McMahon’s Point


The image above is a beautiful snapshot, capturing a moment in time at one of Sydney’s historic suburbs. McMahon’s Point is today a popular harbour side suburb, it’s streets lined with the exclusive, luxurious and expensive homes of the well to do.

This was no always the case though. Once, McMahon’s Point was, like so many suburbs of Sydney, home to the working classes, who lived and worked in the harbour side suburb. In the early 1800s, the area which would become known as McMahon’s Point was home to boatbuilding yards, ferry wharves and of course the many workers cottages of those who kept this industrial suburb buzzing with activity.

It was not until the later 1800s that the suburb became known as McMahon’s Point, named in honour of Michael McMahon. McMahon moved into the area in the 1860s, and building not only a family home, but a successful business. He was a brush and comb maker, and his work was so outstanding that he was granted a government contract and even won a bronze medal at the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1867 in Victoria. Yet McMahon was not just important as a businessman. He was also a politician, who proclaimed the rights of those living on the northern shore of the harbour to fresh water, and reliable transport. He was a fierce defender of the rights of his constituents, and served not just as Mayor but also an Alderman of the incorporated Borough of Victoria, of which McMahon’s Point was part.

Dee Why and Curl Curl

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The image above is a beautiful snapshot of places which many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are quite familiar with – Dee Why and Curl Curl. Both of these areas are popular with beachgoers, for their beautiful beaches and well established beach culture. Yet the Dee Why and Curl Curl of today is also vastly different to the places which are captured in the photograph.

Dee Why and Curl Curl are today, mainly residential areas with row upon row of houses, and of course the associated shops and amenities. Yet the photo above shows a Dee Why which was relatively unsettled. In fact, the caption describes settlement in this area of Dee Why and also Curl Curl as ‘sparse’. Settlement began at Dee Why and the surrounding areas early in the 1800s, with William Cossar given the first grant in 1815 (though the grant was not confirmed until 1819). By 1825 though, James Jenkins owned this grant, and, along with his daughter Elizabeth, owned all of the foreshore land all the way from Mona Vale to Dee Why itself. Elizabeth Jenkins was intensely religious, and very impressed by the Salvation Army, and in 1885 she gave them 30 acres of land at the Narrabeen Lagoon. She later gave them more land at Dee Why, and eventually transferred all of her land to the Salvation Army, in return for an annuity. She died in 1900, and after legal battles with her nephew Phillip, the Salvation Army continued to control her land, paying the annuity to Phillip until his death in 1931, after which, the land passed more completely to them.

Even before Phillips death, the Salvation Army decided that it owned far too much land and that the money raised by selling the land could be used for the good of the community. In 1911 the subdivision of Salvation Army lands began, coinciding with subdivisions by other land owners around the same time. It was about this time that the actual town of Dee Why began to develop. In 1911 there had only been five homes or dwellings in Dee Why, but by 1915 this number had grown to 125. However, most of these houses were used as weekenders or holiday homes. It was not until the 1920s that more permanent settlement at Dee Why began, with the establishment of a school, Dee Why Public, in 1922. Then, in 1924 the Spit and Roseville Bridges were opened, making access to Dee Why much easier, and settlement again grew. By 1932, when the photograph above was taken, settlement was slowly growing, but still sparse outside the town centre. Yet over the coming decades, people continued to move into the area and build homes, until the Dee Why we recognise today was established.

Sirius Cove Part 2 – Curlew Artists Camp

The image above is a stunning snapshot of a beautiful bushland area in Sydney. Sirius Cove, and Little Sirius Cove which is pictured above, remain beautiful waterfront locations in Sydney, though perhaps a little less undisturbed and forested than they once were. Yet even more fascinating than their beautiful character is the history which pervades Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove.

One of the most famous episodes in the history of Sirius Cove was the artists camp established on the shores of the harbour in 1890. The camp, which was actually located in Little Sirius Cove (pictured above) was established by Reuben Brasch, who was a wealthy Sydney identity. He manufactured clothes and also owned a department store in Sydney, but on weekends he and his brothers used the camp which he had established as a peaceful getaway.

Soon enough though the camp and its beautiful surrounds also began to attract the creme de la creme of the Australian art scene. In 1891 Arthur Streeton moved into the camp, having moved to Sydney from Melbourne. It was not long after this that Tom Roberts joined him at the camp. The pair offered art classes in a Sydney studio as a way to supplement their income and pay their way, but as plein air painters, camp life was ideally suited to them. The rent for staying in the camp was low, but the camp was well organised and comfortable, with a dining tent, dance floor and even a piano. Other artists also visited the camp for varying lengths of time, including Julian Ashton and Henry Fullwood and for a time the camp was a popular place for musicians too. Then, after 1900 most of the artists moved on and the camp became popular with those interested in outdoor life and water sports. In 1912 the camp closed for good, with Taronga Park Zoo soon after moving to the ridge above the site.

Sirius Cove – Part 1

The image above is a beautiful, peaceful glimpse into the history of one of Australia’s significant cultural sites. Sirius Cove, and the nearby Little Sirius Cove, are significant areas to Sydney’s history, and the greater history of Australia in general. Yet so many who visit the area have no idea of the extent of history contained in these beautiful foreshore areas.

Before European colonisation of Australia, the protected and beautiful foreshore areas of Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove were the traditional lands of the Borogegal People. The most famous of these Borogegal People was Bungaree, who grew up in the traditional lands of his people and would have been very familiar with Sirius Cove.

Yet it wasn’t long after European colonisation that European history began to be linked to the beautiful Sirius Cove. In fact, the name of the cove itself reflects its first role in European history. In 1789, just a year after European colonisation, HMS Sirius was careened at Sirius Cove. Sirius Cove was perfect for careening (or learning away barnacles etc from the ships hull) as it was a convenient cove, and relatively sheltered. The ship, which was the flagship of the First Fleet, was wrecked less than six months later.

Of course, the most famous episode in the history of Sirius Cove is the artists camp which was established in 1890 at Little Sirius Cove. Come back next week to find out about the history of Curlew Camp.

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 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!

Rose Bay Before Flying Boats

Rose Bay Sydney Harbour Front

The image above is a stunning view of an area of Sydney which is well known to many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney. Many will associate Rose Bay with flying boats and sea planes, which have long been a part of the beautiful harbour front suburb. Yet before planes were even invented, Rose Bay had a fascinating history.

Rose Bay is named after the Secretary of the British Treasury, George Rose, who was the well respected and ‘right honourable’ secretary at the time of European colonisation in Australia. The name Rose Bay was actually one of the first European place names to be given to an area of the new colony, with the name being used as 1788 by Captain John Hunter. It wasn’t long before colonists began to move into the area either, with convicts and free settlers alike recorded in the Rose Bay area in the early 1800s.

The earliest significant building, Rose Bay Cottage (later known as Rose Bay Lodge) was built in 1834 for James Holt, cousin Daniel Cooper, and manager of the Cooper Estate. Holt had arrived in Sydney in the 1820s and by 1834 had become a successful man himself. He engaged the noted and highly acclaimed (and as a result the most fashionable) architect, John Verge, to design him a home. The home was built on part of the Cooper Estate, in Rose Bay. Holt lived in the home until 1845 when he returned to England, and in 1855 Sir Daniel Cooper himself took up residence in the home. The home was occupied by a number of notable people after this, and still stands today in Sailisbury Road.

With so many well known people living in the area, it was not long before the foreshore beaches themselves became popular picnic destinations, and places for relaxation and fun. Boating, sea bathing, walking and picnicking were all popular pastimes. By 1900, when this image was taken, Rose Bay had become a very popular destination, as the image above shows.