Historic Moreton Bay Fig In Kiama

Historic Moreton Bay Fig Tree Kiama NSW Front

This week, The Past Present is turning attention to the area South of Sydney, an area which many people visit for day trips or holidays. Kiama is just one of the many beautiful seaside towns on the South Coast, but it is also one with a fascinating history, and some stunning trees. The tree in the image above, taken from a postcard dated circa 1910, is just one example of the extraordinarily beautiful Moreton Bay Figs which are so iconic in the Kiama and wider Woolongong area.

Moreton Bay fig trees are, just like Norfolk Pines, iconic and well recognised trees in the Kiama area. Yet the figs are not just beautiful, one of them actually played a remarkable role in the history of the area. The location of the fig tree in the image is unidentified, yet the most historic fig tree in Kiama, and possibly the one pictured, was located on Black Beach. The Black Beach fig tree was huge, and in the early years of settlement in Kiama the shady area under its branches became a meeting place for the settlers, and for visitors to the area. It was here that people waited for ships, and also here where goods brought to the area by ship were unloaded. It was under the spreading branches of this fig tree that the earliest Church services in Kiama were held. The giant fig tree was even used by Laurence O’Toole as a way to set course when he sailed the first trading vessel, The Bee, to Kiama in 1838!

The tree was so significant that the first Council Chambers in Kiama were built right next to the fig which had served as such a vital meeting place. The original fig was destroyed by storms in 1964 but so significant was it to the history of the area that another Moreton Bay Fig was planted in it’s place.

Boating On Sydney Harbour


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.

Spring Street, Sydney

Pitt And Spring Streets Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful and fascinating glimpse into the history of Sydney. Showing bustling streets full of pedestrians, horses and carts and cars, it also captures a fascinating time in Sydney, when the new automobile, and old fashioned horse power coexisted side by side.

Yet few Sydneysiders are likely to be able to tell you exactly where this intersection, of Pitt and Spring Streets, is. In fact, Spring Street, although still in existence, is just a small laneway today. Yet once, it played a fascinating part in the history of Sydney’s water supply.

When Captain Arthur Phillip (also known as Governor Phillip) arrived in Sydney he selected the site based on what became known as the Tank Stream – Sydney’s vital fresh water source. The Tank Stream was mainly fed from a swamp in the area of todays Huge Park, but there was also a number of springs along the course of the stream. One of the largest of these springs was in the locality of Spring Street.

Mary Really Did Have A Little Lamb

Mary Had A Little Lamb School FrontThis week, with Easter upon us, and lambs an iconic symbol of Easter, it seemed the perfect time to share this image of a schoolhouse. Although the image is not an Australian one at all (it is a schoolhouse in Sterling, Massachusetts, USA), the story behind the image is a fascinating one.

Most Australian’s would know the childhood rhyme ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’, yet very few realise that the rhyme is based on a true event. Mary Sawyer, born in 1806, lived in Sterling, on a farm with her family. One morning her father and she went out to the barn and found two lambs had been born during the night. One though was close to death because it’s mother had not accepted it. Mary asked her father, and was given permission to try to save the lamb and raise it herself. She spent all day and night nursing the lamb and much to her delight, it survived. Yet having been hand raised, it didn’t much care for the other sheep, but preferred horses, cows and of course, Mary herself, who the lamb would often follow around.

One day, Mary and her brother set off for school and the lamb followed. Mary’s borate, Nat suggested they take the lamb to school and when they arrived, Mary tucked the lamb into a blanket at her feet. Eventually, the lamb made a noise and was found out, but the teacher reacted well, laughing and sending the lamb outside for Mary to take home later in the day.

This would have been the end of the story, were it not for the Nephew of the local minister visiting at the time of the events. The nephew, John Roulstone penned the first few stanzas of the famous poem and handed them to Mary a few days later – and thus the rhyme was born!

George Street Sydney

George Street South Sydney Front

The image above showcases an extraordinary view of a street all Sydneysiders know, whether they love it or not. Yet few Sydneysiders realise that this street has such a long and fascinating history. Indeed few would realise that this street is the oldest in Australia!

George Street was the first street to be built by the colonists when they arrived in Sydney Cove. Yet it was not a carefully planned street, or even truly ‘built’. Early in the history of the colony Governor Phillip began to have public buildings built along a fairly level ledge of land to the Western side of the Cove. Soon enough a rough path was being worn along which people travelled between the buildings being constructed and the Cove itself. This is how George Street began its life.

Of course, several of the main streets of Sydney were laid out by the early 1800s. This included George Street itself. By 1803 the military had completed the building of several roads, removing many trees in their way. The stump of one was nine yards around (a little over 8 metres) and took 16 men 6 days to remove. A hole had to be specifically dug in which to roll the stump and it took 90 men to roll it into the hole. This tree was once in the area of George Street.

Pyrmont Bridge

Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney 2 Front

The image above is a stunning view of a well known and important feature of Darling Harbour – Pyrmont Bridge. Yet many people who may cross this bridge on a regular basis have no idea of the extraordinary history of the bridge, or indeed that it is one of the worlds oldest surviving and working swing bridges.

The first Pyrmont Bridge was built in 1857 and made entirely of timber. Just like the current and second bridge, the first bridge had a swing span which allowed ships which would otherwise be to tap to enter Cockle Bay which was then a busy port.

In 1891 a competition was held to decide on a design for a new Pyrmont Swing Bridge, but the winning entry, built entirely of metal, was deemed far too expensive to actually build. Instead, a design by Robert Hickson, the Commissioner and Engineer in Chief of the Department for Public Works was adopted. His design was for a bridge built mainly of timber, but with an iron swing span which was supported by a central pier when opened, and two additional piers when closed. Construction on the bridge began in 1899 and the new bridge, complete with an electrically powered swing span (one of the first in the world) was opened in 1902. The bridge was finally closed to traffic in 1981 and was almost demolished following this closure. Thanks to the intervention of various organisations and the public itself though, the bridge was saved and in 1988 was opened to pedestrian traffic.

A Very Different Gosford

This week, The Past Present has decided to turn attention north of Sydney, to this stunning postcard image of Gosford, on the Central Coast of NSW. Gosford has long been a popular destination for day trippers and holiday makers from Sydney, yet as this image shows, Gosford was not always the city it is today.

Although today Gosford is the administrative centre of the Central Coast, with a growing city to match, Gosford was not always the coast side metropolis we see today. European colonisation of the Gosford area did not begin until the mid 1820s, because although the area had been explored within years of the colonists arriving, it was too difficult to access. The soils were rich though, and agriculturalists soon began to move into the area. By 1850 there was a cart track between the Hawkesbury River and Brisbane water and by the end of the 19th century the area was abounding in market gardens and orchards, particularly citrus orchards.

Gosford itself was named in 1839 after the 2nd Earl of Gosford, Archibald Acheson in 1885 Gosford was officially declared a town, with the declaration of a municipality following a year later in 1886. Yet it was not until the rail link was completed between Sydney and the area in 1887 that settlement really began to accelerate. Even by the 1920s, Gosford was still simply a small town, though it had already grown a reputation as a popular tourist resort. When the Pacific Highway was opened in 1930, settlement in the area rapidly expanded, slowly but surely creating the Gosford we know today – a thriving coast side city.