THE SENIOR CITY                 

Australia's largest and oldest city is also its most beautifully situated Indeed arguably, no metropolis in the world can come close to its matchless setting on Sydney Harbour, the broad waterway and many inlets and bays contributing a spectacular dimension to city life.

At weekends the water is alive with sails and power craft.  And added to the natural beauty are the twin man-made landmarks known the world over, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

The Opera House is one of the most innovative buildings of the 20th-century, creating for architect Joern Utzon entirely new engineering problems in constructing the shell-like roofs.  The bridge, linking the north and south sides of the city, was one of the engineering wonders of the modern world when completed in 1932.

Since Governor Arthur Phillip arrived in 1788 with an 11-ship fleet carrying 1030 colonists  (736 of them convicts)  and planted his flag at Sydney Cove, Sydney has grown into an exuberant and stylish city.

The more than three million Sydneysiders sprawl over 4000 square km, suburbs stretching to the foot of the Blue Mountains 55km inland and 70km from north to south.

The heart of Sydney clings to Sydney Cove and its immediate area, and in post-war years the skyline has taken on the angular profile of tall glass and concrete tower blocks found around the world.

However, at more down-to-earth levels, much of the city's colonial heritage has been preserved - buildings which have seen Australia's span from a penal colony to a nation.

Parliament House, St James' Church, and Hyde Park Barracks have all stood since early last century.  The last two are the work of convict-architect Francis Greenway, whose design excellence is still admired.

The Rocks, where the First Fleet arrivals established their primitive homes, is Australia's oldest residential area, ans has stubbornly clung to a crowded-street charm.  There was little thought in the infant colony to orderly planning, and as a result the city lacks any broad, elegant avenues.

Macquarie Street is Sydney's most handsome thoroughfare, with its solid sandstone government buildings and former townhouses of the wealthy.  The Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park, and Centennial Park are the city's breathing space.

Inner suburbs retain the aura of Victoriana from which they sprang and in addition have taken on characters of their own.  The charm of the 19th-century terraces and cottages has become increasingly appreciated and in many cases whole streets have been brought back to their old graceful dignity.

Australian works span paintings by colonial artists Martens and Glover, through to Streeton and Conder, up to the present day.  Roberts' Bailed Up is among the most familiar paintings.

Seventeen grave posts from Melville Island are regarded as the most significant Aboriginal items.

Over many decades the gallery concentrated on British works of the Victorian era and early 20th-century.  European representation includes the work of Picasso and Rembrandt

The imposing sandstone portico and Ionic columns for 60 years comprised the frontage of essentially temporary galleries, until the newing and renovations were opened in 1972.

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Photos: Gallery 1: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12, Gallery 2: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 , Gallery 3: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12