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.
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!
This image of Dee Why is a stunning glimpse into a landscape which once was common to Australian beaches – sand dunes. Sand dunes once dotted Australia’s shoreline, being particularly famous at Botany Bay, but over time they have eroded, or been more drastically reduced by activities such as sand mining.
Dee Why beach has long been popular with surfers and families. In 1914, only a year after the Salvation Army began to sell off holdings they had in the area, a surf club was established and they even held the first surf carnival. By the 1920s the area had become a popular place for people to spend their holidays, with a huge number of holiday cottages, a camp ground and plenty of room for caravans. No doubt many younger visitors relished the chance to slip, slide and ride down the once enormous sand dunes. Over time though these dunes eroded, with natural forces blowing the sand away, much of it ending up in Dee Why Lagoon. Although sand dunes are still an impressive part of Dee Why beach, the majestic dunes pictured in this photograph are likely a thing of history.
The image above is a stunning view of a beachside area many Sydney siders and visitors alike know and love, Dee Why. Yet the Dee Why of this postcard was a remarkably different place to what many would recognise today.
Although European occupation of the Dee Why area began as early as 1815, when William Cossar was granted 500 acres of land, Dee Why was slow to be settled. By 1825 the original grant was in the hands of James Jenkins, who owned all of the foreshore land from Mona Vale to Dee Why. His daughter, Elizabeth, was interested in and impressed by the Salvation Army and its work in 1885 she gave them 30 acres of land near Narrabeen Lagoon and went on to donate more land at Dee Why and money to build a home of rest for officers of the Salvation Army who needed time for recuperation (the building still stands, now known as Pacific Lodge). After Elizabeth’s death, the land owned by the Salvation Army in the area grew and they built an industrial farm, a boys home and a home for little girls in Dee Why.
Today we think of Dee Why as a busy beachside suburb, but up until 1911, this was not the case. In 1911 there were only five homes in Dee Why, reflecting the role of the Salvation Army in the area, and the amount of land they owned. In 1911 though, they decided they owned too much land and the proceeds of sale could be used more constructively to help others. They subdivided the land and the growth of Dee Why began. By 1915 there were 125 households and the suburb continued to slowly grow until after World War Two when the population, and the number of houses grew dramatically, eventually becoming what we see today.
Little Bourke St. south from Russell (Chinese with cart in fore). Chinese quarter along this street and its inferior quality seen easily
(Description taken from original captioning information)
The Past Present has decided that this week it is time to head further afield and visit one of the other capitals which features in the vast collection of images. This image of Melbourne, taken circa 1936 by an unknown photographer is a beautiful and evocative snapshot of Melbourne’s Little Bourke Street (south) and a few of its residents.
Little Bourke Street is at the heart of Melbournes historic Chinatown district. In the early 1850s Chinese people began arriving in Melbourne seeking fortune on the Victorian goldfields. In 1854 lodging houses for these immigrants began to appear with the first being in Little Bourke Street and Celestial Avenue. The area was cheap, convenient and the immigrants could purchase supplies on their way to the goldfields. Soon enough merchants, stores and even benevolent societies began to appear, all aimed at the new and ever changing community of the emerging Chinatown. Following the gold rush many people in rural areas began to move to the cities and for the Chinese immigrants Little Bourke Street was the ideal location. It served as a focal point for the Chinese in Melbourne with many living in the area, but others simply visiting for meals, to gamble, to smoke opium or for religious ceremonies.
By 1900 Melbournes Chinatown was well established and between the turn of the century and 1920 it grew rapidly. In the 1920s and 1930s though, with restricted immigration and a shift towards establishing businesses outside the central business district, Chinatown began to shrink. In the postwar era new immigrants arrived, but Chinatown continued to diminish until in the 1940s and 1950s people began to suspect it would disappear entirely. In the 1960s, fortunately the area was saved and today Melbournes Chinatown is one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Coke Oven Unit At B.H.P Company
The image above is a stark and I think artistic view of a trade which was once central to Newcastle and the area. Although now gone from the area, BHP once employed vast numbers of Newcastle residents, and supplied still more who worked in the mines supplying raw product, with jobs.
In the early 1900s Australia was demanding more and more steel and in 1911 BHP (Broken Hill Propriety LTD) decided to step in and begin to manufacture the precious resource. They decided Newcastle would be the perfect place to build their steelworks as there was a harbour which could be used for transport, a ready workforce, and they already owned land in the area. The steelworks opened in 1915.
In order smelt iron and make steel, another product was needed though – coke. To smelt iron the iron ore has to be reduced and to do this, you need carbon. Burning carbon creates carbon monoxide which reacts with the iron ore. Combine this with high heat and the iron melts and can be drained off. Coking coal is a fuel with very few impurities and an extremely high carbon content which is made from coal and widely used in the steel industry.
BHP in Newcastle made its own coke on site. To do this, they needed coke ovens which could heat the coking coal to very high temperatures, driving off impurities and leaving behind coke. This could then be either stored or transferred directly to the blast furnaces.
Terraces of old houses in the Glebe. Girls playing. Campbell St.
The image above provides an enchanting look at inner city living during the hard years of the 1930s. Girls play in the street in front of their homes, some of the terraces which are such a part of Glebe.
Originally, as the name suggests, Glebe was land belonging to the Church of England, but in 1828 the land was auctioned off and soon after Glebe became a place of elegant homes and pleasure grounds. By the mid 19th century though, there was a clear class distinction in Glebe with the well to do living in the elevated areas while the lower classes lived in the lower and less desirable area, closer to Blackwattle Creek. Glebe became known as something of a mix of classes, made up of middle class, lower middle class and working class neighbourhoods. Not only was Glebe increasingly an area with a variety of distinct class groups though, it was an area of rapid population growth. In fact by 1901, 19200 people lived in the 3737 houses in the area, many of these houses being the terraces which are so characteristic of Glebe.
In the years following 1841 terraces began to appear in Glebe and by the 1870s they had actually become the dominant form of housing. Terraces were perfect for the rapidly increasing population, providing self contained, private houses and of course being economical with building materials and space. Yet although terraces were almost the standard building in the area, there was nothing standard about their design. The terraces in Glebe were built to reflect the period in which they were constructed, and by 1915 a mosaic of different styles could be found, ranging from colonial to Georgian, Victorian Gothic to Regency. Increasingly, these terraces were the homes of the lower classes, especially following the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague. The middle classes increasingly sought the space and sanitary conditions of the suburbs further from the city centre and Glebes distinct classes became far more difficult to separate. Today of course, Glebe is once again a trendy place to live with a mix of people, cultures and backgrounds making up the community.
There are several photos of Glebe in the collection, so keep an eye out for more posts about this historic area of Sydney.