Sydney’s hard rock story

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Robert Irving, Ron Powell and Noel Irving

What is trachyte and how did it come to be the unsung hero of Sydney’s building stones?
The answer is found in this fascinating story of how a hard stone quarried in the New South Wales Southern Highlands became the city’s most important stone after sandstone.

The title provides an apt description: trachyte was Sydney’s hard rock.  Sandstone with all its virtues was the premier building stone of Sydney’s early and middle years but trachyte had qualities sandstone lacked and so it perfectly complemented the ‘yellowblock’ of our heritage buildings.  Sydney’s hard rock provided what sandstone, with all its beauty, could not provide.

This tough, distinctively coloured igneous stone was first quarried at Mount Gibraltar near Bowral in the 1880s and soon began appearing in the kerbs and gutters along the growing city’s streets.  Soon it was adopted by builders and architects and it can still be seen overhead in the keystones of great buildings as well as underfoot, in myriad small and large scale projects throughout New South Wales and beyond.  Its importance in the city is why the authors have called their tale Sydney’s Hard Rock Story.

The book is handsomely illustrated  throughout and contains 245 illustrations including 25 colour photographs.  It traces trachyte’s extensive uses, starting with its geology and some of the dramas of Bowral’s ‘Gib’ and its quarrymen.  It continues by examining its basic, utilitarian beginnings like kerbing.  After designers were awakened to its qualities they used trachyte to create some of Sydney’s finest commercial streetscapes, as well as monuments, foundation stones, commemorative plaques and paving.

A special feature of the book, showcasing many fine and surprising examples of this special stone, is the illustrated trachyte walk in central Sydney.