Thousands Celebrate Australia Day at St Mary's Cathedral

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
27 Jan 2015

Kevin Gothard one of the three volunteers who led history tours of the Cathedral and the Crypt

Grey skies, intermittent downpours and endless drizzle might have hampered Sydneysiders' plans to celebrate Australia Day out in the open but at St Mary's Cathedral with its program of historic tours and series of free opera, organ and musical recitals, there were record crowds.

Between 3500 and 4000 took part in the celebrations at the Cathedral which began in the morning with historic tours of the Crypt and St Mary's artworks and other treasures. There were also guided tours of the bell tower where young and old could watch the volunteer bell ringers in action and marvel at the Cathedral's magnificent "ring" of 14 bells, the largest of which weighs a massive 1741 kilos.

The morning tours were booked out but it was from noon onwards that the huge turnout of locals and visitors, individuals and families began heading for the Cathedral.

Many attended St Mary's Australia Day Mass to pray for God's Blessings on all Australians. Held at noon, the Mass was celebrated by the Dean of St Mary's Cathedral, Father Paul Hilder. At the conclusion of the Mass the Ode to Remembrance was read as three members of the RSL Corps of Guardians laid a wreath in tribute to all those who have sacrificed their lives for Australia and our way of life. Also remembered were those who are currently serving in the nation's armed forces, with particular prayers this year for those who are risking their lives to help train Iraqi troops and the Australian contingent involved in NATO's air war against ISIS and Islamic extremism.

Instead of taking place at the Cathedral's bronze Memorial to the Fallen for the first time the laying of the wreath by the RSL Corps of Guardians took place at the Cathedral's main altar. Later, after the ceremony the wreath was placed on the bronze memorial to the Fallen which was sculpted by the late great artist, George Lambert in 1928.

The free harp, organ and opera recitals featured throughout the afternoon also broke with tradition. While the organ recitals have always been given in the main Cathedral on St Mary's renowned Le Tourneau 3600 pipe organ, opera and individual music recitals on Australia Day have been held in the Crypt. But with so many people eager to attend yesterday's concert by renowned harpist, Karen Hickmott and the recital by up-and-coming local opera stars, soprano, Ayse Goknur Shanal and tenor, Adam Newman, the venue was moved from the Crypt to the main floor of the Cathedral.

Yesterday was the first time the Cathedral has featured a harp recital as part of the Australia Day celebrations and was so popular that British-born harpist, Karen Hickmott was instantly booked for next year's festivities.

St Mary's Cathedral's Assistant Organist Michael Butterfield gave two organ recitals during the afternoon while Oliver Brett, the Cathedral's Assistant Director of Music accompanied the two opera singers, both of whom are members of Sydney's Opera and Arts Support Group.

Photographs by Roberta Mayanah