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The Eight Ancient Wonders of Parramatta

Home > Sydney > Lists | Museums | Historic Houses | Day Trips | Architecture
by glenop (subscribe)
So much to little time to see it all.
Published February 21st 2013
Discover Parramatta's ‘Archaeological Zone’
This 1904 Boer war memorial in Parramatta Park was built using columns from the original Parramatta court house

You don't often see the term archaeological zone in relation to anywhere in Australia. Yes, sure, there are many important and significant pre-European aboriginal sites throughout the country. There are abandoned towns like Hill End, but there's not much in the way of evocative ruins in the vein of an ancient Roman empire like city or layers of civilisations like that found at ancient Troy.

The Parramatta archaeological zone is no Troy, but it is unexpectedly large. It extents from Parramatta Park to what we know today as Harris Park. The zone is surprising in that most of Australia's oldest buildings are located here and not in the centre of Sydney. This is due in part to the extremely poor construction of many of Sydney's first buildings. When the early colonial land owners received their initial land grants, they were able to construct more sturdy structures out west, some of which have stood the test of time.

Thankfully, Parramatta's oldest and most significant colonial buildings are far from being ruins. They are fine examples of colonial architecture and we are fortunate that have been preserved so they can today give us an insight into life in old Parramatta.

Elizabeth Farm c1793

1. Elizabeth Farm

Built in 1793, Elizabeth Farm can lay claim to being the oldest building in Australia. It was built for Elizabeth and John Macarthur who were pioneers of the Australian wool industry. It was originally a 1000 acre estate with orchids, vegetables, sheep and a reputation as a 'pleasure ground.'

The museum here has a fabulous collection of period furnishings as well as family letters and newspapers to read. You can relax on shady verandas or warm up before an open fire on a cold winters day and imagine life in the early colony.

Opening times
Friday to Sunday 9.30am – 4pm. Daily in January, NSW school holidays and public holidays. Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day

The Dairy

2. The Dairy Cottage

The Dairy was originally the home of George Salter an ex-convict. The original two room cottage dates back to 1798. Around 1814, the cottage became part of the Governors residence and the house converted into a dairy. If this simple modest cottage were built elsewhere, it probably world have been demolished long ago. But here, located within the grounds of Government House, the Dairy has become the oldest residence in Australia, and an important remnant of the early colony of New South Wales.

Hambledon Cottage

3. Hambledon Cottage

Charming Hambledon Cottage dates back to 1824 and was the home of Penelope Lucas, governess to Elizabeth and John Macarthur's daughters.

The simple Georgian cottage contains historic items and special displays of the times.

Opening times
11am to 4pm Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 4pm; Closed on Christmas Day and Good Friday

Lancer Barracks

4. Lancer Barracks

The oldest buildings at Lancer Barracks were built around 1820 to house the British troops stationed at Parramatta. The buildings form the oldest continuously used military barracks on the mainland of Australia. They were built on the orders of Governor Macquarie to replace earlier barracks in old Parramatta town.

The museum here traces the evolution of the weaponry, uniforms and equipment of the Royal New South Wales Lancers. From horses and lances through to machine guns and tanks.

View one of Australia's best Boer War collections, including handwritten versions of Banjo Patterson war poems, clamber over the collection of vintage armoured vehicles and see the world from inside a 50 ton Centurion Main Battle Tank.

Opening times
Open every Sunday 10am to 4pm and by prior arrangement for group tours

St. John's Cathedral

5. St. John's Cathedral

There had been a church on this site in central Parramatta since 1803. The foundation stone of the first church was laid in 1799 and was the only church in the colony until 1809.

The twin steeples of St. John's cathedral were completed in 1819. The building fell into disrepair and it was found necessary to completely rebuild the church. Only the steeples and tower remain today as part of the earlier church.

Opening times
Open for services and sightseeing: 10am-3pm Tuesday - Friday. Guided tours Thursdays and Fridays: 10am-2pm.

Old Government House

6. Old Government House

Standing in 200 acres of parkland overlooking historic Parramatta, Old Government House is Australia's oldest public building. It was the 'country' residence of 12 early governors of the colony, including Governor and Mrs Macquarie who preferred the clean air and space of rural Parramatta to the unsanitary and crime ridden streets of old Sydney town.

The central block of the house was built in 1799 by Governor John Hunter; however the house we see today owes most to Governor and Mrs Macquarie. Their 1815 extensions transformed the house into an elegant Palladian style residence.

Old Government House and Domain (Parramatta Park) is one of 11 historic places that together form the Australian Convict Sites UNESCO World Heritage property.

Opening times
10am to 4pm Tuesday to Sunday (last tour 3:30pm). Available for group bookings Monday Public Holidays: 10am to 4pm

Experiment Farm

7. Experiment Farm

Experiment Farm stands on the site of the first land grant in Australia, made in 1789 by Governor Phillip to the former convict James Ruse. By 1791, Ruse had successfully farmed the 30 acre site as an experiment in self-sufficiency.

The house you see today was built by Surgeon John Harris, who purchased the land from Ruse in 1793 for £40 and is thought to have been built by c1835. It's furnished with simple but elegant pieces from National Trust's collection of early colonial furniture.

Sleeping Quarters at the Female Factory

8. The Female Factory

The Parramatta Female Factory is where all convict women who were not assigned as servants were sent when they arrived in the colony of New South Wales. The buildings were designed by the renowned convict architect Francis Greenway and were completed in 1821. The Factory precinct is nowadays located in the grounds of Cumberland Hospital in North Parramatta. The site has evolved over time, with some buildings demolished with little remaining of the original Factory. The oldest surviving building is that of the grim c1823 'Brisbane' quarters.

The Factory was converted into a lunatic asylum in 1847. The main barracks building was demolished in 1883 and replaced by the impressive mental hospital building with bell tower we see today.

You're free to wonder around the site and imagine the grim life of the hundreds of women who lived here. Check out the self guided map on the excellent website.
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Why? See many of Australia's most significant buildings
Where: Parramatta
Your Comment
A great read Glenop!
Well researched and lots of useful info. Thanks.
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11258) 2415 days ago
Great Page, was doing a PowerPoint on Demolished Heritage Houses for our speakers circuit, came across this page, gave me an idea how to finish a depressing presentation up, and promote Parramatta heritage at the same time. Thank you.
by bbu74 (score: 0|4) 1958 days ago
Good work Glen. We should all be more aware of our early surviving historical buildings.
by wendy (score: 0|7) 2421 days ago
Fantastic work. Well researched and I really enjoyed reading. We need to keep up with Historic buildings and develop a serious protection of them and not bring them to the ground for new developments.
by msila (score: 0|4) 2420 days ago
This is a fantastic piece - it's so great to see so much culture right in our very own backyards! Really goes to show just how much Western Sydney has to offer in terms of urban spaces and cultural activities to uncover.
by westt (score: 0|4) 1812 days ago
Thanks so much for sharing this! It's so great to see some coverage on the culture to be found in Sydney's Western suburbs which people are so often quick to discredit from having such richly diverse urban spaces. Really goes to show just how much there is to be found in this under appreciated side of town :)
by westt (score: 0|4) 1812 days ago
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