Milsons 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.
This week, The Past Present is focussing on a place name. Australia has some beautiful, and some fascinating place names, and yet all to often these names are simply taken for granted. The image above, from a postcard dated to circa 1910, shows Narrabeen, a coastal suburb of Sydney which is popular with beachgoers and those looking for some natural beauty.
Narrabeen is a beautiful spot, and has a rather beautiful name, but nobody seems entirely certain where this name comes from. There are however several theories. Many suggest the name is associated with the Aboriginal people who are the traditional owners of the area, the Guringai. According to these theories, the name may be derived from the Aboriginal word for wild swan, Narrabang. Another theory is linked to the account Lieutenant James Grant who passed through the area in 1801. According to his journal, the Aboriginal people called the mouth of the lagoon Narrowbine. Yet another theory suggests that the name comes from a plant which grows near the lagoon and which is known as Narrabin.
Others though suggest a perhaps more sensational story behind the name. According to this theory, the name is associated with the sad tale of the family of Captain Henry Reynolds who arrived with the First Fleet. He and his family were killed in a bushranger attack, and their home was burned down. The name for Narrabeen in this story comes from an Aboriginal girl named Narrabine, who helped the soldiers capture the men responsible for the murders.
Sydney siders are fortunate to have many attractive streets lined with beautiful historic buildings, or at least their facades. Yet often, we spare little thought for the history of these roadways themselves. This week, The Past Present is turning its attention to just one of these fascinating streets, Barrack Street.
Barrack Street, which today is lined simply with buildings, once ran along the southern wall of the military barracks built by Governor Macquarie. Originally, the roadway was known simply as Barracks Lane and, when the barracks were still in operation, many would leave the barracks through a gate in the southern wall to use the lane way to reach either George or Clarence Street, which the lane ran between. Yet the barracks, which were in the centre of the growing Sydney town, occupied a large and very valuable plot of land. Government began to consider alternative places for the barracks and in the 1840s, a site was chosen. The site, a sandy spot on South Head Road, is now occupied by Victoria Barracks. Today, Wynyard Park is all that remains of the site once occupied by the Sydney military barracks, other than the name, which acts as a reminder in itself. Ironically though, the name Barrack Street was officially given to the road in 1849, a year after the barracks had actually closed.
This 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!
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.
This week the Past Present is looking at an iconic place in Sydney’s history, and one which is associated with something many of us love – confectionary. The intersection featured in the image above is that of King and George Streets, in the heart of Sydney. This is, of course, the place where the famous Darrell Lea store once stood.
Harris Levy was born in 1876 in London and was the son of a boot maker. When he was 12, the family emigrated to Australia and Levy took a job rolling cigars in Western Australia. This wasn’t the life Harry was looking for though and his parents paid for him to learn to make confectionary. Then, in 1905 Levy married Esther Goldman. In 1916 the couple and their growing family made their way to Sydney where they opened a fruit store in Manly, on The Corso. In winter, the fruit trade was slow, so Levy began to make toffees to supplement the fruit trade. The confectionary was incredibly successful and in 1924 Levy opened a small milk bar and confectionary shop in Castlereagh Street, making his products in the rear of the shop. Then in 1930, with Depression era rents being so low, Levy was able to take over a shirt shop in Pitt Street, transforming it into a confectionary shop. Levy changed his name to Lea and called named the company after his youngest son, Darrell. Darrell Lea was born.
A confectionary company may seem at odds with the shortages of the Depression, but Darrell Lea made a decision to sell at half the price of their competitors, making chocolate, which had been a luxury item, more affordable. Low prices led to a huge turnover of product, so the confectionary had a reputation for always being fresh and high quality. Soon enough the company became a huge success and more stores began to be opened, including a Melbourne store which was established in 1940. The most famous store though stood at the juncture of King and George Streets. Harry Levy died in 1957.
This week, with Tartan Day being just around the corner (July 1), it seemed like the perfect time to examine the Burns Statue in the Domain. This statue is just one of the many statues which are to be found in and around Sydney’s beautiful Botanic Gardens and Domain.
So why, and how exactly one might wonder, did Sydney come to have such a grand statue of a Scottish poet? Sydney has, since colonisation began, had a strong community of Scottish people, and in the late 1800s a group of these Scots came together to raise funds for a statue of the iconic poet, Robert Burns. They pledged to eat Haggis each year on January 25, and collect funds for the rest of the year to make the statue a reality. In 1898 though, the group decided they needed to enlist the Highland Society of New South Wales. They handed the accepted funds (over 55 pounds) to the society, and the society took up the cause. So loved was Robert Burns by the Scottish Australians that a Mr Muir even published a brochure called “An Australian Appreciation Of Robert Burns” to further support the cause. Finally, after years of effort and fundraising, in 1905 the statue was completed, and unveiled to a crowd of thousands in late January.
The statue itself was the work of London sculptor F. W. Pomeroy, who masterfully created the statue which shows Burns leaning on a plough and wearing clothing which is much the same as that seen in portraits of the poet. The poet is holding a pencil and note pad, posed to compose a new work and over his shoulder falls a length of Scottish plaid. The plaid cascades down the poets back, across the plough and partially hides a Scottish thistle, the symbol of Scotland, and an aspect of the statue many are likely to miss.
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.
This week, with what would once have been Commonwealth and Empire Day nearly upon us, The Past Present decided it was a perfect opportunity to examine one of the buildings in Sydney once firmly associated with Colonial industry – the building of the Colonial Sugar Company. The building featured in the image above once stood in O’Connell Street, but was demolished in 1962.
The Colonial Sugar Company, also known as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (or CSR as we know it today) has its roots back in 1855, when the company was founded by Sir Edward Knox. Knox had come to Australia in 1840 and tried his hands at a number of different industries before purchasing a sugar refinery and distillery in 1843. He leased this to the Australasian Sugar Company but, when that company failed in 1854, he decided to found a new company, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. CSR began its life in Canterbury at a refinery originally owned by the Australasian Sugar Company, but moved many of its operations to Chippendale within just a few years as there was a better labour source. Water supplies to the refinery were a matter of considerable consternation though, both for the sugar refinery itself and for locals living in the area and in 1875 the company began to build a new refinery at Pyrmont, where industry thrived and there were less residents to complain about water and pollution. Eventually, CSR became so successful that not only did they own an enormous area in Pyrmont, but they had set up refineries in other Australian colonies, and also in New Zealand and Fiji.
This week, The Past Present is back in Sydney, investigating an image which is not only beautiful, but also very intriguing. Picnicking has long been a very popular pastime for Sydneysiders and there were many picnic grounds which sprung up around Sydney. The image above captures a glimpse of the picnic grounds at the Parramatta River, as the caption states, but the exact location is something of a mystery.
Parramatta itself is the site of Australia’s second oldest European settlement. Settlement began in early November 1788 when it became clear that more fertile land would need to be found to support the fledgeling colony. Soon farming was established in the area, and by the 1850s various other industrial processes had also moved in. In fact, by the 1850s it was actually Parramatta, not Sydney itself which was the main metropolis of NSW! This had a significant impact on the river itself, and pollution became a problem, but the natural beauty of the river continued to attract people none-the-less. Picnicking was popular, and various picnic areas like the one shown in the image above began to be established along the shores of the river. Some even included areas for swimming, such as Little Coogee (which was located in what is now Parramatta Park).