Riley Street And The Riley Estate


Little Riley Street From Albion Street Entrance

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a moment in time. Little Riley Street, in the image above classified as part of Redfern, but today part of Surrey Hills, is a street which Sydneysiders may be familiar with, but few will recognise from the image above. Today, Little Riley Street is still narrow , but the streetscape itself has changed dramatically, to the point that the image above is unrecognisable as todays LittleRiley Street at the Albion Street entrance

Little Riley Street, has a fascinating history, linked to the Riley Estate and the personage of Edward Riley. Edward Riley was a merchant who found great success in India, before deciding to settle himself and his family in Sydney. In the 1820s, he brought up lots of small land grants in the area between Woolloomooloo and Surrey Hills. Riley’s land, called the Riley Estate, quickly grew, becoming not just a series of small land grants, but a vast estate. Despite his wealth, he was not a happy man though and in 1825 he committed suicide, leaving behind a legal debacle. He had left two wills, and the contents of the wills conflicted which led to years of legal battle between his seven heirs.

The Government eventually appointed a commission to guide and control the division of the estate. The estate was broken into seven parcels of land, and these were then raffled amongst his heirs. Roads were built to separate the seven different land areas, and both Little Riley Street and Riley Street itself are examples of these roads, named for Edward Riley and an echo of the vast estate he had built. However, these new roads simply marked out the Riley Estate, as it had been divided up. Roads in the area had been formally laid out on a grid system in 1814 by James Meehan, then the surveyor-general. Yet the roads of the Riley Estate did not match up with this grid system at all. They met up with Meehan’s roads, but often to join them to the existing grid there had to be some deviation or bend put in place. This is what led to the unusual and often difficult to understand bends which are so common in the Surrey Hills area.

St James Church

Queens Statue And St James Church Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a beautiful postcard image dating to the early 20h century. Yet the scene portrayed is one whose history dates back far further, with the stunning Church featured actually being the oldest surviving Church building in Sydney!

St James Church is a beautiful, convict built building, which is today the oldest remaining Church in Sydney. Yet is is significant for far more than simply its age. In 1819 the convict architect Francis Greenway was asked by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to design a courthouse. Macquarie, at this time, had grand plans for the area around George and King Streets, planning to build a beautiful cathedral on George Street, and a courthouse and a school on King Street. However, these plans were going to undergo significant changes. Macquarie was, by this time, known for his grand architectural ideas, and Commissioner Bigge, who had been sent from London, recommended significant changes to the planned George and King Street precinct.

The cathedral plans were put on hold (and the cathedral wasn’t completed until nearly 50 years later, in 1868). The plans for the courthouse and school also underwent significant alterations. Both were already under construction, but the school became a courthouse, while the planned courthouse became a Church. It was this courthouse which became St James Church, the Church pictured above. It was consecrated in 1824 and in 1836 it was was the church where Bishop Broughton, the first Bishop of Australia, was installed and regularly officiated. Classes for the first theological college of Australia were held at St James and the first ordinations of Australian Anglican clergy were also held at the Church. It was even the location of the first attempt to teach kindergarten in NSW!

Historic Moreton Bay Fig In Kiama

Historic Moreton Bay Fig Tree Kiama NSW Front

This week, The Past Present is turning attention to the area South of Sydney, an area which many people visit for day trips or holidays. Kiama is just one of the many beautiful seaside towns on the South Coast, but it is also one with a fascinating history, and some stunning trees. The tree in the image above, taken from a postcard dated circa 1910, is just one example of the extraordinarily beautiful Moreton Bay Figs which are so iconic in the Kiama and wider Woolongong area.

Moreton Bay fig trees are, just like Norfolk Pines, iconic and well recognised trees in the Kiama area. Yet the figs are not just beautiful, one of them actually played a remarkable role in the history of the area. The location of the fig tree in the image is unidentified, yet the most historic fig tree in Kiama, and possibly the one pictured, was located on Black Beach. The Black Beach fig tree was huge, and in the early years of settlement in Kiama the shady area under its branches became a meeting place for the settlers, and for visitors to the area. It was here that people waited for ships, and also here where goods brought to the area by ship were unloaded. It was under the spreading branches of this fig tree that the earliest Church services in Kiama were held. The giant fig tree was even used by Laurence O’Toole as a way to set course when he sailed the first trading vessel, The Bee, to Kiama in 1838!

The tree was so significant that the first Council Chambers in Kiama were built right next to the fig which had served as such a vital meeting place. The original fig was destroyed by storms in 1964 but so significant was it to the history of the area that another Moreton Bay Fig was planted in it’s place.

Boating On Sydney Harbour


View to south over Coogee Beach with half dozen boats on sand. Homes on steep slopes facing water in distance.

This week, with the weather beginning to cool down and winter approaching, it seemed the perfect time for The Past Present to turn its attention to a popular beach pastime. In summer, the beaches become a haven for water sports and swimming, but as winter approaches, more people begin to look for different ways to enjoy the beautiful harbour and various other waterways. Boating has long been a popular choice.

Recreational sailing in Australia actually has quite a remarkable history, which stems from the history of Sydney as a working harbour. Some of the earliest boat races to be held in Sydney were between the captains and crews from ships which were visiting Sydney harbour. The smaller skiffs which were carried on board the large boats (and some boats even carried specific racing skiffs) would be used for the races. As time went by, regattas became more organised, and they also became popular public events which many Sydneysiders watched from the increasingly crowded shoreline. From 1837 here as even an annual regatta to celebrate the founding of the NSW colony!

Slowly but surely, boating became a more widespread, popular pastime. The public no longer simply watched from the shore. Boats could be hired out from many different boat sheds and beaches. Today, boating continues to be a popular pastime.

Spring Street, Sydney

Pitt And Spring Streets Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful and fascinating glimpse into the history of Sydney. Showing bustling streets full of pedestrians, horses and carts and cars, it also captures a fascinating time in Sydney, when the new automobile, and old fashioned horse power coexisted side by side.

Yet few Sydneysiders are likely to be able to tell you exactly where this intersection, of Pitt and Spring Streets, is. In fact, Spring Street, although still in existence, is just a small laneway today. Yet once, it played a fascinating part in the history of Sydney’s water supply.

When Captain Arthur Phillip (also known as Governor Phillip) arrived in Sydney he selected the site based on what became known as the Tank Stream – Sydney’s vital fresh water source. The Tank Stream was mainly fed from a swamp in the area of todays Huge Park, but there was also a number of springs along the course of the stream. One of the largest of these springs was in the locality of Spring Street.

Mary Really Did Have A Little Lamb

Mary Had A Little Lamb School FrontThis week, with Easter upon us, and lambs an iconic symbol of Easter, it seemed the perfect time to share this image of a schoolhouse. Although the image is not an Australian one at all (it is a schoolhouse in Sterling, Massachusetts, USA), the story behind the image is a fascinating one.

Most Australian’s would know the childhood rhyme ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’, yet very few realise that the rhyme is based on a true event. Mary Sawyer, born in 1806, lived in Sterling, on a farm with her family. One morning her father and she went out to the barn and found two lambs had been born during the night. One though was close to death because it’s mother had not accepted it. Mary asked her father, and was given permission to try to save the lamb and raise it herself. She spent all day and night nursing the lamb and much to her delight, it survived. Yet having been hand raised, it didn’t much care for the other sheep, but preferred horses, cows and of course, Mary herself, who the lamb would often follow around.

One day, Mary and her brother set off for school and the lamb followed. Mary’s borate, Nat suggested they take the lamb to school and when they arrived, Mary tucked the lamb into a blanket at her feet. Eventually, the lamb made a noise and was found out, but the teacher reacted well, laughing and sending the lamb outside for Mary to take home later in the day.

This would have been the end of the story, were it not for the Nephew of the local minister visiting at the time of the events. The nephew, John Roulstone penned the first few stanzas of the famous poem and handed them to Mary a few days later – and thus the rhyme was born!

George Street Sydney

George Street South Sydney Front

The image above showcases an extraordinary view of a street all Sydneysiders know, whether they love it or not. Yet few Sydneysiders realise that this street has such a long and fascinating history. Indeed few would realise that this street is the oldest in Australia!

George Street was the first street to be built by the colonists when they arrived in Sydney Cove. Yet it was not a carefully planned street, or even truly ‘built’. Early in the history of the colony Governor Phillip began to have public buildings built along a fairly level ledge of land to the Western side of the Cove. Soon enough a rough path was being worn along which people travelled between the buildings being constructed and the Cove itself. This is how George Street began its life.

Of course, several of the main streets of Sydney were laid out by the early 1800s. This included George Street itself. By 1803 the military had completed the building of several roads, removing many trees in their way. The stump of one was nine yards around (a little over 8 metres) and took 16 men 6 days to remove. A hole had to be specifically dug in which to roll the stump and it took 90 men to roll it into the hole. This tree was once in the area of George Street.