What connection can there possibly be between a famous episode in the Boer War (1899-1902, fought between Britain and Boer republics in South Africa, with Australian contingents joining in ) and the CSR site in Pyrmont, now Jacksons Landing?
Early in the 20th century two coppersmiths working in the CSR workshop at Pyrmont designed and constructed a weathercock. When completed, it was erected on the old Refinery main building, to celebrate, it was said, the Relief of Mafeking. The Boers had laid siege to British forces in the town of Mafeking in South Africa over a period of 217 days, from October 1899 to May 1900, under the leadership of Robert (later Lord) Baden-Powell, who went on to found the Scouting Movement. The lifting of the siege was a decisive victory for the British and a crushing defeat for the Boers. The news of the Relief of Mafeking was greeted with wild jubilation all over the British Empire, in Sydney no less than anywhere else.
Henceforth the weathercock swiveled smoothly round to indicate the direction of varying winds – a landmark to check each day, and a sign of ‘business as usual’ for CSR workers.
Come the 1990s, the sale of the CSR site to Lend Lease and the ensuing demolition. While the avowed intention was to conserve items of archeological or industrial significance, some things simply disappeared – among them, the weathercock.
Retired engineers with a long work history at CSR Pyrmont were disturbed. The weathercock was part of their heritage. They had a fair idea where it had gone, and were able to retrieve it for safe keeping.
But what to do with it?
One of the retired engineers was a member of a bowling club, and he arranged for it to be erected on the Clubhouse, where it whirled around happily until 2010. Then the Bowling Club went into liquidation. Where would the weathercock go now?
Retired CSR engineers meet regularly for lunch and discus weighty matters. As they pondered this problem, one of them mentioned that his wife’s cousin was now a resident of Jacksons Landing and seemed to be fairly active there. His colleagues agreed that it would be fitting for the weathercock to return to its birthplace, although the building on which it had stood for so long was no more.
Hence began a lengthy negotiation – first, to inform the Jacksons Landing Community Association of the offer, and for the Community Association to indicate its willingness to receive the weathercock and to erect it somewhere on the Estate; secondly, to enlist the cooperation of Lend Lease in the enterprise. The weathercock was duly removed from the Clubhouse, and picked up by Jacksons Landing residents from an ex-engineeer’s home. After careful consideration of an appropriate and safe site for re-location, the weathercock was erected on the pillar facing Bowman Street and adjoining the old administration building (now The Station at Jacksons Landing) at the end of 2010. LendLease provided and installed a plaque on the pillar that tells the story of the weathercock.
The weathercock and plaque are now viewed by hundreds of school students who go on ‘history walks’ around Pyrmont. Perhaps some of them go home and look up ‘The Relief of Mafeking’ on the internet!