General Post Office GPO 1 Martin Place Sydney ( known also as the Sydney GPO, Postal Hall, The Westin Sydney and The GPO Grand) is a landmark building located in Martin Place, Sydney, Australia. The original building was constructed in two stages beginning in 1866 and was designed under the guidance of Colonial Architect James Barnet. Composed primarily of local Sydney sandstone, mined in Pyrmont, the primary load-bearing northern façade has been described as “the finest example of the Victorian Italian Renaissance Style in NSW” and stretches 114 metres along Martin Place, making it one of the largest sandstone buildings in Sydney.
Throughout its twenty five year construction process, the GPO was marred by two major controversies, the first of which related to the selection of bells for the campanile clock and the second, more significantly, to the commission of Italian immigrant sculptor Tomaso Sani’s “realistic” depictions of people for the carvings along the Pitt Street arcade. One of its first critics, Frederick Darley (later, the Chief Justice of NSW) “denigrated the carvings as caricatures” and such was the controversy surrounding these works that it led to debates on aesthetics and taste within the New South Wales Legislative Assembly between 1883-1890 in which Barnet was himself called upon to justify and defend his decision.Despite severe criticism and controversy, by the time of its final completion in 1891, the building was hailed as a turning point for the Colony of New South Wales, and historians have since noted the building’s significance as a force for driving prosperity and for the Federation of Australia. Its architectural expression and in particular its Pitt Street carvings have since been hailed as “the beginning of art in Australia,” as well as its urban significance in the shaping of Sydney’s urban grid and the Martin Place precinct.
The building served as the headquarters of Australia Post from its completion until 1996 when it was privatised and refurbished. The scaled back day-to-day counter postal services are now located on the George Streetfrontage and the outlet is known as the Sydney GPO Post Shop.The old General Post Office post boxes and Poste restante services are now located in the Australia Post site in the Hunter Connection, on the corner ofGeorge Street and Hunter Street. Despite significant internal alterations and additions, the façade has remained virtually unchanged and is listed both on the Commonwealth Heritage List (formerly known as the Register of the National Estate) and the New South Wales State Heritage Register, as recognition of its architectural and social significance to the history of Australia.