Bulli Pass


With the holidays well and truly upon us, many people will be thinking of heading away for a family trip, often to the beach. Yet for those heading to the South Coast, the view in the image above might be a little different to the one they see today as they descend Bulli Pass!

Bulli Pass was discovered in 1844, by Captain Westmacott, who had arrived in Australia in 1831 and taken up a grant in the Bulli area in 1836. He discovered the new route up the mountain above Bulli and gained support from both the local citizens and the government to build a road, then known as Westmacott’s Pass, along the route. Yet no vehicles used the road until 1868 because up until this time, it was little more than a track. The new road was shorter and safer than the old road to Bulli and soon became the main route to the Illawarra from the North. The road was sealed in 1926.

Safe is a comparative word though! Throughout the history of the pass there have been runaway coaches and cars, lorries and trucks. In modern times, many of these have been accompanied by the smell of burning brakes! There have also been horse fatalities along the road, including Wirth Brothers circus horses hit by lightning. Perhaps the most interesting incident occurred in 1896 though, when an enraged bull escaped and took over the pass. It charged six pedestrians who escaped into the prickly blackberry bushes along the side of the road, and then overturned their carriage before it could be caught!

Merry Christmas From Sydney Zoological Gardens


This week, with Christmas just around the corner, and Christmas holidays well and truly upon us, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share this beautiful postcard. The postcard, which shows the zoological gardens in Sydney, was published especially for Christmas, and is quite a different scene to those which appeared on many seasonal cards of the time.

The zoo in Sydney, now Taronga Zoo, has long been a popular destination for holiday makers, whether at Christmas or at other times of the year. Yet the zoo as we know it is very different from the zoological gardens in this postcard. In fact, they aren’t even in the same place! The Sydney Zoological Gardens were established in the 1880s after the Sydney City Council granted the new Sydney Zoological Society permission to occupy an area of Moore Park. The area where this first ‘Zoological Gardens’ was established was 7 ½ acres in an area known as Billy Goat Swamp. This is an area which today is part of Sydney Girls High School. As time went by, and under the direction of Charles Moore, the zoological gardens expanded eventually even including an elephant house and bear pit.

By 1910 however the zoo was considered not only too small, but too popular. The site at Moore Park was no longer suitable for such a popular tourist destination and Taronga Park in Mosman was selected as an alternate site for the zoo.

Surf Bathing, Coogee


This week, with holidays nearly upon us and the beach going season well and truly here, it seemed the perfect time to share the image above, of surf bathing at Coogee. Although surf bathing, or swimming in the ocean, continues to be a popular Australian pastime, there have been many changes to beach culture over the years, not least in the standard of dress.

Even after laws which prohibited daytime swimming in Australia had been changed, there continued to be a moral conundrum concerning propriety, and what was appropriate to wear for swimming, especially as daylight swimming allowed bathers to be seen! Although concessions had to be made to allow bathers to move (vital if drowning was to be prevented), many people were offended by what they saw as inappropriate ‘exhibitionistic’ clothing, which displayed much more of the figure than people in the early 20th century were used to. As a result, many councils enforced their own laws which imposed minimum standards for beachwear.

One of the more famous of these laws was proposed by Waverly Councilin 1907. They tried to impose a law which required men to wear bathers which had sleeves to the elbow and a skirt extending to their knees. Although many supported strict regulations about swim wear, these laws went too far! One of the first actions of the Surf Bathing Association of NSW, which was the precursor of Surf Life Saving Australia, was to protest against these proposed requirements. They were concerned that the bathers would emasculate men and organised a public protest which took place at Bondi, Manly and Coogee. Men flocked to the beaches wearing womens clothes, underwear and even curtains or tablecloths and essentially made a mockery of the proposed swim wear. The general public and media both viewed the protests very positively, and the council abandoned their new laws.

Surf Bathing At Ocean Beach, Manly


This week, with the weather heating up and many Sydneysiders beginning to get into the Summertime beach culture, it seemed the perfect time to share this image of ‘surf bathing, Coogee’. Today, we are often used to seeing beaches full of people, often clad in reasonably skimpy swimmers, enjoying their modern take on ‘surf bathing’. Yet as this postcard shows, although surf bathing has a long history in Australia, it has changed a lot over the years – especially the clothing choices!

Although we don’t often use the term surf bathing today, swimming at the beach (or in the surf, hence the name) was, and continues to be, an extremely popular pastime for Sydneysiders, and Australians more generally. Since the earliest days of European colonisation, and doubtless before, the sea has been a popular way to cool down on a hot Australian summers day. Yet until 1902, you certainly would not have seen a scene like the one above. For many years, bathing in public during daylight hours was illegal, but in 1902, Mr William Gocher broke the law. In September, at Manly, he swam during daylight hours, breaking the Australian law against swimming during ‘prohibited hours’ (which was essentially any daylight hours. Soon others were following his example and also challenging the law. They forced the issue of daylight swimming, and before too long, the law was changed, allowing daylight bathing to occur without risk of penalty or prosecution.

Of course, the next problem arose around what was proper dress for surf bathers. As the image above shows – it was vastly different to what we consider appropriate today! Come back next week to find out more.

William Street


This week, The Past Present turns attention to the major streets in Sydney. We take for granted roads like the major thoroughfare William Street, yet in the early history of Sydney, streets were unpaved, or unevenly paved, dirty places. Others still were private roads which essentially were for use only by residents of their destinations. The image above, showing William Street, is just a glimpse into the history behind some of our grander streets.

William Street is one of Sydney’s major thoroughfares, linking Kings Cross to Hyde Park, where the street becomes Park Street. What’s more it acts as a border between Woolloomooloo and Darlinghurst. The earliest history of William Street dates to the 1820s, when Surveyor General James Meehan made public his grand plan to promote orderly development in the Surry Hills area, along a grid system. His proposed route for what became William Street was in conflict with the route proposed by Surveyor Thomas Mitchell, who proposed a grand thoroughfare which would extend on the existing Park Street. He also proposed that the street should detour through private land to avoid a significant sand hill, but in his absence (while surveying away from Sydney) the landowner, Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay, ordered the street go ahead straight over the sandhill. Mitchell had suggested naming the street after the then king, William, and this part of his plan went ahead without any change.

The first part of William Street was proclaimed in early 1835 and not long after a rush to subdivide the area of Woolloomooloo began. By the 1850s, Woolloomooloo was essentially an expensive suburb, with houses, streets, shops, and even a horse bus running from the city along William Street. From 1879 steam trams began to operate, transforming William Street from an essentially private street to a major thoroughfare. With the coming of the steam trams, more subdivision occurred, but this time the new residents were not the wealthy. Cottages began to be interspersed with the earlier mansions, and by the 1890s, Woolloomooloo was a working class area of Sydney, complete with labourers, seamen, drifters and prostitutes. In 1908 the Royal Commission for the improvement of Sydney was formed, and found William Street to be wholly unsuitable for modern heavily laden vehicles. In 1916, the council resumed nearly 100 properties at the south side of William Street and the street was widened and upgraded between 1916 and 1923. Then, in 1969 the Woolloomooloo Redevelopment Plan was adopted, which again sought to recreate William Street. Most of this work did not go ahead though, due to resident protests.