Old Sydney Town

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Old Sydney Town was a small open-air museum and theme park which operated from 1975 until 2003 in the town of Somersby, near Gosford, New South Wales, Australia. Once a living tribute to the early years of Sydney's colonial settlement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the town is now used as a location for film and television production.

History[edit]

The park was opened in 1975 by Gough Whitlam.[1] It was developed by architect Frank Fox with the help of the Federal Government and the Bank of NSW.

Noted historian and distinguished heritage architect Robert Irving was the Research Director at OST for several years from the establishment of the project, when Frank Fox was the owner and entrepreneur and before anything new was erected. At the time he was a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales and, at Frank Fox’s request, gathered a research staff of four people to prepare the documentation for the buildings to be erected. The project was focussed on the Pre-Macquarie period and the ideal of unimpeachable authenticity. Its overall control was initially in the hands of Fox and the Bank of NSW.

When Robert Irving was Year Master of the first year of the architecture course, it was arranged that the first year students should erect the very first buildings at OST as a major component of their first year studies. All 130 students, divided into 13 groups, carried out historical research for each one of their chosen buildings, made scale models, calculated the required materials and prepared ordering lists, in the process learning the simple trades as necessary for each building at the Randwick workshop of the UNSW. Then afterwards they spent two weeks camping on the site and building each structure. A dozen members of staff lived there with Robert Irving for this time too as supervisors. Frank Fox arranged accommodation and catering as well as obtaining and delivering the materials. In that fortnight we built and mostly finished the thirteen buildings, learning to lay bricks, wattle-and-daub, shingles, tiles, thatch and other primitive materials just as the convicts were known to have used. Perhaps the most interesting to be erected was Bennelong’s Hut, the original having been the first privately occupied brick building erected in Sydney. Workmen at the site afterwards finished off what the students had been unable to complete. The whole exercise was a very successful and memorable learning exercise for the first year students (and for the staff).

The research team were tasked to produce building not only documentation for the continuing building program, but also documentation of landscaping, decoration, furnishing, costume, food, activities and such like for the attraction. A building campaign began, under the direction of Frank Fox and his sons Michael (architect) and Stephen (management), Peter (entertainment) and the other staff who had by then been assembled. The Projects completed included what was called Heritage Hall (The entrance and reception complex) and an increasingly large set of buildings including the first pub and restaurant. Some, such as the gaol and the church, were never finished. The windmill, which Robert Irving personally researched, was eventually almost completed but was never opened.

Old Sydney Town was officially opened on Australia Day 1975, by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.


The Wran state government took over the federal investment shortly after the Fraser government took power at the end of 1975. The Park was leased to a private company, Warwick Amusements, who under the terms of the lease eventually purchased it from the State Government and later took a decision to close down this important and faithful reconstruction of colonial Sydney Town

During its lifetime, the park had 6 million visitors .[2]

In 1994/95 The park was used in the second season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers for the three-part episode Return Of The Green Ranger as colonial Angel Grove. ABC also filmed an important documentary resource for schools on the site.


When the park was closed in 2003, the commercial operators blamed the closure partly on what they called the "instant gratification" generation that demands computer games and thrill-rides, rather than a leisurely stroll through history.[3]

Since the park closed to the public it has been let for movie shoots.

In February 2012 residents of the Central Coast banded together and formed a committee to re-open the park and several Facebook pages were started.

In February 2013 the Daily Telegraph reported that the family of Frank Fox (Michael and Peter Fox) were in negotiations with the current lease holders about reviving the town. In the early hours of 20 February 2014, fire claimed Heritage Hall (The entrance and reception complex), on site and a significant part of the artifacts and documentation stored therein were lost .Firefighters from NSW RFS and FRNSW battled the fires.

Attractions[edit]

The Red Coats in action

The Town was set out according to James Meehan's map of Sydney in 1803 and consisted of over 30 authentically reconstructed buildings.[4] This reconstruction of 1803's Sydney closed exactly 200 years later.

  • "Sydney Cove" - a recreation of Sydney Harbour [5]
  • Soldiers on parade.
  • Thundering cannons.
  • Pistol and saber duels
  • Convict rebellion.
  • Magistrate's Court.
  • Convict punishment
  • Bullock Rides, Horse-drawn wagons
  • Craft stores
  • Kiosk, Tea Shop, Barbecue Facilities

Coordinates: 33°25′22″S 151°16′31″E / 33.422872°S 151.275299°E / -33.422872; 151.275299

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Sydney Morning Herald - "Farewell to Old Sydney Town forever"". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2003-01-25. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  2. ^ "ABC AM Radio 702- "Old Sydney Town to close"". 2003-01-03. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  3. ^ "Sydney Morning Herald - "A historic theme for Australian fun parks: failure"". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2003-01-04. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  4. ^ Travellers in Time: Living History in Australia By George Gunton Page 79. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  5. ^ "Travelmall - "Hunter and Central Coast Attractions"". Retrieved 2008-01-13. 

6. Documentaion of historical research and other aspects of the history of the site and its development can be found in the Mitchell Library ( Robert Irving's papers) and in the Gosford City Council Local Studies Library collection.