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Look no hands as Sydney’s GPO clock gets a makeover

Made by JB Joyce in the UK and installed in 1891, it is a three-train flatbed clock with gravity escapement and once the makeover is complete, Westminster chimes: four bells to the chime and another for the strike just like Big Ben.

''It will sound the same as Big Ben'': Mr Markerink makes some adjustments to the GPO clock.

”It will sound the same as Big Ben”: Mr Markerink makes some adjustments to the GPO clock.
Credit:Steven Siewert

Remediation work will include removing, glazing, repairing and reinstating the clock glass. External stone and metal work will include intricate clock frame repairs as well as lead weathering and waterproofing.

Master clockmaker Andrew Markerink said the the work should be completed by October. “Essentially everything that is in the tower comes out of the tower,” he said. “That job is not a headache, it is a nightmare. Several components come in at about 150-odd kilograms and there are several tonnes of clock to pull out of the building. There’s only one way to do that and that’s to carry it out down all the steps.”

Nice view: fourth-generation stonemason Rick Timperi on scaffolding next to the GPO clocktower.

Nice view: fourth-generation stonemason Rick Timperi on scaffolding next to the GPO clocktower.Credit: Steven Siewert

Arthur Stace and his signature Eternity in 1963.

Arthur Stace and his signature Eternity in 1963. Credit:Trevor Dallen

Inside the five-tonne strike bell is the word “Eternity” written in chalk, ”graffiti” believed to date back to around 1942. It is thought to be the handiwork of Australian soldier Arthur Stace who almost every day for 35 years spent hours writing the single word Eternity on and around the streets of Sydney.

From 1891 until his retirement 40 years later, clockmaker Henry Daly would ring the GPO bells daily. To do this, he would watch the ball drop on Observatory Hill and listen for the gun fire from Fort Denison announcing it was 1pm. To reach the clock-tower chimes, Daly had to walk up 240 steps. The spiral staircase remains today and its maintenance will be part of the remediation works being conducted by The Fullerton Hotels and Resorts.

Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of the Singapore-owned hotel chain, said they were the proud custodians of heritage. “[We] believe it’s imperative that significant historical buildings such as the GPO retain their heritage features.”

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Once complete Mr Markerink said the clock will be as accurate as the GPS on a smartphone. It will also sound different. “It will actually play a full Westminster chime instead of just quarter striking – it will sound the same as Big Ben,” he said.

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