Admire, Travel

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

I’m in Sydney & the surrounding area for the week, visiting the wonderful Theresa, having a much-needed mini-holiday with Mr D, and, most importantly, speaking in conjunction with the ‘Tales from the East: India & New South Wales‘ exhibition at Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney.

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

I was incredibly excited about getting the opportunity to visit Old Government House.  It’s the oldest public building in Australia and one of the few authentic examples of Georgian architectures in the Antipodes.  It’s also an extremely important structure from a historical standpoint.  It’s strongly linked to both Australia’s convict and colonial history, and to Governor Lachlan Macquarie.  Macquarie is sometimes called the ‘Father of Australia’.  While his legacy is chequered, he was undeniably central to shaping Sydney & New South Wales general trajectory in its formative years as a colony.

He and his wife Elizabeth were also responsible for expanding Old Government House to its current structure.  The house is furnished as it would have been under their residence, in the style of the 1820s.

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

Theresa and I were dressed a bit earlier: she in 1770s, I in ca. 1800.  Even though we were slightly anachronistic, we felt very much at home in the rooms, which tried to bring European grandeur to the far corners of the world.

The attempts at grandeur are, in a way, even better than grandeur itself would be.  Note the black and white floor in the photo two up: wood painted to give the effect of tiles.  It mimics the elegant entries of England as closely as possible, within the constraints of Australia, the available materials, and the available builders (convicts) and architects (probably ex convicts).

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,


The museum is both a historic space, and an exhibition venue that focuses on stories relevant to the building’s past.  It’s a difficult balance to achieve: ensuring that the exhibitions keep the house updated, relevant, and perpetually interesting, but don’t detract from the sense of stepping into history that you feel in the best historical buildings. Old Government House does a fantastic job of both.

‘Tales from the East’  was partly inspired by Macquarie’s experiences in India prior to his appointment to Australia.  It also included a general look at ways in which India has influenced and interacted with Australia, and profiles of modern Desi Australians.  It managed to use all these strands of history, and to intertwine them into the layout and general history of the house seamlessly.  Each story support and built on the others.

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

Amazingly, Old Government House also pulls this off with no national funding – a fact I was absolutely gobsmacked to learn.  Not only is it on the State and National Heritage Registers, Old Government House and the surrounding Domain are both on the UNESCO World Heritage List as Australian Convict Sites. It’s scandalous that it is funded by a friends organisation and its own income from events.

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

If you’re in Sydney, I highly recommend a visit.  Parramatta is an quick train ride away from the CBD.  The Domain and Old Government House are an easy walk from the train station.

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

In addition to the house itself, the Domain is just gorgeous.  There are lawns sloping down to the river, and flocks of sulphur crested cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets, and other birds.  I heard rumours of water dragons down by the river, but we didn’t make it that far.

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

There is an excellent restaurant just across the courtyard from OGH, and cute tearooms at the gatehouse that do light meals and high tea.

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

I can’t promise that you’ll have quite as much fun as Theresa and I did frolicking around Old Government House in period attire, but I can promise that you’ll get to see an incredibly important part of Australian history, beautifully presented.

Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney,

(And yes, my dress is new! I made a thing! More about it in another blog post in a few days!).


  1. Tracy W. says

    Your dress is lovely! I look forward to reading about it. And the Old Government House looks fascinating, thank you for the peek.

  2. Susan Stein says

    Thanks for the fascinating information amidst such lovely photographs. The dresses are beautiful.

    • Thank you! I’ve just got a new camera, and am still learning to get the best out of it, but I’m please with how much better my photos are already.

  3. You both look beautiful in a beautiful setting! Your new dress is so prettily sheer. Also, I can’t believe that place is able to stay up and running without government funding. That is super impressive on their part!

    • Thank you! Yeah, I was incredibly impressed they run it on the funding they do – and run it successfully.

  4. Lyndlenz says

    This is so interesting. I’ve been to Sydney often but never to Parramatta – now I have a reason to go there. You both look lovely. It wouldn’t surprise me if even the well-off were still wearing fashions of somewhat earlier in Sydney, as materials (not just fabrics but underpinnings too) would have still been relatively sporadically available in the 1820s, though I guess two decades is a stretch! Anyway, lovely dresses both.

    • I do hope you do go to Parramatta! Even had I not had a dress in the exhibition, or been in costume, I think OGH would have been one of the highlights of my trip – the mix of beautiful nature, and interesting history, excellently presented, was fantastic.

      Sydney was definitely not the first flush of fashion, but the exhibition included a number of of pieces of Indian influenced garments with strong provenance, and I’ve read other early settlers accounts, and they weren’t that far behind in an important coastal centre like Sydney. There were a lot of boats coming through the harbour, and anything carrying government correspondence could also bring fashion news and actual garments for the wives of the officials – so it would be more like 6 months to 3 years behind. The poor were probably another story, but that was likely true in England as well!

  5. Your dress has turned out stunning! And the pet is lovely as always. It’s the perfect 1770s statement piece.

    I’m impressed that they’re running Old Government House without government funding. Well done whoever is in charge of making that happen.

    • Thank you! I’m pretty happy with the dress, but have to adjust the fit of the sleeves slightly.

      Altogether Australian museums seem to run with less government funding than in NZ. We’ve just been to the Australian Museum, and there is a $15 entry fee (boo), and most of the floor staff are volunteers (what!?!). I had some questions about the exhibitions and the museum in general (it’s zoological and anthropological – aka, animals and indigenous cultures, which seems to me a bit problematic as a pairing in the 21st century, though obviously they have to work with the collections & museum policy they inherited. I really wanted to know if the museum is thinking about how dubious this is, and if they had a policy about the balance, and their general purpose today) but there was no-one who had any real idea and could talk with me 🙁 But the Botanical Gardens are free and so is walking around the Opera House, so that’s good, I guess?

      • The Opera House and Botanical gardens do sound lovely. I don’t personally consider $15 too much for a museum visit but it is for some people, especially if you have kids, and when you consider Te Papa is free… If they’re reliant on volunteers as floor staff you wonder if they also have volunteers doing the curatorial side of it, and whether they’ve actually updated their policies at all recently or really have the resources to do so.

        • I don’t think $15 is too much either (and it was cheaper for kids – $8 I think), but that would still make it hard for a family with three kids where $39 is the dinner budget for three nights of the week :-(. Even if that’s just your dinner budget for 1 night of the week, that’s a hard balance. Mentally I couldn’t help comparing it to a heavily government funded museum, like Te Papa, which is totally free, and thus completely accessible to all income levels.

          I had long chats with two different volunteers, and the curatorial staff are definitely trained museum professionals, but if there is a museum-wide policy or discussion around the pairing of disciplines, it’s not trickling down to the floor staff.

      • Elise says

        We have that in the US, too (even in the Smithsonian) that First Nations people are grouped together with animals and fossils. (And people say that Institutionalized Racism doesn’t exist!) Last time I was there in 2011, the Natural History museum had a special exhibit of African peoples, once again equating some people and some cultures to animals and fossils.

        I loved your description of the exhibits co-located into the museum. What a lovely place to go to. Congratulations on your contribution!

  6. Robin Gorsich says

    The architecture of the house is very similar to the antebellum house we lived in from 1962-1965 in Georgia. ( It has long since burned down. It was the first big plantation house built in the valley and it seemed plainer than most of the other existing plantation houses I ever saw. No 2 story front porch, and the columns, window frames, and other details were free of ornamentation.

    • Oh, that’s very neat and interesting! Any idea when the one you lived in was built? It could have been very much the same era as this.

      I like that it helps me to visualise the house you lived in. Is this the one with the basement with old magazines?

      • Robin Gorsich says

        About 1830 right after the Cherokee Indians were forced out of the area.
        And yes it was the house with the old magazines in the basement.

  7. Kate says

    Never mind the lack of funding- it’s a miracle the place hasn’t been bulldozed and replaced with a housing development or a casino. That’s how we do Culture in Sydney.

  8. Gorgeous photos! Outfits so light and airy, with the perfect backdrops 🙂

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