“ Historic Houses Trust scheme providing access to 12 of Sydney's heritage houses „
~An Historic Bargain~
I found out about the Historic Houses Trust through the Sydney guidebook which I bought for our trip in July 2009. I hadn't done a lot of preparation before we went but I had liked what I'd read about the Elizabeth Bay House and had gone online to look for more information. Since the EBH is one of the Trust's most visited properties, I soon realised that the best way to see a whole bunch of great historic buildings was to buy a so-called 'Ticket Through Time'. As a tourist who's only in the city for a week or two it makes no sense to buy an annual subscription so the Trust offers this special ticket which has a 3 month validity and includes all the houses in their care.
The exchange rate was really good when we visited - about AU$2 to the £ - so everything seemed like good value. However, even today with the rate closer to 1.50 to the pound it's still a bargain. We paid AU$30 each for the pass and (I hope they won't read this) when we left after our holiday we passed the tickets to my parents who used them a few times as well since they were staying on for another six weeks after we left.
~Getting and Using our Tickets~
We bought our tickets at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, a fascinating place that tracks the history of immigration into Australia. It's one of the most visited attractions in the city and would cost you $10 to get in without the ticket. Aside from the problem that the cashier happily processed our payment and then forgot to give us the tickets, it was a simple and straightforward procedure to sign up, taking only a few minutes more than buying a regular single-property ticket.
As soon as we'd finished in the barracks we popped to the Mint Building next door which is the home of the Historic Houses Trust but was originally the place that printed and struck money for the city. There's not too much to see there and that would normally be free. The next day we visited the Government House on a guided tour (that one's also free but you must turn up and get a timed ticket) as well as the Justice and Police Museum. In a city where rather a lot of the early settlers were on the wrong side of the law, the development of policing methods and justice systems was very important and the Justice and Police Museum gives an interesting insight into the policing of Sydney through the ages.
~Hopping Round Sydney~
A day later, we took the train to Paddington to go and see the Elizabeth Bay House, an absolutely beautiful period house which once stood in large gardens. Following financial problems the land was nibbled away at and sold off for developments. In contrast to the grandeur of the EBH, we also visited the Susannah Place Museum on The Rocks where a guided tour takes small groups of visitors through a terrace of small houses that have been decorated and furnished in keeping with different time periods. These were the houses where the poor folk lived and there's even a cute little corner store.
Our final visit of our stay was to the Museum of Sydney which contains an eclectic set of exhibits on a wide range of topics. There are recorded testimonies of early settlers, information about trade, transportation and the building of the city and some old trams. I'd struggle to put my finger on what the Museum of Sydney really thinks it's supposed to be but it's an interesting place none the less.
During our short time in the city we visited all of the properties in Central Sydney but lack of time and transportation kept us from visiting the more out of the way properties which include the Vaucluse House ( a gothic revival mansion), Australia's oldest European style building at Elizabeth Farm , the fabulous 1950s modernist Rose Seidler House, Rouse Hill House & Farm which was inhabited by the same family for 180 years and Meroogal, a wooden house 150 km from the city.
In total, the seven properties we visited would have cost us $44 if we'd bought the tickets individually. To get value from your Ticket Through Time you will need to be willing to dedicate several days of your holiday to visiting the houses but personally I found it a fascinating way to structure our time in the city. Australia is always said to be a bit lacking in 'culture' and 'history' and the HHT proves that this is an unfair criticism.
Neither my uncle who emigrated to Australia in the 1960s, nor my aunt or my cousins who've lived in the city their entire lives had visited even one of the HHT properties and were a bit shamefaced that we'd done so many in so little time. Sydney's a very modern city and the HHT Ticket Through Time gives visitors a really easy way to pinpoint some of the most important and inspiring buildings in the city. I recommend it highly.