The AWU Building is not a heritage item.


I had never really looked at this building until it caught my attention late last year one day when walking back from the District Court.

Here is a better picture which I have pinched from someone calling themselves “ghee” on Flickr:


One reason I couldn’t take a picture anywhere near as good as that is because this building is opposite Castlereagh Street Fire Station and they were having a kind of fire truck convention on the day I walked by, camera in hand.


You will see that the building has lost its awning since Ghee’s photo was taken last year. A closer view:


From old Sydney Council papers, I discover:

The AWU Building (Castlereagh Street) was constructed in 1878. It was originally known as Protestant Hall and is associated with the Irish Protestant movement in Australia. In 1937 the building was transferred to the Australian Workers Union, one of the first unions in Australia, who occupied the building for a number of years.


The AWU Building is not a heritage item. The building was on the City’s Heritage List in the late 1980’s, but was removed from the list following a review in 1992. The building remains on the Register of the National Trust (NSW).

You have to suspect some skullduggery or at least a sweetheart deal there. There have been a number of development proposals as set out in the council papers:

DA 91/00098 was approved for the redevelopment of the site by Council on 21 December 1991. The approved FSR was 11.59:1, within a 22 level mixed use commercial/club building, with 3 levels of basement parking and the retention of the façade of the AWU Building.
DA 99/01035 was approved on 15 June 2000 for a Rice Daubney Group designed mixed use office/hotel/club/residential tower with an FSR of 13.13:1. The consent for this application lapsed in June 2003. This application proposed the demolition of the AWU Building.
DA 03/00029 for the demolition of the AWU Building was lodged on 15 January 2003. This application was withdrawn by the applicant on 5 January 2004. Following this, officers advised that demolition was not the preferred approach.

The site is owned, together with the building adjoining it on Elizabeth Street, by the Hellenic Club. This probably helps when the time comes to crank out letters in support of a development application – there were 10 objections and 55 letters in support of the 2003 DA, which seems to be the latest. The subsequent fate of the development application and indeed the proposal is unclear. The recent removal of the awning suggests that something is afoot, and that all we are going to be left with is the façade.

I expect we are supposed be grateful for that.

2 Responses to “The AWU Building is not a heritage item.”

  1. Michael Warlters Says:

    This building has a claim to be the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party. The NSW Trades and Labor Council held a series of meetings in the week beginning 10 April 1891, for the purpose of establishing Labor Electoral Leagues. The first of these was held in Protestant Hall, for the seat of East Sydney. The meeting was attended by about 500 people, and 55 enrolled as the first members. (An earlier meeting occurred in Balmain’s Unity Hall on 4 April, but it is not clear that meeting enrolled members). The proceedings are reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 11 April 1891. Within three months, Labor held the balance of power in the NSW parliament – a stunning electoral achievement for the workers.

  2. David Levell Says:

    Thanks for a fascinating and most revealing article about the AWU building.

    I’ve done some research on the building’s earlier history. Unfortunately it seems to have been forgotten that, just over a year after opening as the Protestant Hall, it hosted the first concert performance of “Advance Australia Fair”.

    The National Trust and City of Sydney Council both seem to be unaware of this aspect of the building’s cultural significance. It might have been useful information to counter those who almost succeeded in having it torn down a few years ago.

    Another small point is that the building was opened in November 1877, not 1878 as the National Trust lists it. I have more info on my website re this if you’re interested.

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