Pyrmont Bridge

Pyrmont Bridge Open Sydney Front

The image above is a stunning view of an famous part of Sydney’s history. Pyrmont Bridge is well known to Sydneysiders and visitors alike, being at the heart of Darling Harbour and its famous tourist district. Yet the view above is also a view which many will never have seen – the amazing bridge open, and viewed from the water.

Pyrmont Bridge is an amazing structure, and today has the honour of being one of the worlds oldest electrically operated swing bridges, having been built in 1902. Yet the bridge we see today is not the original bridge at all. Pyrmont Bridge has, since the mid 1800s, provided a vital transport link between the city itself and the growing western suburbs. Yet the bridge spanned Darling Harbour, which was then an important working harbour, with many wharves and warehouses. Tall ships needed to be able to enter the harbour and so the bridge needed to be designed in such a way that it opened to allow these ships to access the wharves. A wooden swing bridge was the answer and the first Pyrmont Bridge opened in 1857.

Then, in the late 1800s, it was decided a new bridge was needed. In 1891 a competition was held to design the new bridge, but the winning entry would never be built. It was a design for a bridge built entirely of metal and deemed to be far to expensive to actually construct. Instead, the design by Robert Hickson, the Commissioner and Engineer in Chief of the Department for Public Works, was chosen. His bridge was built mainly of timber, with just a the central swing span being metal. Construction on the new bridge began in 1899 and the beautiful swing bridge we see today was opened in 1902.

As the 1900s wore on, the type of ship bringing goods and visitors to Sydney changed, and the larger container ships no longer used the Cockle Bay end of Darling Harbour. By 1981 the Pyrmont Bridge was no longer in use, falling into disrepair and in danger of being demolished. Thanks to a public campaign though, the bridge was saved and restored as part of the redevelopment of Darling Harbour. The bridge, and Darling Harbour itself were reopened in 1988.

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George Street Ghost Signs

George Street South End Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse of the past of George Street, a snapshot of what the street once looked like. It is also an image which captures a George Street which is today long gone. George Street in Sydney is a place all visitors and Sydneysiders alike will be familiar with, being one of the major streets of the famous harbourside city.

George Street is at the heart of Sydney, having been the first street to be constructed in the fledgling city when the Colonists arrived. Ever since, George Street has been a hub of activity. Of course, being such an important centre of business and activity in Sydney, it was also once a hive of sign writers. Signs were once hand painted on, or even built into buildings as a way of advertising products or shops. They aimed to be eye catching, so often they were brightly coloured and extremely large, often covering the majority of the visible section of a side wall. Several such signs are visible in the postcard above.

Yet these signs, which once were so common, are today increasingly rare. Many buildings, and their signs, have been demolished, and in other cases the signs have been hidden as new buildings have been constructed next to, and covering, the side walls which once were the canvas of sign writers.  Today, when a building is demolished and an old sign is temporarily revealed in all its glory, we give the sign the name ‘ghost sign’ – here today and covered once again in short order. Yet ironically, the covering of these signs by modern buildings often preserves the sign, protecting it from weathering, the sun and pollution. Whether any of the signs in the postcard above still exist is questionable, but next time you see a building demolished alongside a heritage building, take a closer look to see if a ghost sign has been revealed!

Macquarie Place Park

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View west along Bridge Street from Loftus showing bit of Macquarie Square from which city grew. Large fig tree at right

The image above captures a part of Sydney which is vital to European history, and to the story of Sydney as a city. It is a beautiful snapshot showing what, to some, is the heart of our stunning harbour city, yet it is also a place which many Sydneysiders and visitors have probably never visited – Macquarie Place Park.

Macquarie Place Park is, as the description of the photo itself suggests, on the corner of Bridge and Loftus Streets in the heart of Sydney. It is named for Macquarie Place, a street which once ran between the Tank Stream Bridge and Kings Wharf, and which is today incorporated into the park itself. The park is a green oasis amongst the bustle of city life, and has always been a rare open space in the busy city, even from the days when the city was just barely beginning.

Macquarie Place Park is a triangular shape, and once it was surrounded by the homes and residences not only of the Governor himself, but the civil officers of the colony (including the Judge Advocate, Chaplain and Surveyor). Other buildings surrounding the open space were store buildings and the homes of the most important merchants in the fledgling colony. In these early years the open space was simply left open by chance – nobody had occupied it, though some parts of the land were leased by Sydney residents and personalities. Yet in 1818 the park was formalised by Governor Macquarie as a public space, with the erection of the famous obelisk which measures distances in the colony. Just a year later a sandstone fountain was built.

The obelisk is just one of many historic structures and statues which remain in the park, though it is no longer the central feature. Once the obelisk was at the centre of the park, but when Circular Quay was built between 1839 and 1847, several streets had to be extended, and this took up areas which had been previously reserved. Today the obelisk stands at the edge of the park.

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!