Sussex Street

The image above is an extraordinary glimpse into the past of a street which is familiar to so many of us Sydneysiders – Sussex Street. Being one of the major streets in the CBD of Sydney, it is a street which sees hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles every day, yet the vehicles it sees today are vastly different to those clogging the street in the postcard image. In fact, Sussex Street today is indeed a vastly different place to that shown in the busy image above.

Sussex Street is, compared to many others in Sydney, quite small running for just 1.7 kilometres between Hickson Road and Hay Street. Yet its relatively short length is crammed with history, and historic buildings. Sussex Street has long been a centre of activity and business in Sydney, just as it continues to be today. The street runs adjacent to Darling Harbour, and as a result many of the buildings along the street were once, and still are, associated with harbour activities. Hotels, Warehouses, Commercial Stores and even the Hunter River Steamship Navigation Company once lined the street, and today their buildings are often preserved by heritage listings.

Woolloomooloo Part 3

Woolloomooloo Bay Sydney 2 Front

The image above shows a glimpse of a Woolloomooloo which is today long gone. The once working wharves are now trendy housing, shops and restaurants, and the plethora of pubs, brothels and squalid homes have disappeared. Once again, Woolloomooloo has transformed into a rather gentrified and popular area for Sydney’s well to do, just as it began life. Yet this very nearly wasn’t the case.

By the mid 20th century, Woolloomooloo’s reputation had been seemingly irrevocably damaged. There was not enough work, houses were overcrowded with a combination of large families and boarders who helped family finances. Homes were badly in need of repair, but most landlords did nothing. Sly grog, drug dealers and criminal gangs were common. It was assumed, by all but those who lived there, that eventually Woolloomooloo would be nothing more than an extension of the commercial heart of the city. Planners and developers had long had plans for the area, and in 1955 the first battle arrived. A car business which owned the old Colonial building, St Kilda, which stood on Cathedral Street, applied to demolish it. There were numerous court battles, and some very shady activities to make St Kilda, which had been transformed into flats, unlivable. Eventually though, St Kilda was demolished to make way for a car park.

In 1967, more major plans were afoot as the State Planning Authority revealed plans to replace Woolloomooloo with high rise buildings. It was assumed by many, even people who were vocal defendants of other areas of the city, like Ruth Park, that Woolloomooloo was too far gone to save. Yet they were wrong. By 1971, Sidney Londish had bought up huge areas of Woolloomooloo and proposed a new development of city tower blocks – none of them residential. The public fiercely protested the plan, but in 1973 council approval was given. Yet it was this proposed development which helped to galvanise the public against the redevelopment of Woolloomooloo. In 1972 the Woolloomooloo Resident Action Group was formed and turned random anger into organised resistance to new development. Then, by the end of 1972 the Whitlam Government, with its election promise to save Woolloomooloo, came to power. The state government was reluctant, but a combination of Green Bans, public opposition and pressure from the Whitlam Government was taking its toll.

In June 1975 an agreement was made at all levels of Government to keep land for public housing and traditional homes for the families who worked in the inner city. Old homes were restored and new homes, which replaced those which were too far gone to save, were built in sympathetic styles. Streets were closed, landscaping and new ammenities were added, transforming Woolloomooloo from a squalid residential area into something which was once again much more gentrified. By the 1980s the finger wharf was in disrepair, and completely unused and although there were again plans for demolition, public sentiment won and eventually the wharves became an expensive residential redevelopment. Today, the juxtaposition of expensive apartment homes and public housing is still common in Woolloomooloo.

Woolloomooloo Part 2

Woolloomooloo Bay Sydney looking into city Front

The image above provides a very different view of Woolloomooloo, which as we discovered last week, was once (and is again today) an affluent and gentrified area of Sydney. Under Governor Darling, the area had become one where the well to do lived and tended grand houses and gardens, but this wasn’t to last.

Even whilst the more grandiose houses were still being built, lowly workers cottages began to appear on the swampy areas of the Woolloomooloo Valley. By the 1850s, less than 30 years after Governor Darling transformed the area into a fashionable and well to do place, Woolloomooloo was in the throws of more change. The swamp areas had been drained and an increasing number of homes were being built for the growing working class who worked in the various maritime industries along the water front. The grand Woolloomooloo House was demolished and replaced by smaller houses while other grand estate houses were being altered to become boarding houses. Then, in 1866 the wharves were extensively expanded requiring ever more workers in the area. Pubs, brothels and of course ever more dwellings appeared, crowding the once grand Woolloomooloo area. In 1855 the Plunkett Street School was opened to cater for the growing number of working class children in the area.

Then, in 1876, authorities conducted a survey of the worst housing in Sydney. They had not planned to spend much time in Woolloomooloo, and were surprised by what they found – a proliferation of unsanitary and dilapidated houses in the area, inhabited by maritime workers and their families. By the late 1800s, any semblance of gentrification had gone from Woolloomooloo and the reputation of the area was one of squalid housing, rough working class families, and criminals, many of whom were part of the Plunkett Street Push.

Woolloomooloo Part 1

The image above is an evocative image which provides a glimpse into the history of an area of Sydney many are familiar with. Today, Woolloomooloo is well known as a trendy and affluent area of Sydney, which visitors and locals alike enjoy visiting to enjoy a touch of history, an excellent view and a meal. Yet Woolloomooloo was once a very different place, with working wharves, and working class residents.

Originally, Woolloomooloo was a valley which had a creek, known as the Yurong Creek, running through it. To get to Woolloomooloo you had to walk along a track around the rim of the valley, and this track later became Woolloomooloo Road (William Street now). Yet when the creek was in flood, the road was impassable, and besides, it was the haunt of thieves who lay in wait for travellers leaving Sydney. The land was so swampy, and flooded so regularly that early settlers didn’t want to take up grants in the area. It was good land for farming though and in 1793 John Palmer took up a grant, built a house and successfully began to farm the land – even growing tobacco! The name of Palmers home was Woollamoola House, which eventually became the basis for the name of the whole area – Woolloomooloo.

In 1822 Palmer sold his grant to Edward Riley, and by 1826 Governor Darling had decided that the area East of the town, including what was then known as Woolloomooloo Heights, on the high ground above the Woolloomooloo valley, would be a ‘high status area’. He made many land grants, but a condition of these was that residents would have to build grand houses and landscape them according to standards set by Darling. As time went by the high status grants and houses began to spread to the lower, valley areas of Woolloomooloo and the whole area became high status and gentrified. This was not to last though!

Come back next week to find out what happened next in Woolloomooloo!

The General Post Office

The image above is a wonderful snapshot of a building which, today, is undergoing a controversial chapter. The General Post Office, or GPO, is a well known and important land mark in Sydney, both geographically and historically. Today, it is the subject of controversy with moves to sell the beautiful historic building to the Chinese are disclosed. Yet beyond the current controversy is an amazing history which often Sydneysiders are unaware of.

The first regular postal service in Australia started in 1809 when former convict Isaac Nichols was given the position of postmaster. This was a position which he kept up until his death 10 years later. Nichols lived in George Street and his home was used as the post office throughout his time as postmaster. Then, in 1825 the Legislative Council introduced the Postal Act of 1825, which then regulated the postal service and allowed postmasters to be appointed not just in Sydney but throughout the colony. Three years later a regular postal delivery service began to operate with letters and parcels delivered throughout the colony on horseback.

The introduction of the Postal Act also paved the way for the construction of a General Post Office. By the 1830s, a former police station which stood where the GPO stands today was in use as a post office. Even in the 1830s, it was an important meeting place and important building, so in the late 1840s a new, grand portico was added, complete with Doric Columns. Yet as the population of Sydney and the colony more generally grew, so too did the demand for an improved postal service. By the 1850s and 1860s the old post office was becoming cramped and difficult to function from and staff often complained of overcrowding. Eventually, it was decided that a new post office would be built, on the same site. James Barnet was appointed as the architect for the new building in 1862 and the old post office was demolished a year later. The new GPO, and the one we are familiar with today, was built between 1866 and 1892. The main part of the building was completed in 1889 with the grand clock tower finished two years later.

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!

Spring Street, Sydney

Pitt And Spring Streets Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful and fascinating glimpse into the history of Sydney. Showing bustling streets full of pedestrians, horses and carts and cars, it also captures a fascinating time in Sydney, when the new automobile, and old fashioned horse power coexisted side by side.

Yet few Sydneysiders are likely to be able to tell you exactly where this intersection, of Pitt and Spring Streets, is. In fact, Spring Street, although still in existence, is just a small laneway today. Yet once, it played a fascinating part in the history of Sydney’s water supply.

When Captain Arthur Phillip (also known as Governor Phillip) arrived in Sydney he selected the site based on what became known as the Tank Stream – Sydney’s vital fresh water source. The Tank Stream was mainly fed from a swamp in the area of todays Huge Park, but there was also a number of springs along the course of the stream. One of the largest of these springs was in the locality of Spring Street.