Our history and heritage

5 minutes with History Week curator Margaret Betteridge

We unveil the captivating details you’ll discover when you look up in Sydney.

History Week credit - Little Planet Photographer Peter Murphy, 2011

We’re familiar with our city at street level but how often do we look up above our heads?

From sculpture to statues, stained glass to sandstone, flags to faces, Sydney is teeming with architectural and artistic delights.

Curator Margaret Betteridge manages the City of Sydney’s civic collection - a fascinating collection of artworks, furnishings, memorabilia and official gifts.

Here she tells us what to expect at her upcoming online, illustrated History Week talk, Look up Sydney: from the ground up.

Margaret Betteridge's talk, Look up Sydney: from the ground up, will help mark History Week. Credit: Little Planet by Peter Murphy, 2011
Margaret Betteridge's talk, Look up Sydney: from the ground up, will help mark History Week. Credit: Little Planet by Peter Murphy, 2011

This talk sounds like the perfect lockdown antidote. Why are you encouraging Sydneysiders to look up?

I think at this point in time we’re all missing being in our beloved city, the familiarity of our favourite landmarks and simply having the freedom to wander our streets – so I wanted to reconnect us to place.

We’re so used to seeing the city at eye level as we walk – or rush – along the pavements – but there’s a world of detail, beauty and inspiration above our heads that perhaps we never see or appreciate.

What’s the quirkiest discovery you’ve made while exploring our landmark buildings?

Among the architectural ornaments and sculpture which adorns our buildings, I’ve found characters from ancient mythology, flora and fauna and famous people.

Perhaps my favourites are the little bronze bird sculptures made for the City of Sydney’s public art program by English artist, Tracey Emin which perch on the ledges and parapets of buildings, enjoying their birds’ eye views of the city below.

Do you have a favourite piece in the civic collection?

What a hard question – there are so many! Despite the challenges of lockdown, I am so excited to be adding 2 Sydney shields carved and painted in traditional techniques by Uncle Chicka Madden to the collection. Uncle Chicka is known to us all for his sincere, yet entertaining WeIcome to Country introductions. What is less well known is that he is an artist of extraordinary talent in painting, sculpture and ceramics. Definitely my favourite this week!

How does learning about Sydney’s history make you feel about our city?

In my role as curator at the City of Sydney, I have opportunities to connect history with contemporary Sydney and to recommend acquisitions for the civic collection which interpret and reflect on our history through the lens of our First Nations artists, our culturally diverse communities and those whose creative journeys are just beginning.

Their works encourage me to see the city’s history through fresh eyes every time and to reflect on the legacy and resilience of the traditional owners of the Gadigal land we’re learning to nurture with them.

Margaret Betteridge’s virtual walk around Sydney is on at 12pm to 1pm, Tuesday 7 September.

Register for the event and find out what else is going on during History Week.

Published 3 September 2021