City of Sydney buys Customs House from federal government

The City of Sydney has acquired the city’s historic Customs House building from the federal government for an undisclosed sum.

The council signed a 60-year lease and agreed to manage the building (pictured, top) in 1994.

Estimated to attract some million tourists a year, the high-profile property at 31-45 Alfred Street is fitted out with a library, exhibition spaces and restaurants, including a rooftop venue capturing Sydney Harbour views.

“Customs House is one of Australia’s finest buildings and I’m delighted it will remain in public hands,” Sydney mayor Clover Moore said in this statement.

City historian Dr Lisa Murray said that the 174-year old building “once oversaw all imports and exports, immigration and narcotics control, and even regulation of books and film”.

“From 1845 to 1990, Customs House was the gateway to Australia, welcoming goods and people through its doors”.

Dr Murray said the customs “has always been a dual role of revenue raising through taxing trade, and protecting society from socially unacceptable goods, products, ideas and diseases”.

“In Sydney’s early days as a commercial centre, smugglers were active not only in relation to banned goods, but to any goods that attracted a significant tariff.

“Opium for instance was legal until well into the 20th century, but attracted a high tax, so it was at the centre of many smuggling scandals.

“As late as 1924, customs tax still contributed more than 70 per cent of the nation’s revenue, meaning Customs House played an enormous role in funding Australia during the early years of federation”.

The City of Sydney recently secured co-working giant Hub Australia as a tenant for levels three and four of the building.

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Marc Pallisco

A former property analyst and print journalist, Marc is the publisher of