Unwrapping the past

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Heritage, Art & Culture

This year marks the 50th anniversary of an iconic moment in Australian art history and our own local history. In 1969, the Wrapped Coast installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude covered our coastline at Little Bay. Visitors from all over Sydney travelled to Little Bay to marvel over the installation, which was in place for 10 weeks.

One million square feet (92,900 square metres) of erosion-control fabric was used for the wrapping. More than 56 kilometres of polypropylene rope, 1.5cm in diameter, tied the fabric to the rocks. Ramset guns fired 25,000 charges of fasteners, threaded studs and clips to secure the rope to the rocks.

Major Ninian Melville, retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, was in charge of the climbers and workers at the site.

It took 17,000 hours over a period of four weeks with 15 professional mountain climbers and 110 workers including art students, architects and teachers to install the exhibition. It cemented Christo and Jeanne-Claude as artists of global reputation and marked a defining point in the life of John Kaldor, who commissioned the piece.

Ahead of its time in terms of scale, this project was widely acknowledged and recognised by the global art community. In Sydney, the installation received mixed appreciation. At the time, Sydney was a different place to the global community it is today. Sydneysiders were in awe and some a little confounded by the art. Locals souvenired pieces of the fabric and were involved in the decommissioning of the installation after it was impacted by a heavy sea storm. Was this the first Clean Up campaign on Australian shores?

The 50th anniversary is a chance to reflect on this iconic piece of art history, now embedded in our own city’s local history. With the benefit of hindsight we can recognise the ambition of the installation. The 50th anniversary of the installation will be marked with a free exhibition celebrating the triumph of the work. Iconic images, documentary footage, ephemera and oral histories from those who visited the installation, as well as some of the original fabric from the installation, will be included in an exhibition at Lionel Bowen Library from September 1 to December 15 2019.

Get involved: If you have images or memorabilia of the Christo and Jeanne-Claude installation, please contact the Lionel Bowen Library on 9093 6400 or

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