Milsons Point And The Horse Ferry

Milsons Point Horse Ferry Sydney Harbour Front

The image above is a stunning snapshot of a piece of Sydney history many are unfamiliar with. Today, we are all familiar with the Harbour Bridge, and take for granted the fact that we can easily cross the harbour by car, train, bike or bus. Many of us are familiar too with the history of the stunning bridge itself, yet we little think of what came before and how people, let alone vehicles, crossed the harbour before the bridge was built.

Before the Harbour Bridge, there were only two ways for people to move vehicles like horses and carts, or later, cars, from one side of the harbour to the other. The first was to travel to Bedlam Point and use the punt which crossed the relatively small distance of water. This was a little inconvenient for many, as it involved travelling quite a distance. The other option was to use one of the horse ferries operating on the harbour itself, like the one shown in this postcard.

When we think of a vehicular ferry today, we tend to think of cables pulling the ferry across the span of water. Yet this was completely impractical for the harbour itself, as the span of water was much too great and there were many ships which needed to move beyond the ferry point. A cable would have prevented this. Instead, steam ferries like the one in the postcard were used, transporting everything from passengers to horses, carts and produce between Dawes Point, Blues Point and Bennelong Point. There was, of course, a fee involved and each different type of passenger and vehicle was charged differently. The fees were so specific that there was even one for a ‘Chinaman with two baskets’

When the Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 there was no longer any need for the ferries and the wharves were demolished and the boats put to other use. The remains of only one of the horse ferry wharves can still be seen, off Hickson Road in the Rocks.


Balmoral Beach

Balmoral Beach and North Head Front
The image above is a stunning glimpse into the history not only of a popular Sydney beach, but of the way in which beach culture has changed in Australia over the past century or more. Balmoral Beach has long been a popular destination for Sydneysiders and visitors alike to enjoy the seaside and relax in the water, but the skimpy costumes which many people now prefer would have scandalised the people photographed in the image above!
Ever since the very earliest days of European colonisation in Australia, and likely before, swimming at the beach has been a popular Sydney pastime. Yet swimming as we know it today is a far cry from what those who lived in the 19th century or well into the 20th would have been familiar with. In fact, until the early 1900s, daylight swimming was illegal! In 1902, Mr William Gocher broke the law by engaging in the scandalous conduct of swimming in public during the day. Others soon followed his lead and the laws against swimming when the sun was up were overturned. Yet even after swimming became common during the day, the moral conundrums continued. Social mores of the time were against revealing more than was strictly necessary. Concessions admittedly had to be made to avoid people drowning, but swim wear was encouraged to be as discrete as possible. Cumbersome neck to knee swim suits were the norm and those who wore something a little more comfortable were criticised for wearing ‘exhibitionistic clothing’. Many councils even had their own laws setting out minimum standards for swim wear! If you weren’t swimming, social mores dictated that people visiting the beach would be dressed as they would be for any other event or outing. As the image above shows, men wore suits and women, full length dresses or skirts, hats and long sleeves.

Pulpit Rock and Cathedral Rocks

Pulpit Rock Bombo Front

The image above is a shot which, for many who visit the South Coast, is a familiar view. Yet for others, even those who often visit, the beautiful rock formation remains something of a mystery. So many are familiar with the Kiama blowhole, yet the amazing rock formations just a short drive away are far less known.

Pulpit Rock, and the entire set of what are known as Cathedral Rocks, are located at Bombo, just a few minutes drive from Kiama. Like the Blow Hole itself, the rocks are the remains of ancient volcanic activity, forming from lava flows which solidified to rock. Over the millenia which have since passed by, the rocks have weathered into stunning shapes and rugged formations, which today evoke the feeling of a cathedral – hence their name.

Many are unfamiliar with the striking rocks which shoot up from the sea bed, yet for well over 100 years, the area has been a popular destination for artists. As photography became a more accessible art form, photographers also made the trip to the area to capture shots of the stunning rocks and rushing sea around them. In fact, since the 1890s, the Cathedral Rocks have been bringing artists and photographers to the area to capture the rugged and ever changing landscape.

Narrabeen Bridge

Narrabeen NSW Bridge front

The image above beautifully captures the history of a place which many Sydneysiders are familiar with, visiting for its excellent beaches and surfing. In fact, so famous are the beaches that Narrabeen is even mentioned in the Beach Boy’s song Surfin’ USA.

Narrabeen has long been a popular destination for Sydneysiders wishing to visit the seaside, or to go boating on the beautifully still waters of the Narrabeen Lagoon. In fact, the area was widely promoted as an excellent destination for people wishing to improve their health, being far enough from the city to be advertised as ‘country’. Yet early visitors to the area had no choice but to ford the Narrabeen Lake, as although there were basic roads in the area, there was no bridge over the lagoon.

Then, in in the early 1880s, a timber bridge was constructed across the lagoon. As the image above shows, the first Pittwater Road Bridge was quite narrow, and although it was suitable at the time it was built, by the 1920s was too narrow for the increasing traffic and sometimes created a bottleneck, of the kinds we are all too familiar with today. It wasn’t just that the bridge was narrow though, often anglers used the bridge to fish from, and both sides of the roadway could be lined with hopeful fishermen. An iron barrier was installed in the 1940s to protect the fishermen on the eastern side of the bridge, and fishing was banned entirely in 1945. Of course, many locals simply ignored the ban! Finally, plans to build a new, more substantial concrete bridge were made and in 1954 the concrete bridge which we see today was constructed.

Circular Quay Shipping

Shipping Circular Quay Sydney front

The image above is a stunning view which shows the vast alterations which some of Sydney’s most famous places have undergone in the last century. Circular Quay is a place which Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike are usually familiar with. Being a hub of ferry traffic, and of course, so close to the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House, today Circular Quay is a popular place for people to visit and explore. Yet once, as the image above shows, it was a very different area, thriving with a different sort of activity.

The Circular Quay which we see today is substantially different to the foreshore which greeted the First Fleet when they made landfall in the area in 1788. Circular Quay, was we now know it, was constructed between 1837 and 1844, in order to create an artificial shoreline which would be appropriate to accomodate shipping. Wharves were built on the southern shoreline and, in order to reflect the importance of the new harbour as the hub of Sydney’s shipping, a Customs House was constructed in 1844. The Governor’s Residence, which had been located closer to the shoreline at Circular Quay was relocated to Government House in the 1840s and Macquarie Street was extended to Fort Macquarie at Bennelong Point (where the Opera House is today).

These changes allowed Circular Quay to quickly develop into a commercial working wharf, covering the area between the extended Macquarie Street and the shoreline. The shipping industry was mainly dominated by the wool trade, which in Australia was thriving. Warehouses, wool stores and bond stores began to be constructed and by the 1860s, the entirety of the Circular Quay foreshore was dedicated to commercial shipping. By the 1870s though, the artificial harbour at Circular Quay was too small to accomodate the growing number of ships and Darling Harbour began to take over as the hub of trade, while ferry services began to dominate Circular Quay. As the image above shows though, Circular Quay remained a working harbour into the 20th century.

Pittwater and Palm Beach


Cottage along Palm Beach Road, midway between Newport and Palm Beach. Inside waterway (Pittwater)

The image above, taken from the Past Present’s amazing collection of photographic negatives, is a stunning glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s more exclusive areas. Today much of the Pittwater area is an area of luxurious homes, fashionable beaches and trendy cafes. Yet once, as the image above shows, the area was much quieter.

Palm Beach itself, which is one of the most exclusive areas of Pittwater today, was named after the many Cabbage Tree Palms which were to be found in the area. The original owners, the Guringai people used the cabbage tree fronds to construct fishing lines and patch leaks in their boats.

The first European to be granted land in the area was James Napper, who in 1816 was granted a huge area of 400 acres, including Palm Beach, Barrenjoey and most of Whale Beach. Other early European use of the land was made by fishermen, who caught and dried fish, and by smugglers, who recognised that the area was an ideal place for illicit trade. In order to discourage smuggling, in 1843 the government acquired land at the base of the headland on the Western Pittwater shore, and built a customs house. In 1881 the acquired further land on the Northern most point of the headland, and built the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, which still stands today.

It wasn’t until the 1900s that residential development truly began to occur. In 1900, 18 large blocks advertised as good grazing land were offered for sale, but none sold. Then, in 1912, the land was again advertised for sale, but this time the blocks were much smaller and there were many more of them. They were advertised as offering fishing, sailing, golf and rowing, and all of the blocks sold. Yet the area was isolated and had poor transport options, so development remained slow, with many blocks remaining empty, and used simply for camping and picnicking. In the wake of World War Two, development sped up, and the area known as Palm Beach began to transform into the exclusive suburb we see today.

Queens Square

Queens Square Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike are familiar with, yet little think about. Queens Square is today simply a public square and many Sydneysiders may not even be aware that it has a name.

Queens Square is found at the place where King Street, Phillip Street and Macquarie Street come together. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie arrived in Sydney, he began the process of transforming the fledgling penal colony into a township.  He oversaw the reorganisation of streets, and the establishment of public spaces and parks in line with British town planning. He established a town common in the form of Hyde Park and saw that the key civic features of a township, including Churches, schools, a hospital and a courthouse, were built near this common.

The centre of the township, the civic square, was established just by the town common, and this civic centre was called Queens Square. The square is bounded by some of Sydney’s most important buildings, including The Sydney Mint, the Law Courts, Hyde Park Barracks, and St James Church (which was originally to be the courthouse). Even today, it is still considered by many to be the centre of the city of Sydney.