What’s In A Name – Parsley Bay

Parsley Bay Sydney 2 Front

This week The Past Present is focussing on another of Sydney Harbours beautiful inlets and bays. Sydney Harbour is a spectacular waterway with various hidden gems along its shores. Many of these have a long history and one such area is Parsley Bay.

Parsley Bay is a narrow inlet of Sydney Harbour, located in the suburb of Vaucluse. The Birrabirragal group of Aborigines once called the area, which is rich in rock overhands and caves, home but with the arrival of Europeans Vaucluse and the Parsley Bay area was quickly settled. The first land grant, to a Mr Thomas Laycock, occurred in 1792 and this Grant is also the first reference to the name Parsley Bay. Nobody is entirely certain where the name ‘Parsley Bay’ originated from, though there are two popular theories. The first suggests that the name refers to a hermit named Parsley who once lived in one of the local caves, while the other theory suggests the name is reference to an edible plant which once grew wild around the area. It is even thought this plant may have been used by the first settlers to treat scurvy.

Parsley Bay has a remarkably rich history, far more than is elucidated here and will doubtless by the subject of future posts. It stayed in private ownership for many years, belonging to the Wentworth family of Vaucluse Estate, but there is evidence that despite this it was a popular place for picnics and outings. Parsley Bay officially became a public recreation reserve in 1907.

Reconstructing Millers Point

View south along Hickson Road from bride at Munn Street, showing how uplands border Darling Harbour restricting expansion of ware houses etc. Dock sheds at right and residences facing High Street on cliff top at left

View south along Hickson Road from bridge at Munn Street, showing how uplands border Darling Harbour restricting expansion of ware houses etc. Dock sheds at right and residences facing High Street on cliff top at left

Millers Point is a fascinating area of Sydney with a rich history. It is also an area which many Sydney-siders are quite familiar with and the photo above is not only evocative of the rich history of the area, but shows how similar certain views remain today. Yet Millers Point has also undergone some of the most drastic changes of any area in Sydney.

The 1890s were a time of hardship and turmoil for the people living and working in and around Millers Point. With strikes, depression and the collapse of the wool trade, things looked bleak. The wharves were increasingly insanitary as were the houses. The outbreak of bubonic plague in January 1900 was a heavy blow and became the catalyst for major changes. The area was quarantined, houses underwent compulsory disinfection and anybody suspected of coming into contact with the dreaded disease was sent to the Quarantine Station at North Head under cover of darkness.

In the wake of the plague, and the public fear which accompanied the dreaded disease, the government had all the excuse it needed to resume the area, including the wharves, and begin an extensive redevelopment. The first priority of the newly created Sydney Harbour Trust was to rebuild the wharves, but they also resumed hundreds of properties and by the 1920s whole streets had disappeared, new cliffs had been constructed and many, many houses had been rebuilt. High Street, the largest grouping of these residential buildings, was even constructed during this period in the wake of quarrying along Hickson Road. These were Sydney’s first public housing, but they were not allocated according to need, but instead given by the Trust to maintain their own workforce.

Come back next week for the final installment of The Past Presents series on Millers Point.

Millers Point

View south from High St. steps along Hickson Road at Union Co. #5 dock showing restriction of wharf frontage by high cliffs paralleling Darling Harbor. Warehouses Etc. on upland.

View south from High St. steps along Hickson Road at Union Co. #5 dock showing restriction of wharf frontage by high cliffs paralleling Darling Harbor. Warehouses Etc. on upland.

Sometimes photos of an area show a glimpse into a past long gone, and the photo above, taken by an unknown photographer, circa 1936, is one such image. Although it is a view which remains remarkably similar today, Walsh Bay and Millers Point is a very different place now to the working maritime area which is glimpsed through this image.

Before the 1830s, Millers Point was isolated and reasonably deserted, with few people settling in the area. Three windmills, operated by John Leighton (known as Jack The Miller, which inspired the name of the area itself) and a military hospital were built in the area, but only six or so houses were to be found in Millers Point in the 1820s. However, by the 1820s Sydney Cove itself was becoming crowded and Dawes Point was already being adapted to the maritime industry. The deep waters of Millers Point, adjacent to Dawes Point, became the focus of a thriving, if malodorous, whaling and sealing industry and by the 1840s workers cottages and even the occasional fine house belonging to wharf owners were beginning to appear.

It was in the 1850s that Millers Point became a hub for maritime activity. Almost all workers in the area during this time were connected with the wharves or the local infrastructure which supported them (including hotels, boarding houses and pubs). By 1861 there were even six large warehouses built on the waterfront.

The Millers Point of this era though would have looked very different even to that pictured in the photo above. Come back next week when the Past Present will share another beautiful photograph of the area, and the story of how and why the area underwent such dramatic changes.

Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge

Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge

Yesterday, on May 1st, it was the anniversary of an engineering marvel in Australian history. On May 1, 1889 the first Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was officially opened, and The Past Present decided it was the perfect time to share the beautiful image above with our readers.

The Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge may, at first glance, not appear all that significant. However, the opening of this railway bridge not only fully linked Sydney and Newcastle by rail, but essentially saw the linkage of the South Australian, Victorian, NSW and Queensland railway systems. The bridge (and indeed the currently used bridge which was its replacement) was a vital part in Australian transport history. So significant was the bridge that it was even used by Sir Henry Parkes as a symbol of Federation at his speech to open the bridge (a speech which may claim was his first Federation speech)

Plans to construct a Railway Bridge over the Hawkesbury River began to be put into action in 1886. The contract was awarded to Union Bridge Company in New York, but various subcontractors were involved in the construction work itself. At the time of construction it was an engineering marvel, with concrete piers below water level giving way to fine sandstone masonry above the water. Five of these piers were also sunk to what were then record depths, between 46 and 49 metres below water level. The bridge was constructed with seven spans and the total length of the bridge was nearly 900 metres. The spans were assembled on Dangar Island and from there floated out to the bridge site, approximately 1500 metres away.

In 1927 the bridge needed strengthening, but by the 1930s cracks were starting to appear. In 1946 a new, replacement bridge was opened and the spans were removed from the old bridge, leaving the sandstone and concrete piers as historic relics alongside the newer bridge.



On Your Bike To BHP

BHP Steelworks Newcastle

BHP Steelworks Newcastle

This week, with many people gearing up for the Easter break and possibly finishing up work for a day or two, The Past Present is sharing the beautiful image above, from the collection of an unknown photographer and taken in 1936. The photo is a rarity in the collection, a work without a negative or description, but it is such an evocative glimpse into the past.

The photo is believed to show BHP Steelworks in Newcastle (a location which features heavily in the collection), but the aspect of the photo which I find most intriguing is the number of bicycles being ridden away from the factory. It appears to be the end of the day and the workers have mounted up and are heading home on their two wheeled transport. Several sources I have been able to find suggest that bicycles were a popular mode of transport for workers at the steelworks with hundreds of bicycles making the journey on a daily basis. There is a certain relaxed, country air to the scene for such a busy steelworks!

Moore Street


Moore Street Front copyThis week, The Past Present is focusing on the postcard image above. Moore Street may not be a street which many of our readers are aware of their familiarity with, as most people are much more familiar with its modern name, Martin Place.

Moore Street, which at the time ran between Pitt and Castlereagh Streets, was well in use in the 19th century. Yet it truly came to fame in 1863 when proposals began to suggest the building of Sydney’s General Post Office in the area. The northern exposure of the site was onto a small laneway which ran between Pitt Street and George Street, but during the construction of the General Post Office it was elected that the main facade would face North, onto this tiny lane. Soon enough the small lane was widened, creating a proper street which connected to Moore Street. In 1892 the new street was opened and named Martin Place in honour of the Premier of New South Wales, James Martin.

Both Moore Street and Martin Place were important centres of business and in 1913 the main office of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia was even constructed on the corner of Moore Street and Pitt Street. Other banks soon followed. In 1921, reflecting the increasing importance of the area to Sydney’s business, Moore Street was widened and renamed Martin Place. This extended the existing Martin Place, with the street now running between Castlereagh and George Streets. In the 1930s the street was further extended, until it ran all the way up to Macquarie Street.

Port Kembla Breakwater

South arm of Kembla breakwater with car of stone of siding and shack at right

South arm of Kembla breakwater with car of stone of siding and shack at right

This week, The Past Present is heading South, to Port Kembla. There are very few photos in the collection by an unknown photographer (taken circa 1936) which focus on this important industrial hub, but this photo showing the breakwater is a wonderful glimpse into the past.

Port Kembla was originally known as Red Point and the land around the area was first granted to David Allen in 1817. At this time the land was used for farming, and the estate was actually called Illawarra Farm, but by 1883 the focus of the area had changed. Coal had been discovered at Mt Kembla, and a port was established at Red Point to allow the coal to be shipped. A tramway was constructed from the mine itself to the jetty in the port to allow efficient transport of the coal between the mountain mine and the sea port. It was probably the association with the Mt Kembla mine which caused the name of the area to change to Port Kembla, and the earliest reference to this name was in 1892.

As time went by, Port Kembla became a more industrial hub and in the late 1890s the Mount Lyall Company built a coke works at Port Kembla itself. Soon it was proposed that an artificial harbour be built for the port and the Port Kembla Harbour Act was passed in December 1898, allowing two breakwaters to be constructed. These would provide protection for the ships using the port, but building the breakwaters would be a monumental effort – for every foot of breakwater 100 tons of rock was required.

Clifton Gardens Baths

Baths at Clifton Gardens Front

This week, with Autumn underway and the swimming season slowly coming to an end in Australia, it seemed like the perfect time to examine one of Sydney’s popular swimming spots and pleasure grounds, Clifton Gardens. The postcard above shows Clifton Garden Baths, a popular swimming spot not only today but in years gone by.

The swimming enclosure pictured in this postcard was very different to the one which remains at Clifton Gardens today. Although both were ‘ocean baths’ which permitted safe swimming in the harbour (though the shark proof net is apparently not particularly shark proof today), the original was unique in its design. Sometimes referred to as the ‘amphitheatre bath’, the huge circular swimming enclosure could apparently accommodate up to 3000 spectators on the decks! The enclosure was circular, surrounded by a two storey walkway which connected at either end with the dressing sheds (also apparently two storey). The baths were used for mixed bathing, both during the day and at night.

To find out more about Clifton Gardens, visit last weeks post.

Nestles and Abbotsford House

Nestles Plant on harbour front on Fig Tree Bay (Abbotsford) West End

Nestles Plant on harbour front
on Fig Tree Bay (Abbotsford) West End

This week, The Past Present again decided to investigate a snapshot of Sydney’s Industrial History. Many of the black and white photos in the collection, all from circa 1936 and by an unknown photographer, show industrial sites in Sydney and other cities along the Australian East Coast. Today we are focussing on the image above, showing the old Nestles Factory at Abbotsford on the Parramatta River.

If you look closely, in the centre of the photo there is an ornate old house amongst the factory buildings. This is Abbotsford House which was built between 1877 and 1878 for Dr Arthur Renwick and it is this house from which the suburb of Abbotsford takes its name. The property eventually passed to Albert Edward Grace, one of the founders of Grace Bros, who sold the property to Nestles in 1917.

The property was not just a house though. It included orchards, sporting fields, a boatshed and a large pavilion which had been built by the Grace family. This pavilion was the original site of Nestles production at the site while Abbotsford House served as an administrative office. A purpose built factory was constructed around the house between 1918 and 1920. Being located on the Parramatta River, the factory could easily be supplied with their raw materials, including coal. These products were delivered by boat to the factory jetty, and from there were transferred to a specially built narrow gauge tramway and then to the various storerooms and boilers.

Although the factory was most famous as the home of Nestles, producing their famous milk products and chocolate, it also served other, more surprising, roles in Australian history. In 1927 the grounds and riverfront were used to shoot scenes for the Australian film For The Term Of His Natural Life and later, in World War II the factory turned to packing supply rations for soldiers serving on the Kokoda Track. The factory closed in 1991 with the factory buildings being demolished and replaced by housing, while Abbotsford House survived the destruction, being preserved and restored. Today it is again a private residence.

Newcastle Depression Camp

Group of transient shacks on vacant land between abbatoirs and River in Waratah. (Man being barbered in open)

Group of transient shacks on vacant land between abbatoirs and River in Waratah. (Man being barbered in open)

The extraordinary photo above, dating from circa 1936, is one of many in the Past Present collection focussing on Newcastle in NSW. It provides a glimpse not only into the history of Newcastle, but the history of Australia during the Great Depression, showing one of the depression settlements which sprung up not only in Newcastle, but in other cities, including Sydney.

During the Great Depression, many Australians lost their only sources of income and were forced from their homes. Many took to the road looking for work, while others moved into camps like the one pictured. Whole families took up residence in these camps, often arriving only with the possessions they could carry, and starting from scratch. They would choose an empty area and erect a rough shack, using whatever materials they could access, including wood, corrugated iron and even hessian sacks.

In Newcastle, many sought jobs at the various factories, but work was hard to come by. Unemployment in Newcastle was high, estimated at 30% of the working population, and many moved into the shanty towns which sprung up at Nobby’s Beach, Stockton, Carrington, Adamstown, Lambton, Waratah and Hexham. Life in the camps was hard, but there is evidence in this photo which also shows the normality of life – a man is being shaved and children play between the shacks.