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.

Bark Selectors Hut

A Selectors Bark Humpy Front.jpg

The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the lives, and the living conditions, of so many Australians in days gone by. The simple bark hut, a humpy as the postcard describes it, may appear rough and uninviting by our modern standards, but for many Australians living in the 1800s, and even into the 1900s, such structures were home.

When we think of old Australian houses, we tend to often think of historic homes which have been preserved for posterity, many of them grand houses or country estates. It is true that even in the earliest years of the colony, some people, like the Governor, lived in prefabricated houses brought from England. Yet for most Australians, home was somewhere much rougher and more simplistic. The early colony was tent settlement and even the first more substantial buildings were often made of wattle and daub. Other early buildings were built of timber, with many of the local trees providing long lasting, good wood which could be used not just for roofing, but for the whole building. Particularly popular was ironbark, which could last for 30 years or more, even when exposed to harsh weather conditions. Local timber continued to be a popular building material right up until the Second World War, with many people continuing to use what was to hand in building their homes.

Even when the colony began to become more prosperous, many continued to build using wattle and daub, timber and bark. Such techniques were popular with squatters, who did not have formal rights to their land, and may be moved on as a result. These techniques were also popular with selectors, who used materials at hand to build a simple home, which they sometimes added to, or abandoned for a more formal structure if they prospered. Often the hut was a single room, which may eventually become a kitchen or living room if the family prospered and the house was extended. This is the type of home pictured in the postcard above.

Dawes Point – Part 3

Sydney Harbour From Dawes Point 2 Front.jpg

The image above, which reveals a heavily fortified Dawes Point, is a glimpse into the history of an area which all Sydneysiders know, but often overlook when thinking about the history of Sydney. Yet Dawes Point is a place with layers of history, which have built up over the years of Aboriginal and European occupation. Today, we associate Dawes Point simply with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, yet before this time, Dawes Point played a very different role in Sydney’s history.

By 1791, the value of Dawes Point as a strategic and defensive position had been fully recognised. The earlier observatory was demolished, and the area of Dawes Point was taken over by fortifications, barracks, powder magazines and even artillery, with the earliest gun at Dawes Point actually originating on the ship Sirius. In 1801 improvements were made to the fortifications, and in 1819, famous convict architect, Francis Greenway, was tasked with completely redesigning the fortifications. Although the original plans for his fort do not survive, we know from contemporary accounts and archaeological evidence that his fort was built in the castellated Gothic style. At the time, aspects of the new fort were criticised, such as a decorative guardhouse above the fort which people felt was a target, not a defence!

Then, in the 1850s, fears of a Russian attack, associated with Britains involvement in the Crimean war, caused the fort to once again be altered. By 1856, members of the Royal Artillery had been stationed in Sydney, at Dawes Point Battery, and of course new buildings had been constructed to house them. An officers quarters and new barracks buildings were constructed at this time. It was also at this time that new guns were installed. Five cannons were added to the fort, and these can still be seen at Dawes Point today, though most are no longer in their original positions. A lower fort, of which little is known, was also built at this time, and underground powder stores have been discovered during archaeological excavations. It is believed these powder magazines also date to this period. Over the following decades, and up to the time of Federation, Dawes Point continued to play a significant role in military activity, and more buildings were added to fulfil various roles. After Federation, and the creation of the regular Australian Army, military presence at Dawes Point was discontinued, with occupation ending in 1902. Little remains visible of the fortifications, though a sentry box which is today adjacent to the Ives Steps and Wharf would have originally been used to observe the harbour and foreshore.

Dawes Point Part 2

Sydney Dawes Point From Fort Macquarie Front

The image above, which shows Dawes Point in the early years of the 20th century. The image is a glimpse into the past history the area which today, for many Sydneysiders, is firmly associated with the 20th century and The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Yet Dawes Point is one of those extraordinary places in Sydney history which has layered history, dating right back to the earliest years of the colony, and before.

Dawes Point is so named because of its association with Lt William Dawes, who established an observatory on the point. He recorded meteorological observations and was the official time keeper for the colony, as well as observing the nighttime sky. His scientific records are incredibly significant records of early colonial history, and are even important to the international scientific community. Yet Dawes Point did not remain a scientific institution for long.

Dawes Point is able to supply excellent views up and down the harbour, and it wasn’t long before the strategic possibilities of the area were recognised. Even during the years of Dawes Observatory, there was a signal station and powder magazine located on the site. The signal station was built on the site to allow the communication of messages from The Gap at Watsons Bay, to Sydney, and from there up the Parramatta River, to the Governors residence. Even the first proper road was built from Dawes Point to Sydney’s Government House to enable quick communication between the leader of the colony and the signal station. When news came of conflict between England and Spain, the basic defences at Dawes Point were formalised. The observatory buildings, which were made of wood, were demolished in 1791 and permanent fortifications were built on the site to defend the new colony from other European powers. Dawes Point Battery, as it was known had armaments, powder magazines, guardhouses and officers quarters. Even the guns from the ship Sirius were relocated to the point to enable defence of the new colony.

The Dawes Point Battery continued to be an important part of Sydney’s defences over the next years. Come back next week to find out more.

Tweed Production on the Nepean River

Tweed factoryWhen we think of the Nepean River and Penrith area today, our minds may not turn immediately to industrial processes, yet once the Nepean River was home to many factories producing a range of materials. The postcard above shows just one of these factories, ‘The Old Factory’ which was situated on the river at Regentville.
Regentville itself has a fascinating history, with the name of the suburb coming from a once famous mansion built in 1824 by Sir John Jamison. It is believed that he named the mansion Regentville in honour of the Prince Regent of the time, who later became King George IV. Jamison owned a huge property, which included land inherited from his father and various other estates which he had acquired, and his land was very productive. He established vineyard and orchards, as well as running livestock and even a horse stud on his estate, with many of the farmers working the land being of Irish descent.
Of course, the factory was something a little different from these more agricultural pursuits. In the 1830s many Sydney businessmen became interested in investing money in what they assumed would be highly profitable industries, and Jamison was interested in textiles. He established a cloth mill on his estate in about 1835, using a steam engine imported for the milling of flour to run the mill machinery. In 1841 he employed Abraham and John Rayner, who were experts in the cloth trade having been born into and brought up in the industry. Sadly Jamison was in poor health and the 1840s Depression nearly ruined him, leaving him with a lack of funds to support his mill. He died in 1844 and the partnership with the Rayner brothers was dissolved. The mill continued to operated with various different managers until 1850 and in 1849 alone produced 11,500 yards of high quality tweed. The mill continued to be a picturesque building standing on the shores of the Nepean River for many years, eventually being known to tourists who passed in boating parties as simply ‘The Old Factory’.

Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm

Barracluff's Ostrich Farm
Over time, Sydney and the surrounding areas have been host to a range of businesses, from the large industrial to the smaller and perhaps quirkier. In fact, once Sydney even had it’s own ostrich farm!
Joseph Barracluff was born in Lincolnshire and in 1884 he and his wife Jane immigrated to Australia. He soon established a business selling feathers in Elizabeth Street, opposite the Devonshire Street Cemetery (now Central Station). In 1889 the Barracluff’s purchased a property in South Head in order to start producing their own feathers for hats, boas, fans and other ladies fashion. Feathers were not their only product though. Ostrich eggs were also highly prized and many were finely carved and mounted in silver to be used as beautiful home ornaments.
Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm was one of the earliest feather producing businesses in Australia, and was Australia’s ‘show ostrich farm’ for many years. In fact, so high profile was the business that in 1901 the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and Work (who became King George V and Queen Mary) visited during their royal tour of Australia. The duchess was presented with a grand ostrich feather fan with a gold base and enormous ostrich feathers (up to 68 centimetres long it is reported) and after the visit the farm was even allowed to use the words ‘Under Royal Patronage’ to describe the business. They also advertised their feathers as ‘By Special Appointment To His Excellency The Governor General and His Excellency The Governor Of New South Wales’.
Joseph Barracluff died in 1918, and following his death the business slowly declined. The land where the ostrich farm once thrived was subdivided and sold in 1925.

Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge

Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge

Yesterday, on May 1st, it was the anniversary of an engineering marvel in Australian history. On May 1, 1889 the first Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was officially opened, and The Past Present decided it was the perfect time to share the beautiful image above with our readers.

The Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge may, at first glance, not appear all that significant. However, the opening of this railway bridge not only fully linked Sydney and Newcastle by rail, but essentially saw the linkage of the South Australian, Victorian, NSW and Queensland railway systems. The bridge (and indeed the currently used bridge which was its replacement) was a vital part in Australian transport history. So significant was the bridge that it was even used by Sir Henry Parkes as a symbol of Federation at his speech to open the bridge (a speech which may claim was his first Federation speech)

Plans to construct a Railway Bridge over the Hawkesbury River began to be put into action in 1886. The contract was awarded to Union Bridge Company in New York, but various subcontractors were involved in the construction work itself. At the time of construction it was an engineering marvel, with concrete piers below water level giving way to fine sandstone masonry above the water. Five of these piers were also sunk to what were then record depths, between 46 and 49 metres below water level. The bridge was constructed with seven spans and the total length of the bridge was nearly 900 metres. The spans were assembled on Dangar Island and from there floated out to the bridge site, approximately 1500 metres away.

In 1927 the bridge needed strengthening, but by the 1930s cracks were starting to appear. In 1946 a new, replacement bridge was opened and the spans were removed from the old bridge, leaving the sandstone and concrete piers as historic relics alongside the newer bridge.