Location: Memphis, Tennessee, United States

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hidden Treasure, Observation Hill, Sydney, Australia

Situated just east of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in the Rocks section of town is an often overlooked Sydney treasure -- Observation Hill, the location of the Sydney Observatory.  Opened in 1858, the Observatory was originally established to calculate the correct time from the movement of the stars.  Ships in Sydney Harbor needed a way to adjust and calibrate their chronometers.  An Astronomer observed the sun by day and stars at night to calculate the celestial time and convey it to the mariners in port in order to aid them in determining longitude while at sea.  This service is still provided to this day by the traditional dropping of the Time Ball at exactly 1 p.m. everyday.  Up to 1942 the dropping of the Time Ball was accompanied by the firing of a cannon, for an audible signal to complement the visual signal of the ball drop.  Three minutes before 1 p.m. the ball starts to rise up its supporting shaft and is dropped promptly at one o’clock. 

The Time Ball is one of several fascinating features to Observation Hill.  The hill, the highest natural point
overlooking Sydney Harbor, was also the location of the harbor’s signal station.  From the hill messages were sent to ships in the harbor and to the town’s port authority via flags flown from a signal flagstaff.  Signal flags announced the arrival of ships into the harbor as well as informing port authorities of the names, origin and cargo of new arrivals. Ships in the harbor received weather, directives and other information via the signal flags.

Hand-in-hand with the timekeeping function, the Observatory also recorded astronomical data.  It has two domes which house telescopes; the south dome contains Australia’s oldest telescope installed in 1874 to observe the Transit of Venus and the north dome, added in 1878, has a state-of-the-arts reflecting telescope.  Beginning in 1887 the Observatory took part in an international project to photograph and map the entire sky.  It took almost 80 years for the Observatory to document the zone of the southern sky it had been allocated.

Additionally, in the early years of Sydney’s growth Observation Hill was also used as a meteorology center where the weather was recorded and forecast, as well as the point from which all official surveying of the town was conducted.

Today, Observation Hill provides a perfect location to gaze upon both Sydney and Darling Harbor, the views of Sydney Harbor Bridge are outstanding.  The grounds are perfect for a picnic and many people go there to exercise.  The hill is also home to a statue of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and a war memorial to those who served in the Boer War in what is today South Africa.  Above all, the Observatory is home to a museum that displays many artifacts from an earlier era of Sydney's time of tall ships and and says when long frock coats were fashionable. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

ANZAC Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney, Australia

On February 15th, the 72nd anniversary of the 1942 surrender of Singapore to the Japanese, I had the honor of visiting the ANZAC (Australian-New Zealand Army Corps) Memorial.  Situated on the southern end of Hyde Park in downtown Sydney, the Memorial is positioned aside a rectangular reflecting pool and is constructed of pink granite.  

Statue of Light Horseman
Approaching the Memorial, I was immediately captivated by the sculptures on the exterior of the building.  Like sentries, the sculptures sit in silence looking down on visitors as they come near the Memorial.  Four figures sit atop pillars on each side of the building.  There is an additional figure standing atop each corner of the Memorial, for a total of twenty statues.  The ANZAC Memorial was originally constructed in 1932 to honor the men and women who served in WWI, so the sculptures depict soldiers from that era.  The statues represent soldiers from every branch of the armed forces to include the medical corps and nurses.  Over each entrance is a impressive 10-meter (33-foot) bronze relief panel depicting scenes from the Eastern (Gallipoli) and Western (France) Fronts.

West Entrance to Memorial

Northwest corner of Memorial

The focal point of the Memorial is a bronze statue titled "Sacrifice" depicting a fallen warrior laying on his shield and sword reminiscent of the Spartan saying, "Come home with your shield or on it."  In Spartan culture, martial honor was the highest virtue, and weakness the ultimate sin, but I do not believe this statue is meant to glorify war for the architect, Bruce Dellit, said of this sculpture, "There is no pomp, no vain glory, no glamour in this group, rather there is stark tragedy, grim reality and bitter truth.  But it is the truth which tells not only of the brutality of war and of the suffering it engenders, but of that noblest of all human qualities - self-sacrifice for duty."  The shield and nude soldier are supported by three women, his mother, his sister and his wife holding their infant child (Courage, Endurance and Sacrifice), symbolizing womanhood who in the war years, with quiet courage and noble resignation, bore her burdens, the loss of sons, husbands and lovers.  The child represents the future generations for which this ultimate sacrifice was made.

Situated above the statue "Sacrifice" is an atrium with a domed ceiling known as the Dome of Stars.  Each of the 120,000 gold stars embedded in the ceiling represents a man or woman from Australia's state of New South Wales that participated in WWI. Following a curved staircase up from the Hall of Silence, which houses "Sacrifice", you arrive at the Hall of Memory which has a balustrade open to view the "Sacrifice" below.  On this level are niches listing all the major battles the soldiers participated in.  There are niches for France and Belgium, Egypt and Palestine, Gallipili, and the fourth, for New Guinea and War at Sea.

The Memorial was rededicated in the 1980's to honor all ANZAC servicemen of all wars and houses a nice museum on the ground floor displaying artifacts from WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the current conflicts in Afghanistan. 

If ever in Sydney, Australia take a moment to visit the Memorial and pay tribute to our allies -- the men and women of Australia and New Zealand.