Martin Place

martin place 2This week, the Past Present turns its attention to Martin Place. With plans to redevelop the ‘heart of the city’ featuring on local news programs recently, it appeared the perfect time to more closely investigate past changes to this iconic Sydney location.

The history of Martin place is full of change and redevelopment. In its earliest incarnation, Martin Place was a far cry from the grand pedestrian precinct we recognise today, instead being a narrow lane which connected Moore Street to Pitt Street. Despite plans to open up the Northern Frontage of the newly built GPO, the narrow lane way remained until fire destroyed many of the properties along the lane. Following the fire a widened street was created, called Martin Place after Sir James Martin. The street was still relatively short though, until in 1921 Moore Street was widened and also renamed Martin Place, extending the street quite significantly. Further extensions were made over the following years, and eventually, when these were completed in 1935, Martin Place ran the full length between Castlereagh Street and Macquarie Street.

Martin Place of this era, though a much grander street than the early lane way, was still a long way from being the area we recognise today. At this time, the street was promoted as the financial and insurance centre of the city, and it was full of not only thriving businesses, but also cars, as the image above shows. In fact, the famous Cenotaph, which had been completed in 1927, was almost a median strip, separating the busy traffic which traversed the street. Then, in the late 1960s, proposals to close Martin Place to traffic began to become increasingly popular. The first stage of the new pedestrian plaza was opened in 1971, with the entire plaza completed in 1979.

Pott’s Point

Potts PointThis week, The Past Present is once again turning attention to one of the area of Sydney which so many of us know, but so few of us know the history of, Potts Point.

Potts Point has long been popular with the wealthy and well to do, and indeed this was true even of the first Europeans to colonise the area. Potts Point was not however always known by the name we recognise today. Originally, the area was known as Woolloomooloo Hill and the suburb sits on a ridge immediately east of Woollomooloo which, presumably, explains the name. Originally, the Potts Point area was part of two large parcels of land granted to well known Sydney colonists, Judge Wylde and Alexander Macleay. Then, self made man Joseph Hyde Potts purchased a harbour side section of the land and renamed his new property in honour of himself – Potts Point was born.

In the 19th century the two main land grants were further divided and many grand houses and even mansions were built along the ridge line. In fact, the land was given to the most powerful men in the colony on the proviso that they establish grand and elaborate residences. This was the first deliberately designed suburb, known colloquially by other locals as Hob Nobs Ville. Many of these early mansions survive today and are recognised as important parts of Sydney’s history, listed on the Register of the National Estate.

It wasn’t only early architecture which made history in Potts Point though – the suburb is also the site of some of the earliest blocks of flats to be built in Australia. The earliest of these was built in the earliest part of the 20th century, but most date from between the 1920s and the Second World War. Today the suburb has the highest concentration of beautiful Art Deco buildings in the whole of Australia, many of them apartments!

Sydney Hospital

Macquarie StreetThis week, with the flu season well and truly upon us, it seemed the perfect time for The Past Present to examine the history of medical care, particularly the establishment of hospitals.

When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, it brought with it the naval surgeon John White, who was to be the head of the medical services in the new colony. He and his medical assistants set up tents at Dawes Point, which became Australia’s first ‘hospital’. Not long after, the tents were replaced with a more permanent building, and in 1790 this was again replaced with a prefabricated wood and copper hospital building which was brought to Australia with the Second Fleet. The hospital building wasn’t the only thing which the Second Fleet brought though. There were so many sick convicts newly arrived in the colony that tents (some accounts say up to 100 of them) needed to be set up, in addition to the existing hospital, to look after them.

As the colony extended beyond Sydney itself, hospitals were built in other areas of settlement, at Parramatta, Windsor and Liverpool. Sydney itself though was struggling to deal with epidemics and emergencies. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie arrived, he quickly recognised the urgent need for new hospitals. The question was, how to fund the desperately needed general hospital. Macquarie came upon an ingenious solution, given three colonists a short term monopoly on bringing spirits (including the all important rum) into the colony, in exchange for the three constructing a general hospital on Macquarie Street. The hospital, which was opened in 1816 was officially called the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary (and in 1881 this changed to Sydney Hospital) but it was popularly known in the colony as The Rum Hospital. Yet the foundations were substandard and the walls themselves were built from rubble which made an ideal home for pests like rats and bedbugs. The hospital was also too big for the Sydney population, and eventually some wings were transferred for other uses. Today, the Northern Wing of the original hospital houses NSW Parliament while the Southern Wing is The Mint.

Rabbit Poison Carts On An Australian Sheep Station

Rabbit carts

Rabbits are a well recognised feral problem today, but we aren’t the only generation to recognise them as a pest, as this postcard image shows. The the exact location of the Australian Sheep Station is unknown – perhaps it was close to Sydney, perhaps it was somewhere back of Bourke! Whatever the case, rabbits were a problem all land owners had to deal with.

Rabbits first arrived in Australia when the European colonists arrived – with the First Fleet. They did not immediately become a problem though. These early rabbits were bred as food, and were kept in enclosures. Although Tasmania began to have a rabbit problem as early as 1827, the mainland rabbit population was well maintained and safely caged. Many fine houses in the colony had rabbit enclosures, and by the 1840s even the ‘common folk’ were keeping rabbits. The problem arose, it appears, when in 1859 Thomas Austin released 24 rabbits on his property in Victoria. He planned to use these rabbits for hunting purposes, but they did as rabbits do and multiplied. Other farms followed Austins lead, releasing rabbits into the wild and it was widely thought that the introduction of rabbits could do no harm. Within 10 years though, this was proven to be a massive miscalculation and 2 million rabbits could be shot or trapped each year without having a noticeable effect on their population.

The image above shows just one of the many rabbit control measures which have been used in Australia. Shooting was an early control measure, but really only worked to keep already small populations of rabbits under control. Poisoning remains the most popular of the conventional control methods, and as these carts show, was quite a popular method in the early 20th century too.

Darrell Lea in King Street

king street

This week the Past Present is looking at an iconic place in Sydney’s history, and one which is associated with something many of us love – confectionary. The intersection featured in the image above is that of King and George Streets, in the heart of Sydney. This is, of course, the place where the famous Darrell Lea store once stood.

Harris Levy was born in 1876 in London and was the son of a boot maker. When he was 12, the family emigrated to Australia and Levy took a job rolling cigars in Western Australia. This wasn’t the life Harry was looking for though and his parents paid for him to learn to make confectionary. Then, in 1905 Levy married Esther Goldman. In 1916 the couple and their growing family made their way to Sydney where they opened a fruit store in Manly, on The Corso. In winter, the fruit trade was slow, so Levy began to make toffees to supplement the fruit trade. The confectionary was incredibly successful and in 1924 Levy opened a small milk bar and confectionary shop in Castlereagh Street, making his products in the rear of the shop. Then in 1930, with Depression era rents being so low, Levy was able to take over a shirt shop in Pitt Street, transforming it into a confectionary shop. Levy changed his name to Lea and called named the company after his youngest son, Darrell. Darrell Lea was born.

A confectionary company may seem at odds with the shortages of the Depression, but Darrell Lea made a decision to sell at half the price of their competitors, making chocolate, which had been a luxury item, more affordable. Low prices led to a huge turnover of product, so the confectionary had a reputation for always being fresh and high quality. Soon enough the company became a huge success and more stores began to be opened, including a Melbourne store which was established in 1940. The most famous store though stood at the juncture of King and George Streets. Harry Levy died in 1957.