Cathedral Celebrates Australia Day with Free Concerts, Tours & Recitals

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
23 Jan 2015

St Mary's Cathedral's Fallen Soldier Memorial was created by the late great Australian artist George Lambert

Australia Day celebrations at St Mary's Cathedral have become a much loved Sydney tradition with more than 3000 expected to attend the day's events which include a series of free recitals performed by the Cathedral's assistant organist Michael Butterfield. There will also be a recital by British-born harpist, Karen Hickmott as well as a performance by the some of the opera stars from the city's Opera and Arts Support Group.

In addition, there will be a chance to tour the Cathedral's famous bell tower. For the physically fit the climb up the 111 steps to the belfry is well worth it. Those who take the challenge will not only have a chance to inspect St Mary's 14 bells including the largest bell which weighs in at a hefty 1741 kgs but watch 10 of the Cathedral's volunteer ringers demonstrate their skills.

Australia Day on Monday, 26 January will also include free history tours of the Cathedral and its remarkable collection of priceless artworks and treasures. There will also be guided tours of the Crypt with its famous terrazzo mosaic floor, the tombs of past Archbishops dating back to the nation's as well as Sydney's first Catholic Archbishop, John Bede Polding.

Bell ringing and historic tours of the Cathedral part of the Australia Day program

At noon a Mass will be celebrated at the Cathedral by the Dean of St Mary's, Father Paul Hilder to pray for God's blessings on all Australians. Immediately afterwards, at 12.30 pm Guard Adjutant, Douglas James of the RSL Corps will lay a wreath at the Cathedral's Fallen Soldier memorial.

Designed by the late great artist George Lambert, the bronze memorial to the fallen depicts an Australian soldier in uniform with a bullet hole near his heart and was presented as a gift to the Cathedral by the city's Catholic soldiers and sailors in 1928.

Each year on Australia Day, those who have sacrificed their lives for Australia and our way of life are remembered. Also remembered are those who are currently in the nation's armed forces, with particular prayers this year for those who are risking their lives to help train Iraqi troops and join NATO in its air war against ISIS and Islamic extremism.

Events at the Cathedral will begin at 9.30 am with a tour of the bell tower which will be followed at 10 am when led by Tower Captain Murray-Luke Peard the bells will ring out across Sydney celebrating the start of Australia Day.

Tower Captain Murray-Luke Peard in the belltower of St Mary's Cathedral

During the day there will be four tours of the bell tower with the three other tours set for 11.a.m, 2 pm and 4 pm.

With numbers limited to 30 for each tour, which is all the tower can accommodate, tours will operate on a first come first served basis. Those wishing to take part in a tour are encouraged to obtain tickets early in the day from the Cathedral store.

"The tours are free but tickets are needed so we can keep track of numbers," says Murray-Luke.

The climb up into the bell tower's steep stone spiral staircase leading to the belfry involves a short walk in the open along the roof of the Cathedral.

"There is a short section that takes you across the roof. It is completely safe although the walkway is quite narrow. But for those who do the climb the view across Sydney and Garden Island is spectacular," he says.

The 38-year-old post graduate student, musicologist, capella singer as well as IT expert has been ringing the bells at the Cathedral for the past seven and a half years, and took over as Tower Captain in November 2013.

Historic tours of the Crypt will be part of the Australia Day celebrations at St Mary's

"As happens with most of us, what began as a hobby quickly became a passion," he says.

Murray-Luke's passion for bell ringing was triggered when after attending Mass, he was walking along College Street and heard a loud resonant peel of bells. "I looked up and realised the sound was coming from the belltower. The bells were not particularly well rung. It was probably a beginner practicing. But if they had been rung well I don't think I would have realised that the bells were being operated by humans and not by some sort of machine," he says.

The then 30 year old decided to investigate further and a short time later began learning the ropes, literally, as one of the Cathedral's volunteer ringers. In addition to overseeing the bell ringers weekly rehearsals each Thursday, Murray-Luke is part of the regular group who ring the bells for Solemn Mass each Sunday and at special events such as Australia Day, ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day. He also volunteers to ring the bells at special events such as weddings, baptisms and funerals.

Michael Butterfield will give two free recitals on St Mary's superb 3600 pipe organ as part of St Mary's Cathedral's Australia Day celebrations.

"I'm like the other ringers and do this for the love of it," he says and admits that the team of 20 are always looking for additional ringers to learn the ancient art and to join the bell-ringing team at the Cathedral.

"Physical co ordination helps but despite the weight of the bells, strength isn't an issue, Nor is age," he says and hopes some of those taking the tour of the bell tower on Australia day will be thinking about taking up bell-ringing and joining the Cathedral's group of enthusiastic bell ringers.

In addition to the tour of the Cathedral's bell tower, Australia Day celebrations at the Cathedral include four free history tours of the Crypt at 9.30, 11.00, 2.00 and 4.00.

The Crypt will also be the venue for the free Opera Recital at 1.30 pm which will be performed by some of the upcoming stars at the Opera and Arts Support Group and accompanied by organist and the Cathedral's Assistant Director of Music, Oliver Brett.

Michael Butterfield will give two free organ recitals at 1.00 pm and 3.30 pm when he will play the Cathedral's superb 3600-pipe organ.

A second Mass at the Cathedral to pray for blessing for Australia and Australians on our national day will celebrated by Fr Paul Hilder at 5.30 pm.