Sydney Harbour Bridge from Farm Cove – Botanic Gardens (Photographer Unknown)
The image above is an iconic view of Sydney, familiar not just to Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney, but worldwide. Indeed, The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an icon of Sydney, representing the harbour city around the world and showcasing the beautiful harbour to millions of people. Yet the bridge is not just a stunning structure, it has an amazing history.
Although today many think of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as simply an icon of Sydney, at the time that the bridge opened in 1932 it was icon of a whole different sort – an engineering marvel in itself. Yet the history of the bridge dates back well over a century before and the original bridge envisaged was a very different structure. In the early days of the colony, the famous convict architect Francis Greenway spoke with Governor Macquarie, suggesting a bridge be built in roughly the same place where the Sydney Harbour Bridge stands today. Of course, Greenways lofty dream didn’t come to pass, but by 1901, when Federation of the Australian States and Territories occurred, the need for a bridge across the harbour was well recognised. The year before, in 1900, the government called for people to submit designs for just such a bridge but all the designs were unsatisfactory, so the plans were again put aside.
In the wake of World War One though a real quest for a bridge spanning the harbour began. In 1923 Dr J.J.C Bradfield oversaw tenders for either an arch or cantilever bridge. Eventually, Bradfield would go on to oversee the entire design and building process of the now iconic bridge. The tender itself was won by a company from England, Dorman Long and Co. Ltd. They submitted a design by Sir Ralph Freeman for an arch bridge, and construction on the bridge began in 1924. Hundreds of families were displaced during the construction as entire streets of homes and businesses were resumed and demolished, without compensation, to make way for the now iconic bridge.
The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the history of a street which so many of us, Sydneysiders and visitors alike, are familiar with – Oxford Street. Today known as a cultural hub and for its restaurants and shopping, Oxford Street has a fascinating history. As we discovered last week, it was in fact Australia’s oldest highway!
As so often happens, as time wore on, and more people began to move about Sydney, Oxford Street became too narrow to service the traffic which used it. In 1907, the first stage of widening the important roadway was completed. This first stage was aimed at improving the intersection of Bourke, Flinders and Oxford Streets, and resulted in the creation of Taylor Square, so named in 1908. Between 1910 and 1914 Oxford Streets northern end, between Liverpool and Bourke Streets, was also widened.
In the 1920s, Oxford Street was again a prosperous and well patronised high street. Then, the Great Depression Hit and the once famous and prosperous street began its slide into disrepute. People no longer wanted to live in terraced houses, and so the character of the street changed as the affluent population moved into the suburbs where they were able to do so, and poorer people moved into the old houses. In the 1950s, the street became a haven for migrants and in the 1960s more professionals began to move back into the area.
It was also in the 1960s that a gay presence truly began to emerge in the area, and Oxford Streets culture began to change. In 1978 the first Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade was held, and although it was followed by confrontations with police, cemented Oxford Streets central role in Sydney Gay and Lesbian Culture.
The image above is a stunning glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s more famous streets – Oxford Street. Today, known for shopping, restaurants and a vibrant culture, Oxford Street has a long history, and one which is far different to the Oxford Street which we know so well today.
Many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are familiar with Oxford Street, yet few realise that the famous roadway is actually probably the oldest highway in Australia! Indeed, Oxford Street was once part of the South Head Road, which connected the settlement of Sydney with the vital signal station at South Head. Indeed, Oxford Street was the main route between the growing settlement of Sydney and the coast.
As such an important roadway, it is perhaps no surprise that by the 1870s Oxford Street was one of the most successful and lucrative commercial areas of Sydney. In fact, by the end of the 1880s, Oxford Street was recognised as one of the most prominent ‘High Streets’ in the settlement.
Come back next week to discover how Oxford Street changed and evolved in the 20th century to become the vibrant hub we see today.