Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney was on everyone's mind when that spectacular fireworks display was one of the first to herald in the year 2000. I had a special interest as my son had been there since the previous August, working as a chef, and it was decided that we would have a family holiday to coincide with his birthday in April. It turned out to be a holiday never to be forgotten, seeing at first hand those famous landmarks only previously seen on the television, eating in some of the world's best restaurants, and enjoying the hospitality of a people happy to share their city with visitors. I shall always remember the feeling of awe at the first glimpse of the Harbour Bridge from the train as it drew into Circular Quay station on our first day in the city. The view above became a familiar one during our time there, sitting on the terrace of a cafe with a beer and watching the sun go down in the evenings.

I had the added pleasure of being able to satisfy my love of organs by being invited to play while I was there. Below is some brief information about those organs and entertainment in the city.

Chas at the Console Christie 2m / 10r in Epping Baptist Church. Originally a 2m 7r in the Duke of York Cinema in Eastwood, this lovely Christie was extened to 10 ranks and installed in the Epping Baptist Church minus its ornate cinema-style console. A popular instrument for organists and used extensively during organ conventions as well as the church services, it will soon be re-housed in a Wurlitzer console and have extra ranks added. Present ranks are: (Main) Viol, Dulciana, Celeste, Clarinet, Geigen Diapason, Concert Flute, Trumpet, Vox, Liberty Harp, Xylophone and (Solo) Tibia Clausa, Diaphonic Diapason, Tuba, Glocken, Chimes.

Wurlitzer 2m / 11r in Marrickville Town Hall. This was originally installed with 10 ranks in the Prince Edward Cinema (Theatre Beautiful), Sydney in 1924 and is now used for functions in the Town Hall as well as the expected organ concerts. Owned by the Theatre Organ Society of Australia, NSW Division, it sounds beautiful in the large reverberation time of the high ceilinged hall. The Main chamber contains, English horn (added in the late 1970's), clarinet, open diapason, salicional, voix celeste, concert flute and crysoglot. The Solo chamber contains, harmonic tuba, tibia clausa, orchestral oboe, krumet, vox humana, marimba harp and traps. Photo courtesy of TOSA. Chas at the Console

The Opera House, definitely not a venue to find a theatre organ but this is where I ended up playing the Grand Organ in the Concert Hall one evening. I had been asked if I had an interest in classical (straight) organ before I left England and told that "something could be arranged" if I took some classical music along with me. I was certainly thrilled when I learnt that what was arranged was a visit to the Opera House to play the organ and look around the pipe chambers.

The Concert Hall is the largest of four in the complex with 2,690 seats. The Opera Theatre seats only about 800 people. The Grand Organ was designed and built by Australian, Ronald Sharp, between 1969 and 1979 and is the largest mechanical tracker action organ in the world. There are 5 manuals and 1 pedal keyboard, 10,500 pipes and 127 stops arranged in 205 ranks. The design follows the German baroque style incorporating, essentially, six separate organs; Pedal, Ruckpositiv, Hauptwerk, Oberwerk, Brustwerk and Kronwerk. The organist sits on an overhang about half way between the floor and ceiling which can be a frightening experience for those suffering from vertigo. The final thrill was at around 2.00 a.m. in the morning having climbed to the top chamber just under the peak of one of those characteristic roof "sails".

The Opera House
The Opera House from the harbour
Organ Console
Console of the Concert Hall Grand Organ

State Theatre Logo The State Theatre, in Market Street, is a 2,000 seat theatre built in 1929 as a movie palace for the Greater Union Organisation who still own it. The design is an opulent mix of Empire, Gothic, Italian and Art Deco styles with extensive use of marble, sumptious decor, antique furniture and crystal chandeliers, including the 20,000 piece Koh-i-Nor which is the second largest cut crystal chandelier in the world. The Mezzanine Circle has its own lounge and art gallery! The Gothic Foyer has a vaulted ceiling, mosaic floor with a built-in illuminated clock, marble columns, statues and doors of brass and bronze. Not surprising that the State was once known as "the Empire's greatest theatre".

There is a 4m / 21r Wurlitzer theatre organ which has fallen into a poor state of repair but restoration started with the removal of the console during the time I was in Sydney. The organ is featured on an excellent videotape about the theatre, Palace of Dreams, played by Alan Tranter.

Front of the State Theatre
Front of the State Theatre in Market Street
Foyer of the State Theatre
Impressive Gothic Foyer of the State

Darling Harbour by night

And where better to relax at the end of the day than in Darling Harbour with its Imax and Motion Experience theatres, shopping mall, bars and restaurants catering to every taste.

My most grateful thanks to John Andrews and Neil Palmer for introducing me to the Sydney organ scene.

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Page and Pictures (unless otherwise credited) 2000 Chas Girdwood.