Dawes Point – Part 4

Dawes Point From McMahons Point Front

Dawes Point From McMahon’s Point

As we have been learning over the past three weeks, Dawes Point is a fascinating place, with layer upon layer of history to be discovered. From the first observatory and a vital contact place for European Colonists and Aboriginal People, to a fortified defence post, Dawes Point has served Sydney in a variety of ways. Yet, perhaps one of it’s most vital roles came in the 20th century.

In 1902, the Dawes Point battery stopped being used as a defensive point. With Federation, there had been the formation of a regular Australian Army, and Dawes Point was no longer seen as necessary to defence. Following this era, the main role played by Dawes Point for the next years was as a landing place for ferry services crossing the harbour. These services date right back to Billy Blue, who began a ferry service in the early 1800s, and even ferried Governor Macquarie across the harbour! By 1900, Dawes Point was the landing place for the Horse Ferry. There were also public baths in the area of Dawes Point, and of course many buildings which were now unoccupied. In 1909 the Water Police moved into the guardhouse, and we also know that, from 1918, the Officers Quarters were used by the Department of Repatriation as a tractor training school for returned soldiers. Other areas were reserved for public use, including a promenade.

By 1925 though, all the buildings were empty and awaiting demolition to make way for a new crossing of the harbour, the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many of the buildings, including Francis Greenways contributions, were demolished and the cannons were removed and placed at Taronga Park Zoo, where they remained until 1945. Other buidlgins, including the Officers Quarters were used as offices and accomodation for the engineers building the bridge, Dorman and Long. In 1925, Dawes Point also became home to one of two u shaped tunnels. These tunnels, one on each side of the harbour, contained massive cables which held back the bridge arches as they were being built. When the bridge was complete, the cables were no longer needed and removed, and the tunnels were filled in. Dawes Point is also the site of the Southern Pylon of the famous bridge, which soars above the heads of those visiting. During construction of the bridge, the area was of course closed to the public, but following the opening of the bridge, the area was opened as a public park, which today remains a popular area, especially for watching the Sydney Harbour fireworks on New Years Eve!

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Dawes Point – Part 3

Sydney Harbour From Dawes Point 2 Front.jpg

The image above, which reveals a heavily fortified Dawes Point, is a glimpse into the history of an area which all Sydneysiders know, but often overlook when thinking about the history of Sydney. Yet Dawes Point is a place with layers of history, which have built up over the years of Aboriginal and European occupation. Today, we associate Dawes Point simply with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, yet before this time, Dawes Point played a very different role in Sydney’s history.

By 1791, the value of Dawes Point as a strategic and defensive position had been fully recognised. The earlier observatory was demolished, and the area of Dawes Point was taken over by fortifications, barracks, powder magazines and even artillery, with the earliest gun at Dawes Point actually originating on the ship Sirius. In 1801 improvements were made to the fortifications, and in 1819, famous convict architect, Francis Greenway, was tasked with completely redesigning the fortifications. Although the original plans for his fort do not survive, we know from contemporary accounts and archaeological evidence that his fort was built in the castellated Gothic style. At the time, aspects of the new fort were criticised, such as a decorative guardhouse above the fort which people felt was a target, not a defence!

Then, in the 1850s, fears of a Russian attack, associated with Britains involvement in the Crimean war, caused the fort to once again be altered. By 1856, members of the Royal Artillery had been stationed in Sydney, at Dawes Point Battery, and of course new buildings had been constructed to house them. An officers quarters and new barracks buildings were constructed at this time. It was also at this time that new guns were installed. Five cannons were added to the fort, and these can still be seen at Dawes Point today, though most are no longer in their original positions. A lower fort, of which little is known, was also built at this time, and underground powder stores have been discovered during archaeological excavations. It is believed these powder magazines also date to this period. Over the following decades, and up to the time of Federation, Dawes Point continued to play a significant role in military activity, and more buildings were added to fulfil various roles. After Federation, and the creation of the regular Australian Army, military presence at Dawes Point was discontinued, with occupation ending in 1902. Little remains visible of the fortifications, though a sentry box which is today adjacent to the Ives Steps and Wharf would have originally been used to observe the harbour and foreshore.

Dawes Point Part 2

Sydney Dawes Point From Fort Macquarie Front

The image above, which shows Dawes Point in the early years of the 20th century. The image is a glimpse into the past history the area which today, for many Sydneysiders, is firmly associated with the 20th century and The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Yet Dawes Point is one of those extraordinary places in Sydney history which has layered history, dating right back to the earliest years of the colony, and before.

Dawes Point is so named because of its association with Lt William Dawes, who established an observatory on the point. He recorded meteorological observations and was the official time keeper for the colony, as well as observing the nighttime sky. His scientific records are incredibly significant records of early colonial history, and are even important to the international scientific community. Yet Dawes Point did not remain a scientific institution for long.

Dawes Point is able to supply excellent views up and down the harbour, and it wasn’t long before the strategic possibilities of the area were recognised. Even during the years of Dawes Observatory, there was a signal station and powder magazine located on the site. The signal station was built on the site to allow the communication of messages from The Gap at Watsons Bay, to Sydney, and from there up the Parramatta River, to the Governors residence. Even the first proper road was built from Dawes Point to Sydney’s Government House to enable quick communication between the leader of the colony and the signal station. When news came of conflict between England and Spain, the basic defences at Dawes Point were formalised. The observatory buildings, which were made of wood, were demolished in 1791 and permanent fortifications were built on the site to defend the new colony from other European powers. Dawes Point Battery, as it was known had armaments, powder magazines, guardhouses and officers quarters. Even the guns from the ship Sirius were relocated to the point to enable defence of the new colony.

The Dawes Point Battery continued to be an important part of Sydney’s defences over the next years. Come back next week to find out more.

Dawes Point As It Once Was

Sydney harbour From Dawes Point 1 Front

Sydney is an amazing city, with a stunningly beautiful harbour. It also conceals layer upon layer of history, from pre-European colonisation Aboriginal history through to the relatively modern. Sometimes, this history is even disguised, hidden under famous landmarks which dominate our minds, and hide the history of the place before their time. Dawes Point is one such place. This week, we begin the first in a series of posts uncovering these amazing layers of history.

Dawes Point is steeped in history. Today, it is firmly associated with The Sydney Harbour Bridge, whose southern Piers and Abutment Tower can be found on the point. Yet there is a wealth of history which predates the bridge. Before European colonisation, the Aboriginal people of the Eora nation called Dawes Point Tarra and the point itself was part of the land belonging to the Cadigal people. After European colonisation, Dawes Point was first associated with Lt William Dawes who in 1788 established a hut and observatory on the site. He named the point Point Maskelyn, after the Astronomer Royal, but the point soon became more commonly known as Dawes Point.

Yet it was not just Dawes work as a scientist which is significant. Dawes Point, and Dawes himself are associated with one of the earliest recorded cultural exchanges between the British colonists and the Eora people. A young Cameral woman, Patyegarang, had become friends with Dawes and the pair learned to communicate. Dawes recorded many of the Eora words and their English translations in his notebooks. This is one of the first recorded friendly interchanges between the colonists and the traditional owners of the land they had colonised.

Come back next week to discover the next layer of history to be discovered at Dawes Point