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Susannah Place and The Rocks; battling the tides of the modern

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Introduction

Overcrowding, the bubonic plague, decay, government resumption, demolition, social engineering, and redevelopment; Over Its rich 200 year history The Rocks area of The City of Sydney has been struck by perpetual barrage of obstacles. Ever shifting, The Rocks has continually progressed and regressed in an oscillating pendulum, Its distinctive rocky and steep topography is very much representative of its wavering and jagged past. Rare for the area, Susannah Place has remained largely unscathed, maintaining a continuous history of domestic occupancy, in an attempt to maintain the areas rich and signicant heritage. What little heritage remains in the Rocks is conned to heritage islands, lost amidst the sea of its modernistically progressive and developed surrounds. Mere vestiges of The Rocks working-class past are still visible in the areas built heritage: Susannah Place being one of the few extant examples of early nineteenth-century, working-class housing.!

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The museum denition disparity

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In a tumultuous period of conict between modernist and traditionalist mindsets, the decision for Susannah Places house museum transformation was ultimately framed by historiographical trends. Susannah Place Museum is the embodiment of a new house museum era and direction, reexive of playful cultural and historical determinants. In the late 1970s society began to veer away from the mere protection of particular symbolic monuments towards the protection of their cities own urban fabric, those whose value lay in contribution to an overall scene or scape. This was conned but not limited to residential neighbourhoods and particular architectural types (Boyer 1994). In the case of Susannah Place, the Rocks community had implored governing bodies to represent the truth of the Rocks, opposed to a version for the tourists or one abridged to accommodate redevelopment (Moore 1989, 28). Society embraced the post-modern in this circumstance, focusing on the interrelationship between people and built, urban

environment opposing the traditional, conservative museum model. Historical housing stock buildings like Susannah Place, while not originally identied as amongst the areas most important buildings, structurally or historically, provided the physical framework in which The Rocks community thrived. Saving the working class community from destruction had ensured the peoples history was told in context. (Smith, 2002)!

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The traditional museum involves collections of collections of three-dimensional specimens and artefacts, functioning to collect and preserve and take on a highly practical immediacy. Originally deeply implicated in the Modern, the museum has transformed into a memory institution rather than an instrument for cataloguing (Keene, 2006). Today the museum acts as a broad church, a dynamic forum for discussion and reection (Davison, 2004, pp. 53). The cultural, political and emotional signicance of Susannah Place building resides through shared memories and experiences within the local community, ultimately creating a collective sense of belonging. Fabric and memories can thus be seen as inseparable; Susannah Place Museums signicance is dependent on the interpretative, coalescent relationship of the actual and the remembered. Smith argues that house museums are more than material artefacts; they are repositories of memories and associations. Susannah Place encapsulates the memories and experiences of its many residents, thereby representing a microcosm of working-class alike (Smith, 2002). Its these authorized versions of the national past, that are the kinds of museums that ought to be in a museum (Davison, 2004).!

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The clash between Tradition and the Modern

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Nostalgia for pastoral tradition had long been a staple of British (and thus colonial Australian) culture, thus the turn of the 21st centurys period of commodied authentic saw a revival of such nostalgia, as well as aggressive commercialization brought on by modernity (Outka, 2009 pp. 8). The hand-in-hand paradigms of the museum, entrenched in tradition and heritage, repudiate what modernity deems social progress through the new, but chose to embrace its capital progression. Under these circumstances the then emerging commercial attractiveness of the heritage value of The Rocks was utilised. In a house museum such as Susannah Place, the juxtaposition of

modernist progression and traditionalist preservation is made all the more apparent. Thus, when viewing the Rocks in these periods we are provided with a unique lens through which to see, one built on the imbrication of modernity, authenticity and commerce (Outka, 2009). Through this modernist lens, the nations progress is seen to be illustrated through a juxtaposition of historic buildings and skyscrapers (Morgan 1991, 82). The RHM Plan encapsulates the unclear and undened boundaries of Tradition and Modernity, each with both inherently complimentary and contradictory notions. The challenge facing the Rocks Heritage Management Strategy is to both preserve and capitalise on the setting. The right mix of conservation, interpretation, commercial and residential activity to achieve that end is far from obvious. (The Rocks Heritage Management Plan, p 55, Vol. 2) !

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When examine the competing narratives of Modernity and Traditionalism one must rst consider where the boundaries lie between the two, or if in fact the rise of postmodernism has dissolved them altogether. An assemblage of objects becomes a collection by imposing order and classication on it, but rigid classication is anathema to postmodern notions (Keene, 2006 pp. 5). Susannah Place Museums very existence today challenges the Modern ideology, particularly that of unied progress, and the value system that is the status quo. The social engineering and development contest, originally between the clashing tides of traditionalism and modernity, continues as a battle between the grand narratives, so valuable in the Modern context of twentieth century nation building, but currently caving under the pressure of perpetually questioning, postmodern ethos. !

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This disparity between conception boundaries is embodies by the end of Gloucester street, the street on which Susannah Place sits. A series of paintings, recognised by the National Trust's NSW Heritage Awards, o"er visitors, through a trick of the eye, a look back at the area's history. The lead mural converges the seemingly linear modern-day street into that of the 1901 landscape. The picture acts as both a window to the areas past, a wall from its present and symbol for the communities future. Together the elements celebrate belief in the community and in NSWs historic buildings and all the while embodying the dissolved boundaries predicated on the postmodern, drawing from the conicting tides of tradition and the modern.!

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The unconned Postmodern ideal

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Glenn Adamson at the V&A museum London describes postmodernity as an attack on what had come before; it was an attack on modernism." Keene concurs, describing it as the disintegration of modernity (2006). She goes on to call pluralism the essence of the postmodern, where the concept of objective truth is rejected. Thus the Susannah place museum is a feat of postmodernism. The postmodern aspects of the museum extend beyond its hindering of redevelopment and progress in the space, but also through the sites own hybridity, that of the private home and the public museum. Our homes are our private spaces where we express something of who we are. This seemingly ironic statement from the Historic Houses Trust website is the embodiment of the postmodern ideal. The inherently conicting spaces coalesce, demonstrating the transformative power of perception, and how contextual impositions and perceptions shift while the site itself remains static. !

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Above progression, modernists favoured reason and rationality, and asserted the ideal of absolute truth. In contradictory fashion, Susannah Place deconstructs the hermeneutic meta-narrative of scientic truth or xed truth (Thompson, 2002). Historians and curators use a composition of stories in order to provide meaning or to emplot the past, rather than the sole reliance on historical evidence and its interpretation (Garton 2003: p. 56). Its this discursive reprisal that causes one to view the museums approach as titillation, promoting post-modern simulacrum, and causing a hazy image of manipulated and trivialized past (Davison 2004: 53). From this perspective the traditions which form the museum foundation can be seen to instead be invented tradition,mimicking the heritage spectacle rather than functioning as a historical exhibition, the di"erence often indistinguishable (Davison 2004: 53). Perhaps, another concession to the postmodern sensibilities of the Museum is its utilisation of tablet technology to provide additional information in each room, displaying images of occupants and the site at any given time. This non-linear and unconventional approach both celebrates, and surrenders to, postmodern ambiguity.!

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Construction of the present

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As the signicance of Susannah Place is its continuity of domestic use, the aim is to use a minimalistic approach, preserving as much of the original structure as possible. New work is undertaken only where necessary; it is fully documented and, if possible, reversible, all in keeping with the uid and disparate notions of conicting postmodern, modern and traditional ideals. This approach focuses attention on the building's fabric as a record of its own history, its use and adaptation to the changing needs of its occupants and their present moment. Continuing research, oral history and archaeological investigation will provide further insights into the social and working life of The Rocks community through 150 years. Using a multitude of sourced approaches the traditional museum is subverted, in an aims in an attempt foster links with the local community to encourage its involvement.!

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As the traditional museum model is reexamined, so too is its conception as gateway for social instruction and discursive practices. This museum, or emblematic time machine, is rendered meaningful by the context within which it surfaces, in terms of current social mores and their cognisance within a broader cultural context. This microcosm in The Rocks abuttals veers away from modernistic centrality of its surrounds, revealing itself to be discursively constructed by the postmodern period. Predicated on the dissolution of boundaries, this results in the creation of a seminal space, one prone to constant uctuation and change. Revisiting the postmodern subversion of the grand narrative, the museum utilizes fragmentation of time in order to engage to visitor. Through one narrow doorway comes a time leap of an entire century. Through this collaborative opportunity, the space empowers one to immerse in and engage with their past and react to the present in consummate form. A comparison between the inhabitants respective epochs, those which encompass traditional elements of past conservancy and heterogeneity; and the current embodiment which includes coalescence of modernity and postmodernity, facilitates re-examination of the characteristics of the individual and collective self. While inherently institutional consensus, Susannah Place Museum adopts a pluralist mode as it invites patrons to share the excitement and tension of thinking about the nation's past and future for

themselves. This often loosely categorized as cultural relativism, which itself holds certain postmodern discourses and conviction (G, Davison, 2004, pp. 56, 57). !

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Past and present idiosyncrasies

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Time has shaped the identities of the people who interact with the site, as well as raising issues of the interplay between tradition, modernity and postmodernity present in the local community. The ! heritage status of Susannah Place o"ers an interesting insight into the importance of protecting the physicality of history and memory, whilst the changed use of the site suggest an evolution of the values of modern Australian society. As Walsh states, (post)-modern life eroded a sense of history or rootedness resulting in an age dominated by time space compression, and an erosion of a sense of place (Kevin Walsh, 1992, pp. 116). Susannah Place and similar sites can thus be seen to reestablish ones cultural link to the idiosyncratic past and present, and a#rm their subsequently obligation to each. The responder is witness to the realm of possibilities contained by each occupants milieu, those of which were left indelibly xed in the site, resulting in repatriation of some local citizens to their cultural and historical past. !

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Individuals throughout history have often sought continuity from the past to legitimate the contemporary social order and their claimed social status. Here history is characterised as a conversation between the past and the present, each swaying and informing the other, where both parties interact (Garton, 2003: p. 58). The site is a coaslescence of multiple discourses, each inuenced by respective social contexts (Leeuwen 2005, p.94) and an individuals interpretation. The interest in and interpretation of social history is no longer limited to the academic, scholarly and museum researchers, there now lies a much larger and more communal recognition that social history can provide new insights into the past and also a new dynamic sense of how the past has forged the present (Proudfoot 1987, 12). Susannah Place here falls into the much larger public space of The Rocks, an area that contributes to ones conceptualization of who they are as an Australian. An icon of Australian history, and site of$Australias rst European settlement The Rocks site is part of the cradle of the nation. (Overall 1967, Part II, 1)!

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Conclusion

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The craggy topography of The Rocks deed orderly settlement, and now its surrounds similarly dees orderly theoretic categorisation. In this contested space, the interdependencies between heritage tourism and the local community can be discerned through analysis of the tensions between tradition, modernity and post modernity. While there remains conict between dened cultural heritage of the historic setting and the continuing developments, the site illuminates the di"erence between change and transformation on a conceptual and metaphysical level. While there is a maintained dialogue between past and present social milieus, the discursive practices dont serve as a bridge between two clearly dened points, but rather isolated fragmented paths. Having gone through various cultural labels, Susannah place site has evolved beyond a mere home or even its museum, but into a memory institution, existent and reexive only by the society that interprets it. !

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References

! Boyer, M. 1994, The City of Collective Memory, Cambridge, Massachusetts: the MIT Press! ! ! !
Dolores, H. 1995 Place Memory and Urban Preservation, in Larice, Michael ; Macdonald, Elizabeth (ed.s), Urban Design Reader, New York ; London : Routledge, 2007, pp 194-203!

Davison, G. 2004, A Historian in the Museum: The Ethics of Public History in S. Macintyre! (ed.), The Historians Conscience, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic, pp. 49-63!

Garton, S. 2003, On The Defensive: Poststructuralism an Australian Cultural History in H.! Ming & R. White (eds.) Cultural History in Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, pp.! 39-61! % ! Keene, S. 2006. All that is solid? Museums and the postmodern. Public Archaeology 5, 3. pp 185-98.!

! Leeuwen, T.V. 2005, Introducing Social Semiotics, Routledge, New York.! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Moore, R A, 1989, Susannah Place: Conservation Analysis and Guidelines Prepared for ! Sydney Cove Authority, Robert A. Moore Pty. Ltd. in association with the Historic Houses ! Trust of NSW, Sydney! Oitka, E, 2009, Consuming Traditions, Modernity, Modernism, and the Commodied Authentic, Oxford University Press, New York! Overall, J, 1967, Observations on redevelopment of the Western Side of Sydney Cove Rocks ! Area to Grosvenor Street, Department of Public Works, Sydney! Smith, C. 2002. Susannah Place Museum: the translation of a working-class terrace into a house museum in Smith, C. Whitcombe, A. Open Museum Journal, V.5: Interpreting Historic House Museums! Thompson, C. J. 2002, Modern truth and postmodern incredulity: A hermeneutic deconstruction of the metanarrative of scientic truth in marketing research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53705, USA! Proudfoot, H, 1987, Susannah Place, 58-64 Gloucester Street, Sydney: Conservation Plan ! Preliminary Report for the Historic Houses Trust, Sydney! ---! Historic Houses Trust, 2012, The Susannah Place museum, viewed 3 Aril 2012! <http://www.hht.net.au/museums/susannah_place_museum/2>! Kevin Walsh, 1992, The representation of the past: Museums and heritage in the postmodern world, Yaylor and francis eLibrary., London, viewed 7 April 2012! <http://books.google.com.au/books id=QkjlQwxUXosC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false>! The Rocks heritage management plan [electronic resource] : volume 1 and volume 2 / prepared for Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority by Godden Mackay 20 November, 2006! <http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3898889>