Playfair Street

The Rocks Windmill


The Rocks Windmill The Rocks Windmill

The Rocks Windmill

was an interactive installation, educational and arts venue that physically reflected the historic windmill buildings that existed around The Rocks and paid homage to baker Robert Sidaway who opened the first theatre in Sydney.

The pop-up style installation housed a diversity of exhibitions, workshops, performances and screenings during its inaugural four week season from 12 April until 12 May 2013.


Robert Sidaway escaped from Newgate prison and was spotted entering a home with his feet still in chains.

In an attempt to fool the locals, Robert opened the door dressed in woman’s clothing. Despite his cunning Robert was convicted and resentenced to life transportation, resulting in his transport to Australia in 1788. After receiving a pardon, Robert was awarded a contract as a baker for the troops. Soon after he opened the first theatre in Sydney. Built by convicts at a reported cost of £100, the theatre seated about 120 people and opened in January 1796.

Robert story Robert story

A ticket was 1 shilling, however flour, meat and even rum was also taken as payment.

It was the success of the theatre that ultimately resulted in its demise. After the theatre opened, there was an increase in petty thieving and robbery and in 1798 Governor John Hunter ordered that the theatre be closed as it was a corrupting influence. After the closure of the theatre Robert focused on growing maize and wheat on his 130 acre farm. When he died in 1809 aged 51, this thief, escape artist, baker, theatre owner turned farmer was described by the Sydney Gazette as a philanthropist and respected member of society.


In April and May

alongside contemporary projects, talks and performances visitors to The Rocks experienced what life was like for Robert.

They used their hands to turn wheat into flour at The Wheat Exchange at The Rocks Windmill and heard actors from Bell Shakespeare read scenes from Henry IV, the first Shakespeare play performed in Australia, at Robert’s theatre.


Other Stories in Playfair Street


Well-dressed captain of the Rocks Push

Well-dressed captain of the Rocks Push

The rowdy pub! Music, dancing and more beer for all, especially for the sailors that manned the huge clippers docked at Circular Quay. Then out onto the rough stone streets, the world listing through the lens of grog.

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Well-dressed captain of the Rocks Push

Well-dressed captain of the Rocks Push

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  • Title The Rocks Windmill
  • Source Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority
  • Year 2013
  • Title Google Map image of The Rocks
  • Source
  • Title North View of Sydney, New South Wales
  • Creator Joseph Lycett
  • Source State Library of New South Wales
  • Year Joseph Lycett
  • Title For the benefit of J. Butler and W. Bryant : at the Theatre, Sydney on July 30, 1796 will be performed Jane Shore ... : after the play The Wapping landlady ... to which will be added The miraculous cure.
  • Creator George Hughes, Govt. Printer for Theatre, Sydney
  • Source National Library of Australia
  • Year 1796
  • Title Sydney looking south from Flagstaff Hill, ca. 1821 / James Taylor
  • Creator James Taylor
  • Source State Library of New South Wales
  • Year 1821
SHFA MCA Council for the Arts Visual Arts