This week, with the July School Holidays drawing to a close, it is the perfect time to turn attention to one of Sydney’s favourite tourist destinations. For locals and visitors alike, Taronga Zoo has long been a popular place to visit for the day and view the amazing animals looked after by the zoo.
The Taronga Zoo which we see today builds on over a century of history, yet the zoo we now know is a far cry from the zoo of yesteryear. Taronga Zoo was established on its current premises in 1916, following the move of the original Zoological Gardens from Moore Park. Many of the animals, including elephants, were transported from the old Moore Park site by barge, travelling by water across the Harbour to their new home. They were settled into the new, larger premises, where the Elephant Temple, seal ponds and monkey pit were already constructed.
Yet these enclosures, many of which are maintained today as a memory of the zoo’s history, were a far cry from what we recognise today. As the postcard above shows, the old exhibits were small and could be quite spartan compared to what we now know. The focus of the zoo was on entertainment and fun, whereas today the zoo focuses on scientific research, conservation and education. This new focus for the zoo dates back to 1967, when a critical review of the zoo was undertaken. New exhibits were built and the focus of the zoo shifted to scientific research, conservation and education. Soon the famous elephant rides and monkey zoo were replaced with more educational activities, like the seal show.
The image above is a busy view of Sydney in its maritime heyday, a time when wharves in Sydney Harbour bustled with activity. This particular view, from circa 1910, shows Johnstone’s Bay from Balmain, both areas which were involved in maritime industries.
Today, Johnstone’s Bay is best remembered and indeed identified by the bridge which spans it – the ANZAC Bridge. Yet this was not the first bridge in the area. In 1860 the first pile was driven into the harbour to build the first, wooden bridge, over Johnstone’s Bay. In 1903 it was replaced by the Glebe Island Bridge. These early bridges were built in order to make it possible for the abattoirs which were an unpleasant part of Central Sydney to be moved onto Glebe Island where they were less of a problem. Yet building a bridge over this important waterway was something which could have negatively impacted maritime industry and so both bridges had to incorporate swing spans.
Why were these swing spans so necessary? Johnstone Bay is bracketed between two important historic wharf areas in Sydney, Pyrmont and Balmain and it is no surprise perhaps that the bay itself was also used for shipping. In fact in its more recent history the bay was used as the shipping container terminal! In addition, Johnstone Bay feeds into Rozelle Bay and Blackwattle Bay, both also areas which have historically played important roles in Sydney’s maritime heritage. Even today, boats come and go under the ANZAC Bridge, in part bringing back seafood to feed the seafood trade at the Sydney Fish Markets in Blackwattle Bay.
With the July school holidays just around the corner, and many families looking to take advantage of the beautiful winter weather, The Past Present is turning its attention to what was once one of Sydneys most popular pleasure grounds – Fairyland. Today, Fairylane is little more than an area of bush in Lane Cove National Park. It is hidden away from the main drag and little visited. Yet once, it was one of the most popular places for Sydneysiders, particularly those on the North Shore, to spend a day.
Fairyland was built on the foreshores of the Lane Cove River, in an area which once belonged to the Swan Family. The Swan’s purchased the land in the early 20th century and quickly established a market garden. They grew many crops, but one of the most popular was strawberries, which day-trippers out and about on the river would purchase. Soon enough, the Swan family realised that they could offer more complete afternoon teas to these day-trippers, and their land became a popular stop for people boating on the river.
By 1920 the Swan’s had seen the potential to transform their land into a popular and lucrative pleasure ground. They set about transforming their gardens and crops into what was to become Fairyland. The pleasure grounds were indeed immensely popular with people boating on the river, and it wasn’t long before the Swan family were expanding again. They installed rides, including a ‘razzle dazzle’, and built a wharf, dance hall, kiosk and playground. They used fairytale characters throughout the pleasure grounds, painting them on buildings, and even making painted, wooden figures which were to be found in the trees – hence the name fairyland. Today, very little of Fairyland remains, other than the site and some interpretative signage, but many remember happy outings to this once popular pleasure ground.
The image above, from a postcard dated to circa 1910, is a beautiful and charming snapshot of a family day out and about in the beautiful Sydney Botanic Gardens. Today, on family days such as this, we often think of feeding ducks (though many councils request people do not do so), but in the image above the bird being fed by the children is the magnificent Native Black Swan.
The black swan is a majestic and interesting bird. Most famously it is the emblem associated with Western Australia, but the Black Swan is actually native to many areas of Australia. As such a large and beautiful bird, they also have a long history of being found in zoo’s and bird collections, and for many years they were also a popular part of public parks and gardens – like the Sydney Botanic Gardens.
Yet what is perhaps of most interest is what the phrase ‘black swan’ has come to mean. A black swan is a metaphor for an event or discovery which is unprecedented, unexpected and surprising but which in hindsight, really isn’t such a surprise after all. The phrase actually comes from the Latin and the oldest known use of the metaphor came almost a thousand years ago, in Juvenal’s line “rara avis in terries nigroque simillima cygno” which translates to “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”. At the time, and for centuries after, the only swans known were white swans, so it was assumed that the black swan did not exist. Then, in 1697, Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, discovered black swans in Australia, proving they did exist after all. This came as a great surprise, but in hindsight many acknowledged that it really shouldn’t have been such a shock – just as other animals came in other colours, not all swans were white. Today, Black Swan Theory, as introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007 is well known, but it all traces back to these majestic if unexpected birds which are such a feature of the Australian landscape.
The image above is an idyllic view over Sydney Harbour from one of the most popular foreshore reserves. Today, Clifton Gardens is a popular foreshore beach, with a swimming enclosure and well kept park, perfect for picnicking. Yet Clifton Gardens is but a shadow of the once famous pleasure grounds, with most of the buildings pictured above long gone.
The history of Clifton Gardens as a pleasure resort and holiday destination dates back almost 150 years, to 1871, when the hotel known as the Clifton Arms was built by D. Butters. The hotel lease was soon granted to David Thompson, who first leased the hotel in 1879, before purchasing it outright in 1880. Thompson was also the man who built the Marine Hotel, which operated right up until the 1960s, and will no doubt be remembered by many Sydneysiders. Thompson also built a skating rink, wharf and dance pavilion.
It wasn’t until 1906 though that Clifton Gardens really established itself as a tourist hub. This was when Sydney Ferries Ltd purchased the entirety of the Thompson estate. Sydney Ferries soon added to the existing attractions, building a boat shed, a tramway from the wharf to the hotel and, most famously of all, the grand, two storied, circular swimming enclosure. Clifton Gardens soon became a popular destination, not just for families and private tourists, but for picnics by unions and companies. It was even used by The Water Board!
Looking south at Manly toward Cabbage Tree Bay from main business Street. Norfolk Island Pines
The image above is an stunning view of one of Sydney’s most iconic beaches – Manly. Manly has long been a popular destination, not just in summer, when the cool water invites swimmers, but in other seasons, when the stunning scenery comes to the fore. The image above, which was taken in circa 1936 by an unknown photographer, particularly highlights a feature of Manly which has become almost iconic – the Norfolk Island Pines.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Manly emerged as one of Australia’s most popular seaside destinations, and became an iconic seaside resort in itself. Little wonder then that attention quickly turned to beautifying the foreshore. The first efforts towards beautifying Manly’s foreshore came in 1877, when a committee was established to oversee the process. This committee was made up of some of the local Aldermen, and also the then Mayor, showing how important they felt the process was to be. The committee even sought advice from the Sydney Botanic Gardens and their director Mr Moore. Moore suggested the committee plant trees in the area, particularly suggesting Norfolk Island Pines, Moreton Bay Figs and Monteray Pines. One might assume that the trees on the foreshore were planted at this time, but these first trees were actually mainly confined to The Corso, with just two Norfolk Island Pines planted on the foreshore itself.
Over the coming years, many more trees were planted in Manly, particularly the Norfolk Island Pines which became so strongly associated with the area. According to local legend Henry Gilbert Smith was mainly responsible for planting the trees, but others suggest it was Mr R. M. Pitt and Mr Charles Hayes who were mainly responsible. Whatever the case, hundreds of trees flourished in Manly right up until the 1960s, when nearly half of the trees were damaged or killed completely by pollution. The dead pines were removed, with a crowd gathering to watch the process and the trunks were even cut into pieces to give to the onlookers. Soon enough, new pines were planted to replace those which were lost and today the trees stand as an iconic part of Manly’s beautiful foreshore and history.
The image above is a stunning glimpse of the history of one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Today, the harbour bridge bustles with cars, trains, pedestrians and bikes, yet once, trams were a vital part of the thrum of activity. In fact trams were once at the heart of Sydney’s transport! With construction underway on new tram tracks in Sydney, and now Parramatta, it seemed the perfect time to explore the history of trams in Sydney.
Sydney once had an enormous network of trams, which we now hear more often described as ‘light rail’. In fact, the Sydney tram system was, at its height, the largest network of trams in Australia and one of the biggest in the whole world! Sydneys first trams were horse drawn, being a vital transport link between Sydney Railway station and Circular Quay. Yet this first track closed after a public campaign in 1866, because the track itself stood above the road and caused accidents.
By 1879 though, trams were back and seemingly here to stay. A steam tram system was growing up in Sydney and it rapidly expanded, covering first much of the city and then extending to closer suburbs around Sydney. Electrification of the lines began in 1898 and most lines were fully electric by 1910. At their height, the tram lines travelled to places as varied as Watsons Bay, Manly, Balmoral, Chatswood, The Spit and, as the postcard shows, across the Harbour Bridge.
The system began a gradual decline in the 1930s and the last of the original Sydney tram services ceased in 1961, with the last route to close being that to La Perouse.