When the James Barnet designed  Sydney G.P.O clock Tower was constructed in the 1890s there was a drawn-out dispute over the type of bells to be installed. Should the choice be traditional, heavy bells, or would a lighter, tubular variety be safer? Traditional won, but some still had concerns. The great, hour  striking tenor bell weighed almost 5 tons. How awful it would be if the  240 foot tower collapsed. The argument inspired the following lines by Robert Garran (with apologies to Tennyson);

Cast into the metal of the hour bell are the initials H.P.   This was a tribute to  Sir Henry Parkes. The bell was often dubbed Great Parkes or Great Harry  in the style of Old Paul (at St Paul’s Cathedral)  and Big Ben. There are four quarter bells, chiming the notes E, A, B and C sharp.

19th Century Martin Place

The tower itself features in Henry Lawson’s  1910 poem Southerly Buster.

Stanza from Southerly Buster by Henry Lawson
G.P.O. Clock Sydney Remembrance Day 1936
Lest We Forget (photo by Sam Hood), Remembrance Day 1936.
Steeplejack beside the hour bell of Sydney G.P.O. clock
Steeplejack standing by the great hour bell in the 1930’s.

During WWII  it was feared that the tower might be bombed. In 1942 it was decided to dismantle the entire tower and to put the clock and the bells into storage.

Removing the face of the Sydney G.P.O. clock in 1942
Loss of face for the clock.

A rather shaky film survives, recording the delicate business of removing the clock and  its mechanism.  CLICK HERE TO VIEW

When the clock was not replaced after the danger passed there was a cheeky bid by Queensland  Country Party M.P  Mr Corser to have it moved to Maryborough, which  had no town clock.  In February 1945 The Daily Telegraph reported the following spirited exchange in  Federal Parliament;

Mr Corser;  ‘A warm welcome will be waiting for it in Maryborough.’

Mr Sheehan (Labor NSW)  ‘Why don’t you bring Maryborough to Sydney?’

The Minister for Information, Mr Caldwell joined in, telling Corser; ‘The clock might wake up Maryborough electors and then you would lose your seat.’

Mr Corser shot back, ‘It would take more than clocks to wake you up.’

There was a push to have the clock replaced in time for the Queen’s visit in 1954, but still nothing happened.  In fact, reconstruction  did not begin  until 1963.  Now a very strange thing was discovered when workmen went to replace  the hour bell.  The word ETERNITY  had been written in chalk under its rim.   There was no mistaking the copperplate lettering, which was that of the  eccentric evangelist  Arthur Stace.   For many years  Stace, known  as Mr Eternity, had been  chalking the word on the city’s   pavements. How he had gained access to the bell remains a mystery.


The bells finally rang out again on April 25 1964  at the ANZAC Day Dawn Service, held below at the cenotaph.

I love the way the tower is reflected in the glass place windows of the skyscraper on the opposite side of Marin Place.

Reflected in time.
Reflected in time.

Christmas 2018.  The city is in a bit of a mess with construction of the light rail system, but the Post Office Clock rises above it all. The beautiful tree features Australian native flora, including wattle, flannel flowers, grevillea and waratahs.  I almost had to lie on the pavement to take this shot, but since I was returning from a Christmas party in Macquarie Street that came rather easily!

Christmas in Martin Place Sydney


The chimes of ‘Great Parkes’ and his quarter bell minions were being complemented by musicians playing their  tinkling  hand bells.

Hand-bell musicians in Martin Place Sydney.

Would you like to hear the  P.O. tower bells and see the them close-up?  Click HERE.

The clock tower has long been a meeting place for friends….and lovers.

UPDATE – JULY 15 2020 Once again the clock tower is undergoing an overhaul. CLICK HERE


  1. I am a little puzzled by the comments of the Country Party member Mr Corser reported in the Daily Telegraph stating Maryborough had no town clock .The town clock tower and town clock were installed in Maryborough in 1935 . I wonder if the verbal exchange in the Parliament actually did occur or was a possible figment of the newspaper,s imagination .

  2. There was a family rumour that my Great Grandfather, John Francis Dominic McCarthy was employed to wind the Martin Place Clock, or at least regulate the time.
    This could be true as he was employed at Intercolonial House in Moore St, once an extension of Martin Place up towards Macquarie St. In 1913 a new building was built in 2-4 Castlereagh St just around the corner and John F D, was again employed there as maintenance man/electrician.
    He continued living there until 1930s.
    Is there any way to verify this?
    Does the PO have a historian/archivist?
    Is there a record of employees?
    I would be grateful for any help/
    Paddy McCarthy

    • Pauline

      Hi Patrick. Just google Australia Post Museum and you should find an answer.

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