Milsons Point Ferry Arcade

Milsons PointMilsons Point is an area which Sydneysiders and visitors alike are very familiar with. As the place where the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge connects to Sydney Harbours north shore, it is a place which most of us pass through at the very least, on a regular basis. Yet the postcard above shows a very different view of the area to that we are familiar with today.

Even before the famous bridge was built, Milsons Point was an important area for travellers wishing to cross the beautiful harbour. From Milsons Point to the opposite shore was the smallest distance of water, so it was naturally the place where many early ferry services developed. The first ferry services were offered by local residents, the most famous of whom was Billy Blue (whose full name was William). Regular services soon followed, and they increased in frequency dramatically between the 1830s and the 1860s.

Then, in the early 1860s James Milson junior and some of his colleagues formed the North Shore Ferry Company, which was also known as the North Shore Steam Ferry Company and later as simply Sydney Ferries. They ran ferries between Milsons Point and Circular Quay and were licensed to carry up to 60 people at a time. In fact, the steam ferries were able to carry more than simply human passengers – they also ferried horses and carts! When cable trams began to run to and from the Milsons Point Ferry Terminus, the future of Milsons Point as a transport hub was assured. A grand ferry arcade (also known as the North Shore Ferry Company Building) was also constructed at this time, a building which dominated the Milson Point area until 1924 when it was demolished to allow the Sydney Harbour Bridge to be built.

Pott’s Point

Potts PointThis week, The Past Present is once again turning attention to one of the area of Sydney which so many of us know, but so few of us know the history of, Potts Point.

Potts Point has long been popular with the wealthy and well to do, and indeed this was true even of the first Europeans to colonise the area. Potts Point was not however always known by the name we recognise today. Originally, the area was known as Woolloomooloo Hill and the suburb sits on a ridge immediately east of Woollomooloo which, presumably, explains the name. Originally, the Potts Point area was part of two large parcels of land granted to well known Sydney colonists, Judge Wylde and Alexander Macleay. Then, self made man Joseph Hyde Potts purchased a harbour side section of the land and renamed his new property in honour of himself – Potts Point was born.

In the 19th century the two main land grants were further divided and many grand houses and even mansions were built along the ridge line. In fact, the land was given to the most powerful men in the colony on the proviso that they establish grand and elaborate residences. This was the first deliberately designed suburb, known colloquially by other locals as Hob Nobs Ville. Many of these early mansions survive today and are recognised as important parts of Sydney’s history, listed on the Register of the National Estate.

It wasn’t only early architecture which made history in Potts Point though – the suburb is also the site of some of the earliest blocks of flats to be built in Australia. The earliest of these was built in the earliest part of the 20th century, but most date from between the 1920s and the Second World War. Today the suburb has the highest concentration of beautiful Art Deco buildings in the whole of Australia, many of them apartments!

Sydney Hospital

Macquarie StreetThis week, with the flu season well and truly upon us, it seemed the perfect time for The Past Present to examine the history of medical care, particularly the establishment of hospitals.

When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, it brought with it the naval surgeon John White, who was to be the head of the medical services in the new colony. He and his medical assistants set up tents at Dawes Point, which became Australia’s first ‘hospital’. Not long after, the tents were replaced with a more permanent building, and in 1790 this was again replaced with a prefabricated wood and copper hospital building which was brought to Australia with the Second Fleet. The hospital building wasn’t the only thing which the Second Fleet brought though. There were so many sick convicts newly arrived in the colony that tents (some accounts say up to 100 of them) needed to be set up, in addition to the existing hospital, to look after them.

As the colony extended beyond Sydney itself, hospitals were built in other areas of settlement, at Parramatta, Windsor and Liverpool. Sydney itself though was struggling to deal with epidemics and emergencies. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie arrived, he quickly recognised the urgent need for new hospitals. The question was, how to fund the desperately needed general hospital. Macquarie came upon an ingenious solution, given three colonists a short term monopoly on bringing spirits (including the all important rum) into the colony, in exchange for the three constructing a general hospital on Macquarie Street. The hospital, which was opened in 1816 was officially called the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary (and in 1881 this changed to Sydney Hospital) but it was popularly known in the colony as The Rum Hospital. Yet the foundations were substandard and the walls themselves were built from rubble which made an ideal home for pests like rats and bedbugs. The hospital was also too big for the Sydney population, and eventually some wings were transferred for other uses. Today, the Northern Wing of the original hospital houses NSW Parliament while the Southern Wing is The Mint.

Rabbit Poison Carts On An Australian Sheep Station

Rabbit carts

Rabbits are a well recognised feral problem today, but we aren’t the only generation to recognise them as a pest, as this postcard image shows. The the exact location of the Australian Sheep Station is unknown – perhaps it was close to Sydney, perhaps it was somewhere back of Bourke! Whatever the case, rabbits were a problem all land owners had to deal with.

Rabbits first arrived in Australia when the European colonists arrived – with the First Fleet. They did not immediately become a problem though. These early rabbits were bred as food, and were kept in enclosures. Although Tasmania began to have a rabbit problem as early as 1827, the mainland rabbit population was well maintained and safely caged. Many fine houses in the colony had rabbit enclosures, and by the 1840s even the ‘common folk’ were keeping rabbits. The problem arose, it appears, when in 1859 Thomas Austin released 24 rabbits on his property in Victoria. He planned to use these rabbits for hunting purposes, but they did as rabbits do and multiplied. Other farms followed Austins lead, releasing rabbits into the wild and it was widely thought that the introduction of rabbits could do no harm. Within 10 years though, this was proven to be a massive miscalculation and 2 million rabbits could be shot or trapped each year without having a noticeable effect on their population.

The image above shows just one of the many rabbit control measures which have been used in Australia. Shooting was an early control measure, but really only worked to keep already small populations of rabbits under control. Poisoning remains the most popular of the conventional control methods, and as these carts show, was quite a popular method in the early 20th century too.

Signal Boxes At Sydney Station


The image above is a beautifully captured glimpse into what Sydney Station, now known as Central Station, looked like in days of yesteryear. It is an intriguing glimpse though, showing something which most passengers would likely not have seen, or at the very least, not noticed.
The site where Central Station now stands preserves evidence of the very first phase of railway in NSW. Not only does it encapsulate the changes from steam to electric railways, but also changes in the technology which has been used for signalling. Over time Central has had a variety of signal practises, including the signal boxes pictured above. Signalling had not always been part of railway practice in Australia. In the earliest years it had seemingly been assumed that trains would, if they kept to the time table, and even if they operated on the same line, not crash into one another. The earliest use of signalling came in the late 1870s, when there had been several very close misses between trains. Then, in 1878 two trains collided at Emu Plains, and this crash (which killed three) put an end to trains running on single lines. As more lines were introduced, and the system became more complex, signalling became vital to safely running the railway system.
In 1906, when Central Station expanded to include platforms 9 and 10 four signal boxes had to be added. These were overhead signal boxes which used a mechanical system for signalling, but in 1910 electro-pneumatic technology was introduced and only 2 signal boxes were needed. By the 1920s the signal boxes were vital parts of the complex railway system at Central, which had complicated lines, cross overs, junctions and points. The signal boxes kept the passengers, and the valuable railway system and machines themselves safe.

View From Bushranger Hill Near Newport

Bushrangers ranger

This week, the Past Present decided it was time to share this amazing image of a hill in Newport which is known as Bushrangers Hill. Such an evocative name surely has a fascinating story to match and research reveals this is indeed the case.

Bushrangers Hill may suggest the hill was named because of bushrangers, but this isn’t the whole story. The hill is actually most closely associated with an Aboriginal police tracker known as Bowen. Bowen was the son of the famous Aboriginal Bungaree. He was a very successful police tracker and also customs officer. In fact so successful was Bowen that the Sydney Herald even reported about him, and the information he had provided which led to the capture of thee dangerous bushrangers. Bowen left his job as a police tracker for a time to sail to the Californian gold fields, but he returned and resumed work with the police, again helping to apprehend bushrangers, including two convicts who had escaped and were bushranging on the Northern Beaches.

Of course, being a tracker, Bowen made many enemies. According to many, in 1853 he was encamped at what is now Bushranger Hill and sitting by the warmth and light of his fire. The hill was used by several bushrangers and four happened upon his camp where one, known as Casey, murdered Bowen. John Farrell, who was a farmer at Newport and friend of Bowen discovered his body and had it taken to St Lawrence Presbyterian Church for burial. This is perhaps the reason for the name of the hill. Others however say that Bowen shot Casey and that Farrell did not find Bowen’s body or indeed know who was responsible for his death. According to this story, Bowen died closer to Sydney, though there is no record of how he died.

Camping On The Minnamurra River

Camping Minnamurra

With holidays rapidly approaching and the June long weekend upon us, it seemed the perfect time to share the image above. The image is an evocative glimpse of what camping in Australia, and particularly in the Illawarra area was like in the early 20th century.

Camping has an incredibly long history in Australia. Aboriginal people lived in temporary dwellings, moving around the country from one place to another, while early European colonists often lived in tents of necessity. In fact the first fleet brought with it more than 600 tents! In the 1820s, people who visited Australia actually saw camping as the real Australian experience or the ‘Australian way’. History in Australia, an indeed the history of Australian development, is inescapably linked to camping.

By the 1860s though, camping was beginning to take on a new dimension, people were choosing to set up temporary camps for recreation and holiday camping was born. Water, whether a coastal beach or quiet river meander was often a real feature of holiday camping, and even today many campers head to campgrounds on the coast or situated next to a picturesque river scene. The image above captures a camp along the Minnamurra River. Whether it depicts a temporary holiday camp, or something of a more permanent settlement is unknown, but certainly, it is a glimpse into a national pastime which has been with us since the very beginning.

Lithgow – An Industrial Town

LithgowThis week, The Past Present decided it was time to again investigate an historic location outside of the Sydney area. Australia is full of historic towns and even isolated places and buildings have their story to tell. Lithgow, which many Sydneysiders are familiar with, is one of these fascinating historic places, and looks at once similar and yet markedly different to the view captured in the postcard above. 
Lithgow, which is named in honour of Governor Brisbane’s private secretary, was named in 1827 by by Hamilton Hume, just three years after the first Europeans arrived and settled the valley. Yet settlement in the valley was slow, and by 1860 only four more settlers had arrived. In 1869 though, the Western Railway Line (using the famous Zig Zag Railway) was built to Lithgow and the area quickly grew. With a combination of coal fields and easy transport by rail, various industrial workings soon began to appear, and the already established woollen mills prospered. In 1875 a Blast Furnace was built and by 1900 steel, the first to be smelted in Australia, was being produced. A meat refrigeration plant was also established in 1875 and soon there were breweries, brickworks, copper smelters and even pipe and pottery workings established in the valley. In the early 1900s a small arms factory was also added to the vibrant working town. 
Today, most of these industrial workings have long since closed, becoming historic sites rather than booming businesses. Yet the postcard above captures Lithgow in its industrial heyday, including the plumes of smoke from the smelting works which would once have been such a part of the skyline.

Promenading At Manly

Manly promenade

The image above is a glimpse into a pastime which, for many today, is something of a bizarre idea – promenading. Today, when we visit the beach we tend to enjoy lying about on the sand or playing in the water, but in the past beach goers often looked for a different pastime.

Manly has long been a popular beach for visitors to and residents of Sydney alike and many visitors today will recognise the wide pathway featured in this postcard image, though few use it for the once popular seaside pursuit, promenading. Promenading may sound very grand, but essentially it is a grandiose term for a stroll, usually in public, which is undertaken for a combination of pleasure and display. The Promenade, as the pathway between Fairy Bower and Manly is known, was built in 1898 atop the sewer line to Manly Beach, or as it was then known, Cabbage Tree Bay. As time went by, the Promenade was upgraded, being asphalted, having lighting installed and being lushly planted with pines. Women with hats, long dresses and parasols and men in suits, hats and waistcoats used the promenade not only to ‘take the air’, but also as a venue to see and be seen. There were strict rules to promenading, including a prohibition against promenading in swimming costume, but so popular was the pastime that visitors to the beach often found the promenade, not the beach, thronging with crowds!

Black Swans In The Botanic Gardens


Botanic Gardens Black SwansThe image above is a charming glimpse into a family day out and about in Sydney’s beautiful Botanic Gardens. Where we might think of feeding ducks today, the water fowl which the children in this image are feeding are Australia’s native Black Swan.

The black swan is an intriguing bird, native to many parts of Australia and an emblem associated with Western Australia. These large, majestic birds have long been popular in zoo’s and bird collections, and were also popular features of public parks like the Botanic Garden. Yet what is perhaps of most interest is what the phrase ‘black swan’ has come to mean.

A black swan is a metaphor for an event or discovery which is unprecedented, unexpected and surprising but which in hindsight, really isn’t such a surprise after all. The phrase actually comes from the Latin and the oldest known use of the metaphor came almost a thousand years ago, in Juvenal’s line “rara avis in terries nigroque simillima cygno” which translates to “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”. At the time, and for centuries after, the only swans known were white swans, so it was assumed that the black swan did not exist. Then, in 1697, Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, discovered black swans in Australia, proving they did exist after all. This came as a great surprise, but in hindsight many acknowledged that it really shouldn’t have been such a shock – just as other animals came in other colours, not all swans were white. Today, Black Swan Theory, as introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007 is well known, but it all traces back to these majestic if unexpected birds which are such a feature of the Australian landscape.