Restoration work begins at Old Government House

The $500,000 restoration of UNESCO World Heritage site Old Government House is now underway, with parts of the historic Parramatta landmark undergoing significant repairs.

Old Government House
Old Government House in Parramatta Park. The main restoration work is taking place in the L-shaped Barracks building at the rear of the main building (top left). Image by Rick Stevens.

Old Government House was built by convicts between 1799 and 1818 and is the oldest surviving public building in Australia. Located on Burramatta Dharug land in Parramatta, the house and adjoining barracks were originally established as the ‘country residence’ of the first ten governors of New South Wales.

The site has been in the care of the National Trust (NSW) since 1967 and has been open to the public as a house museum ever since. Old Government House earned a UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2010.

While the main house has stood tall since its last major restoration in the 1990s, the historic Barracks building to the rear had suffered from many years of general wear and tear that was threatening the building.

Thanks to $270,000 in donations from members and supporters, the National Trust has now begun a meticulous restoration to bring parts of Old Government House back to their former glory.

Heritage painters from Sydney-based business The Finer Craft rejuvenating the interiors of the historic Barracks building. Image by Rick Stevens.

Bringing back the Barracks

One of the key spaces being repaired is the Barracks building – an L-shaped masonry building where soldiers originally lived and slept.

The building had suffered from a number of intrusive additions that were added over previous decades, which have now been carefully removed to once again show its original form and dimensions.

With works documented by the National Trust conservation team, heritage trades experts then got to work to level timber floors, repair cracked walls, remove modern infill walls, replace broken sash cords to the windows, and remove paint from historic sandstone windowsills.

In the process, they discovered an original 19th century fireplace that had long been hidden behind a wall – a heritage feature that is now being restored – and convict-marked lead window sash weights.

Fireplace And Window Weights
Among the discoveries in the Barracks were an original 19th century fireplace found hidden behind a wall (left) and convict-marked lead window sash weights (right).

The 200-year-old passageway at the rear of the Barracks has had modern clutter removed and is now ready to once again be an important entry point into the site.

One section of an historic original wall on the outside of the Barracks has also been carefully cleaned and will soon be ready for its first limewash in many years, protecting the original material and allowing the stone to breathe.

Before and after
The outside wall of the Barracks was formerly covered in mould (left). Now the wall has been cleaned and treated (right).

Now halfway through the project, the team is also updating the interior rooms of the Barracks with a fresh coat of paint, air conditioning, and new lighting, all of which are transforming the Barracks into a light and bright space that can once again be used by volunteers, visitors and staff.

National Trust Director of Conservation, David Burdon, says the aim is to make the Barracks more accessible and inspiring for a new generation of visitors.

“The Barracks are an equally important part of the Old Government House story, so we’ve worked really hard to bring this beautiful building back to its original heritage form. After clearing out years of debris, with the help of the great team of heritage experts undertaking the work, we’re seeing a real transformation that will bring the history of these Barracks to life.”

Building a new future for Old Government House

Once the Barracks work is complete, conservation efforts will move into the main house, where the kitchen’s historic bakery will be reinstated for public display, and the servant’s hall will be relocated back to its original position.

David says the final result will be spectacular. “Old Government House is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site and an incredibly important piece of history, it’s also a really beautiful place in the middle of Parramatta Park. With these conservation works, Old Government House will shine again as a place to be enjoyed by everyone.”

The National Trust is very grateful to all the donors who contributed to the Old Government House appeal. All works will be completed by mid-2024, and we can’t wait to share the final results with everyone.

Old Government House sits in the lush surrounds of Parramatta Park, on the land of the Burramattagal people.

Learn more

Find out more about the history of Old Government House and plan your visit.  

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