I found out about the Historic Houses Trust through the Sydney guidebook which I bought for our trip in July 2009. I hadn't done a lot of preparation before we went but I had liked what I'd read about the Elizabeth Bay House and had gone online to look for more information. Since the EBH is one of the Trust's most visited properties, I soon realised that the best way to see a whole bunch of great historic buildings was to buy a so-called 'Ticket Through Time'. As a tourist who's only in the city for a week or two it makes no sense to buy an annual subscription so the Trust offers this special ticket which has a 3 month validity and includes all the houses in their care.
The exchange rate was really good when we visited – about AU$2 to the £ - so everything seemed like good value. However, even today with the rate closer to 1.50 to the pound it's still a bargain. We paid AU$30 each for the pass and (I hope they won't read this) when we left after our holiday we passed the tickets to my parents who used them a few times as well.
We bought our tickets at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, a fascinating place that tracks the history of immigration into Australia. It's one of the most visited attractions in the city and would cost you $10 to get in without the ticket. We also visited the Mint Building next door which is the home of the Historic Houses Trust. There's not too much to see there and that would normally be free. The next day we visited the Government House on a guided tour (that one's also free but you must turn up and get a timed ticket) as well as the Justice and Police Museum. In a city where rather a lot of the early settlers were on the wrong side of the law, the development of policing methods and justice systems was very important.
We took the train to Paddington to go and see the Elizabeth Bay House, an absolutely beautiful period house which once stood in large gardens. Following financial problems the land was nibbled away at and sold off for developments. In contrast to the grandeur of the EBH, we also visited the Susannah Place Museum on The Rocks where a guided tour takes small groups of visitors through a terrace of small houses that have been decorated and furnished in keeping with different time periods. These were the houses where the poor folk lived and there's even a cute little corner store.
Our final visit was to the Museum of Sydney which contains an eclectic set of exhibits on a wide range of topics. There are recorded testimonies of early settlers, information about trade, transportation and the building of the city.
In total, the seven properties we visited would have cost us $44 if we'd bought the tickets individually. We covered all the houses in central Sydney and would love to have visited the others which are further away but we had limited time and were reliant on public transportation so we couldn't cover them all. To get value from your Ticket Through Time you will need to be willing to dedicate several days to visiting the houses but personally I found it a fascinating way to structure our time in the city. Neither my uncle and aunt nor my cousins who've lived in the city their entire lives had visited any of the HHT properties and were a bit shamefaced that we'd done so many in so little time. Sydney's a very modern city and the HHT Ticket Through Time gives visitors a really easy way to pinpoint some of the most important and inspiring buildings in the city. I recommend it highly.