History of the site

The MCA is located on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. The site which is now called The Rocks was known then as Tallawoladah.

The site of the MCA on the western side of Circular Quay was the landing point of the First Fleet, a flotilla of eleven ships that carried convicts and soldiers from Britain to Australia in 1788. As such it is an extremely significant site in Australian history, marking the location of First Contact between Indigenous and European peoples, as well as the beginning of the country’s colonial history. During early settlement by the Europeans, they built houses, wharves, a gaol, a hospital and Commissariat Stores (established to administer supplies to the burgeoning population of convicts and soldiers) in the area now known as The Rocks. The Art Deco building which the MCA has occupied since 1991 was originally built for the Maritime Services Board, and stands on the site of the Georgian-era Commissariat Store designed by Lieutenant Colonel Foveaux.

The western side of Circular Quay also became a hub of boat building and naval trading activity. Important archaeological remains of the first government dockyard in Australia, established in 1797 by Governor John Hunter RN, lie underneath the new extension to the Museum.

North Sydney Council Historian Ian Hoskins suggests that the presence of a contemporary art museum on this site was an ‘ideal outcome – the creation of a threshold for ideas on a site that had long served as a threshold for people and goods; a place saturated with historical currency after two centuries of change, renewal and debate’.


The Site publication is now available for purchase through the MCA Store online.

Image: Fergus Binns Bennelong Heard First Fleet Through Shell 2006, oil on canvas board, Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Henry Ergas, 2009, Image courtesy and © the artist