Boating On Sydney Harbour

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View to south over Coogee Beach with half dozen boats on sand. Homes on steep slopes facing water in distance.

This week, with the weather beginning to cool down and winter approaching, it seemed the perfect time for The Past Present to turn its attention to a popular beach pastime. In summer, the beaches become a haven for water sports and swimming, but as winter approaches, more people begin to look for different ways to enjoy the beautiful harbour and various other waterways. Boating has long been a popular choice.

Recreational sailing in Australia actually has quite a remarkable history, which stems from the history of Sydney as a working harbour. Some of the earliest boat races to be held in Sydney were between the captains and crews from ships which were visiting Sydney harbour. The smaller skiffs which were carried on board the large boats (and some boats even carried specific racing skiffs) would be used for the races. As time went by, regattas became more organised, and they also became popular public events which many Sydneysiders watched from the increasingly crowded shoreline. From 1837 here as even an annual regatta to celebrate the founding of the NSW colony!

Slowly but surely, boating became a more widespread, popular pastime. The public no longer simply watched from the shore. Boats could be hired out from many different boat sheds and beaches. Today, boating continues to be a popular pastime.

Wild Weather And Wrecks – Dunbar Rock

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This week, with the weather so unpredictable and so many storms about in recent days and weeks, it seemed the ideal time to share this image of Dunbar Rock in South Head. Sydney, and Australia more generally, with its abundance of coastline, also has an abundant and tragic history of shipwreck and loss.

The loss of the Dunbar, which happened off the coast of what is now known as Dunbar Rock at The Gap, remains Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. The Dunbar was, at the time of its launch, the largest timber ship to have been constructed at the Sunderland dockyards, and was constructed as a response to the demand for passage to Australia and the booming gold fields. Yet it was not until 1856 that the ship began to ply the route to Australia, as before then The Dunbar was deployed as a Crimean War troopship.

The wreck of The Dunbar happened within a year of this, occurring on the night of the 20th of August, 1857. The ship, which was on just its second trip to Australia, was approaching the entrance to Port Jackson in the midst of a violent storm. The Dunbar was driven by the storm into the cliffs of South Head, just near Dunbar Rock, and rapidly broke apart. Of 122 passengers and crew aboard, only one survived, Able Seaman James Johnson. The disaster was later blamed on insufficient navigational aids, and in response the Hornby Light at South Head was constructed.

Yet the Hornby Light is not the only reminder of this tragic shipwreck. On Dunbar Rock itself, there is an anchor which is believed to come from the wreck of the Dunbar, and was retrieved in 1910. There is also a rock cut inscription which commemorates the terrible wreck, and which is actually believed to have been first carved by an onlooker watching the tragedy unfolding. This inscription was later recut, probably on an anniversary of the shipwreck.

Getting Around Tariffs In Snails Bay

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Freighter unloading Canadian logs and lumber in Snails Bay. log raft and tug at left of freighter. Get around tariff against lumber

This week, there have been a number of news reports around possible changes to trade agreements between various countries. With so much interest in trade, it seemed the ideal time to share this fascinating glimpse into the history of trade in Sydney, and in Australia more generally.

The image above, showing Snails Bay in Birchgrove, provides an amazing glimpse into the history of Australian tariff policy. The image, which shows a freighter unloading Canadian lumber offshore in order to avoid the tariff on Canadian lumber,  particularly highlights the lengths that some importers were willing to go to in order to avoid paying the import tariffs on various products, in this case, Canadian wood.

In the 1930s tariffs on goods imported to Australia were substantially increased in order to protect Australian industry and employment. This was the time of the Great Depression, and the tariffs were an attempt to not only protect Australian industries and workers, but also to deal with various problems associated with international payments. Many of these tariffs remained unchanged until the 1970s, and the tariffs on imported wood still appear to be debated today.

Keeping Cool At Balmoral Beach

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This week, with the days being so hot and humid, many Sydneysiders will be looking to the seaside for a welcome break from being too hot! Whether swimming, or hoping for a slightly cooler seaside breeze, the beach has been a popular destination for Australian’s hoping to beat the heat for decades. As the postcard above shows though, visiting the beach today is certainly a different experience to what was the norm in the early 20th century.

Since the earliest days of European colonisation, and doubtless before, the sea has been a popular way to cool down on a hot Australian summers day. Balmoral Beach, featured in the image above, has been one popular destination for Sydney residents. Yet where today the beach might be teeming with skimpy bathers, in the past moral codes and social views of propriety meant that visiting the beach was a very different pastime. As the image above shows, people went to the beach fully dressed in suits or long dresses, even at the extremities of the day when it might be expected that such social mores would be relaxed. Even children had to be appropriately ‘turned out’ for a visit to the seaside!

 

Brooklyn

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This week, with so many Sydneysiders hearing about or spending rather a lot of time in the general vicinity of Brooklyn, due to the major crash on the M1, it seemed the perfect time to share this beautiful image. Brooklyn is a beautiful little town on the Hawkesbury River, but though it might be a small town, it has a big history!

Brooklyn is a small town north of Sydney and is often considered to be the most northern town in the Greater Sydney Metropolitan Area. For much of its history, Brooklyn was actually known as Peats Ferry, but then in 1884 a survey was made for the subdivision of the area and the name and suburb of Brooklyn was officially registered. Yet Brooklyn probably wouldn’t exist as a town if it weren’t for the development of the Northern Railway. Transport has indeed had a long and central role in the history of Brooklyn.

In 1887 a single track section of the railway was extended beyond Hornsby to the Hawkesbury River. From there, passengers would be ferried across the water to continue their journey north. It wasn’t long before it was recognised that a bridge across the water, to create a continuous railway journey, was needed. In fact, before the railway even opened, in 1886 the contract for building the bridge was awarded to the Union Bridge Company from New York. The bridge, which was known as the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was the final link in the railway, and also an engineering masterpiece of its time.

Even when the bridge was completed the station at Brooklyn, known as the Hawkesbury River Railway Station, was a vital place in the train network. The climb from Brooklyn up the hill to Cowan is quite steep, and before diesel and electric trains, steam trains could not make the climb alone. Instead, the trains would stop at Brooklyn, which was a ‘staging post’, and have what was known as a ‘push up’ engine attached to the end of the train. This engine would then provide the extra push needed for the trains to make it up the steep incline!

Vaucluse Bay – An Informal Pleasure Resort

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Vaucluse Bay. Section less fully developed than most other bays. Native brush and trees shown. used by some visitors as less formal resort area.

With the holidays drawing to a close, many Sydneysiders look to spend Australia Day and the final weekend of the school holidays closer to home. Sydney has a varied range of beautiful parks and wonderful beaches, many of which have a long history as ‘pleasure resorts’, both formal and informal. The evocative image above, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936, shows Vaucluse Bay, a ‘less formal resort area’, according to the photographers description.

According to the description by the unknown photographer, Vaucluse Bay is a ‘section less developed than other bays’, one of the reasons why it apparently became a popular, informal resort for many Sydneysiders. Yet the reason why Vaucluse Bay is so undeveloped in comparison to other bays is in itself a fascinating glimpse into history, for Vaucluse Bay was once part of the grounds of Vaucluse House.

Vaucluse House began life as a more simple stone cottage built in 1805 by an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Henry Browne Hayes. It was he who named the property Vaucluse after a village bear Avignon in Southern France. In 1827 though, the cottage and property were purchased by the famous explorer William Wentworth. Soon, he began the process of improving the property, first building a range of outbuildings, including a rather grand Gothic revival style stable, which still stands today. He also began to extend on the cottage, adding bedrooms, a dining room and drawing room. By the 1830s, he had even completed a boathouse on the bay itself. The Wentworths were also committed to creating beautiful grounds for the increasingly grandiose (though never quite completed) house. Wentworth died in 1872, and was interred in a mausoleum built on the Vaucluse estate.

The house, and Vaucluse Bay itself, continued to be private land until 1911 when extensive public pressure caused the state government to resume over 20 acres of harbour front land. By 1912, the Vaucluse Park Trust was granting public access to the bottom level of the house and in 1915 regular visiting hours were established. Soon, Vaucluse Bay and the grand house it once belonged to were a popular, if relatively undeveloped, tourist resort for Sydneysiders. In 1980 the entire property was acquired by the Historic Houses Trust.

Clifton Gardens

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This week, with the weather rapidly warming up and many Sydneysiders heading for the beach, it seemed the perfect time to share this beautiful image of Clifton Gardens. Today, many Sydneysiders head out of the city in search of the seaside, but once, pleasure resorts such as the one pictured above were all the rage, and much closer to the heart of Sydney than many might expect!

In 1828, the first grant at Chowder Bay was given to Thomas Graham, the assistant to the Government Botanist, Mr Fraser. Graham recognised that the land at Chowder Bay was quite fertile, and soon established a four-acre orchard. By 1832 though, Graham was broke, and the property was sold – 15 acres of it to Captain Edmund Cliffe. Many believe, and it certainly seems reasonable to assume, that Cliffe was the one who called the property Cliffeton, a name which appears to have stuck well beyond his death in 1837. The property continued to be improved upon and altered, but the biggest change came in 1853 when CF Hemmington opened a pleasure ground. Hemmington already operated a pleasure ground called Fairy Bower in Manly, and he named his new pleasure ground at Cliffeton (as it was then known) Fairyland. Being right on the harbour, there was plenty of water access and people could visit by steamer. It wasn’t until the 1870s and the construction of the Clifton Hotel that the area became truly popular though.

The Clifton Hotel was built in 1871 by Duncan Butters and just a year later, Butters was also granted a publicans license making the Clifton Hotel one of the first two licensed hotels in the entirety of Mosman. Unsurprisingly, the establishment of a licensed hotel increased the popularity of the pleasure ground exponentially! Then, in 1879, David Thompson purchased the Clifton Gardens Estate and enlarged the hotel. He also added a wharf and dance hall which further appealed to Sydneysiders visiting the area. In fact, so popular was the music and dancing, and so rowdy did it become, that in 1882 Thompson’s license was amended – he was no longer allowed music and dancing at Clifton Gardens at all! By 1885 he had managed to regain a full license though and reopened the hotel as a massive, 40 room hotel. The dancing pavilion was also upgraded and reopened and was advertised as the largest and best of its kind not just in Sydney, but in the Australian colonies!

Yet swimming was not yet an attraction at Clifton Gardens. Come back next week to find out what happened next!