This week, with school holidays upon us, many Sydneysiders are heading away from the hustle and bustle of our beautiful city. Australia has many beautiful towns and villages which become popular holiday destinations as Spring approaches. Some, like those in the Southern Highlands are particularly attractive due to their spectacular spring flower display. Mittagong is just one of these towns.
Mittagong is a town with an intriguing history, dating right back to the early 1800s. The first formal European settlement began in 1821 with a large grant made to William Chalker, but most of the earliest buildings in the area were not residences or even farms. Mittagong was, even from the very beginning, the gateway to the south, with some of the only natural routes over a chain of mountains passing through the area. As a result, it was not long before various inns sprang up in the area to serve travellers who were heading south. The town itself was much slower to develop, only really beginning to form after the coming of the railway to the area in 1867.
Before the coming of the railway, the Mittagong area was more a series of private villages than cohesive settlement, and only one of these villages, New Sheffield, was of any real size. New Sheffield was the village belonging to the Fitzroy Iron Works, the first iron works in Australia, and the workers not just at the iron works itself, but at the mines associated with the works lived in the private village. With the coming of the railway though, more people began to come to the area and in the 1880s the area began to be subdivided. In 1889 the municipality of Mittagong was formally created, and the earlier villages were mainly absorbed into the newly created town.
The image above is a wonderful snapshot of day out and about on Sydney Harbour. It shows one of the beautiful harbour islands simply teeming with visitors, perhaps waiting to watch one of the yacht races which were once so popular – perhaps even The Sydney To Hobart Race itself. Yet the island in question, Shark Island, is one which was not always publicly accessible.
In the 19th century, Shark Island was an important link in the colony’s quarantine system, and from 1871, was the quarantine depot for animals arriving from overseas. Yet many local Sydneysiders felt that the beautiful harbour islands, including Shark Island, should be made available as public reserves. The pressure of public opinion was such that in 1900, the NSW Government made Shark Island a public reserve, though it didn’t officially open to the public until 1905. Before being opened officially, the Clark Island Trust, which had been established in 1892 to beautify and create visitor facilities on Clark Island, worked to improve the amenities and beauty of Shark Island. Their intention was to create on Shark Island an Edwardian style English picnic park, and they constructed paths, shelters, seating and gardens. Then, in 1917, The Sydney Harbour Trust took over the management of the island and made more improvements, including the construction of new paths. The Sydney Harbour Trust continued to be responsible for the island until 1975, when Shark Island became part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.
The image above, featured on a postcard from the early 20th century, reveals an island situated in Sydney Harbour. Yet this is an island which many locals are likely unaware of – Shark Island. Yet Shark Island, or Boambilly as it was known to the Aboriginal people, has a fascinating history.
Located just at the entrance to Rose Bay, Shark Island is a beautiful island, known for its shady trees and pretty grottoes. Shark Island is not so named because its waters are a haven for sharks. The name is derived from the fact that the island shape, very vaguely, resembles a shark. Yet despite the absence of waters teeming with dangerous sea life, Shark Island was a dangerous place. Throughout the 19th century there were a number of shipwrecks, and many people drowned in the waters off Shark Island. So great was the danger that in 1890 a navigational light was erected on the island. What’s more, in the 1830s, the Island became a temporary quarantine station. Cholera had broken out in Europe, and Shark Island was used to prevent the disease gaining a hold in the colony. Then, in 1871, the Island was again used for Quarantine purposes, this time for animals. Imported cattle and dogs were housed on the island until it was sure that they posed no risk to the animals already living in the Colony. Yet Shark Island was also known for its beauty, and being only a short distance from the shores of Rose Bay, many Sydneysiders wanted to use the island for recreational purposes.
Come back next week to find out about how Shark Island transformed from an animal quarantine station to a popular public reserve.
The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the lives, and the living conditions, of so many Australians in days gone by. The simple bark hut, a humpy as the postcard describes it, may appear rough and uninviting by our modern standards, but for many Australians living in the 1800s, and even into the 1900s, such structures were home.
When we think of old Australian houses, we tend to often think of historic homes which have been preserved for posterity, many of them grand houses or country estates. It is true that even in the earliest years of the colony, some people, like the Governor, lived in prefabricated houses brought from England. Yet for most Australians, home was somewhere much rougher and more simplistic. The early colony was tent settlement and even the first more substantial buildings were often made of wattle and daub. Other early buildings were built of timber, with many of the local trees providing long lasting, good wood which could be used not just for roofing, but for the whole building. Particularly popular was ironbark, which could last for 30 years or more, even when exposed to harsh weather conditions. Local timber continued to be a popular building material right up until the Second World War, with many people continuing to use what was to hand in building their homes.
Even when the colony began to become more prosperous, many continued to build using wattle and daub, timber and bark. Such techniques were popular with squatters, who did not have formal rights to their land, and may be moved on as a result. These techniques were also popular with selectors, who used materials at hand to build a simple home, which they sometimes added to, or abandoned for a more formal structure if they prospered. Often the hut was a single room, which may eventually become a kitchen or living room if the family prospered and the house was extended. This is the type of home pictured in the postcard above.
The image above is a beautiful glimpse into a day out and about on the water. Sydney has many beautiful river and creek systems which feed into the spectacular Sydney Harbour, and these have long been a popular destination for a lazy day out and about, used by residents and visitors alike. Yet this postcard also captures a beautiful 19th century building – The Walker Convalescent Hospital. This building, one which many Sydney residents may not realise exists, has a fascinating history.
The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, which is today known as Rivendell, is a stunning building, surrounded by beautiful grounds, on the banks of the Parramatta River. The story of the hospital begins in 1886 with the death of a well known Sydney philanthropist, Thomas Walker. Walker had left a bequest of 100,000 pounds for the purposes of building a convalescent hospital, and also set aside a portion of his estate at Concord as the hospital site. The executors of Walkers will held a competition in April 1888 to select a design for the convalescent hospital, a competition won by John Kirkpatrick. Yet Kirkpatricks design was criticised as too expensive, and in mid 1889 it was announced that although his design would be built, the architects engaged in the building of the hospital would be another firm, Sulman and Power.
Building of the hospital commenced in 1890 and the hospital opened in late September 1893. It was built in the Queen Anne style, and positively reflected the influences of Florence Nightingale on hospital design and organisation. The final cost of the hospital exceeded the bequest by Thomas Walker by 50,000 pounds, and the extra funds were donated by Walkers daughters Eadith and Joanna, and Eadith’s childhood friend, Anne Sulman. The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital was used for convalescents right up until World War Two, when the military took possession of the building. Patients at the hospital were not charged for their care, with Thomas Walker’s bequest providing for four weeks of care per patient, with the option of a two month stay if needed. After the war, the trustees of the hospital regained control and it continued to act as a convalescent hospital until 1976, when control was given to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Today, the site is known as Rivendell, and acts as a rehabilitation centre and school for adolescents, under the direction of the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Unit.