Barangaroo Reserve, part of the redevelopment of the former container wharves at East Darling Harbour, Sydney, NSW, is a major project in an iconic location. Originally proposed to be a hard-edged landscape which retained evidence of the site’s industrial past, dramatic changes in the NSW government’s approach have resulted in the attempted reconstruction of the natural headland that existed there at British settlement. Justification by the government for the shift in design philosophy adopted a tone of moral redemption and obligation, proclaiming that the reconstruction of a natural headland would 'heal' the foreshore and 'remove a scar' from the city, and leant heavily on the perceived virtues of restoring a natural landscape over conserving the site’s maritime industrial cultural landscape.
The creation of Barangaroo Reserve reveals a peculiar icon-making process, one that throws into sharp relief the dichotomy at the heart of Sydney’s identification with its famous harbour landscape: the working industrial harbour on which the city grew and thrived, and the so-called natural landscape it replaced. It also invokes the question of what natural means in Sydney’s post-colonial landscape.
By tracing the making of Barangaroo Reserve, the paper reveals that its stated meanings may not be as morally straightforward as claimed, and this raises questions for a project touted as a major new icon for Sydney. It suggests that the replacement of one type of landscape with another, in the name of a moral obligation, is replete with complexities that demand consideration of the broader meaning of the landscape and its representation over time.