Paul Patterson joined South Sydney Council in 2002 and came across to City of Sydney when the councils amalgamated in 2004. Prior to this he had a career in the private sector and ran his own reprographics company. His role at the City was digitising plans and he recalls it was ‘very hectic’, often with 600 plans being titled and scanned per day. Paul’s major passion is photography, so when he was asked to photographically document the City’s development he jumped at the opportunity. Paul recalls his first photographic assignments, as well as documenting the Ultimo Aquatic Centre and many other council facilities and parks being developed at the time. Documenting City works became a significant part of his role which he found fascinating. He talks about the various projects he photographed from the beginning to the end of the project.
In his role Paul was fortunate to work across several City teams. He greatly enjoyed working with the archives team reproducing old images as well as retouching glass plate negatives ‘pixel by pixel’. He also regularly photographed objects in the City’s collection.
Paul reflects on his time and work at the City and feels it’s the ‘best job’ of his career. He was doing what he loved – photography. He was able to work fairly autonomously and his work assignments, documenting the growth and changes of the city and its suburbs, aligned with his other interest of history.
We were in the city projects team, and they were the team that designed and built all the amenities and all the facilities and the parks and all that sort of thing. So they’d say, “Oh, we’re doing this new swimming pool. Do you think you’d get some photos of that?” And they’d use them in presentations. And then, they started doing presentations to the Lord Mayor, because I think with the 2030 plan, they actually asked me to take photos of George Street for Jan Gehl to show how George Street was then, which was a mess, because it was just traffic and buses and nightmare.
But the light rail that was in the original plan, I think. And so, I documented that being built from go to whoah, and now the city has changed so much. It’s really quite amazing how it’s changed. Because up ’til then, I think the city was pretty well centred around Pit Street Mall, because that was the only place you could go shopping. And the rest, the northern end was mainly the big offices and banks. So there weren’t many shops there. And as a kid, I remember coming into the city because it was the only place you could buy things. And the whole city was full of shops and fashion and furniture and electronic goods. Everything was there in the city. And at Christmas time, they had to have mounted police in all the intersections to control the Christmas shopping crowds.
… the arcades always fascinated me because the streets were a nightmare. Tiny footpaths and cars and buses and everywhere, but the arcades were fantastic. So I’ve always had an interest in the city, in the development of the city, I guess. So once the 2030 thing took off, and just the big change, like Green Square was the other big huge one. My early photos of Green Square, when they were talking about it, I had no idea what was actually going to be there. They said, “Can you get us photos of Green Square?” It was just nothing there. Concrete slabs of old factories that were demolished. Absolutely nothing. And then, acres and acres of it. And now you see this whole new city down there which is fantastic.
The actual projects, I’ve loved them all actually, because it always fascinates me that the change that’s happening. I must say the archival work has been, for me, the most interesting because it’s historic. It’s comparing then and now. And that’s always grabbed me.