Rabbit Island, Now Known As Peat Island

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The image above, which shows what was once known as Rabbit Island, is an evocative glimpse into the past of an island which has played an important role in the treatment of intellectual and mental disability in NSW. The island is on the beautiful Hawkesbury River, and today is better known as Peat Island.

The history of Peat Island (then known as Rabbit Island) being used as a facility for the intellectually disabled goes back far further than many may realise. In 1904 the first buildings were constructed for the purpose of housing and providing a place of treatment for female inebriates. The facility was expanded in 1910, becoming a Hospital for the Insane on the 22nd of December. The first patients, a group of 20 men, arrived in 1911 and over the next few years many more followed. Many of these patients were moved to the island from other, overcrowded institutions in Sydney and Newcastle. Yet by 1920, Rabbit Island had become one of these overcrowded institutions, and the facility was expanded to include the nearby Milson Island. By 1933 there were 429 patients being treated at the Islands. In 1936, Rabbit Island was renamed, taking the name Peat Island in honour of the local pioneer, George Peat, who had run a ferry service across the Hawkesbury River.

As the years went by, the facilities at what was now Peat Island, and the nearby Milson Island, treated more and more patients. By 1956 nearly 600 patients were spread between the two islands and by 1973 overcrowding had become a real problem again. Milson Island, which was also found to have dilapidated buildings, was closed at this time, while Peat Island was modernised and additional beds were provided. The Peat Island facility continued to operate until 2010, though in the 2000s there was substantial progress in deinstitutionalisation and integration of the intellectually disabled into the community. The remaining patients from Peat Island were moved to aged care facilities or community group homes (depending on their age) by the end of 2010.

What the future use of the island is to be remains unknown.

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Humour At Bobbin Head

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The image above, which comes from a postcard published in the early 1900s, is a humorous glimpse into the history of postcards. Although the postcard is associated with a specific location, Bobbin Head in Kuringai Chase National Park, this postcard would doubtless have been published en mass, and for many, many other locations.

When postcards became commonplace, around the turn of the 20th century, they were the easiest and quickest way to send a message. Of course, they quickly also became popular vehicles for humour and jokes. As a result, soon postcards were being published with humorous pictures, or funny quotes, which aimed to bring a smile or laugh to the recipient. Many of these jokes were political, some acted as advertisements for cartoon strips, but many others were slightly risqué.

The most famous of these more risqué postcards were the ‘saucy seaside’ postcards, which were first introduced in 1910 by Bamforth and Co. LTD in Britain. Many other producers of postcards followed, and saucy seaside postcards became not only popular, but relatively common. Sometimes, they were generic, showing a scene and caption, while at other times, they were printed with the name of a location, providing a humorous reminder of a holiday trip. They often featured a man, and a woman, with the man usually ogling the woman’s assets, as it were.

The Lithgow Iron Works

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The image above is a stunning view over what was once one of Australias most important industrial sites. Producing iron and steel for the Australian market, and using local ore and coal, the iron works were a major part of Australian industry. What’s more, the iron works was one of the first iron working sites in Australia, making it a significant pioneer of the industry.

Today, the Lithgow Iron Works are in ruins, but once, they were a thriving industrial centre, and an important employer. They were even the site where Australia’s first steel was produced!  Although the image shows the 20th century iron works, the history of iron working in Lithgow dates back to 1875. Iron ore had been discovered in Lithgow, on land belonging to Enoch Hughes. Soon, a small iron works was established to extract the metal and by 1880 the Lithgow iron works was producing enough pig iron to create four miles of rails for the railway each week.

In 1901, the son of William Sandford, who was the primary owner and manager of the iron works and Eskbank Colliery, successfully produced a viable amount of steel. Tapping steel was a major success as iron and steel was basic necessities for many other Australian industries and Sandford believed the quantities made needed to be increased. In 1901 he bribed parliamentarians to win a tender to supply iron and steel. Part of the deal made at this time was the construction of a new blast furnace – the furnace in the image above. The new blast furnace was ‘blown in’ in 1907, but by this time Sandford was financially and mentally stressed. In December of 1907 the bank foreclosed on the iron works, and the Hoskins brothers soon took over the company. They extended the government contract to produce iron and steel to the end of 1916 and soon the site was so successful that 80 coke ovens and a second blast furnace were added. Yet the blast furnace and iron works at Lithgow were not to be long lived. By the mid 1920s it had been decided to move the iron working operations to Port Kembla, as the access to transport and natural resources was better. The blast furnace site in Lithgow closed in 1928, just 21 years after it had been blown in.

A Thrilling Ride At Manly – The Water Chute

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This week, with the holidays drawing to a close, and the weather slowly beginning to warm up, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share this image of a holiday attraction from days gone by. The postcard above shows the once famous Water Chute which was, for a time, an extremely popular attraction at Manly.

In the 1840s, Henry Gilbert Smith began buying up land and transforming Manly into a popular tourist and residential resort. He touted Manly as an ideal health and holiday resort, and envisaged Manly as something of an Australian version of the famous Brighton Beach. As the 19th century progressed, and well into the 20th century, Manly grew more and more to reflect Smith’s view, and attractions were built to entertain visitors and locals alike.

The water chute in the image above was built in 1903, and opened just in time for the Christmas holidays. The chute, which also included a Toboggan, was built in Steyne Court and towered at 15 metres high. An 50 horsepower engine was used to winch a boatload of 8 people to the top, and then the boat was released, making the thrilling ride down the chute and into a lake built at the base. Toboggan rides were also popular attractions at Steyne Court, but the popularity of these early rides soon waned. The water chute closed in 1906, but it was one of the early attractions which made later tourist destinations like Oceanworld Manly possible.