Last weekend, I had a choice to make. Spend Saturday writing or catch the train into the city and do some exploring for research. The morning came bright and beautiful with a chance of showers so I chose the city and hopped a train. Great decision!
My new story includes an arc set in 1880s Sydney. You might think that exploring 2016 Sydney isn’t going to help that much, but my purpose was two-fold. 1) to find surviving buildings from that period other than public buildings 2) walk the paths that my characters will be walking. In addition, I visited the State Library and Australian Museum.
I went to the Museum first because my daughter works there, the café on the 4th floor has a lovely view over Hyde Park, and to see the Scott Sisters Exhibition of natural history illustrations. This exhibition is part of the Royal Botanical Gardens 200 anniversary celebrations and features copies of beautiful watercolour and ink illustrations from the 1830s. If you’re interested in plants, bugs, and our natural landscapes drop in to the café for a coffee and a look at the artworks. It’s always good to visit the First Australians exhibition too even if just to remind myself about the part of Australian history I was never taught at school. The story of Truganini is heart-breaking and uplifting at the same time. Go see it. Pay attention.
The Australian Museum building was first opened to the public in 1857 so as far as timelines go, qualifies to be included in my new story. Another building to qualify is the State Library. I started at the new section on Macquarie Street (spend a good half hour in the bookshop) and then discovered an exhibition on Public Buildings. There were some great photos of current and lost heritage buildings, architects, and the history of public architecture in NSW. A goldmine for me and such a coincidence! The bookshop also had a beautiful book on the subject as well. The State and Mitchell Library are connected by a pedestrian bridge, which is how I found the exhibition, so I wandered on through and then down to the older part of the complex and the Mitchell Library reading room. It’s a beautiful building and the oldest public library in Australia.
Part of my list of things to find was the location of the old Free Library. I had already left the State Library and crossed the road, when I looked up the location of the Free Library and discovered it was right behind me.
Free Library on the corner of Bent & Macquarie State Library of NSW today
Walking the paths of my characters was relatively easy. I went to the general area where my family will be living and started walking. If you’re interested in the streets of Sydney in the 1880s, look up the Dove’s Plans of Sydney from 1880. They’ve been digitised and are an amazing source of information from the purpose of each building, its construction type, to who owned it or ran the business there. Excellent for me to be able to take a walk in 2016 and 1880 at the same time!
At the end of the day, I caught the train home with aching feet and an elated soul ready to enter my fictional world, write what I could see, and (eventually) share it with the world!
Scott Sisters - http://australianmuseum.net.au/event/scott-sisters-exhibition
First Australians - http://australianmuseum.net.au/event/indigenous-australians
Dove’s Plans of Sydney: http://www.photosau.com.au/cosmaps/scripts/home.asp
State Library of NSW: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/about-library/history-library