The colourful and varied history of occupation of the south-east (Yurong Street) end of the Australian Museum stands in direct contrast to the remainder of the government owned site. Initially granted in 1793 to John Palmer as part of his 100 acre cattle and orchard Woolloomooloo Farm established to feed the fledging colony the section close to Yurong Creek is unlikely to have been intensively cultivated. Experiencing financial and other difficulties Palmer sold the land to Edward Riley in 1822 who suffered from poor health and committed suicide in 1825.
Following the 1840s subdivision of the Riley Estate the triangular portion of land transferred to Thomas Burdekin, a merchant. The design of Yurong Street did not mimic the land’s previous use and so the corner of Yurong and William Streets remained in Government hands and Burdekin’s land lay just to the south of the intersection. The land was undeveloped for years probably because the low-lying site was poorly drained. As Sydney’s residences encroached upon this area Yurong Street became, by the early 1900s, a developing hub of rented houses and light industrial workshops.
The Burdekin family retained ownership of the land until 1948 although the lessees were encouraged to replace the brick, iron and wooden buildings.
These buildings were demolished to create Sydney’s first skating rink which opened in April 1912 under the management of James Charles Bendrodt, a Canadian trick-skater. The Imperial Hyde Park Roller Rink’s efficient use of this odd triangular space included a not quite oval skating rink with ‘rows of comfortable chairs, a reading room, a dainty tea-room, and a soda buffet’(1), the latter occupying the narrower end of the building towards the corner of Yurong and William Streets.
Despite its popularity and management considering an extension of the building to Stanley Street the owners, foreseeing the popularity of moving pictures, closed the venue and reopened as the Imperial Picture Theatre in October 1913. Again, using the oddly shaped space to advantage, the cinema boasted the longest distance from the lantern to the screen, being 200 feet (61 meters), in the Southern Hemisphere. (2) Initially managed by Sir Joseph Carruthers it was intended to show ‘scenic and education films. [as] He was a firm believer in moving pictures as a medium of educating the people’ (3).
Again, under the management of James Bendrodt who, seizing the popularity of the American dance crazes, reopened the venue in April 1914 as the Imperial Salon de Luxe, a dance academy ‘supplying Sydney’s youth and beauty with an ever-ready opportunity of chasing the weary hours with flying feet.'(4) Even after Bendrodt enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces, films continued to be shown and dances held, presumably on different nights, until mid-1916.
On 27 May 1916 the Palladium, formerly known as the Imperial Salon de Luxe, opened as 'a smart dance hall'. Designed 'on Continental and American models' mural scenes of the Mediterranean were painted on the walls by Lionel Lindsay.(5) By 1918 Paige Motor Group was operating one of the city’s biggest motor garage and workshops on the site. Not only was it badly damaged by a fire in 1924 but ‘several motor cars were lost, and two firemen who were standing inside a rear door … were injured by a falling beam’.(6) During the 1930s the Palladium reverted to an amusement centre and seems to have lurched from one venture to another, probably due to its location on the edge of the city. (7) In March and April 1932 Wirth’s Circus entertained the public where ‘the crowd gasps when he [Aloys Peters] falls 75 feet through a hangman’s noose’(8); it staged the 1938 Caravan and Camping Exhibition; along with skating and ‘old time’ dancing.
During WWII, the Palladium was occupied by American troops as a depot and infirmary.(9) Initially rented by and then later purchased by the Commonwealth Government, it was primarily used as office space. The building’s demolition was proposed in 1954 for the erection of a high-rise office block. This proposal was not met with universal acclaim and opposition included the Australian Museum’s projected growth and foreseeable need of additional space.
Purchasing the Palladium in 1959 from the Commonwealth Government, Sydney Grammar School embarked upon adapting the building for use by students until 1975 when the southern end of the building was demolished to be replaced by a purpose built educational facility. Meanwhile the Australian Museum entered negotiations with Sydney Grammar School to acquire the northern end of the Palladium building. In 1977, the NSW Government finalized the purchase. The building was split in two. In a tribute to its physical shape the Australian Museum building was named the Point Building.
In the mid-1980s the Point Building was partly demolished and adapted as a tank storage facility, workshops and loading dock. It is speculated the building’s walls hold archaeological secrets of the 19th century house and workshops that once occupied numbers 1, 3 and 5 Yurong St.(10)
The construction of the AMRI building in 2008 with a new climate-controlled wet specimen storage area allowed the tanks to be moved out of the Point Building. The Exhibitions Production Team then returned to the Museum site from Doody Street, Alexandria and now occupy the Point Building.
1.The Sun 24 May 1912
2.Barrier Miner, 10 November 1913
4.Sydney Morning Herald 11 July 1914
5.Sydney Morning Herald 29 May 1916
6. Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative 8 May 1924
7.Jaffas in the suburbs - the cinemas of Sydney’s eastern fringe, John Walter Ross
8.The Sun 28 March 1932
9. 'The Supper was Champagne, Oysters and Brown Bread’ The Sydneian No 367 Nov 1971 pp43-44
10. The Conservation Management Plan – The Australian Museum, College St Sydney February 2015. Volume 1