Picnic Grounds on the Parramatta River

Picnic Grounds Paramatta River Front

With the weather heating up and the holidays almost upon us, it is the perfect season for a waterfront picnic with family and friends, and indeed over the coming weeks many such picnics will be planned. The image above, from a postcard dated about 1910, is an idyllic if a little mysterious view of what was clearly once a popular picnic venue on the Parramatta River. With its muted colouring, and blue water and sandy beach, it seems the perfect venue for a family picnic, yet the exact location of the photo is unknown.

Picnicking has long been a popular way to while away a few hours, enjoying beautiful scenery and a tasty al fresco meal. In fact, the first known picnic’s took place all the way back in the Medieval times! Yet early picnics were vastly different to the picnics many of us enjoy today. Many early picnics were an evolution of elaborate and remarkably formal outdoor feasts and celebrations, and they were closely associated with hunting gatherings. Far from spreading a rug on the ground and enjoying a simple meal, they often took place at formally set tables and included sumptuous foods, many of which were served hot!

Then, in the 17th and 18th century the picnic began to evolve. Instead of being a formal meal, they began to be something a little like the American idea of a ‘pot luck’, with all of the participants bringing a dish to share. In fact, that was what the word picnic actually meant! By the 1860s though the meaning had changed again, with the word picnic meaning to eat outdoors. It was this late 19th century era when picnics also began to become popular, not just for wealthy people, but for all classes. Even the seminal cookbook, Mrs Beeton’s, provided ideas on how to host a picnic, and what sorts of food would be needed.

Of course, if picnicking was becoming a popular pastime, places to enjoy such picnics were also becoming necessary. Although many Australian’s were happy to enjoy an informal picnic at the beach or in the bush, others preferred established picnic grounds, like the one pictured above. These picnic areas often included other basic amenities, like toilets, tables and running water, which made them popular destinations.

The question is – where is the picnic ground featured in the postcard above actually located, and does it still exist?

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Glades Bay

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The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a time and place, and indeed way of life unfamiliar to many Sydneysiders. Gladesville, famous for the Gladesville Bridge, is a place which many locals will know well, yet the nearby Glades Bay, featured in the image above, is far less familiar.

Glades Bay, like Gladesville, is named after John Glade, an ex-convict and early land owner in the area. Yet it is the culture of swimming in the area which plays the most important role in our history. As early as the 1850s, school boys and men alike used the Parramatta River for swimming. Women however found it much more difficult to swim in the fresh, salty water as they were only permitted to swim in enclosures and bathing sheds where they were far removed from the prying eyes of men.

As early as 1877 Ryde Council began to discuss the idea of building public swimming baths, and in 1887 the necessity for an enclosed swimming area was highlighted when a man was killed by a shark near Ryde Wharf. Yet building public baths was expensive and it wasn’t until the early 1900s that swimming baths began to be built. Yet once the construction of baths began, more were quickly constructed along the Parramatta River. The Glades Bay Baths were constructed in 1909.

Luna Park

Luna Park and North Sydney pool Front

The image above is a glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s beloved icons, Luna Park. Luna Park, from humble beginnings as a workshop site for the construction of pieces of the Harbour Bridge, became one of Sydneys most visited and popular attractions in the 1930s and onwards. How did this transformation occur?

In 1932, with the completion of the Harbour Bridge, the workshops which had been on the site now occupied by Luna Park were demolished and the North Sydney Council opened tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time Herman Phillips, David Atkins and Ted Hopkins were looking for a new location for a theme park. Phillips, Atkins and Hopkins had been the minds behind Luna Park Glenelg, in South Australia, but they had been having a lot of trouble with the council and local residents. The group eventually won the tender for the old workshop site in Sydney, and immediately afterwards, placed Luna Park Glenelg into voluntary liquidation. The rides from Glenelg were dismantled and transported to Sydney, being reassembled at the new Luna Park.

Luna Park Sydney opened in October 1935 and found almost immediate success with Sydneysiders and visitors alike. Each year, during the Winter period, the park was closed to visitors while rides were overhauled and the park was generally ’spruced up’. This gave visitors the feel that things had changed during the yearly three month closure, and kept the park feeling fresh and new. During World War II, and well into the 1960s the success of the park simply continued to grow.

In 1969 though, the lease on the park was sold, and investment in the rides and infrastructure began to wane. In 1979, a fatal fire on the Ghost Train resulted in a temporary closure of the park. In 1982, the park reopened, but for the next several decades, this pattern of changes in management and decreased investment continued. In the 1990s, the Government took control, listing the park on the register of the National Estate, and making changes to ensure the parks continued success. In 2002 the lease was granted to a new company, Luna Park Sydney PTY, LTD, and in 2004 they reopened the park to renewed success, which continues to this day.

Luna Park Workshops For The Harbour Bridge

Milsons Point possibly showing Luna Park site front

The image above is a stunning and vastly different view of an area of Sydney residents and visitors alike know well. Luna Park is a popular and iconic part of Sydney’s foreshore, yet as this image shows, it was not always so.

In the 1920s, when the Harbour Bridge was under construction, the site now occupied by Luna Park was a very different place. The construction of the enormous and extraordinary bridge required not only a huge amount of man power, but also workshops and railway sidings. The steel required to build the arch and approach spans was mainly imported from England, with just over 20% being imported from Newcastle. The steel was then fabricated into the steel girders and other required parts for the bridge in two workshops. These workshops were located on the site of Luna Park, and can be seen in the image above.

In 1932 when the Harbour Bridge was completed, North Sydney Council invited people to submit tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time, the personalities behind Luna Park at Glenelg in South Australia were looking for a new site for Luna Park to be relocated to.

Come back next week to discover how Luna Park developed.

Neutral Bay

Neutral Bay Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a rather idyllic view of a beautiful suburb of Sydney. Today Neutral Bay is a popular north shore suburb, especially for those who want the best of city life, without being in the city itself. Yet the history of the area reveals a fascinating past which many, even residents of the area, may not know.

Neutral Bay has long played a role in the protection of Sydney, and Australia more generally. Yet unlike other areas of Australian coastline involved in defence, there are no fortifications to be found. Neutral Bay was a very special place, a place which, as the name suggests, acted as a ‘neutral harbour’.

Just a year after European colonisation of Australia, in 1789, Governor Phillip decreed that the deep water bay would be the place of anchor for all non-British, ‘neutral’ ships visiting Sydney. The idea of Neutral Bay was to allow ships, particularly those of British allies, to visit Sydney, and more importantly, replenish their stores of fresh water from a nearby creek (paying, of course, for the privilege). Yet the location for the neutral harbour was very carefully selected – too far from the colony for convicts to easily ‘jump ship’ or for unknown enemies to gain a strong foothold in the colony’s heart.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of one of Sydney’s most famous international tourist destinations – Bondi Beach. Bondi has long been a destinational place for people to visit, Sydneysiders and tourists alike, but many who visit the iconic beach little realise the amazing history encapsulated in the area.

Bondi was once known as the Bondi Estate, and belonged to Francis O’Brien. The entire area, including the beach, was part of this estate but in 1855 O’Brien decided to open up the beach and surrounding area to the public. He opened the area as a picnic ground and pleasure resort, but many times threatened to stop access to the beach itself. Part of his reasoning, and indeed the public view at the time, was that swimming at Bondi was dangerous because of the threat of sharks and stingrays. Then, in 1882, the government itself took over the beach area, and official declared Bondi Beach a public beach.

Bondi quickly became one of the most popular stretches of beach in Sydney, with people flocking to enjoy the pristine water and white sand. Bus services were run to Bondi Junction by private operators and in 1906 the first electric tram service began to take beach goers directly to Bondi. By 1929 it is believed that 60,000 people were visiting Bondi Beach on an average summer weekend! Even in the early 1920s, when cars were not as common as they are today, upwards of 1000 cars could be found parked near the beach on a fine summer day. Today, thousands continue to flock to the beach and parking remains a significant problem.

A Day At The Beach – Bondi

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This week, as the weather begins to warm up and fresh Spring days begin to show the heat of Summer, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share the stunning image above. The image, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936 shows a beach which all Sydneysiders and indeed many people around the world are familiar with – Bondi.

The photo above is a very different view to the Bondi of today, with few people crowding the beach and no tourists posing for photographs! One thing which does remain the same though is the red and yellow flags marking out safe areas to swim and demonstrating that surf life savers are patrolling the beach.

Surf lifesaving actually began its life, in Australia at least, in Sydney. At the turn of the 20th Century Manly Council employed two fishermen, the Sly brothers to patrol the beaches from the sea and then in 1905 appointed an actual life guard, Edward Eyre. The first official life saving club though, established in February 1907, had it’s home at Bondi. Soon many other clubs had been set up around Sydney and even further afield and in October the new life saving clubs were all brought together in the Surf Bathing Association of NSW.

These surf life saving clubs played, and continue to play, a vital role in protecting swimmers using our beaches. They patrol, supervise and also establish which areas of a beach are safest for swimmers. These safe places are, of course, demonstrated by the use of the red and yellow flag, though original patrol flags were actually blue and white. The red and yellow flag was probably based on the International Code of Signals for ships at sea. The signal for man overboard was a red and yellow flag, divided diagonally, and it seems plausible that this became the inspiration for the flag we see on beaches today. This red and yellow life saving flag was introduced in 1935.