The image above is an idyllic view to serenade the end of the warm weather. If you look closely, you can just make out a group of figures, exploring the rocky foreshore. Yet, although Neilson Park remains popular with Sydneysiders and visitors alike, Steele Point itself is today much less well known.
Steele Point is today a seemingly little known area of Neilson Park, yet it has an important and fascinating history. Neilson Park was previously part of the Wentworth Estate, known as the Vaucluse Estate. Neilson Park officially became a public park in 1910 when the NSW State Government took over more than 20 acres of the Vaucluse Estate. Yet Steele Point itself was taken over by the Government much earlier.
In the early 1870s a costal fortification was constructed at Steele Point, the Steele Point Battery. It was built of sandstone and was at least half below the ground, with the material excavated in digging the rooms, tunnels and gun pits then mounded up around the emplacements to hide them from the view of those on the harbour itself. The Steele Point Battery was an important link in the chain of coastal fortifications built in the 19th century around Sydney Harbour to protect the settlement from seaborne attack.
This week, with the Sir John Monash Centre in Villers Bretonneux opening, and ANZAC Day commemorations fast approaching, The Past Present turns its attention to War Postcards. The image above is a shocking and stark snapshot of a battlefield where thousands of Australian soldiers served, and many lost their lives. Today, many might find such a postcard a strange subject, and one which is a little macabre. Yet this postcard, one of a set, is just one example of postcards highlighting the destruction and devastation of war.
During the First World War, postcard publishers created many thousands of different cards reflecting the war. Some of them were humorous, others beautiful and patriotic. Some even had embroidered pockets or pictures, meant for ‘mum’ or ‘ my sweetheart’.
Yet many of them were stark and devastating reminders of the war, showing photographs of battlefields, and even of corpses. These cards, which were sometimes sold in sets, like the postcard of Villers Bretonneux above, highlighted the destruction of war. As the war progressed, they heightened feeling against the then enemy with captions like ‘The work of German “Kultur”’, as in the postcard above. As the war raged on, battlefields and destruction became opportunities for propaganda postcard publishers, and more postcards were created.
Today, as so many of us move around the city, following overpasses, and taking tunnels, we little think about the hardships of times gone by, not just for those traversing the city, but for those building some of our iconic roads. The Argyle Cut is the major road link connecting Darling Harbour and Sydney Cove. Today, many of us pass through this amazing, short tunnel, but few of us spare a thought to the great amount of time, expense and risk which went into building it.
Argyle Street has, in some form, existed for more than two centuries. The road was officially built in 1810, leading from George Street towards Millers Point, but it came to an abrupt halt at a sheer rock face. A set of stairs was carved into the rock face at this point, which people could use to reach Cumberland Street and from there reach Millers Point and Darling Harbour, but they had to do it on foot. As a result it was impossible to move carts, vehicles and cargo directly between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour.
Yet both Darling Harbour (then Darling Island) and Sydney Cove were major hubs of activity, and a more efficient way of moving between the two soon became a priority. A plan for the Argyle Cut was drawn up by Edward Hallen in 1832 and work began in 1843. The initial work was completed by convicts in chain gangs, under overseer Tim Lane, who was renowned for his cruelty and love of flogging. Yet transportation of Convicts to NSW had officially ceased in 1840, and residents were unhappy with seeing convicts working in full chains, no matter how important the work they were completing. Work on the Argyle Cut was eventually abandoned by the government, only to be recommenced with paid labour and gunpowder by the Sydney Municipal Council. Work on the Argyle Cut was completed in 1859.
This week, with Autumn under way, and the end of the hot weather on the horizon, it seemed an ideal time for The Past Present to turn attention to some of our alternative beach culture and it’s history. Australia is known for it’s abundance of beautiful beaches, and the opportunities for swimming and other water based activities they provide. Yet in the past, some of Sydney’s beaches had other attractions.
If you look carefully in this postcard of Bondi Beach, you can make out a horse or donkey walking along the beach. I can find no written record of animal rides being offered at beaches in Sydney – or at least, not this far back in history. Yet I have heard many anecdotal stories, including from my mother, of pony and donkey rides once being offered along the sandy shores of Sydney’s beaches.
Do you remember having a pony or donkey ride on a Sydney beach?