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In memoriam the Sydney International Exhibition, 1879: enduring urban and cultural legacies

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 18:18 authored by Orr, K
The first international exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere was held in Sydney, Australia, in 1879. A magnificent Garden Palace was constructed on the harbour fore shores surmounted by a marvellous dome that was not only the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, but ranked sixth in the world for size. Constructed entirely of timber, it was not expected to stand forever, but its passing came sooner than expected when it was destroyed by a great fire in 1882. This paper argues that although the Sydney International Exhibition and Garden Palace were ephemeral entities, they left an indelible mark on the collective psyche of the people and the city through the development of an urban ethos that linked urban development to higher ideals of nation building. The exhibits on show from around the world encouraged visitors to compare themselves to other nations and to define their national identity. The staging of the event focussed attention on the city, providing new media and experiences by which people could orient themselves to their urban milieu. The emphasis placed on the city and urban culture stimulated urban growth and influenced its form. Efforts were intensified to endow Sydney with cultural institutions and amenities, and urbanism came to provide a shared language with the Old World, essential to the construction of an Australian national identity. This paper will examine two major strands of the exhibition - the exhibits on show and the urban focus of the event itself. It will demonstrate the manner in which the Sydney International Exhibition generated shared sentiments that endured at least until the turn of the century and contributed to the development of the city.


Publication title

City and Society in European History: Proceedings of the Xth International Conference on Urban History




School of Architecture and Design


European Association for Urban History

Event title

Xth International Conference on Urban History: City and Society in European History

Event Venue

Ghent, Belgium

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Understanding Australia’s past

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