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!

The General Post Office

The image above is a wonderful snapshot of a building which, today, is undergoing a controversial chapter. The General Post Office, or GPO, is a well known and important land mark in Sydney, both geographically and historically. Today, it is the subject of controversy with moves to sell the beautiful historic building to the Chinese are disclosed. Yet beyond the current controversy is an amazing history which often Sydneysiders are unaware of.

The first regular postal service in Australia started in 1809 when former convict Isaac Nichols was given the position of postmaster. This was a position which he kept up until his death 10 years later. Nichols lived in George Street and his home was used as the post office throughout his time as postmaster. Then, in 1825 the Legislative Council introduced the Postal Act of 1825, which then regulated the postal service and allowed postmasters to be appointed not just in Sydney but throughout the colony. Three years later a regular postal delivery service began to operate with letters and parcels delivered throughout the colony on horseback.

The introduction of the Postal Act also paved the way for the construction of a General Post Office. By the 1830s, a former police station which stood where the GPO stands today was in use as a post office. Even in the 1830s, it was an important meeting place and important building, so in the late 1840s a new, grand portico was added, complete with Doric Columns. Yet as the population of Sydney and the colony more generally grew, so too did the demand for an improved postal service. By the 1850s and 1860s the old post office was becoming cramped and difficult to function from and staff often complained of overcrowding. Eventually, it was decided that a new post office would be built, on the same site. James Barnet was appointed as the architect for the new building in 1862 and the old post office was demolished a year later. The new GPO, and the one we are familiar with today, was built between 1866 and 1892. The main part of the building was completed in 1889 with the grand clock tower finished two years later.

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.

The Spit Middle Harbour

The Spit Middle Harbour Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse into the history of place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike will be familiar with – The Spit in Middle Harbour. Today, The Spit is often associated with traffic jams and frustration, yet the crossing over Middle Harbour may once have been slower still, when ferries plied the route, instead of a bridge.

The area around The Spit, which was itself originally known as the Sand-Spit, was first settled in 1846, when John Burton purchased 30 acres at Seaforth. Peter Ellery soon followed when in 1849 he began to farm land also in the Seaforth area, opposite The Spit itself. He formally purchased the land in 1855. Often people would request Ellery to take them across Middle Harbour and so in the early 1850s, he began a ferry service, using a row boat. In 1862 though, a road to The Spit was built, and more passengers for his ferry began to arrive. Soon he changed to using a hand operated punt.

In 1871 though, the government of the day took over the ferry service, introducing a steam punt which was operated and manned by Public Works Department employees. These employees were vital to the crossing of the harbour, and to ensure that they were close by, stone cottages were constructed on the Mosman side of the Spit (the direction from which the postcard above is looking) and given to the employees and their families. It appears that you can see two of these cottages in the left foreground of the postcard. The ferry service continued to be the only crossing of Middle Harbour until the first Spit Bridge was opened in 1824.

Riley Street And The Riley Estate

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Little Riley Street From Albion Street Entrance

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a moment in time. Little Riley Street, in the image above classified as part of Redfern, but today part of Surry Hills, is a street which Sydneysiders may be familiar with, but few will recognise from the image above. Today, Little Riley Street is still narrow , but the streetscape itself has changed dramatically, to the point that the image above is unrecognisable as todays LittleRiley Street at the Albion Street entrance

Little Riley Street, has a fascinating history, linked to the Riley Estate and the personage of Edward Riley. Edward Riley was a merchant who found great success in India, before deciding to settle himself and his family in Sydney. In the 1820s, he brought up lots of small land grants in the area between Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills. Riley’s land, called the Riley Estate, quickly grew, becoming not just a series of small land grants, but a vast estate. Despite his wealth, he was not a happy man though and in 1825 he committed suicide, leaving behind a legal debacle. He had left two wills, and the contents of the wills conflicted which led to years of legal battle between his seven heirs.

The Government eventually appointed a commission to guide and control the division of the estate. The estate was broken into seven parcels of land, and these were then raffled amongst his heirs. Roads were built to separate the seven different land areas, and both Little Riley Street and Riley Street itself are examples of these roads, named for Edward Riley and an echo of the vast estate he had built. However, these new roads simply marked out the Riley Estate, as it had been divided up. Roads in the area had been formally laid out on a grid system in 1814 by James Meehan, then the surveyor-general. Yet the roads of the Riley Estate did not match up with this grid system at all. They met up with Meehan’s roads, but often to join them to the existing grid there had to be some deviation or bend put in place. This is what led to the unusual and often difficult to understand bends which are so common in the Surry Hills area.