Closeup of Sydney's Queen Victoria building featuring domes and marble statues against a blue sky

Classical heritage and the story of Sydney

Sydney's classical heritage: past, present, future
An interdisciplinary program partnering with museums, galleries, theatres, councils, libraries and schools to explore the importance of classical ideas and culture in Sydney from first settlement until today.

About us

Based at the University of Sydney, Classical Heritage and the Story of Sydney is a broad program exploring the importance of classical ideas and culture in Sydney from first settlement until today.

Our research

With our partners in museums, galleries, theatres, councils, libraries, and schools, we are examining how classical ideas and forms have evolved, developed and retained their significance in a modern, diverse and multicultural society. Here are just some of the questions and issues we are exploring:

  • How important was the classical tradition in establishing the core educational and public institutions and civic values of Sydney? 
  • How did metropolitan developments compare with those in rural towns of New South Wales?
  • Is there a version of the classical tradition that is unique to Sydney? What forms of art and architecture, and what specific texts and mythologies, have shaped our urban landscape and culture?
  • How does the Sydney story compare with that of other colonial cities? We hope to collaborate and converse with other projects underway around the world, including New York.
  • How has Sydney, as a modern and multicultural society, navigated the tensions between elitism and equality, tradition and modernity, exclusion and diversity that cluster around appeals to the classical tradition? 
  • Where do we see the influence of classical texts, ideas, values and aesthetics in contemporary art, culture and society? How did classical ideas and approaches impact on the ways in which Indigenous people have been depicted and understood?
  • Contemporary Aboriginal artists such as Gordon Bennett and Daniel Boyd have used and commented on classical ideas and forms in their works. We also engage with an historical investigation of Indigenous art and culture, including an exploration of the ways in which classical ideals informed the depiction of Australian Aboriginal peoples. To what extent and in what ways have these ideas and approaches been integrated or critiqued by Indigenous artists and writers?

Classical Heritage and the Story of Sydney has several strands:

  • education across the school curriculum
  • the built environment
  • the development of public institutions
  • public art and live theatre.


Archibald Fountain

Classics in Colonial Cities: a Virtual Conference 

1-3 November 2021

In the light of the extensive interest in the classical heritage evident in so much of the British Commonwealth, we have decided to organise a virtual conference on Classics in Colonial Cities in the first week of November 2021.

These conferences will focus on Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and how classicism contributed to the development of cities and the creation of civic life and identities.

Panels will be organized around the following themes:

  • Reception
  • Education
  • Sculptures and Artefacts
  • Heritage
  • Architecture and Place

In order to allow for international participation, this event has been scheduled for three evenings (Sydney time) over three days.

Program and registrarion
This event is free
Click here for more information, the full program, and to register.

For more information please contact Professor Barbara

Symposia and workshops

We hold regular symposia and workshops to develop themes and projects that reflect the interests of our external partners and link them with our own fields of research.

Our forums in 2019 foucssed on classical heritage in Sydney and education.

2019 Symposia


Headshot of Professor Barbara Caine
Professor Barbara Caine
Academic profile