These days, few people pause to admire the intricate sculptures on the sandstone facade of Sydney’s former General Post Office (GPO). The building’s transformation into The Fullerton Hotel Sydney will redirect attention to the stones’ history.
And the story is this: In 1883, when the carvings along the Pitt Street entrance were unveiled, they were so scandalous that the city’s elite were set on tearing them down. Italian sculptor Tomaso Sani had 01 depicted the trades of daily life in 1800s Sydney – then a British colony – and the carvings had included a “flirtatious” postman delivering a letter to a barmaid and a miner happily counting his gold.
Compared to conventional symbols of the arts, sciences, agriculture and commerce and royalty, including Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, the themes were considered crass and vulgar. But in an early show of that Aussie devil-may-care attitude that is so beloved today, the proposal to demolish was ignored.
“During this period, Australia was coming into its own culture. Elitists who supported all things English were losing favour among Australians who were now creating their own traditions,” says Margaret Monger, the guide who leads the hotel’s 90-minute heritage tours.
Today, these cheeky sculptures continue to delight those who know of the story – something Monger and The Fullerton team are determined to share with as many people as possible.
Protectors of heritage
It’s no coincidence that The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts, a homegrown brand owned by Sino Land (Hong Kong), a sister company of Far East Organization, decided to take over the premises of a former post office to open its first property overseas.
The 416-room Fullerton Sydney, a former Westin hotel relaunched last October after seven months of facade renovation, reinforces the Fullerton brand, which made its name when it transformed the Singapore General Post Office into the city’s most distinguished hotel 20 years ago.
Similarly, the Sydney building has long been a historically significant landmark. Its 73m tall clock tower was a popular meeting point and the post office, which also provided telegraph and telephone services, was regarded as its gateway to the world.
“In the early 19th century, Sydneysiders dressed to the nines and met under the GPO clock as a rendezvous point,” said Giovanni Viterale, general manager of The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts.
“We have earned our reputation as custodians of heritage through our transformation of The Fullerton Hotel Singapore. Similarly, in Sydney, we hope to advocate preservation and shine the spotlight on the unique characteristics of the historic building.”
Fullerton engaged Stonemason and Artist, an expert team with a combined stonemasonry experience of over 300 hundred years to lead the restoration. A 38,000-hour chemical-free cleaning process, using toothbrushes, steam and water, was required to remove accumulated layers of dirt without altering the sandstone’s natural patina.
The rooms, which have been updated with new amenities such as mattresses, Harman Kardon bluetooth speakers, Nespresso machines and Atkinsons toiletries, are next in line for a major upgrading.
Rooted in the present
Today, the hotel continues to occupy one of the best locations in the city. Popular landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are a 25-minute stroll or 10-minute cab ride away.
It is smack in the middle of Sydney’s luxury shopping district, with a newly reopened Louis Vuitton around the corner and boutiques such as Burberry, Gucci, Cartier and Tiffany & Co. in the vicinity. Close by is Barangaroo, a new waterfront food and beverage district, where laid-back Sydneysiders are known to start happy hour at 3pm.
The hotel’s buzzy natural-light filled atrium, where people meet for a spot of tea, hold business meetings and even pose for photographs on the grand staircase, is reminiscent of both the pleasant bustle of the Singapore hotel as well as a throwback to how it used to be a meeting place.
Like at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, it is a pleasure to experience in the flesh how an old post office can once again play a role in enhancing human connections.
Singapore cuisine meets Australian produce at The Place
In true Singapore style, one of the first things to be revamped for the opening of The Fullerton Hotel Sydney was its restaurant’s menu.
Alongside modern Australian fare, The Place will also serve South-east Asian dishes: hearty kong bak pau (braised pork belly in a bun), tasty Singapore chicken rice, satay (barbecued beef and chicken skewers) and the like.
To ensure the authenticity of flavours, a team of chefs from The Fullerton Hotel Singapore flew to Sydney to work with The Place’s chef Gerrit Schellenberg. The dishes benefit from being made with local ingredients – such as Cowra lamb and Hawkesbury mushrooms – which gourmands know are the key to Australia’s fresh-tasting and memorable cuisine.
A highlight is the seafood laksa, topped with Yamba prawns and scallops. So is the melt-in-your-mouth wagyu beef rendang.
The Bar in the lobby serves a Signature Afternoon Tea that includes savoury bites like Lobster Cornet a l’Oriental and smoked salmon millefeuille with caviar. Also served are confections like pecan maple tart and pandan lamington, which have a flavour profile similar to ondeh-ondeh. Perfect for when you crave the flavours of home.