Mudgee

Approach To Mudgee From The North Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse of the history of one of NSW most historic small towns, and one which is a popular destination for Sydneysiders looking for a weekend escape. Yet today, the attraction of Mudgee today – wine, food and beautiful scenery – is far different to those which once brought thousands of people to the beautiful area.

The first European to visit the Mudgee area, and indeed the forst to cross the Cudgegong River, was James Blackman, who came to The area in 1821. It is known that some time before 1837, he had built a slab building on the site which became the Mudgee township. The town itself was declared in 1838, after other colonists had moved into the area. Indeed, almost as soon as Blackman had found a passable route, others followed, with William Lawson and the Cox family quickly establishing their own properties in the area. Before this, the traditional owners or the land were the Wiradjuri People, but after the European colonists arrived, they were systematically removed from their lands or killed.

Yet in these early days of European settlement in the Mudgee area, Mudgee remained a small settlement. That soon changed though, when an enormous gold nugget was discovered in nearby Hargraves in 1851. Soon, Mudgee had become the epicentre of the many local gold fields, with enormous through traffic to Gulgong, Hill End and other gold fields. Within just 10 years the population had swelled from just 200 in 1851 to over 1500 in 1861. In 1860, Mudgee was declared as a municipality, which makes it the second oldest towm west of the Blue Mountains.

Luckily for Mudgee, and unlike other gold field towns, Mudgee had never been dependent purely on gold the area around Mudgee was noted for excellent wool production, agriculture and even for its wine making (the first vineyards were established in 1858 by Adam Roth). When the gold fields began to be abandoned, it was these industries which kept Mudgee alive and sustained the thriving town.

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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’.

A Dam By Any Other Name – Burrinjuck Dam

Scene on Barren Jack Weir Front

This week, with the holidays underway and many Sydneysiders heading to the country to enjoy the best Spring has to offer, it seemed the perfect time to look at one of the magnificent feats of engineering which are to be found in our many stunning national parks. Burrinjuck Dam, or Barren Jack Weir as it was once known, and as it is described on the postcard above, is just one of these.

Burrinjuck Dam is on the Murrumbidgee River about 60 kilometres from Yass and today is marketed as a popular area for bushwalking, camping and water sports. Yet in 1906, when the construction of the Dam began, the scheme was created for an extremely different audience, and even today, the water is vital for reasons other than tourism. The dam was the first in NSW to be built specifically to provide water for irrigation and provided water to the government sponsored Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme. The scheme allowed the Murrumbidgee Valley to develop as a thriving agricultural centre, producing everything from fruit to rice. At the time when the dam was built, it was the fourth largest dam in the entire world. In 1911 the name Barren Jack, which the dam was originally known as, was changed to Burrinjuck, an Aboriginal word used for the area. Due to interruptions caused to construction by World War 1, the dam was not completed until 1928, but even before completion, there had been two major floods which proved the viability of the scheme.

Today, between Burrinjuck and Blowering Dams (the latter of which is near Tumut), the Murrumbidge is able to provide for the irrigation needs of the Murrumbidgee Valley and the area is responsible for providing NSW with up to 90% of our potatoes, 80% of our carrots, 50% of our rice and 25% of our other fruits and vegetables.

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.

Chinese Produce Seller

R. W. Moody tanners, curriers and welting manufacturings on Cranbrook Street showing close contact between residences and wool industries in Botany. Vegetable peddlers and cart typical of Sydney and suburbs

R. W. Moody tanners, curriers and welting manufacturings on Cranbrook Street showing close contact between residences and wool industries in Botany.
Vegetable peddlers and cart typical of Sydney and suburbs

This week, in honour of Chinese New Year, The Past Present is focussing on this beautiful photo from an unknown photographer, taken in 1936. Although the focus of the photographers interest was the tannery belonging to R. W. Moody, today The Past Present is focussing on the Chinese vegetable peddler in the foreground.  Once, up to a third of the Chinese community in Sydney was occupied in growing fruit and vegetables, while others provided accomodation and services to these market gardeners.

The first known Chinese settler in Sydney was Mak Sai Ying who arrived in 1818 and settled in Parramatta, eventually opening a public house called the Golden Lion. Following the end to convict transportation people were brought from China to work as indentured labourers for rural estates and by 1852 over 1500 Chinese had arrived. Of course, then came the gold rush and Chinese people arrived in large numbers to try their luck, though many returned to China later. As mining became less profitable for the Chinese many who remained in Australia turned their attention to the growing and selling of fruit and vegetables. Market gardening became a common occupation for the Chinese, especially as many of the Chinese in Australia had rural backgrounds.

There were more people involved in the market garden trade than just the growers though. The market gardens supported a whole variety of industries, from the gardeners who worked the fields to the people who owned the hostels where gardeners would stay when they brought their produce to the city. Although market gardeners and fruit and vegetable sellers are now seen as almost synonymous, market gardening was extremely labour intensive and although the growers may transport their produce to the sellers, they rarely sold it themselves. Often the fruit and vegetables were either sold by associated hawkers who travelled from house to house, or by green grocers and even large city markets, including Sydney’s Belmore Markets.

The Garden Palace

The Garden Palace, from 'Views Of Sydney', published in the late 19th century

The Garden Palace, from ‘Views Of Sydney’, published in the late 19th century

Last week on The Past Present, the Sydney Exhibition planned for 1879 appeared to be doomed. The Agricultural Society did not have the funds for such a lavish event, the Government were refusing to hand over money and public subscription had failed. Of course, the exhibition had to go ahead, it had become public news and people had plans to attend, so reluctantly, in January of 1879, the Government released 50,000 pounds.

The exhibition now had the funding it required, but a whole year had been lost and the exhibition, due to open in August the same year, still did not have a home. A specially built exhibition hall was planned, but there was no way it could be completed so quickly. The exhibition date was pushed back to September giving the workers and contractors less than a year to build the grand palace which was planned! So, work began, despite the fact that the plans had not even been finalised. The Colonial architect James Barnet, who was responsible for the designs, altered them ‘on the run’ and as more exhibitors from around the world were confirmed, more buildings were added to the complex. Proper processes were ignored to speed up the rate of building and lights were installed to allow work around the clock. Due to high unemployment rates there was no trouble finding workers, but many considered the work unsafe. The unions protested and carpenters even went on strike, seeking what could be described as ‘danger money’ for the work they were required to complete, but these protests were unsuccessful.

People feared that the work would not be completed, that it would rain and that there would be no public transport to get people to and from the exhibition. To solve the last issue a steam tram was hastily installed, running from the Redfern tram terminus to Hunter Street. The other problems were more worrisome – the buildings weren’t completed, the exhibits weren’t in place on time, the official opening had to be postponed and rain drowned the plantings around the ‘Garden Palace’ exhibition hall. In the end though, everything came together and Sydneysiders enjoyed the holiday atmosphere of the event.

So what happened to the Garden Palace? Come back next week to find out about the grand buildings demise.

Sydney’s Palace Gardens

The Palace Gardens, Sydney

The Palace Gardens, Sydney

The Palace Gardens, pictured in the postcard above, provide a glimpse into a fascinating event in Sydney’s history. In 1879 Sydney played host to an International Exhibition but the grand building in which it was held, the Garden Palace, was lost to fire in 1882. All that remains are the grand entrance gates, now leading into the Botanic Gardens from Macquarie Street, and the garden which occupies the site – The Palace Gardens. Over the next few weeks The Past Present will look at the history of this garden and the amazing building which once stood here.

International Exhibitions provided countries with an opportunity to showcase their industrial, manufacturing and agricultural might, and since the London Exhibition of 1851, had been quite fashionable. When in 1877 the Agricultural Society in Sydney decided to hold an exhibition, an appropriate building to house the event needed to be found.  At first, the exhibition was to be held in The Society’s Exhibition Building in Prince Alfred Park but when the idea to host an exhibition was made public, there was a great deal of interest – far more than they had expected! The building, and their original plans, would not be adequate.

The Agricultural Society tried to cancel the whole thing, but the Governor stepped in saying it would go ahead, with help from a public subscription. When this did not produce the funds, and the Government voted against a subsidy, the event seemed doomed, but the word was out and people were planning to come! ‘The World’ as The Sydney Morning Herald put it, had forced Sydney’s hand – the exhibition would have to go ahead.

Come back next week to find out what happened next!