The image above is a glimpse into the past of Sydney, and at a building which today looks vastly different to the one which once stood proudly at the heart of Sydney’s commercial district. The Royal Exchange may still have a building, and even stand in the same position, yet nothing remains of the original sandstone building – today we see a modern construction like so many others of Sydney’s buildings.
The Royal Exchange building, as seen in the image above, was officially opened in 1853. It stood on the corners of Gresham, Pitt and Bridge streets (where the new Royal Exchange Building still stands today) and was just one of the buildings which demarked this areas as the financial heart of Sydney in the 19th century. The Royal Exchange was an important building, acting as Sydney’s first stock and wool exchanges.
The Royal Exchange was also the first building in Australia to set up a ‘Telephone Bureau’, installing Australia’s first switchboard in 1881. Subscribers to the service had to pay for everything from the poles, to maintenance, but the system was a success and just a year later there were 30 telephone lines linked to the switchboard. However, not long after this sign of success, and less than five years after the switchboard was installed, an electrical short circuit burned out the original switchboard during a thunderstorm. The Royal Exchange decided against installing a new switchboard, handing the business over to the General Post Office instead. None the less, the Royal Exchange remains Sydney’s and indeed Australia’s first real telephone bureau!
The 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.
The image above is a beautiful glimpse into the history of a place which was once, and continues to be a popular holiday destination for many Sydneysiders. Yet the Gosford of today looks remarkably different to the Gosford captured in this snapshot!
Before European colonisation of Australia, the Gosford area was home to the Guringai and Darkinjung Aboriginal peoples, but it was not long after Europeans arrived in Sydney that the Central Coast was being explored. In 1788 and 1789 Governor Phillip himself explored the area around Gosford and it did not take long before timber getters and lime burners had begun to appear. The difficulty of accessing the area though meant that true settlement didn’t begin until 1823 and even in 1850 the road between Brisbane Water and the Pittwater area was just a rudimentary track.
In the 1880s though, with the completion of the railway link between Sydney and Newcastle, Gosford began to grow. Tourists began to see the Central Coast as an ideal holiday and leisure destination and soon began to flock to the surrounding area. In 1889, when the Hawkesbury Railway Bridge was opened, traveling to Gosford became easier and quicker, and the tourist industry continued to grow and thrive. By the early 20th century, and well into the 1960s, many Sydneysiders will recall heading up the coast for their annual holidays, enjoying sun, surf and sand on the beautiful Central Coast.
The image above shows an area which most Sydneysiders are familiar with, yet the building it showcases is one which many may not recognise or indeed have heard of. The building which it became, the Capitol Theatre, may well be more familiar.
The image above, showing York Street in the very early 20th century, is a beautiful glimpse into Sydney’s past. Many Sydney siders will be familiar with York Street as it is one of the major streets in the Sydney CBD, though of course the view is very different today. What many may not know is that York Street is, in many ways, the historic home of circus in Australia!
When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, entertainment was certainly not something they were concerned with and for many years there was little in the way of theatre. In the 1830s regular theatre performances began to take place, but they were held with some difficulty and although there were occasionally circus type acts, they were certainly not the norm. In Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) Radford’s Royal Circus was opened in 1847, but after two years Radford was insolvent. However, two of his equestrians, Golding Ashton and John Jones kept the theatre style alive.
Ashton (whose name you might recognise) worked in Melbourne for a short time, but then he and a small group of equestrians headed for Sydney. John Jones arrived in about 1850, bringing with him Edward La Rosiere, a tightrope walker and they opened to great success at the City Theatre (near the present day State Theatre). Later the same year though, Jones and La Rosiere moved into their own arena, an roofless arena in the yard of John Malcom’s Adelphi Hotel in York Street. The circus was known as the Royal Australian Equestrian Circus and was in many ways the first permanent circus troupe in Australia. Malcolm soon recognised the potential of the circus though and it was renamed Malcoms Royal Australian Circus. The Arena, which was many times altered over the ensuing years, was declared unsafe and demolished in 1882, but by then the circus had arrived and its future in Australia was assured.
The image above is a lively and evocative glimpse into the history of a Sydney reserve which has been a popular recreational reserve for Sydney residents for well over a century, Parsley Bay.
What we now know as Parsley Bay is the traditional lands of the Birrabirragal group but it wasn’t long after European colonisation that the land around Parsley Bay was securely in the hands of European settlers. In 1792 Thomas Laycock, the Deputy Commissioner General, was given a grant of eighty acres of land at the head of Parsley Bay. This is the first known use of the name Parsley Bay. The land passed through several owners and was expanded over the following years before being purchased by the Wentworth family in 1827. Parsley Bay then became just one small part of the Wentworth family’s Vaucluse Estate.
Though the land was in private hands, that did not stop Sydney siders from accessing and using Parsley Bay and even before the area became a public reserve, there is evidence that the area was used by the public for picnics and camping. In 1905 though, William Notting and his Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee lobbied the Government to provide public access to various locations around the harbour waterfront. Parsley Bay was one of these locations and in 1906 was resumed by the Government in order to create a public reserve. It was the first area of land to be secured by the Harbour Foreshore Vigilance Committee and went on to become an ever more popular area for picnicking, camping and making merry.
The image above shows a street which today remains remarkably intact as an example of the 19th century architecture of Sydney, Bridge Street. Although the view has changed since this postcard was printed in the early 20th century, many Sydneysiders will no doubt recognise the area from the streetscape which remains.
Bridge Street was not always known by the name we recognise it by today, but was originally known as Bridgeway. The name relates to a bridge – the first to be built in the new colony. This bridge was built over the Tank Stream, the stream of fresh, clean water which attracted Governor Phillip to Sydney Cove in 1788 when Botany Bay was first rejected as a place for the new settlement. The bridge was a simple construction, made of timber and built by convict labour in 1788. Later, this first bridge was replaced by a stone bridge.
By the earliest years of the 19th century Bridge Street had become the place to live. The elite of the colony chose to establish properties which adjoined or were close to the grounds of Government House. Bridge Street itself was a public street stretching from George Street to Macquarie Place, where the public right of way ended at Government House. The elite were not the only occupants of the area though with the Government Convict Lumber Yard on the south west side of what was then still known as Bridgeway. In 1810 though Governor Macquarie awarded a contract to construct a general hospital in the area of the lumber yard and by 1833 the lumber yard had ben subdivided and was sold. Shops soon began to be opened along the street, particularly in the area of the old lumber yard. In 1845 the original Government House was demolished and Governor Gipps moved to the new Government House. This opened up Bridge Street which could now be extended to Macquarie Street.
Recently, there has been lots of news about Freshwater Beach and the important centenary which was celebrated there on January 10th – the centenary of Duke Kahanamoku’s surfing demonstration. Yet there have been few photos which showed the beach at the time, and so The Past Present decided to share one from the collection.
Long before Europeans settled Australia Freshwater Beach was known by Aborigines who no doubt used the freshwater creek which flowed onto the beach, and after which the beach is named. Less than three months after Europeans arrived in Sydney Governor Arthur Phillip led an expedition around Manly and towards Freshwater but he is, perhaps, not the most famous man to grace the shores of the beach. This honour may well go to Duke Kahanamoku who popularized surfing in Australia. Surfing at Freshwater actually dates to before his visit with the Boomerang Camp, which was established at the beach in the early 1900s, being frequented by many locals and visitors who used the beach for Body Surfing. It was the people of this camp who established the Surf Life Saving Club at the beach in 1908 and it was also this camp where Duke Kahanamoku stayed.
‘The Duke’ was a Hawaiian of international renown and he arrived at Freshwater in the Summer of 1915. During his stay at the Boomerang Camp and Freshwater Beach he created a solid surfboard, crafted from local timbers and it was this which he used in his famous exhibition of surfboard riding. He paddled out on the board and returned to the beach standing tall and riding the wave. What’s more, he then selected a local lady from the crowd, Isabel Letham, who rode tandem with him on his board. She was the first Australian to ride on this type of surfboard in the Australian surf, but it was The Duke who popularised the sport.