castlereagh and other areas for living, building of schools and hospitals, the first banks and identifying agricultural and pastoral land. The images on the facade of St. Mary’s Cathedral tell of the establishment of what are called Macquaries Towns and also the development of the cultural and civil foundations of the colony. Personally, the one image that speaks out to me more than any of the others are the many candles flickering on the walls of the Cathedral – a story of building a good life in a new land.

The show at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum is an interesting one. There are history lessons for everyone, cast in light. It is a wonderful tribute to the concept Macquarie gave birth to – Fair Go. He came up with reformation programs under which convicts

were allowed to participate in projects that would help build the colony and in return the convicts were given their freedom (much to the consternation of the free settlers). Margaret Catchpole, Francis Greenway and poet laureate Micheal Massey Robinson were just a few of the many “emanicipists” who won their freedom under Macquarie. In fact, Francis Greenway was appointed Government Architect and is responsible for the history on Macquarie Street as we see it today.

The Mint, very aptly, portrays the Commonwealth. Governor Macquarie introduced the first coinage in Australia, coins made from Spanish silver. He was also responsible for the establishment of the first bank and for the economic growth of the colony. The lights on The Mint depict the gold rush of old to mining and sheep farming of recent times.

Lachlan Macquarie was the first to refer to Australia by name as late as 1817, making his wife, Elizabeth, describe him as the “Father of the Nation”. The light show on Parliament House talks of the many men and women who have shaped Australia all through the years. There are interviews being shown and images capture Macquarie’s projects and modern day achievements like the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the building of the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge.

The State Library of New South Wales is for the public, and the images on it are all about what the common people had to say about the new colony. There are hand -written letters Macquarie sent home and memoirs of other people being projected onto the walls between the pillars of the building. One Rev. Samuel Marsden is said to have declared Australia to be the best country there is. All the documents projected on the State Library walls are from the early 1800s. What was fascinating to me was that there was a page from the Guide to Van Diemen’s Land as well, the name Europeans had for Tasmania.

The Royal Botanical Gardens were the brainchild of Elizabeth Macquarie, the Governor’s second wife. They were her refuge. Here the lights show the growth of the gardens. They depict Elizabeth’s contribution to hay-making and the establishment of Farm Cove as the kitchen garden for the Governor’s household.

Elizabeth was also a music lover, a cellist. Together, the Governor and his wife created a social life in Sydney that was open to everyone. Annual fairs, horse races, balls and public holidays were all established. Perhaps one of the most colorful of all the light installations on Macquarie Street, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music is the canvas that brings everyday life of the colony alive. From ships coming into the harbor to the horse races of old. “Pastimes” is the theme here. There are pages of music on the walls of the Conservatorium that Elizabeth Macquarie played on her cello.

Like the light installations on the Sydney Opera House, the show on Macquarie Street begins at 6pm and goes on until midnight. For those able, take a walk and enjoy the lights. There is a lot to learn there, and for newbies like me, it’s an eye-opener. For more details on Macquarie Visions visit their official website. For more pictures from my walk on Macquarie Street take a look at my Picasa album.

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