Douglas Pratt and Duke Street, Sydney

Duke Street

This week, The Past Present is doing something a little different. Normally, the focus of posts is the place depicted in an image, but the image above has another story to reveal. The image, which comes from a postcard, was drawn by Douglas Fieldew Pratt, who was once a famous postcard artist.

Douglas Fieldview Pratt was born in 1900 in Katoomba, the son of the resident minister at the Congregational Church. In fact, he was apparently born in the Manse! As a young man his first job was working as a jackeroo near Singleton, and this is when he developed a love for the Australian landscape. It was this love which was to underpin his later career as an artist. In 1922 he moved to Sydney and became a surveyor, and it was when he was working for the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board in 1925 that his ability as an artist was first recognised. One of his colleagues saw his sketches and suggested he work to develop this wonderful skill. He also sold some paintings that year, and these two events encouraged him to take classes at the Royal Art Society and Sydney Long’s Etching School. Pratt used a variety of mediums in his work, ranging from oil paintings to simple pencil sketches, but it was perhaps his etchings and pencil drawings which became most famous. His first exhibition was in 1928 at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney, but he went on to exhibit Australia wide, and there are representatives of his works in galleries in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

The strangest thing about his work though are his postcards as nobody seems to know the story behind them. It seems that they were produced in the 1930s or 1940s, and there is a series of at least nineteen different images  that I can find. All depict Sydney and all are black and white letterpress prints of detailed sketches. The mystery though is were they commercially available as postcards in the various public shops, or only available as souvenirs at art galleries?

Not A Memorial To Captain Cook After All

Captain Cook Memorial 1964 copy

This week, with Australia Day rapidly approaching, it seemed the perfect time to share an image of the ‘Captain Cook Memorial’, as the reverse of the card states, at Kurnell.

Last year, The Past Present shared an image which bore a similar caption from 1906, but the image above, which  dates from 1964, shows what appears to be quite a different memorial. The original memorial, shown on the card from 1906 still exists, as does the one featured on the photo above. In addition, both are found on the shores of Botany Bay National Park. This raises the question – are there really two memorials to Captain Cook so close together? The answer is no. The 1906 postcard does indeed show the monument to Captain Cooks Landing Place, and to Captain Cook himself. However, the 1964 image is mislabelled. The memorial does acknowledge both Captain Cook and Joseph Banks, but it is specifically dedicated to a man who accompanied them on their 1770 landing, Daniel Solander.

Solander was a Swedish naturalist, who was taught by and followed the methods of the famous Carl Linnaeus. Like Joseph Banks, he was a botanist, and it was the pair of them who inspired the name ‘Botanist Bay’ (later Botany Bay). Yet Solander had one particularly striking difference to Banks – he was actually a university educated scientist, the first to set foot on Australian land. The memorial to Solander was erected in 1914.



This week, with the holidays well underway, and many people enjoying the beach as a way to beat the recent heat, it seemed the perfect time to share this postcard image of a popular seaside destination – Kiama.

Kiama has long been a popular seaside destination for holidaymakers, though of course, its history dates back well before European colonists. The original inhabitants of the area were the Wodi Wodi Aboriginal peoples, who called the area Kiarama-a or Kiar-mai, which is most often interpreted as ‘where the sea makes a noise’. This is where the name Kiama comes from, and the reference to the sea making a noise refers to perhaps the most famous feature of Kiama – The Blowhole. The first European to see the famous blowhole was George Bass, who anchored near Kiama in 1797 and recorded the sight in his journals. The next to visit the area were cedar getters, who by 1815 were busily clearing the bush and shipping the timber to Sydney from Black Beach. By the 1820s most of Sydney’s cedar came from the Kiama area. The Kiama area soon became famous for another trade – dairying. In fact, by the 1850s dairy farming and production was the main industry of the area, and as more people came to settle with their families and farm the land, a proper settlement grew up. A postal service was established in 1841 and the first church was built in 1843, with a school being built just a year later. In 1863 a local paper, the Kiama Independent was founded, and is today the oldest family owned newspaper in the whole of Australia.

Of course, another important factor in the local economy was the tourist industry, which truly began to thrive in the 1880s. Many Sydney residents were drawn to the beautiful scenery, and of course the seaside, a draw which has continued. Today, many head to the seaside town for a relaxing seaside holiday.

Her Majesty’s Theatre

Her Majesty's Theatre

This week, with the weather having been so poor, it seemed the perfect time to turn attention to one indoor attractions in Sydney. Sydney has a wonderful history of theatre and entertainments, and once Her Majesty’s Theatre, pictured in the postcard above, was a central part of this.

Over the course of European history, Sydney has actually been home to not one, but three theatres by the name of ‘Her Majesty’s’. The first of these was proposed in 1882, but construction on the actual building, which stood on the corner of Market and Pitt Streets, did not begin until 1884. At the time of opening, in 1887, it was the largest and best venue for shows in the entirety of the city, with a grand interior including a dome and chandelier. The theatre was also the first to actually conform to regulations put in place following the NSW Commission on Theatres. The main result of this was extensive fire safety and prevention measures, which included an asbestos drop curtain! Yet in 1902, just 15 years after opening, a fire broke out during a production of Ben Hur. The asbestos safety curtain did not operate properly, and the interior of the theatre was completely destroyed.

The theatre reopened in 1903 with an new Edwardian interior, though the Pitt Street side retained the original facade. The newly reopened theatre had the latest in technology and once again fire precautions were upgraded. This was not to be the final incarnation of Her Majesty’s Theatre though, and in 1933, ostensibly due to pressures from council rates and taxes, the theatre closed. There was a third theatre which was o be known as Her Majesty’s Theatre, which evolved from an existing theatre – The Empire. Yet this theatre did not open as ‘Her Majesty’s Theatre’ until 1960, well after the original theatre had closed.

St Mary’s Cathedral – Part 2

St Mary's 2

Last week, we left off with the destruction of the original St Mary’s Cathedral. The Cathedral, complete with Pugin designed additions, had been burned to the ground on June 29, 1865, leaving behind just one building intact, the Chapter Hall which had been built in 1844. Yet this was not the end for St Mary’s Cathedral.

Almost immediately after the destruction of the Cathedral, plans were made to build a new, bigger and grander Cathedral in its place. Later in 1865, Bishop Polding approached William Wardell, an architect and friend of Polding, to design the new building. Wardell had arrived in 1858 and had created a formidable reputation for grand, Gothic revival buildings, and it was this style which he planned to use for the new St Mary’s Cathedral.

The foundation stone was laid on December 8, 1868 and while building was going on mass was held in two temporary timber buildings. In 1869 a brick ‘pro-Cathedral’ was built in place of these temporary timber structures, and then in 1882, with the consecration of the first stage of the Cathedral , services were transferred to St Mary’s itself. The Cathedral continued to be built, in stages, until 1928, when the final southern section was completed. This section included the two towers, whose original design included grand spires. However, these spires were actually only added in 2000 – over 130 years after the building of the grand Cathedral commenced.