The Scenic Railway

The Scenic Railway Katoomba Blue Mountains2This week, with the holidays rapidly approaching, it seems the perfect time to turn attention to one of the many attractions not far from Sydney. The Scenic Railway is a popular place for tourists to visit, and today is a reasonably comfortable, safe and not particularly terrifying ride. The historic and unique railway has quite a history though, and in its early days, as the postcard above demonstrates, was quite a different ride.
The Scenic Railway may be today a historic ride, but it was a working railway for the mines which were once situated at the bottom of the escarpment. By 1878 the mines, which mined not only coal but also kerosene shale, were in full operation and a system of cable tramways serviced them. The scenic railway we see today was one of these, carrying the mined materials to the summit of the mountain where they were transferred to another railway to be taken further, to local businesses who purchased the coal, and also to markets in Sydney.
Even before Scenic World was created, the railway carried more than just mined materials. Many miners caught a lift up from the mines in one of the coal carts, and later on weary walkers would also make the journey. A 12 seater car was built, named Jessie, and this was used on weekends and public holidays to carry passengers, even while the mines remained in operation.The car only carried 12 people, and rides cost sixpence. During the Second World War, American troops on leave heard of the railway and came to the Blue Mountains to visit and ride the engineering marvel. In fact, it was while Harry Hammon was loading coal for transport to Katoomba that he met up with a group of American soldiers. They had come to see the railway, and were disappointed to discover that it was only run on weekends. When the mine closed, Hammon and his sister Isobel Fahey took over the lease and began to operate the railway as a tourist attraction.

Luna Park

Luna Park and North Sydney pool Front copy

This week, with Summer Holidays in swing, the Past Present examines the historic Sydney Luna Park, a favourite holiday destination for Sydneysiders and visitors alike for generations. This image is from either the late 1930s or 1940s and you might recognize some of the structures which are still there today!

During the building of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, the site where Luna Park stands today was taken up by large workshops where parts of the bridge were made and assembled. In 1932, with the bridge complete though, the workshops were demolished and in 1935, only three years later, Luna Park opened. The park was based on the successful fun park of the same name opened in 1903 on Coney Island, New York by Herman Phillips, though it was not the only or even the first park to trade on this original ‘Luna Park’. Melbourne’s Luna Park had opened in 1912 and there were Luna Parks in other countries too.

Luna Park Sydney originally traded using rides which had been relocated from Luna Park Glenelg, in Adelaide. Not only did it use rides from another park though, it used the knowledge gained through the previous parks to ensure immediate success. Throughout the 1930s and World War Two Luna Park continued to attract crowds and in the 1950s and 1960s various new rides were installed, many of which had been seen on trips overseas by David Atkins, who operated the park until 1957 and Ted Hopkins who ran the park until 1969. In the early 1970s the group responsible for the park attempted to redevelop the site without success and investment in the infrastructure and rides was very limited. Then, in 1979 disaster struck with a fatal fire on the Ghost Train resulting in the closure of the park. Over the following years the fun park opened and closed sporadically, but in 2004 Luna Park reopened for good, we hope!

World War Two Humour

Finito Mussolini Front copy

This week, with the anniversary of VE Day falling yesterday, The Past Present felt it was the perfect time to share one of the later postcards in the collection, dating from World War Two. VE Day, also known as Victory In Europe Day is celebrated on May 8th and marks the end of World War Two in Europe. The postcard above dates to World War Two and is an excellent example of not only the type of correspondence used during the war, but of wartime humour.

During World War Two (and indeed also during World War One) postcards were a common and important form of communication. The war saw families separated with soldiers leaving to serve their countries with many not returning. Communication between these separated loved ones was very important, not only for those left behind, but also for those serving far from home. Many communicated using postcards, where a brief message could be accompanied by a picture. Often these images were patriotic or encouraging, but many others were humorous, aiming to lift the spirits of those who received them. The postcard above (and below) is a fun novelty of the era, showing a caricature of the Italian leader Mussolini if held one way but a very different image if the card is rotated!

Finito Mussolini Front 2

Hyde Park, circa 1940

hyde park 1 watermarked

This photo of the War Memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park, part of a set of Government Printed Tourist Photos dating from about 1940, really resonates with what we see of Hyde Park today.

Most of us see Hyde Park as a peaceful, green sanctuary in our busy city. It is a place where people come to relax, taking time out from their hectic city lives to enjoy the tranquil beauty of this open, green space. It is a perfect escape from the concrete world of the CBD, with its massive, tree lined roads, the beautiful Archibald Fountain and tranquil War Memorial. Yet Hyde Park has not always been a place for rest and relaxation. In fact, it’s history reveals that the area started out life in quite a different capacity!

Over the next month, The Past Present will be featuring images of Hyde Park in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Come back next week to view the next installment in the series and find out a little more of the history of this favourite Sydney spot!