This week, with the July School Holidays drawing to a close, it is the perfect time to turn attention to one of Sydney’s favourite tourist destinations. For locals and visitors alike, Taronga Zoo has long been a popular place to visit for the day and view the amazing animals looked after by the zoo.
The Taronga Zoo which we see today builds on over a century of history, yet the zoo we now know is a far cry from the zoo of yesteryear. Taronga Zoo was established on its current premises in 1916, following the move of the original Zoological Gardens from Moore Park. Many of the animals, including elephants, were transported from the old Moore Park site by barge, travelling by water across the Harbour to their new home. They were settled into the new, larger premises, where the Elephant Temple, seal ponds and monkey pit were already constructed.
Yet these enclosures, many of which are maintained today as a memory of the zoo’s history, were a far cry from what we recognise today. As the postcard above shows, the old exhibits were small and could be quite spartan compared to what we now know. The focus of the zoo was on entertainment and fun, whereas today the zoo focuses on scientific research, conservation and education. This new focus for the zoo dates back to 1967, when a critical review of the zoo was undertaken. New exhibits were built and the focus of the zoo shifted to scientific research, conservation and education. Soon the famous elephant rides and monkey zoo were replaced with more educational activities, like the seal show.
The image above, from a postcard dated to circa 1910, is a beautiful and charming snapshot of a family day out and about in the beautiful Sydney Botanic Gardens. Today, on family days such as this, we often think of feeding ducks (though many councils request people do not do so), but in the image above the bird being fed by the children is the magnificent Native Black Swan.
The black swan is a majestic and interesting bird. Most famously it is the emblem associated with Western Australia, but the Black Swan is actually native to many areas of Australia. As such a large and beautiful bird, they also have a long history of being found in zoo’s and bird collections, and for many years they were also a popular part of public parks and gardens – like the Sydney Botanic Gardens.
Yet what is perhaps of most interest is what the phrase ‘black swan’ has come to mean. A black swan is a metaphor for an event or discovery which is unprecedented, unexpected and surprising but which in hindsight, really isn’t such a surprise after all. The phrase actually comes from the Latin and the oldest known use of the metaphor came almost a thousand years ago, in Juvenal’s line “rara avis in terries nigroque simillima cygno” which translates to “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”. At the time, and for centuries after, the only swans known were white swans, so it was assumed that the black swan did not exist. Then, in 1697, Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, discovered black swans in Australia, proving they did exist after all. This came as a great surprise, but in hindsight many acknowledged that it really shouldn’t have been such a shock – just as other animals came in other colours, not all swans were white. Today, Black Swan Theory, as introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007 is well known, but it all traces back to these majestic if unexpected birds which are such a feature of the Australian landscape.
The image above is a stunning glimpse of the history of one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Today, the harbour bridge bustles with cars, trains, pedestrians and bikes, yet once, trams were a vital part of the thrum of activity. In fact trams were once at the heart of Sydney’s transport! With construction underway on new tram tracks in Sydney, and now Parramatta, it seemed the perfect time to explore the history of trams in Sydney.
Sydney once had an enormous network of trams, which we now hear more often described as ‘light rail’. In fact, the Sydney tram system was, at its height, the largest network of trams in Australia and one of the biggest in the whole world! Sydneys first trams were horse drawn, being a vital transport link between Sydney Railway station and Circular Quay. Yet this first track closed after a public campaign in 1866, because the track itself stood above the road and caused accidents.
By 1879 though, trams were back and seemingly here to stay. A steam tram system was growing up in Sydney and it rapidly expanded, covering first much of the city and then extending to closer suburbs around Sydney. Electrification of the lines began in 1898 and most lines were fully electric by 1910. At their height, the tram lines travelled to places as varied as Watsons Bay, Manly, Balmoral, Chatswood, The Spit and, as the postcard shows, across the Harbour Bridge.
The system began a gradual decline in the 1930s and the last of the original Sydney tram services ceased in 1961, with the last route to close being that to La Perouse.
Liverpool St. looking east from Riley St showing old English apartment units and small businesses. Belford knitting mills half way up slope.
The image above, showing Liverpool Street in Sydney, and highlighting the Belford knitting mills, s a stunning glimpse into the history of industrial Sydney. Today, Sydney is a very different city to what it once was, with almost all signs of industry having disappeared. Yet once, Sydney was a thriving industrial city, complete with wool and knitting mills – an industry which many may more readily associate with England in the Industrial Revolution.
For many decades, Australia had been seen as the country which rode on the sheeps back, yet almost all of our wool was sent overseas unprocessed for spinning and to be made into textiles. Although there were some very small woollen mills, even dating to as early as 1801 when female convicts at Parramatta jail began to make woollen blankets, bulk of Australian wool was bound for overseas mills, and then cloth had to be imported into the colony. In fact in 1904 only four percent of Australian wool was processed in Australia.
In the early 1900s though there was a growing interest in Australia processing a greater proportion of our own wool. By 1909, nine percent of Australian wool was being processed in Australia in a growing number of woollen mills, spinning mills and knitting mills. Over the coming years, as the mills proliferated, the amount of wool being locally processed grew, and the first world war, with its requirements for Australian soldiers uniforms was a further boost to the industry. By 1920 there were over 1000 textile related mills in NSW, contributing to all of the different phases of processing wool, and later, cotton. Belford Mills, in the image above, is just one of these mills.
The image above, of the ‘New Railway Station’ is an amazing snapshot into the very beginnings of a station which so many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are familiar with – Central Station. Today, Central Station is such a vital link in the Sydney train system that we little think of how it began, or what came before.
Central Station is today the busiest station in NSW and the major terminus station for many services. Yet the foundation stone for the station was not laid until 1902, and the station itself did not open until 1906. Before this, there was another terminus station, in an entirely different place – Redfern. The Redfern Station, known as Sydney Station, opened in 1855 as what could best be described as a tin shed. In 1874 a new, more permanent station built of brick and stone was opened, on the same site. As Sydney grew though, a bigger station was needed to service the growing train network.
The plans for the new station, on the north side of Devonshire Street, were approved by Parliament in December 1900, but construction could not begin until the area was resumed. This included moving the remains and headstones from the Devonshire Street Cemetery, which cost over £27,000. Construction on the station itself began in 1902, with the foundation stone for the iconic Clock Tower being laid a year later. In 1906 a gold key was turned in the booking office by Premier Carruthers, and this officially opened the station, with the first train service, the Western Mail train, running through the station at 5:50am. In 1914 platforms 16 to 19 were added, and construction continued throughout the First World War. In 1921 the Clocktower began operation at 10:22am on March 3rd, and the two additional floors of offices were opened.
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?