Rowe Street archive, papers, letters, publications, audiotapes, photographs, project files, objects, collected through Rowe Street volunteer history project, 2001-2005
From 1891 until the early 1970s Rowe Street, in Sydney's inner city, offered a lively atmosphere of galleries, interior decorating studios, music shops and cafés. This archive, which consists of photographs, letters and interviews, documents the history of the street's commercial occupants.
'For almost a century, Rowe Street was Sydney's little slice of Bohemia - quaint, arty and as near as we could manage to Montmartre. A rendezvous when coffee bars were new, Rowe Street was a place of poets, painters, shoe box theatres and shops selling Paris hats.' (Valerie Lawson, Sydney Morning Herald, October 13-14 2001)
Rowe Street was the narrow street between Castlereagh and Pitt Streets that is remembered as the centre of Sydney's bohemian life before its buildings were demolished to make way for the MLC centre in the early 1970s. It was first recorded in the 1840s as Brougham Place, before being named after architect Colonel Thomas Rowe, in 1875. With the Hotel Australia at one end from 1891 and the Theatre Royal nearby, Rowe Street's tearooms, cafes, bars and shops were frequented by both famous visitors and regular local habituées. In the years following World War II migrants from Europe opened shops and galleries that brought new cultural experiences of fashion, design, art, music and food. Although all that now remains is a short laneway, Rowe Street is fondly remembered by thousands of people who value what it represented to them and regret its passing.
This archive is part of a broader collection that was developed in 2001 and 2002 by a group of special museum Rowe Street project volunteers who once had a connection with Rowe Street, either as commercial occupants or simply as people who enjoyed its lively atmosphere.
In early 2001 Bryan Fitzgerald, from the Sydney design store, Chee Soon and Fitzgerald, approached the Powerhouse Museum to seek help in documenting the many stories he had been hearing about Rowe Street. The Museum was interested because of Rowe Street's place in Sydney's design and cultural history.
The decorative arts and design department agreed to form a volunteer project group to collect information into an 'accumulating archive' of documents and oral histories and bring it into the care of the Museum. Many volunteers were people who had worked in Rowe Street or remembered it and two students joined who wanted to base their research projects around it. Brenda Humble had already interviewed a number of people and further interviews were carried out. Volunteers collected and donated documents, photographs, publications and copies of existing research and some significant objects. During the project newspaper reports by Valerie Lawson and Nicole Lehmann provoked a response of about 150 enthusiastic phone calls.
A large list grew quickly, of people interested in the project, and a smaller core group met regularly, receipting and filing the collected information. In late 2002 a halt was called to allow the next stage, of documentation, to take place. Working with the Museum's archivist, the initial listing of the archive was completed by Jane Burns and Mary Andrews in late 2003.
The Remembering Rowe Street interactive was made by the Powerhouse Museum's New Media department in 2005. It draws especially on archival documentation collected over a three year period by the volunteer research group working in the curatorial area of decorative arts and design. Volunteers Jane Burns and Andrew McMechan compiled an initial selection of essays in 2005 to include in this interactive introduction to the street. These are read by Cassi Plate. Added to these first stories of selected street tenants are images of objects in the collection, some of which the volunteers collected and donated. The 32 stories are just a beginning; there are many more to tell.
For a virtual tour of Rowe Street visit: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/inspired/rowest/
Paula Kalina, Obituary, George Cooks 1922-2012, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2012