narrabeenThis week, The Past Present is focussing on a place name. Australia has some beautiful, and some fascinating place names, and yet all to often these names are simply taken for granted. The image above, from a postcard dated to circa 1910, shows Narrabeen, a coastal suburb of Sydney which is popular with beachgoers and those looking for some natural beauty.

Narrabeen is a beautiful spot, and has a rather beautiful name, but nobody seems entirely certain where this name comes from. There are however several theories. Many suggest the name is associated with the Aboriginal people who are the traditional owners of the area, the Guringai. According to these theories, the name may be derived from the Aboriginal word for wild swan, Narrabang. Another theory is linked to the account Lieutenant James Grant who passed through the area in 1801. According to his journal, the Aboriginal people called the mouth of the lagoon Narrowbine. Yet another theory suggests that the name comes from a plant which grows near the lagoon and which is known as Narrabin.

Others though suggest a perhaps more sensational story behind the name. According to this theory, the name is associated with the sad tale of the family of Captain Henry Reynolds who arrived with the First Fleet. He and his family were killed in a bushranger attack, and their home was burned down. The name for Narrabeen in this story comes from an Aboriginal girl named Narrabine, who helped the soldiers capture the men responsible for the murders.

The Barracks Behind The Name – Barrack Street

Barrack Street

Sydney siders are fortunate to have many attractive streets lined with beautiful historic buildings, or at least their facades. Yet often, we spare little thought for the history of these roadways themselves. This week, The Past Present is turning its attention to just one of these fascinating streets, Barrack Street.

Barrack Street, which today is lined simply with buildings, once ran along the southern wall of the military barracks built by Governor Macquarie. Originally, the roadway was known simply as Barracks Lane and, when the barracks were still in operation, many would leave the barracks through a gate in the southern wall to use the lane way to reach either George or Clarence Street, which the lane ran between. Yet the barracks, which were in the centre of the growing Sydney town, occupied a large and very valuable plot of land. Government began to consider alternative places for the barracks and in the 1840s, a site was chosen. The site, a sandy spot on South Head Road, is now occupied by Victoria Barracks. Today, Wynyard Park is all that remains of the site once occupied by the Sydney military barracks, other than the name, which acts as a reminder in itself. Ironically though, the name Barrack Street was officially given to the road in 1849, a year after the barracks had actually closed.

Tessa The Golden Guide Dog


This week, The Past Present is focussing on something a little different. Many postcards focus on a place; a street, a building, a beach, even an industrial site. Yet there are those postcards which focus on something else, in the case of the card above, a monument. This card makes no mention of the location of the monument, the focus is the statue and the implied story behind it.

The monument is located in Newcastle, in Stockton to be precise, at the Lynn Oval. Where many monuments honour a person or an event, this one honours an animal who, in her lifetime, did amazing work, not just for her owner, but for all blind people. Tessa, the dog in the photo, was a guide dog, and between 1958 and her death in 1971 she was owned by Mrs Jean Dowsett. So what was it which made this dog so special? Tessa and her blind owner were a world record breaking fundraising team! They would make the journey from their home to the Stockton Ferry Wharf, where they would ask passengers for donations to support the blind. In their years of service, they were able to raise $45000 which, at the time, was more than any other dog and owner worldwide! After Tessa died her owner wanted a monument to be created to remember the amazing dog and the Stockton Lions Club honoured this request, erecting a statue to ‘Tessa The Golden Guide Dog’ in the years following Tessa’s death.

Coogee And It’s Pier

Coogee With Pier

This week, with the weather so cold and unpleasant, The Past Present is turning our attention to warmer and perhaps more pleasant times. In warm weather, many Sydneysiders and visitors to the city flock to the beautiful beaches, yet in the past there was far more to some of these beaches than simply sand and sea. Coogee Beach is but one example.

Coogee as a word appears to come from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘bad smell’, which may well refer to the decaying seaweed which is to occasionally be found washed up on the beach. Yet despite the perhaps less than flattering name, Coogee has long been a popular Sydney beach. As far back as 1832, European colonists were coming to the beach, and before then Aboriginals were very familiar with the area. In 1838 the village of Coogee was gazetted, and the future of the beach seemed assured and as surf bathing began to rise in popularity, Coogee became a popular destination.

Yet beaches were not just a place to laze on the sand, build castles, swim or catch a wave. In 1928 an amusement pier was even opened, as seen in the image above. The amusement pier was similar to amusement piers in England, and it actually reached out 180 metres into the sea itself. The pier, while it was still in operation, offered a large theatre and a ballroom with room for 600 dancers as well as a restaurant for up to 400 people. In addition, there were a number of smaller shops and even a penny arcade. Sydney seas are not so forgiving apparently as English seas though, and in 1934, only six years after it was opened, the pier was demolished due to safety concerns.