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.
The tower itself features in Henry Lawson’s 1910 poem Southerly Buster.
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.
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.
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!
The chimes of ‘Great Parkes’ and his quarter bell minions were being complemented by musicians playing their tinkling hand bells.
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
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