The Tapestry Of An Inner City Social and Built Environment

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AAA Volunteer - Deborah Singerman shares her recent experience of the AAA's newest inner city tour - the Ultimo Walk.


The AAA’s first-ever Ultimo Walk started on a blustery June morning outside the Powerhouse Museum. It was also tour leader Michael McMullan’s first AAA venture. Probably sensibly, he did not dwell on the NSW State Government’s wish to relocate the museum west to Parramatta and rejig the existing site into a commercial, residential and creative mix.

After all, this part of town is used to mutability, its gritty history covering industry, education, cultural and community buildings. McMullen’s snapshot of the inner-city took in a formerly grand residence, a still popular technical college, an Olympian’s swimming pool, a modernist building, an urban design and landscaped transformation, and an educational institution that has spawned many nicknames and a few benefactor controversies of its own.

“History has been a hobby of mine since I was five would you believe. Not just dates or events but the whole social history context.”

This approach fed into his commentary as we walked briskly (gee, it was cold) through this varied part of town.

Ultimo House was built by convict labour in 1804 for surgeon John Harris on his estate at Ultimo and extended in 1814 by the convict architect Francis Greenway. It was Greenway's first colonial commission. In its now nondescript inner-city location it is hard to imagine it as a country seat with a park grazed by deer. Yet, as one of Sydney's grand residences, Ultimo House, had a renowned history with Harris leasing it out to prominent tenants. At the time of its demolition, in 1932, it was said to be the oldest standing house in Sydney.

On what was the largest site for technical education in NSW, in 1891 Sydney technical college, museum and two high schools, one for boys, the other for girls, were constructed. The intricacy of the façade detailing of Australian flora and fauna particularly impressed us.

The roof’s undulating grandeur marks the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, Harry Seidler’s last public building, the clean, steel and glass structure such a contrast to area’s older brickwork. By the by, McMullan also pointed out the nearby Jessie Street (named after women’s rights advocate, 1889-1970) National Women’s Library and further along, the Durbach Block Jaggers-designed Le Corbusier Building, which shows his five principles of windows. It houses University of Technology Sydney Science and the Graduate School of Health.

Behind Central station we walked the Goods Line, the disused rail corridor that Aspect Studios in collaboration with design partners CHROFI transformed into a vibrant civic corridor for events, recreation and relaxing in an unexpectedly open space.

We ended up at the UTS business school, better known as the “paper bag” building or Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, within the complex. After admiring the hours and hours of brickwork involved and the 14 different types of brick used, we went inside and wound down the mirrored “crumpled” staircase of this Frank Gehry showpiece.

McMullan is a former forester, IT manager, contract manager of business change projects, and holder of an economics degree, which included Australian history. “My interests are the natural environment, the built environment, and the forces that drive change and progress. I have a sense of history, so I can stand in an environment and ‘feel’ the flow of what led to where we are.”

He is also long-time secretary of the AAA.


Experience the Ultimo Walk this month. 

Meeting Point: Powerhouse Museum Forecourt, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo NSW 2007
Date: 10.00am - 12.00pm
Time: Saturday 21 July 2018
Tickets: $30 (public) / $25 (Seniors & Students) / AAA Members Free
Please note - concession ticket holders should present their ID on the tour day.

Click here to secure your place on the tour. Numbers are limited so book your ticket now!


Deborah is a professional writer and editor. She offers services to small business, industry and professional associations and creatives looking for crisp, credible copy showcasing business, products and services in a professional light.

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  • Article: Deborah Singerman
  • Image 1: Tour leader Michael McMullan talks about the Powerhouse Museum (Photographer: Annette Dearing)
  • Image 2: Dr Chau Chak Wing Building - UTS Business School, designed by Frank Gehry. (Photographer: Vanessa Couzens)