The Scenic Railway

The Scenic Railway Katoomba Blue Mountains Front copy

This week, with school holidays upon us, The Past Present is focusing on a holiday favourite – The Scenic Railway in Katoomba. This postcard, which dates to around 1935, shows the Scenic Railway in its early years as a tourist attraction. Although today we think of the Scenic Railway, the steepest incline tramway in the world, as a kind of tourist rollercoaster, it began its life as a working tramway, servicing mines.

The Scenic Railway was just one part of a network of tramways which serviced kerosene shale and coal mines in Katoomba. The tramways were built to bring coal and kerosene shale to the railway siding which was constructed in 1882. By 1895, the mines in the area were struggling and when in 1925 the Katoomba Colliery was registered, the tramways were decrepit. The Katoomba Colliery aimed to reopen the mine situated at the bottom of the hill, and sell coal to the Katoomba Power Station, the local hotels and residents. They needed a way to get the coal to the top of the hill though, so they set about fixing up the tramway which became known as The Scenic Railway.

In the late 1920s, the Scenic Railway had its first non-coal related passengers, a group of bushwalkers who were hauled up in a coal skip. Management realised the potential of the tramway and built seats into some of the coal skips. When The Great Depression struck, the mine closed, but the tramway continued to operate, now focusing on passengers and tourists. They replaced the coal skips with a specially built passenger car called ‘The Mountain Devil’. The rest, as they say, is history!

On A Soapbox In The Domain

The Domain in Sydney on Sunday afternoon

The Domain in Sydney on Sunday afternoon

The photo above, another from the collection of an unknown photographer, was taken some time in 1936. It shows a typical Sunday afternoon scene in Sydney’s beautiful Domain. The Domain has always been a centre of social activity, and during its history has attracted not only picnickers, but public speakers who took position on their soapboxes and spoke to the assembled masses. In fact, the Domain has even been described as a social safety valve, with many social causes and conflicts being aired and debated in the beautiful grounds.

Freedom of speech was celebrated at the Domain, but it was not always peaceful, or indeed appreciated by the authorities. At the time when this photo was taken, during The Great Depression, speakers in The Domain often spoke on political subjects, and violence was not unheard of. Both speakers and crowd members were sometimes even arrested. The photo shows an altogether more relaxed scene, with two speakers shown, but who knows what happened before, or indeed after the snap was taken!

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour, Sydney

Darling Harbour, Sydney

Recently, Darling Harbour has been in the news again with plans afoot to transform the area into a multimillion dollar Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct. Darling Harbour has gone through many changes, one of the most dramatic of which (so far) was the development of the abandoned working harbour, reopened as part of the 1988 Bicentenary Celebrations.

The Darling Harbour of today is very different to the working harbour of the early 1900s, and this redevelopment will see further change. This postcard, from circa 1910, harks back to those days when Darling Harbour was a bustling hub of shipping activity.

Governor Macquarie commissioned the original development of Darling Harbour in 1812 and soon the harbour was the centre of a wharf, market and an industrial and goods-handling precinct. All sorts of goods passed through the Darling Harbour wharves, from coal and wool to live cattle.

Ultimo Power Station

Wool train along side R.R. Power Station on Hay St. Australian Mercantile L. and F. Co. Ltd. Wool storage beyond power plant.

Wool train along side R.R. Power Station on Hay St. Australian Mercantile L. and F. Co. Ltd. Wool storage beyond power plant.

This week, in honour of History Week, which this year focuses on photographs in Australia, The Past Present is showcasing one of the striking photos in the collection. With ‘Picture This’ in mind . . .

This photograph, taken in Ultimo in 1936 is a stunning snapshot, capturing a Sydney which is now long gone.

In the foreground of the photograph, a train is waiting. The train was a wool train, carrying one of our most significant agricultural products at the time. Australia was the nation which rode the sheep’s back, with some of the largest flocks in the world and our wool trade was extremely lucrative. It has been many years since Sydney has seen a wool train like this!

The image in the photograph above also shows a building which has, and continues to play an important role in Sydney’s history. Built between 1899 and 1902 the building was specially constructed as a power station to supply the tram network of Sydney with electricity. The power station was the first major power station to be built in Sydney but when the tram services ceased in 1961, the building was abandoned, standing derelict like so many of the other old industrial buildings. In 1979 the building was given a new purpose and new lease on life when the NSW State Government announced that the Museum of Applied Arts And Sciences would move into the old building. Today, many might recognize the building as The Powerhouse Museum.