Rat catchers, nurses, gully flushers, the town clerk and joiners are just some of the staff to have worked at the City of Sydney since it was established 175 years ago. Along with carters, book binders, ‘block boys’ and law enforcement officers, these staff formed part of an evolving workforce that provided a range of services and amenities to a rapidly developing city and its local communities.
To mark the 175th anniversary of Council, the City will reflect on these jobs of yesteryear and its ongoing services to the community as part of an exhibition at Sydney Town Hall. Our City: 175 years in 175 objects will explore the original functions of the City through to revolutionary community services that have been underpinned by increasing staff and resources.
“While the role of the City and its staff have evolved significantly in 175 years, our role in leading, governing and serving the community remains,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore. “This exhibition will feature some of the jobs that time forgot but were pivotal to the operation of Sydney’s first council. I invite all Sydneysiders to come along to the exhibition to gain an insight into the history of their city and the many men and women who first served our communities.”
While the council was ultimately created to manage roads, rates and rubbish, it was these roles that were the real driving force for the City’s role in serving the community. Inspector of Nuisances would investigate ‘bothersome’ complaints from locals, City nurses administered immunisations to children and a ‘Mobile Library Service to the Infirm’ delivered books and periodicals to housebound residents across the city.
The Inspector of Nuisances was responsible for keeping the city clean, sanitary and safe. The office was first created in 1847 and the Inspector of Nuisances was given responsibility to oversee a range of regulations from markets inspections to kite flying and house-to-house inspections.
The first City Librarian, Charles Bertie, introduced Australia’s first children’s library in 1918. Francis Lancelot Sutherland Bell was appointed City Librarian in 1939, and introduced outreach services that delivered books to the elderly and infirm, hospitals, schools and workplaces. Many of his initiatives became benchmarks, copied by municipal libraries in Australia and overseas. Renamed the Housebound Library Service, the service continues today.
Today the City operates nine library branches at Customs House, Glebe, Green Square, Haymarket, Kings Cross, Newtown, Surry Hills, Waterloo and Ultimo as well as two library link services at Town Hall House and Pyrmont, together offering more than 415,000 items for free.
The once sought-after jobs have since become extinct or been phased out by technology, shifting consumer demands and changes in society. Radical changes to the size and structure of the City over the years also allowed for more efficient and effective services and introduced new roles including officers specialising in community, environmental and economic matters.
Our City: 175 years in 175 objects
Lower Town Hall – Sydney Town Hall, 483 George Street, Sydney
Exhibition: 27 October – 12 November 2017
For more information, visit: www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au for details.
Image: City of Sydney Mobile Library 1957 (supplied)