Our colonial history and contemporary architecture share a special, everchanging relationship.

This connection was particularly clear as I walked around our Iconic Australian Houses exhibition and was struck by the poignant words of architect Richard Leplastrier, who suggests, ‘When a house is first of all inhabited, that is not its most beautiful stage at all. It is only after it has been used with love that something gets to be deeply beautiful’. He talks of the ‘fit’ of a building with its client, and poetically describes houses as ‘outer garments’ for our lives.

The theme of this issue, ‘If these walls could talk’, captures the spirit of Leplastrier’s idea that architecture shapes our lives and that we transform our buildings in return. We explore how, over time, a place becomes imbued with the layered stories of the lives that have been lived within its walls.

Our ‘living museums’ have been home to doers and dreamers, families and lovers. Some of our heritage homes are defined by what they can tell us about the changing tastes and aspirations of the families who lived in them – such as the rare gem Meroogal, built in the 1880s and home to four generations of women, and Rouse Hill House & Farm, owned by six generations of the one family.

The significance of some of our other places comes from the experiences of those who lived there in difficult circumstances. In these pages, we unpick the stories of three such properties: Susannah Place Museum, home to more than 100 working-class families; the Justice & Police Museum, which housed some of Sydney’s most notorious criminals; and the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, once home to many Irish orphans, as well as convicts.

‘If these walls could talk’ will continue to feature in future issues, with stories revealing new layers of history from each of our places.

In August we mark the bicentenary of the death of Governor Arthur Phillip and commemorate his pivotal role in the early colony of NSW. To prepare the ground, Beth Hise, our head of interpretation and exhibitions, looks at Phillip’s life before he took those historic steps at Botany Bay. Her article explores Phillip’s remarkable career as naval officer, explorer, cartographer, linguist, diplomat and even spy – experiences that shaped the great man he would become.

This April saw the passing of the Hon Neville Wran AC QC. During his time as Premier, Neville Wran demonstrated great foresight in preserving our heritage through the creation of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW (HHT). We are pleased to have located rare interview footage from 2010, in which he reflects on history, the value of heritage and the HHT. On the day of his state funeral, 1 May, we posted this interview on our website. We are proud to acknowledge the important role Neville Wran played as a custodian of our heritage. He was a great believer in the essential role of history in understanding the events that formed Australia as a nation.

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Uncompromising in his vision and attitude, passionate about architecture and art... Seidler changed Sydney’s skyline forever.

This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our quarterly Members’ magazine.

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