The image above, showing York Street in the very early 20th century, is a beautiful glimpse into Sydney’s past. Many Sydney siders will be familiar with York Street as it is one of the major streets in the Sydney CBD, though of course the view is very different today. What many may not know is that York Street is, in many ways, the historic home of circus in Australia!
When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, entertainment was certainly not something they were concerned with and for many years there was little in the way of theatre. In the 1830s regular theatre performances began to take place, but they were held with some difficulty and although there were occasionally circus type acts, they were certainly not the norm. In Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) Radford’s Royal Circus was opened in 1847, but after two years Radford was insolvent. However, two of his equestrians, Golding Ashton and John Jones kept the theatre style alive.
Ashton (whose name you might recognise) worked in Melbourne for a short time, but then he and a small group of equestrians headed for Sydney. John Jones arrived in about 1850, bringing with him Edward La Rosiere, a tightrope walker and they opened to great success at the City Theatre (near the present day State Theatre). Later the same year though, Jones and La Rosiere moved into their own arena, an roofless arena in the yard of John Malcom’s Adelphi Hotel in York Street. The circus was known as the Royal Australian Equestrian Circus and was in many ways the first permanent circus troupe in Australia. Malcolm soon recognised the potential of the circus though and it was renamed Malcoms Royal Australian Circus. The Arena, which was many times altered over the ensuing years, was declared unsafe and demolished in 1882, but by then the circus had arrived and its future in Australia was assured.
The image above is a stunning view of a place most Sydney residents are familiar with, North Sydney. Yet the area today bears little resemblance to this image which dates from circa 1905.
Today, North Sydney is a business area and many of the buildings are tall and feature modern construction styles and materials, like glass and metal. Yet in this image, North Sydney was simply a residential area, just another suburb of Sydney. It was an area where people lived, occupying houses and terraces, and using services including the St Leonards Post Office (1854) and St Leonards School (1874). North Sydney itself was formally incorporated as a municipality in 1890 and within 20 years both the post office and school had changed names to North Sydney.
It was not until the 1970s that North Sydney began to be transformed into a commercial centre. Between 1971 and 1972 a whopping 27 skyscrapers were built, and the number has only grown since. Today, North Sydney is reputed to have one of the largest numbers of office buildings not just in Sydney, but in the entirety of NSW.
The image above is a stunning view of a beachside area many Sydney siders and visitors alike know and love, Dee Why. Yet the Dee Why of this postcard was a remarkably different place to what many would recognise today.
Although European occupation of the Dee Why area began as early as 1815, when William Cossar was granted 500 acres of land, Dee Why was slow to be settled. By 1825 the original grant was in the hands of James Jenkins, who owned all of the foreshore land from Mona Vale to Dee Why. His daughter, Elizabeth, was interested in and impressed by the Salvation Army and its work in 1885 she gave them 30 acres of land near Narrabeen Lagoon and went on to donate more land at Dee Why and money to build a home of rest for officers of the Salvation Army who needed time for recuperation (the building still stands, now known as Pacific Lodge). After Elizabeth’s death, the land owned by the Salvation Army in the area grew and they built an industrial farm, a boys home and a home for little girls in Dee Why.
Today we think of Dee Why as a busy beachside suburb, but up until 1911, this was not the case. In 1911 there were only five homes in Dee Why, reflecting the role of the Salvation Army in the area, and the amount of land they owned. In 1911 though, they decided they owned too much land and the proceeds of sale could be used more constructively to help others. They subdivided the land and the growth of Dee Why began. By 1915 there were 125 households and the suburb continued to slowly grow until after World War Two when the population, and the number of houses grew dramatically, eventually becoming what we see today.
The image above is a lively and evocative glimpse into the history of a Sydney reserve which has been a popular recreational reserve for Sydney residents for well over a century, Parsley Bay.
What we now know as Parsley Bay is the traditional lands of the Birrabirragal group but it wasn’t long after European colonisation that the land around Parsley Bay was securely in the hands of European settlers. In 1792 Thomas Laycock, the Deputy Commissioner General, was given a grant of eighty acres of land at the head of Parsley Bay. This is the first known use of the name Parsley Bay. The land passed through several owners and was expanded over the following years before being purchased by the Wentworth family in 1827. Parsley Bay then became just one small part of the Wentworth family’s Vaucluse Estate.
Though the land was in private hands, that did not stop Sydney siders from accessing and using Parsley Bay and even before the area became a public reserve, there is evidence that the area was used by the public for picnics and camping. In 1905 though, William Notting and his Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee lobbied the Government to provide public access to various locations around the harbour waterfront. Parsley Bay was one of these locations and in 1906 was resumed by the Government in order to create a public reserve. It was the first area of land to be secured by the Harbour Foreshore Vigilance Committee and went on to become an ever more popular area for picnicking, camping and making merry.