Tag Archives: The Rocks

The Rawson Institute for Seamen/Bar100 – The Rocks, NSW

The snigger-inducing Rawson Institute for Seamen opened in 1859 as the Mariners’ Church, a missionary effort by the Bethel Union which followed two similar sites in Darling Harbour and Circular Quay. After initial success, the Bethel Union fell on hard times at the turn of the 20th century, and in 1895 the Church was leased to the Missions to Seamen. So wait, one seamen missionary group met financial hardship operating out of this place…and another one jumped in to take its place? Were the owners named Bond and Packer?

Sir Harry Rawson, who was appointed NSW Governor after his productive and incident-free trip to Benin, got a piece of the action once his governorship ended in 1909, proposing extensions to the building so important that the complex was renamed after him. Seamen everywhere could thank Rawson for providing them such a luxurious institute.

By 1960 things like this had fallen pretty much by the wayside, and the Bethel Union limped back to Flying Angel House, while the Rawson Institute became in 1981 home to the hitherto-unknown-by-me Craft Council of NSW, which lasted until 1990. Subsequently used as an art gallery and cafe, in 2011 Rawson’s changed hands yet again to much consternation. The new tenant, Bar100, hopes to rival that seamen’s institute of a different kind, the notorious Ivy nightclub. You’ll need a lot more than the name, guys.

Maritime Services Board/Museum of Contemporary Art – The Rocks, NSW

Since 1991, the Museum of Contemporary Art has enthralled, inspired and confused Sydneysiders and tourists of all kinds. Established through a bequeathment of money from Australian artist John Power (who died in 1943, making it one very long inheritance battle), the MCA has recently undergone a much publicised redevelopment during which ruins of a colonial dockyard were discovered underground. But contrary to what you might think, their art deco building wasn’t just an attempt by the MCA itself to be trendy – they weren’t in there first.

It’s funny that despite the expensive and lengthy redevelopment process, they missed this little clue. In fact it appears it was covered up by another sign for years and only recently disturbed. As you can see, it reveals that the MCA’s building was once the site of the MSB. This is apparently common knowledge, but what was the MSB?

It makes sense that the Maritime Services Board was established in and housed at the Rocks. 90 years of confusing yet important Sydney port control laws and services were consolidated into one administrative entity, the MSB, in 1936. In 1949 construction began on the building, which was completed in 1952, so even by art deco standards it was late to the party. The MSB itself relocated in 1989, leaving behind the building for the art world to work its magic on and in. It’s just that you missed this spot, guys. Then again, knowing the MCA, maybe it’s actually one of the exhibits and I just don’t get it.