The Sydney Mint

The Mint Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a building which has long been a vital part of Sydney’s history – The Sydney Mint. In fact, this is one of the few images in the Past Present collection to have hardly changed as the past century has gone by! Yet it is also a building many Sydneysiders know little about.

Although today, the building in the image above is known simply as ‘The Mint’, the building was constructed for a very different reason. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie was appointed, he very quickly realised a new hospital was needed as the original portable canvas building was vastly inadequate for the task. Yet the British Government were staunchly refusing to fund any public building works. Macquarie was determined to have a new hospital built for the colony, and came to an arrangement with Alexander Riley, Garnham Blaxcell and D’Arcy Wentworth. He granted them a three year monopoly on the import of rum, and in exchange they were to build the hospital.

When the hospital was completed in 1816 it was made up of three buildings. What is now The Mint was the southern wing, which housed the two assistant surgeons. The northern wing is now Parliament House while the central wing, which actually housed the patients, has long been demolished. The new hospital was not all that Macquarie had hoped for though. Within just a few years the buildings needed massive repairs, and the entire hospital had become known as the Sidney Slaughter House due to rampant dysentery, poor ventilation and overcrowding.

Despite the problems inherent in the building, its excellent location meant that by the 1820s it was actually in demand for other uses. In 1823 the wing now known as The Mint was transformed into a military hospital and in 1842 it became the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary, which provided help to Sydney’s poor. Then, in 1851, gold was discovered in NSW and massive amounts of raw gold began to circulate, putting the colony’s economy out of the hands of the government. In order to regain control, in 1853the colony was granted permission to create a Sydney branch of The Royal Mint. The southern wing of the hospital was chosen as the site for the new Sydney Mint and opened in 1855, the first overseas branch of the London Royal Mint.

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Luna Park

Luna Park and North Sydney pool Front

The image above is a glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s beloved icons, Luna Park. Luna Park, from humble beginnings as a workshop site for the construction of pieces of the Harbour Bridge, became one of Sydneys most visited and popular attractions in the 1930s and onwards. How did this transformation occur?

In 1932, with the completion of the Harbour Bridge, the workshops which had been on the site now occupied by Luna Park were demolished and the North Sydney Council opened tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time Herman Phillips, David Atkins and Ted Hopkins were looking for a new location for a theme park. Phillips, Atkins and Hopkins had been the minds behind Luna Park Glenelg, in South Australia, but they had been having a lot of trouble with the council and local residents. The group eventually won the tender for the old workshop site in Sydney, and immediately afterwards, placed Luna Park Glenelg into voluntary liquidation. The rides from Glenelg were dismantled and transported to Sydney, being reassembled at the new Luna Park.

Luna Park Sydney opened in October 1935 and found almost immediate success with Sydneysiders and visitors alike. Each year, during the Winter period, the park was closed to visitors while rides were overhauled and the park was generally ’spruced up’. This gave visitors the feel that things had changed during the yearly three month closure, and kept the park feeling fresh and new. During World War II, and well into the 1960s the success of the park simply continued to grow.

In 1969 though, the lease on the park was sold, and investment in the rides and infrastructure began to wane. In 1979, a fatal fire on the Ghost Train resulted in a temporary closure of the park. In 1982, the park reopened, but for the next several decades, this pattern of changes in management and decreased investment continued. In the 1990s, the Government took control, listing the park on the register of the National Estate, and making changes to ensure the parks continued success. In 2002 the lease was granted to a new company, Luna Park Sydney PTY, LTD, and in 2004 they reopened the park to renewed success, which continues to this day.

Luna Park Workshops For The Harbour Bridge

Milsons Point possibly showing Luna Park site front

The image above is a stunning and vastly different view of an area of Sydney residents and visitors alike know well. Luna Park is a popular and iconic part of Sydney’s foreshore, yet as this image shows, it was not always so.

In the 1920s, when the Harbour Bridge was under construction, the site now occupied by Luna Park was a very different place. The construction of the enormous and extraordinary bridge required not only a huge amount of man power, but also workshops and railway sidings. The steel required to build the arch and approach spans was mainly imported from England, with just over 20% being imported from Newcastle. The steel was then fabricated into the steel girders and other required parts for the bridge in two workshops. These workshops were located on the site of Luna Park, and can be seen in the image above.

In 1932 when the Harbour Bridge was completed, North Sydney Council invited people to submit tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time, the personalities behind Luna Park at Glenelg in South Australia were looking for a new site for Luna Park to be relocated to.

Come back next week to discover how Luna Park developed.

Neutral Bay

Neutral Bay Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a rather idyllic view of a beautiful suburb of Sydney. Today Neutral Bay is a popular north shore suburb, especially for those who want the best of city life, without being in the city itself. Yet the history of the area reveals a fascinating past which many, even residents of the area, may not know.

Neutral Bay has long played a role in the protection of Sydney, and Australia more generally. Yet unlike other areas of Australian coastline involved in defence, there are no fortifications to be found. Neutral Bay was a very special place, a place which, as the name suggests, acted as a ‘neutral harbour’.

Just a year after European colonisation of Australia, in 1789, Governor Phillip decreed that the deep water bay would be the place of anchor for all non-British, ‘neutral’ ships visiting Sydney. The idea of Neutral Bay was to allow ships, particularly those of British allies, to visit Sydney, and more importantly, replenish their stores of fresh water from a nearby creek (paying, of course, for the privilege). Yet the location for the neutral harbour was very carefully selected – too far from the colony for convicts to easily ‘jump ship’ or for unknown enemies to gain a strong foothold in the colony’s heart.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of one of Sydney’s most famous international tourist destinations – Bondi Beach. Bondi has long been a destinational place for people to visit, Sydneysiders and tourists alike, but many who visit the iconic beach little realise the amazing history encapsulated in the area.

Bondi was once known as the Bondi Estate, and belonged to Francis O’Brien. The entire area, including the beach, was part of this estate but in 1855 O’Brien decided to open up the beach and surrounding area to the public. He opened the area as a picnic ground and pleasure resort, but many times threatened to stop access to the beach itself. Part of his reasoning, and indeed the public view at the time, was that swimming at Bondi was dangerous because of the threat of sharks and stingrays. Then, in 1882, the government itself took over the beach area, and official declared Bondi Beach a public beach.

Bondi quickly became one of the most popular stretches of beach in Sydney, with people flocking to enjoy the pristine water and white sand. Bus services were run to Bondi Junction by private operators and in 1906 the first electric tram service began to take beach goers directly to Bondi. By 1929 it is believed that 60,000 people were visiting Bondi Beach on an average summer weekend! Even in the early 1920s, when cars were not as common as they are today, upwards of 1000 cars could be found parked near the beach on a fine summer day. Today, thousands continue to flock to the beach and parking remains a significant problem.

A Day At The Beach – Bondi

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This week, as the weather begins to warm up and fresh Spring days begin to show the heat of Summer, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share the stunning image above. The image, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936 shows a beach which all Sydneysiders and indeed many people around the world are familiar with – Bondi.

The photo above is a very different view to the Bondi of today, with few people crowding the beach and no tourists posing for photographs! One thing which does remain the same though is the red and yellow flags marking out safe areas to swim and demonstrating that surf life savers are patrolling the beach.

Surf lifesaving actually began its life, in Australia at least, in Sydney. At the turn of the 20th Century Manly Council employed two fishermen, the Sly brothers to patrol the beaches from the sea and then in 1905 appointed an actual life guard, Edward Eyre. The first official life saving club though, established in February 1907, had it’s home at Bondi. Soon many other clubs had been set up around Sydney and even further afield and in October the new life saving clubs were all brought together in the Surf Bathing Association of NSW.

These surf life saving clubs played, and continue to play, a vital role in protecting swimmers using our beaches. They patrol, supervise and also establish which areas of a beach are safest for swimmers. These safe places are, of course, demonstrated by the use of the red and yellow flag, though original patrol flags were actually blue and white. The red and yellow flag was probably based on the International Code of Signals for ships at sea. The signal for man overboard was a red and yellow flag, divided diagonally, and it seems plausible that this became the inspiration for the flag we see on beaches today. This red and yellow life saving flag was introduced in 1935.

Mudgee

Approach To Mudgee From The North Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse of the history of one of NSW most historic small towns, and one which is a popular destination for Sydneysiders looking for a weekend escape. Yet today, the attraction of Mudgee today – wine, food and beautiful scenery – is far different to those which once brought thousands of people to the beautiful area.

The first European to visit the Mudgee area, and indeed the forst to cross the Cudgegong River, was James Blackman, who came to The area in 1821. It is known that some time before 1837, he had built a slab building on the site which became the Mudgee township. The town itself was declared in 1838, after other colonists had moved into the area. Indeed, almost as soon as Blackman had found a passable route, others followed, with William Lawson and the Cox family quickly establishing their own properties in the area. Before this, the traditional owners or the land were the Wiradjuri People, but after the European colonists arrived, they were systematically removed from their lands or killed.

Yet in these early days of European settlement in the Mudgee area, Mudgee remained a small settlement. That soon changed though, when an enormous gold nugget was discovered in nearby Hargraves in 1851. Soon, Mudgee had become the epicentre of the many local gold fields, with enormous through traffic to Gulgong, Hill End and other gold fields. Within just 10 years the population had swelled from just 200 in 1851 to over 1500 in 1861. In 1860, Mudgee was declared as a municipality, which makes it the second oldest towm west of the Blue Mountains.

Luckily for Mudgee, and unlike other gold field towns, Mudgee had never been dependent purely on gold the area around Mudgee was noted for excellent wool production, agriculture and even for its wine making (the first vineyards were established in 1858 by Adam Roth). When the gold fields began to be abandoned, it was these industries which kept Mudgee alive and sustained the thriving town.