The image above is a glimpse into a pastime which, for many today, is something of a bizarre idea – promenading. Today, when we visit the beach we tend to enjoy lying about on the sand or playing in the water, but in the past beach goers often looked for a different pastime.
Manly has long been a popular beach for visitors to and residents of Sydney alike and many visitors today will recognise the wide pathway featured in this postcard image, though few use it for the once popular seaside pursuit, promenading. Promenading may sound very grand, but essentially it is a grandiose term for a stroll, usually in public, which is undertaken for a combination of pleasure and display. The Promenade, as the pathway between Fairy Bower and Manly is known, was built in 1898 atop the sewer line to Manly Beach, or as it was then known, Cabbage Tree Bay. As time went by, the Promenade was upgraded, being asphalted, having lighting installed and being lushly planted with pines. Women with hats, long dresses and parasols and men in suits, hats and waistcoats used the promenade not only to ‘take the air’, but also as a venue to see and be seen. There were strict rules to promenading, including a prohibition against promenading in swimming costume, but so popular was the pastime that visitors to the beach often found the promenade, not the beach, thronging with crowds!
The image above is a charming glimpse into a family day out and about in Sydney’s beautiful Botanic Gardens. Where we might think of feeding ducks today, the water fowl which the children in this image are feeding are Australia’s native Black Swan.
The black swan is an intriguing bird, native to many parts of Australia and an emblem associated with Western Australia. These large, majestic birds have long been popular in zoo’s and bird collections, and were also popular features of public parks like the Botanic Garden. 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 evocative glimpse into the past of a place which today most Sydneysiders associate with bustling activity and crowds – Darlinghurst. Yet Darlinghurst, which sits between Woolloomooloo, Kings Cross and Surry Hills, was once a place bustling with a very different type of activity.
Before European colonisation, Darlinghurst was part of the traditional lands of the Gadigal people and even after colonisation, these people continued to extensively use the land right through to the 1840s. Although Darlinghurst was very close to the early settlement areas of Sydney, it was actually not settled until comparatively late. Darlinghurst was a place of shallow soils and rocky sandstone outcrops which made it less attractive to early European settlers as a home, but it was not entirely ignored. The rocky outcrops were extensively quarried for sandstone to use in construction of many of the early Sydney buildings. The early quarriers were convict gangs, while in the second half of the 19th century prisoners from Darlinghurst Gaol (now the National Art School) were put to work. Quarrying wasn’t the only activity to take place in Darlinghurst though, with the first water mill in the colony built there in 1811 and the four windmills featured so extensively in early paintings of Sydney appeared soon after.
Darlinghurst may have begun its European life with the lower eschalons of Sydney society, but in the 1820s the area began to be transformed. Governor Darling named the area in the late 1820s (quite probably after his wife, Eliza Darling) and between 1828 and 1831 he made 17 grants of land in the newly named area. These were all made to wealthy colonists and there was a stipulation that all houses had to be worth 1000 pounds or more, and had to be set in landscaped gardens. Governor Darling even had to approve the design before construction could begin! As a result, Darlinghurst not only became associated with the wealthy, but also had a landscape of fine houses and gardens overlooking the town which Governor Darling imagined as an example to the more ‘debased populace of Sydney Town’. By the mid 1880s though, many smaller terrace houses had been added to Darlinghurst and eventually Darlinghurst was transformed from a strictly wealthy suburb to a suburb which contained areas which many considered to be slums. There was a wide mix of classes and indeed reputations, with the respectable residents living alongside criminals and gangs. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Darlinghurst really began to become a more sinister place though, with gangs and criminal elements beginning to become prominent. Today, Darlinghurst has returned much more to its early 20th century reputation though, with a mix of wealthy, often family residences alongside the many pubs and brothels.