Vaucluse Bay – An Informal Pleasure Resort

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Vaucluse Bay. Section less fully developed than most other bays. Native brush and trees shown. used by some visitors as less formal resort area.

With the holidays drawing to a close, many Sydneysiders look to spend Australia Day and the final weekend of the school holidays closer to home. Sydney has a varied range of beautiful parks and wonderful beaches, many of which have a long history as ‘pleasure resorts’, both formal and informal. The evocative image above, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936, shows Vaucluse Bay, a ‘less formal resort area’, according to the photographers description.

According to the description by the unknown photographer, Vaucluse Bay is a ‘section less developed than other bays’, one of the reasons why it apparently became a popular, informal resort for many Sydneysiders. Yet the reason why Vaucluse Bay is so undeveloped in comparison to other bays is in itself a fascinating glimpse into history, for Vaucluse Bay was once part of the grounds of Vaucluse House.

Vaucluse House began life as a more simple stone cottage built in 1805 by an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Henry Browne Hayes. It was he who named the property Vaucluse after a village bear Avignon in Southern France. In 1827 though, the cottage and property were purchased by the famous explorer William Wentworth. Soon, he began the process of improving the property, first building a range of outbuildings, including a rather grand Gothic revival style stable, which still stands today. He also began to extend on the cottage, adding bedrooms, a dining room and drawing room. By the 1830s, he had even completed a boathouse on the bay itself. The Wentworths were also committed to creating beautiful grounds for the increasingly grandiose (though never quite completed) house. Wentworth died in 1872, and was interred in a mausoleum built on the Vaucluse estate.

The house, and Vaucluse Bay itself, continued to be private land until 1911 when extensive public pressure caused the state government to resume over 20 acres of harbour front land. By 1912, the Vaucluse Park Trust was granting public access to the bottom level of the house and in 1915 regular visiting hours were established. Soon, Vaucluse Bay and the grand house it once belonged to were a popular, if relatively undeveloped, tourist resort for Sydneysiders. In 1980 the entire property was acquired by the Historic Houses Trust.

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