A Dam By Any Other Name – Burrinjuck Dam

Scene on Barren Jack Weir Front

This week, with the holidays underway and many Sydneysiders heading to the country to enjoy the best Spring has to offer, it seemed the perfect time to look at one of the magnificent feats of engineering which are to be found in our many stunning national parks. Burrinjuck Dam, or Barren Jack Weir as it was once known, and as it is described on the postcard above, is just one of these.

Burrinjuck Dam is on the Murrumbidgee River about 60 kilometres from Yass and today is marketed as a popular area for bushwalking, camping and water sports. Yet in 1906, when the construction of the Dam began, the scheme was created for an extremely different audience, and even today, the water is vital for reasons other than tourism. The dam was the first in NSW to be built specifically to provide water for irrigation and provided water to the government sponsored Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme. The scheme allowed the Murrumbidgee Valley to develop as a thriving agricultural centre, producing everything from fruit to rice. At the time when the dam was built, it was the fourth largest dam in the entire world. In 1911 the name Barren Jack, which the dam was originally known as, was changed to Burrinjuck, an Aboriginal word used for the area. Due to interruptions caused to construction by World War 1, the dam was not completed until 1928, but even before completion, there had been two major floods which proved the viability of the scheme.

Today, between Burrinjuck and Blowering Dams (the latter of which is near Tumut), the Murrumbidge is able to provide for the irrigation needs of the Murrumbidgee Valley and the area is responsible for providing NSW with up to 90% of our potatoes, 80% of our carrots, 50% of our rice and 25% of our other fruits and vegetables.

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The Scenic Railway

The Scenic Railway Katoomba Blue Mountains2This week, with the holidays rapidly approaching, it seems the perfect time to turn attention to one of the many attractions not far from Sydney. The Scenic Railway is a popular place for tourists to visit, and today is a reasonably comfortable, safe and not particularly terrifying ride. The historic and unique railway has quite a history though, and in its early days, as the postcard above demonstrates, was quite a different ride.
The Scenic Railway may be today a historic ride, but it was a working railway for the mines which were once situated at the bottom of the escarpment. By 1878 the mines, which mined not only coal but also kerosene shale, were in full operation and a system of cable tramways serviced them. The scenic railway we see today was one of these, carrying the mined materials to the summit of the mountain where they were transferred to another railway to be taken further, to local businesses who purchased the coal, and also to markets in Sydney.
Even before Scenic World was created, the railway carried more than just mined materials. Many miners caught a lift up from the mines in one of the coal carts, and later on weary walkers would also make the journey. A 12 seater car was built, named Jessie, and this was used on weekends and public holidays to carry passengers, even while the mines remained in operation.The car only carried 12 people, and rides cost sixpence. During the Second World War, American troops on leave heard of the railway and came to the Blue Mountains to visit and ride the engineering marvel. In fact, it was while Harry Hammon was loading coal for transport to Katoomba that he met up with a group of American soldiers. They had come to see the railway, and were disappointed to discover that it was only run on weekends. When the mine closed, Hammon and his sister Isobel Fahey took over the lease and began to operate the railway as a tourist attraction.

Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm

Barracluff's Ostrich Farm
Over time, Sydney and the surrounding areas have been host to a range of businesses, from the large industrial to the smaller and perhaps quirkier. In fact, once Sydney even had it’s own ostrich farm!
Joseph Barracluff was born in Lincolnshire and in 1884 he and his wife Jane immigrated to Australia. He soon established a business selling feathers in Elizabeth Street, opposite the Devonshire Street Cemetery (now Central Station). In 1889 the Barracluff’s purchased a property in South Head in order to start producing their own feathers for hats, boas, fans and other ladies fashion. Feathers were not their only product though. Ostrich eggs were also highly prized and many were finely carved and mounted in silver to be used as beautiful home ornaments.
Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm was one of the earliest feather producing businesses in Australia, and was Australia’s ‘show ostrich farm’ for many years. In fact, so high profile was the business that in 1901 the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and Work (who became King George V and Queen Mary) visited during their royal tour of Australia. The duchess was presented with a grand ostrich feather fan with a gold base and enormous ostrich feathers (up to 68 centimetres long it is reported) and after the visit the farm was even allowed to use the words ‘Under Royal Patronage’ to describe the business. They also advertised their feathers as ‘By Special Appointment To His Excellency The Governor General and His Excellency The Governor Of New South Wales’.
Joseph Barracluff died in 1918, and following his death the business slowly declined. The land where the ostrich farm once thrived was subdivided and sold in 1925.

Milsons Point Ferry Arcade

Milsons PointMilsons Point is an area which Sydneysiders and visitors alike are very familiar with. As the place where the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge connects to Sydney Harbours north shore, it is a place which most of us pass through at the very least, on a regular basis. Yet the postcard above shows a very different view of the area to that we are familiar with today.

Even before the famous bridge was built, Milsons Point was an important area for travellers wishing to cross the beautiful harbour. From Milsons Point to the opposite shore was the smallest distance of water, so it was naturally the place where many early ferry services developed. The first ferry services were offered by local residents, the most famous of whom was Billy Blue (whose full name was William). Regular services soon followed, and they increased in frequency dramatically between the 1830s and the 1860s.

Then, in the early 1860s James Milson junior and some of his colleagues formed the North Shore Ferry Company, which was also known as the North Shore Steam Ferry Company and later as simply Sydney Ferries. They ran ferries between Milsons Point and Circular Quay and were licensed to carry up to 60 people at a time. In fact, the steam ferries were able to carry more than simply human passengers – they also ferried horses and carts! When cable trams began to run to and from the Milsons Point Ferry Terminus, the future of Milsons Point as a transport hub was assured. A grand ferry arcade (also known as the North Shore Ferry Company Building) was also constructed at this time, a building which dominated the Milson Point area until 1924 when it was demolished to allow the Sydney Harbour Bridge to be built.