An Introduction: Boundless – Remapping Sydney Meridian

Over these next four weeks we are going to retrace a path that I walked, along what is known as the Meridian of Sydney, which will carry us through plural dimensions of time, past and present, as well as space. Along the way, I will provide you with the directions for this walk as well as some of the fictions, assumptions and random observations about the establishment of time and its measure in colonial Australia.

You must be wondering why I’m here with you now, an artist talking about these things.

When I came here for a visit in November 2019, there were a lot of things that I wanted to understand, but one odd feature of the Observatory stood out. Look at this photo and you’ll see what I mean.

Figure 1: Shutters on Sydney Observatory transit room: Photo taken by Lily, 18 Nov 2019.

See on the roof, how there are two slots? Underneath the right hand opening is the Transit Telescope, which used to take measurements of the passage of the Sun or stars passing overhead. But since there is only one meridian telescope, there should only be one opening. This oddity made me wonder: was the Meridian as fixed as they say, or had it moved? I asked my guide on the day – Dr Andrew Jacob MAAS Curator at Sydney Observatory – what he thought. This question launched a fascinating conversation, to be continued in this blog, as we embark on a path southward following the Sydney Meridian.

Each day, at midday, for the next twenty-four, we will visit a ‘station’ along the line. While the stations retrace the Observatory’s ‘prime’ Meridian Like the Meridian itself, the stations are imaginary. But the locations shown on the Google Earth along the walk are real, and if you were to follow my directions (in person, or on Google maps) this would approximate the path of the line emanating from the Observatory’s Transit Telescope.

For each station there is a poster linked to the blog post, which provides a clue or a historical reference in the story of Sydney Meridian. There are also two sets of coordinates. The first in black maintain the location provided for the ‘original’ Meridian; while the one above it in white is the location of the station according to Google Earth. As we will see, the line is not quite so fixed after all, because these markers, along with the Meridian, are shifting in relation to our changing planet.

Sometimes you will also see symbols and marks on these posters. These are the scars made on boundary reference trees by government surveyors as they staked out land parcels all over the city, triangulated from the Meridian to define the boundaries of each property. Sydney’s early colonial cityscape would have been marked by these trigonometric survey markers in the landscape – vanished long ago.

We have twenty-four stations ahead – the first inside the Observatory’s Transit Room.

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