Historic Gates Exhibition – National trust of NSW
December – 2005
For generations, the gates of Sydney’s private schools have provoked two reactions from the thousands of children who have flooded through them each day. Groans as they slouch in, cheers as they rush out.
Yet the gates, and the stories behind them, have largely gone unnoticed. Until now.
For the past 10 months, a lone figure has spent virtually every weekend touring the city. Simon Fieldhouse, one of Australia’s best-known architectural artists, wanted to draw attention to what he sees as some of Sydney’s neglected treasures – the gates which guard our public buildings and open spaces.
Twenty-five of Fieldhouse’s meticulous watercolours are on show at the National Trust Centre in The Rocks until December 16. He’s selected what he believes are the most glorious gates – ranging from the solid entrance to the Carlton and United Brewery in Broadway to the incredibly ornate geometrical patterns of the Great Synagogue in Elizabeth Street.
But most of the finest gates are to be found outside schools or universities – among them, the Ewan House Gates of Knox Grammar School, the Gowan Brae Gates of the King’s School and the St Paul’s College Gates of University of Sydney. Fieldhouse’s study of Ascham school gates has already been sold to Ros Packer, who presented it to the school.
Amazingly, few of the gates are protected by specific heritage orders. “What Simon’s work has done is show us how inherently beautiful these gates are,” says Jacqui Goddard, the trust’s conservation director. “You often walk past them without realising the workmanship which has gone into them.”
Goddard says the trust “has been concerned for some time about their repair, particularly the wrought iron ones”. Blacksmiths with the right kind of skills “are extremely difficult to find”.
Fieldhouse admits that, like most of us, he believed gates were boring, until he looked at each one as a piece of architectural design, isolated from their surroundings. The problem, he says, is that “most people don’t really look at a gate, they look through it to see what is on the other side”.
He stumbled on his subject by accident, when a friend advised him to go paint some of the buildings in Rozelle’s Callan Park. “They didn’t appeal to me, but then I saw the park gates, and thought these are interesting.”
He found, to his surprise, that Sydney is full of them. Most are at least 100 years old. “Good gates were designed in the age of the horse and buggy,” says Fieldhouse, 49. “Carriages would arrive at a property through a set of gates … now we rely on roller doors and push buttons.”
Some of the most interesting have been moved from their original locations. The grand gates which are outside St Joseph’s College in Hunters Hill used to protect Sydney Town Hall. The college bought them in the 1920s for £120.
Likewise, Barker College gates bear the logo of Sydney Mint. The college bought the gates in 1937 and refused to sell them back when the Mint was renovated 40 years later. “What you see now in Macquarie Street outside the Mint are replicas,” says Fieldhouse.
Cranbrook’s school gates bear a crown motif on the central pillar, dating from the time between 1902 and 1917 when the original sandstone private residence served as NSW Government House. “The gates were designed so you would drive your carriage though one gate and leave through the other.”
But if anyone needs convincing each gate has a separate identity, Fieldhouse recommends they compare the neighbouring entrances to two Rose Bay girls’ schools. Kincoppal’s gates are full of Catholic iconography, betraying the school’s former life as a convent – while Kambala, the Anglican school next door, has gates with a more leafy, Anglo-Saxon design.
Of all the gates he has painted, Fieldhouse says the Palace Garden Gates, built as the entrance to Sydney’s own “Crystal Palace”, are the most poignant.
“I used to walk past those gates all the time when I worked as a lawyer in Macquarie Street, but I never knew the story behind them. Apparently in World War 1 all the soldiers who went off to war marched through them. They then closed them and said they would reopen them when all the soldiers came home. But so many of the soldiers were killed that those gates have remained closed ever since.”
Article from Sydney Morning Herlad – Steve Meacham – 5 December 2005