Mysterious Royal Letters and Hidden Rooms of The QVB

More to her than meets the eye

On this day in 1898, The Queen Victoria Building’s foundations were laid, and for her age the old girl is still looking good.

Opening in 1898, the Queen Vic is so much more than just a building. Designed by George McRae it was a replacement for the original Sydney Markets in honour of the Diamond Jubilee.

Dramatic Roman inspired architecture was chosen for the building which houses coffee shops, warehouses and a concert hall.

The mayor at the time Matthew Harris made a speech on it's opening:

A less costly building would have provided ample market accommodation. But it would have been short-sighted to have only studied the present to the exclusion of that great future which far-seeing men will agree will be almost infinite in possibilities.

As time went by the building’s purpose shifted. The concert hall turned into a library and offices became housing.

Tired of the roman grandeur of the décor, the Queen Vic was remodelled. And in the 1930s the building was given an art décor make-over for it’s new tenants- the Sydney City Council.

Image: City of Sydney

By 1959 the building faced demolition.  In 1982 Malaysian company Ipoh Garden was given the greenlight to restore the old girl to its original glory. And in 1986 the doors were open for locals and tourists alike.

If there is a lesson for heritage projects from this, it is that heritage buildings should not only be restored but should be put to a use that will make them freely accessible to the community at all times ...Yap Lim Sen (Chairman, Ipoh Ltd Australia)

There are two mechanical clocks each one depicting in figures a moment of history. The first clock or the Royal Clock depicts six scenes of royal history. The Great Australian Clock designed by Chris Chook weighs four tonnes and is ten metres tall. On it are 33 scenes of Australian History, from both Indigenous Australian and European perspective.

The building also houses exquisite artefacts- one a full jade Chinese bridal carriage- the only one found outside of China and the second a life-sized statue of Queen Elizabeth. Both, unfortunately, were removed in 2010. 

But perhaps the most exciting and mysterious of the displays in the Queen Victoria Building is a sealed letter written by Queen Elizabeth the second. The letter is to be read in 2085 by the future Lord Mayor of Sydney. But no-one knows what the letter says and it is buried somewhere in the off-limits dome at the top of QVB. 

The dome itself is restricted to the public but is opened on occasion for 'hidden tour' groups. 

It gives you the chance to explore and appreciate places that are normally off-limits or that you might have been walking past every day and wanted to see inside, said Kate Clark, the director of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

Queen Victoria Buliding is a glorious testament to restoration and Australian design. She stands beautifully in the centre of Sydney’s CBD, holding hundreds of years of secrets and history.

Your domes dream of Constantinople;
Facade picturesque;
Stained glass that glowed like an opal.
Sydney Romanesque.

They built you way back in the Boom Time,
The opulent era;
But now in the Seventies' Doom Time.
The wrecker stands nearer.

The noose of 'Progress' slowly throttles
The old and the brave,
New towers rise like giant jumbo bottles
Of cheap after shave.

How we hate all that sandstone as golden
As obsolete guineas,
With nowhere to stable our Holden,
Or tether our Minis.

A car park, a bank or urinal,
Would grace such a site;
The end could be painless and final,
The deed done by night.

Reactionary ratbags won't budge us,
Nor sentiment sway;
How will posterity judge us,
Ten years from today?

-Barry Humphries (1971)

Images and Header: Supplied by the Ipoh Garden

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