This week, with the Sir John Monash Centre in Villers Bretonneux opening, and ANZAC Day commemorations fast approaching, The Past Present turns its attention to War Postcards. The image above is a shocking and stark snapshot of a battlefield where thousands of Australian soldiers served, and many lost their lives. Today, many might find such a postcard a strange subject, and one which is a little macabre. Yet this postcard, one of a set, is just one example of postcards highlighting the destruction and devastation of war.
During the First World War, postcard publishers created many thousands of different cards reflecting the war. Some of them were humorous, others beautiful and patriotic. Some even had embroidered pockets or pictures, meant for ‘mum’ or ‘ my sweetheart’.
Yet many of them were stark and devastating reminders of the war, showing photographs of battlefields, and even of corpses. These cards, which were sometimes sold in sets, like the postcard of Villers Bretonneux above, highlighted the destruction of war. As the war progressed, they heightened feeling against the then enemy with captions like ‘The work of German “Kultur”’, as in the postcard above. As the war raged on, battlefields and destruction became opportunities for propaganda postcard publishers, and more postcards were created.
Today, as so many of us move around the city, following overpasses, and taking tunnels, we little think about the hardships of times gone by, not just for those traversing the city, but for those building some of our iconic roads. The Argyle Cut is the major road link connecting Darling Harbour and Sydney Cove. Today, many of us pass through this amazing, short tunnel, but few of us spare a thought to the great amount of time, expense and risk which went into building it.
Argyle Street has, in some form, existed for more than two centuries. The road was officially built in 1810, leading from George Street towards Millers Point, but it came to an abrupt halt at a sheer rock face. A set of stairs was carved into the rock face at this point, which people could use to reach Cumberland Street and from there reach Millers Point and Darling Harbour, but they had to do it on foot. As a result it was impossible to move carts, vehicles and cargo directly between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour.
Yet both Darling Harbour (then Darling Island) and Sydney Cove were major hubs of activity, and a more efficient way of moving between the two soon became a priority. A plan for the Argyle Cut was drawn up by Edward Hallen in 1832 and work began in 1843. The initial work was completed by convicts in chain gangs, under overseer Tim Lane, who was renowned for his cruelty and love of flogging. Yet transportation of Convicts to NSW had officially ceased in 1840, and residents were unhappy with seeing convicts working in full chains, no matter how important the work they were completing. Work on the Argyle Cut was eventually abandoned by the government, only to be recommenced with paid labour and gunpowder by the Sydney Municipal Council. Work on the Argyle Cut was completed in 1859.
This week, with Autumn under way, and the end of the hot weather on the horizon, it seemed an ideal time for The Past Present to turn attention to some of our alternative beach culture and it’s history. Australia is known for it’s abundance of beautiful beaches, and the opportunities for swimming and other water based activities they provide. Yet in the past, some of Sydney’s beaches had other attractions.
If you look carefully in this postcard of Bondi Beach, you can make out a horse or donkey walking along the beach. I can find no written record of animal rides being offered at beaches in Sydney – or at least, not this far back in history. Yet I have heard many anecdotal stories, including from my mother, of pony and donkey rides once being offered along the sandy shores of Sydney’s beaches.
Do you remember having a pony or donkey ride on a Sydney beach?
With the Easter long weekend rapidly approaching, and many people planning to brave the weather to enjoy the great outdoors, it seemed the ideal time to share the image above. The postcard image, dating from the early 20th century is an evocative snapshot not only of the Hawkesbury area of NSW, but of camping in Australia and how it has changed.
Camping has an incredibly long history in Australia. Aboriginal people lived in temporary dwellings, moving around the country from one place to another, while early European colonists often lived in tents of necessity. In fact the first fleet brought with it more than 600 tents! In the 1820s, people who visited Australia actually saw camping as the real Australian experience or the ‘Australian way’. History in Australia, and indeed the history of Australian development, is intricately linked to camping.
By the 1860s though, camping was beginning to take on a new dimension, people were choosing to set up temporary camps for recreation and holiday camping was born. Water, whether a coastal beach or quiet river meander was often a real feature of holiday camping, and even today many campers head to campgrounds on the coast or situated next to a picturesque river scene.
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.
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.
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.