The Spit Middle Harbour

The Spit Middle Harbour Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse into the history of place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike will be familiar with – The Spit in Middle Harbour. Today, The Spit is often associated with traffic jams and frustration, yet the crossing over Middle Harbour may once have been slower still, when ferries plied the route, instead of a bridge.

The area around The Spit, which was itself originally known as the Sand-Spit, was first settled in 1846, when John Burton purchased 30 acres at Seaforth. Peter Ellery soon followed when in 1849 he began to farm land also in the Seaforth area, opposite The Spit itself. He formally purchased the land in 1855. Often people would request Ellery to take them across Middle Harbour and so in the early 1850s, he began a ferry service, using a row boat. In 1862 though, a road to The Spit was built, and more passengers for his ferry began to arrive. Soon he changed to using a hand operated punt.

In 1871 though, the government of the day took over the ferry service, introducing a steam punt which was operated and manned by Public Works Department employees. These employees were vital to the crossing of the harbour, and to ensure that they were close by, stone cottages were constructed on the Mosman side of the Spit (the direction from which the postcard above is looking) and given to the employees and their families. It appears that you can see two of these cottages in the left foreground of the postcard. The ferry service continued to be the only crossing of Middle Harbour until the first Spit Bridge was opened in 1824.

Riley Street And The Riley Estate


Little Riley Street From Albion Street Entrance

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a moment in time. Little Riley Street, in the image above classified as part of Redfern, but today part of Surry Hills, is a street which Sydneysiders may be familiar with, but few will recognise from the image above. Today, Little Riley Street is still narrow , but the streetscape itself has changed dramatically, to the point that the image above is unrecognisable as todays LittleRiley Street at the Albion Street entrance

Little Riley Street, has a fascinating history, linked to the Riley Estate and the personage of Edward Riley. Edward Riley was a merchant who found great success in India, before deciding to settle himself and his family in Sydney. In the 1820s, he brought up lots of small land grants in the area between Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills. Riley’s land, called the Riley Estate, quickly grew, becoming not just a series of small land grants, but a vast estate. Despite his wealth, he was not a happy man though and in 1825 he committed suicide, leaving behind a legal debacle. He had left two wills, and the contents of the wills conflicted which led to years of legal battle between his seven heirs.

The Government eventually appointed a commission to guide and control the division of the estate. The estate was broken into seven parcels of land, and these were then raffled amongst his heirs. Roads were built to separate the seven different land areas, and both Little Riley Street and Riley Street itself are examples of these roads, named for Edward Riley and an echo of the vast estate he had built. However, these new roads simply marked out the Riley Estate, as it had been divided up. Roads in the area had been formally laid out on a grid system in 1814 by James Meehan, then the surveyor-general. Yet the roads of the Riley Estate did not match up with this grid system at all. They met up with Meehan’s roads, but often to join them to the existing grid there had to be some deviation or bend put in place. This is what led to the unusual and often difficult to understand bends which are so common in the Surry Hills area.

St James Church

Queens Statue And St James Church Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a beautiful postcard image dating to the early 20h century. Yet the scene portrayed is one whose history dates back far further, with the stunning Church featured actually being the oldest surviving Church building in Sydney!

St James Church is a beautiful, convict built building, which is today the oldest remaining Church in Sydney. Yet is is significant for far more than simply its age. In 1819 the convict architect Francis Greenway was asked by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to design a courthouse. Macquarie, at this time, had grand plans for the area around George and King Streets, planning to build a beautiful cathedral on George Street, and a courthouse and a school on King Street. However, these plans were going to undergo significant changes. Macquarie was, by this time, known for his grand architectural ideas, and Commissioner Bigge, who had been sent from London, recommended significant changes to the planned George and King Street precinct.

The cathedral plans were put on hold (and the cathedral wasn’t completed until nearly 50 years later, in 1868). The plans for the courthouse and school also underwent significant alterations. Both were already under construction, but the school became a courthouse, while the planned courthouse became a Church. It was this courthouse which became St James Church, the Church pictured above. It was consecrated in 1824 and in 1836 it was was the church where Bishop Broughton, the first Bishop of Australia, was installed and regularly officiated. Classes for the first theological college of Australia were held at St James and the first ordinations of Australian Anglican clergy were also held at the Church. It was even the location of the first attempt to teach kindergarten in NSW!

Historic Moreton Bay Fig In Kiama

Historic Moreton Bay Fig Tree Kiama NSW Front

This week, The Past Present is turning attention to the area South of Sydney, an area which many people visit for day trips or holidays. Kiama is just one of the many beautiful seaside towns on the South Coast, but it is also one with a fascinating history, and some stunning trees. The tree in the image above, taken from a postcard dated circa 1910, is just one example of the extraordinarily beautiful Moreton Bay Figs which are so iconic in the Kiama and wider Woolongong area.

Moreton Bay fig trees are, just like Norfolk Pines, iconic and well recognised trees in the Kiama area. Yet the figs are not just beautiful, one of them actually played a remarkable role in the history of the area. The location of the fig tree in the image is unidentified, yet the most historic fig tree in Kiama, and possibly the one pictured, was located on Black Beach. The Black Beach fig tree was huge, and in the early years of settlement in Kiama the shady area under its branches became a meeting place for the settlers, and for visitors to the area. It was here that people waited for ships, and also here where goods brought to the area by ship were unloaded. It was under the spreading branches of this fig tree that the earliest Church services in Kiama were held. The giant fig tree was even used by Laurence O’Toole as a way to set course when he sailed the first trading vessel, The Bee, to Kiama in 1838!

The tree was so significant that the first Council Chambers in Kiama were built right next to the fig which had served as such a vital meeting place. The original fig was destroyed by storms in 1964 but so significant was it to the history of the area that another Moreton Bay Fig was planted in it’s place.