Terminus and the Suspension of Time

For most of the 20th century Pyrmont was an industrial area of factories and warehouses. By the end of the of century, though, a period of desertion and dereliction had set in. Few people lived in Pyrmont and most of the industrial buildings were empty. In 1992 the most striking of these, the Aztec-inspired, Walter Burley and Marion Griffin-designed garbage incinerator, was demolished. Now, as with most of Pyrmont’s former industrial sites, an apartment building stands where it used to be.


Pyrmont Incinerator (Powerhouse Museum)

Much of the new Pyrmont still has the feeling of walking around in an architectural model. Crossing a square of lawn that provides a patch of green space for the residents in the high-rises the surrounding buildings are sharp, rectilinear. I can sense I am walking through a changed and charged landscape, although this settles oddly with the lack of other people in this space so carefully designed to be populated.

Pyrmont Park

The park on the former site of the CSR distillery.

There is one place in Pyrmont which hasn’t changed though, at least not since the 1980s. The Terminus Hotel on Harris Street is a ghost presence, its multiple doorways suggesting it was once a place people crowded in and out of. But now, as it has been for decades, no one enters and no one leaves. Ivy has consumed more and more of its exterior so it seems more a living thing, a huge overgrown tortoise, than an empty building.


The name “Terminus” came from its proximity to the last tram stop on the Pyrmont line, but since the building’s abandonment it has become a fitting name for a place of suspended time. Above the tiles on the facade are fading, hand-painted ads for Tooths and Reschs, a painted glass of beer hovering beside the windowsill, and a banner proclaiming “The Big Event” This Week…

Terminus Big Event

The Terminus has been waiting a long time for its next big event, and finally it is imminent. The hotel is up for sale, after being owned since the 1980s by the Wakils, the couple notorious for owning multiple city properties which have become increasingly more derelict through disuse. They steadfastly repelled squatting and productive uses of the vacant buildings, which have remained consistently vacant. These city-fringe properties became time-capsules of 20th century Sydney, the industrial and post-industrial city of warehouses and storehouses and workingman’s pubs. Now they are being sold one by one.

Inside the Terminus the circular bar, from the days of propping up six o’clock swill drinkers, has a thick layer of dust, and the paint peels off the walls. There is a different time-scale at work in here, dominated by the gradual processes of material decay. The smell of old plaster and damp leaks from under the doors out into the street.

Terminus Inside

As I peer through the windows of the Terminus a group of people on the other side of the road watch me. They’re sitting on a bench outside the Pyrmont Point Hotel, an older pub than the Terminus, but renovated and operating as a bar and bistro. This pub was originally known as the Land’s End, from the days when Pyrmont was a remote place at the edge of Sydney. Drinkers there must see a lot of people skirting the Terminus, peering in the windows, wondering and speculating, a number which will surely only increase since the announcement of its sale.

I leave the Terminus and walk back along Harris Street, passing a steep, empty lot, very overgrown, sealed up with a fence of sandstone pillars and corrugated iron. I take a path which leads behind a row of townhouses. It zigzags up towards the top of the ridge. Up here there is a mixture of new and old terrace houses interrupted by a disused parking lot, the parking spaces inscribed with the initials TR. The lot stretches out, a place of pause. Thick tufts of grass grow through the cracked tarmac like little furry monsters.

Pyrmont Carpark

The view from here is of the city as a construction site. Cranes spike up into the sky, a tower at Barangaroo has numbers on the concrete levels like a counting game: 67, 68, 69, going up. Sydney, with its topography of ridges and headlands, has many vantage points where you can observe the city, but looking at it from a deserted, overgrown place is different from looking from somewhere deliberate. Standing in this disused lot, surrounded by empty parking spaces with the wind rustling the grass, the city’s drive towards reinvention feels tempered by its past spaces, its intermediary spaces. Something of the carpark’s transience rubs off on the city, which also seems impermanent, a kind of mirage.

13 Comments on “Terminus and the Suspension of Time”

  1. Phillip Leeds says:

    Soon there will be nothing of the old Sydney left. That’s a shame.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Tom says:

    I’d been meaning to ask you about hand painted signs outside old pubs. Were the common designs you see (the boxer, the surfer) printed, or individually painted? Perhaps I’m imagining it, but i’m sure I’ve slight differences between them.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Most likely individually painted – though I don’t know for sure – signwriting was a major trade once upon a time!

  3. mccnmatt says:

    What an evocative description of this place – really makes me want to visit. The old incinerator building looked amazing! Given the fabulous uses that have been made of other industrial buildings (like the Tate modern in London) what a pity it was demolished. I’ll have to try to look into the hotel Terminus before something is done to it!!

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      The incinerator was indeed striking – as it was so consciously designed to be monumental, and architecturally provocative, it is a pity it was removed. No traces of it today… though the smaller Glebe and Willoughby Burley Griffin incinerators are still around. Glad to hear this piqued your interest!

  4. lucazoid says:

    Wow this brings back memories VB!

    We (about 4 of us who had recently been evicted from the Broadway Squats) squatted the Terminus for a few weeks back in 2001, before being forcibly evicted by some Very Heavy Men.

    There’s a brief mention of this matter via a quote by Mickie in this article:

    It was a lovely short stay, and we fantasised about its 14 upstairs rooms providing genteel residential accommodation for 14 genteel squatters, while the beautiful round bar downstairs could have been an intimate social centre.

    One of my fondest memories about this time was that Predator – famous to all who squatted in those days as the genius scientist tradesman – came and miraculously connected the electricity for us, and installed a hot water system (the tank for which he transported on the back of his motorbike)!

    (Predator died a few years later from cancer – too soon, poor fella. You can see him speaking in a youtube interview here:

    Alas, Pyrmont aint what it used to be (even in 2001, it wasn’t what it had been – it already felt like a gated community).

    Excitingly, our eviction was live-broadcast on community radio 2ser on the show called Autopia – Beyond Cities.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Mickie’s “two hired guns came in with sledgehammers in the night” description sounds rather terrifying! It’s great to hear more of the story, though it is one of frustrated potential. It would have made an excellent genteel squat indeed.

      I don’t think I ever met Predator but I certainly knew of him at the time as a kind of mastermind, and have come across him quite often in researching Sydney stories of the underground type, his manifesto of drain exploring is a classic!

      Pyrmont has a weird mood these days, that model/stage set feeling that comes with high density development of the buildings/green space/buildings/green space type.

  5. Carringtonia says:

    I love your description of this place in transition – the feeling of walking around an architect’s model is very apt for the sterility of new apartment developments. That incinerator looked amazing – what a shame it was demolished.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Carringtonia – I do wonder what Pyrmont will look like in 20 or 30 years (and the rest of the city, it’s changing so quickly), though I also would like to take a time machine that same amount of time back and wander around…

  6. Ash says:

    I recently took some shots of the Glebe incinerator and I would love to have seen the Pyrmont incinerator. Have to get to Pyrmont and get some shots soon. I feel like there are do many places I want to photograph and it is like time is running out.

  7. Owen says:

    The “TR” markings on the parking spaces are for Thomson Reuters. That used to be their “executive car park” when they occupied 100 Harris Street.

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