This week the Past Present is looking at an iconic place in Sydney’s history, and one which is associated with something many of us love – confectionary. The intersection featured in the image above is that of King and George Streets, in the heart of Sydney. This is, of course, the place where the famous Darrell Lea store once stood.
Harris Levy was born in 1876 in London and was the son of a boot maker. When he was 12, the family emigrated to Australia and Levy took a job rolling cigars in Western Australia. This wasn’t the life Harry was looking for though and his parents paid for him to learn to make confectionary. Then, in 1905 Levy married Esther Goldman. In 1916 the couple and their growing family made their way to Sydney where they opened a fruit store in Manly, on The Corso. In winter, the fruit trade was slow, so Levy began to make toffees to supplement the fruit trade. The confectionary was incredibly successful and in 1924 Levy opened a small milk bar and confectionary shop in Castlereagh Street, making his products in the rear of the shop. Then in 1930, with Depression era rents being so low, Levy was able to take over a shirt shop in Pitt Street, transforming it into a confectionary shop. Levy changed his name to Lea and called named the company after his youngest son, Darrell. Darrell Lea was born.
A confectionary company may seem at odds with the shortages of the Depression, but Darrell Lea made a decision to sell at half the price of their competitors, making chocolate, which had been a luxury item, more affordable. Low prices led to a huge turnover of product, so the confectionary had a reputation for always being fresh and high quality. Soon enough the company became a huge success and more stores began to be opened, including a Melbourne store which was established in 1940. The most famous store though stood at the juncture of King and George Streets. Harry Levy died in 1957.
This week, with what would once have been Commonwealth and Empire Day nearly upon us, The Past Present decided it was a perfect opportunity to examine one of the buildings in Sydney once firmly associated with Colonial industry – the building of the Colonial Sugar Company. The building featured in the image above once stood in O’Connell Street, but was demolished in 1962.
The Colonial Sugar Company, also known as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (or CSR as we know it today) has its roots back in 1855, when the company was founded by Sir Edward Knox. Knox had come to Australia in 1840 and tried his hands at a number of different industries before purchasing a sugar refinery and distillery in 1843. He leased this to the Australasian Sugar Company but, when that company failed in 1854, he decided to found a new company, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. CSR began its life in Canterbury at a refinery originally owned by the Australasian Sugar Company, but moved many of its operations to Chippendale within just a few years as there was a better labour source. Water supplies to the refinery were a matter of considerable consternation though, both for the sugar refinery itself and for locals living in the area and in 1875 the company began to build a new refinery at Pyrmont, where industry thrived and there were less residents to complain about water and pollution. Eventually, CSR became so successful that not only did they own an enormous area in Pyrmont, but they had set up refineries in other Australian colonies, and also in New Zealand and Fiji.
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 week, with so many Sydney residents and visitors making the trip to Martin Place for the recent ANZAC Day commemorations at the Cenotaph (built in 1927), The Past Present is sharing a very different view of this famous street. Today, Martin Place is a pedestrian plaza, but once it was a busy street in the heart of Sydney’s central business district.
In 1863, with the proposal to build the GPO, there came proposals to create a grand street on the northern frontage, where at that time a tiny lane way ran. Nothing was done about creating this street though until fire destroyed many of the buildings on the northern side of the lane in 1890. A new, much grander street was opened in 1892, though it did not run between George and Macquarie Streets then, but just between Pitt and Castlereagh. In 1921 Moore Street was widened and renamed Martin Place, extending the road substantially, but it was not until 1935 that Martin Place reached the full length of the street we see today.
Martin Place was, for many years, marketed as the financial and insurance centre and the hub of the city. Older buildings were demolished and the sites auctioned to create new, grand buildings, many of which accommodated major banks and insurance companies. The street was busy, bustling with people but also with traffic. As this image shows, cars were certainly not in short supply in Martin Place! This continued to be the case until the late 1960s, when proposals to make the stretch between Pitt and George Streets a pedestrian plaza, closed to traffic. The plaza was opened in 1971 and was such a success with the public that permission to extend the plaza was granted. The final section of the pedestrian precinct was officially opened in 1979.
The image above is an evocative glimpse into the past of a place which today most Sydneysiders associate with bustling activity and crowds – Darlinghurst. Yet Darlinghurst, which sits between Woolloomooloo, Kings Cross and Surry Hills, was once a place bustling with a very different type of activity.
Before European colonisation, Darlinghurst was part of the traditional lands of the Gadigal people and even after colonisation, these people continued to extensively use the land right through to the 1840s. Although Darlinghurst was very close to the early settlement areas of Sydney, it was actually not settled until comparatively late. Darlinghurst was a place of shallow soils and rocky sandstone outcrops which made it less attractive to early European settlers as a home, but it was not entirely ignored. The rocky outcrops were extensively quarried for sandstone to use in construction of many of the early Sydney buildings. The early quarriers were convict gangs, while in the second half of the 19th century prisoners from Darlinghurst Gaol (now the National Art School) were put to work. Quarrying wasn’t the only activity to take place in Darlinghurst though, with the first water mill in the colony built there in 1811 and the four windmills featured so extensively in early paintings of Sydney appeared soon after.
Darlinghurst may have begun its European life with the lower eschalons of Sydney society, but in the 1820s the area began to be transformed. Governor Darling named the area in the late 1820s (quite probably after his wife, Eliza Darling) and between 1828 and 1831 he made 17 grants of land in the newly named area. These were all made to wealthy colonists and there was a stipulation that all houses had to be worth 1000 pounds or more, and had to be set in landscaped gardens. Governor Darling even had to approve the design before construction could begin! As a result, Darlinghurst not only became associated with the wealthy, but also had a landscape of fine houses and gardens overlooking the town which Governor Darling imagined as an example to the more ‘debased populace of Sydney Town’. By the mid 1880s though, many smaller terrace houses had been added to Darlinghurst and eventually Darlinghurst was transformed from a strictly wealthy suburb to a suburb which contained areas which many considered to be slums. There was a wide mix of classes and indeed reputations, with the respectable residents living alongside criminals and gangs. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Darlinghurst really began to become a more sinister place though, with gangs and criminal elements beginning to become prominent. Today, Darlinghurst has returned much more to its early 20th century reputation though, with a mix of wealthy, often family residences alongside the many pubs and brothels.
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.
In 1829, the valley below Brickfield Hill was set aside for cattle and corn markets. Soon enough, the area became known as ‘Haymarket’. The area attracted farmers, who paused their bullock carts and rested before making the trek up Brickfield Hill to the produce markets and by the 1860s it became clear that a fruit and vegetable market in the immediate area would be of benefit. Belmore Markets was built in 1869 on the site of the old cattle market and soon enough the Chinese were also moving into the area, creating businesses including hotels which catered to the Chinese Market Gardeners who sold their produce to the Belmore Markets. Paddy’s Market was soon constructed adjacent to the Belmore Markets and around these buildings grew up not only China Town, but also public houses and places for entertainment. Indeed, on Saturday nights people flocked to Haymarket for cheap shopping, sideshows and street theatre. In 1892 a grand new Belmore Markets building, designed by George McRae, was constructed. The building featured terracotta tiling with designs of fruit and plants – even the Choko vine! The market was badly sited though, with limited access to transport for the produce and it would not be long before new markets were built closer to Darling Harbour itself. The grand building was demolished, but then reconstructed as a taller building, but with the same design (including the terracotta tiles).
Between 1916 and 1927 the building was leased as a Hoppodrome to the Wirth Brothers Circus. In 1927, after the circus departed John Eberson was commissioned to create a new interior for the building in the then popular atmospheric style. From the late 1920s, the building became the Capitol Picture Theatre, operating right through until the end of the 1960s. By this time of course the building was run down and somewhat isolated. The Chinese had moved closer to Darling Harbour and many of the local stores surrounding the building, including Anthony Horderns, had closed. This wasn’t the end for the Belmore Markets/Capitol Theatre building though. After many years of disuse and decline, the building was set to be demolished, but a 1981 Heritage Council Conservation order prevented the demolition of what was actually Australia’s last atmospheric theatre! City Council decided to restore the Capitol Theatre, including its visible interior. The theatre reopened in 1995.
The image above is a stunning view of a place most Sydney residents are familiar with, North Sydney. Yet the area today bears little resemblance to this image which dates from circa 1905.
Today, North Sydney is a business area and many of the buildings are tall and feature modern construction styles and materials, like glass and metal. Yet in this image, North Sydney was simply a residential area, just another suburb of Sydney. It was an area where people lived, occupying houses and terraces, and using services including the St Leonards Post Office (1854) and St Leonards School (1874). North Sydney itself was formally incorporated as a municipality in 1890 and within 20 years both the post office and school had changed names to North Sydney.
It was not until the 1970s that North Sydney began to be transformed into a commercial centre. Between 1971 and 1972 a whopping 27 skyscrapers were built, and the number has only grown since. Today, North Sydney is reputed to have one of the largest numbers of office buildings not just in Sydney, but in the entirety of NSW.
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.
The above postcard is a festive glimpse into the history of Sydney’s beautiful Balmoral Beach in the inner harbour. This area has long been popular for picnicking and bathing, and with so many Australians enjoying the beach this Christmas season, it is likely to see many more!
Balmoral may have been a popular destination for Sydneysiders for well over a century, but for many years it was not the easiest beach to access. It was not until 1922 when a tram line was established to the beach that Sydney residents and visitors alike could make full and easy use of the beach. Today you can see the former tram waiting shed opposite Hunter Park, a relic of the era of trams. In 1958 buses replaced the trams, but people continued to flock to the beach.
The tram line and the explosion in visitors which it brought to the area allowed a great deal of progress along the beach. In 1923 Joels Boatshed was established near Balmoral Baths and in 1924 the Promenade was completed. The Promenade was an important part of the Balmoral Beautification Scheme and allowed visitors to walk above the beach on a paved path should they wish to avoid the sand. The southern section of the promenade was finished in 1927 and the Great Depression public works schemes provided funding for the bridge to Rocky Point. The bridge, along with the Rotunda and the Bathers Pavilion which were also funded by public works schemes were to be completed by 1930 and are still there today!
The above postcard, from circa 1910, is an evocative glimpse into the life of poorer Sydney residents in the early 20th century. Located on the shores of Middle Harbour, the exact location of this particular camp is something of a mystery, though Mosman Library suggest it is overlooking Quakers Hat Bay near Cremorne.
Tin Towns and Depression settlements like the one pictured in this postcard are most often associated with The Great Depression yet many such camps and settlements predate this era. Some such towns were used by the poor, but others were places which were occupied only on and off, by people such as fishermen. The 1890s Depression perhaps was the beginning for many of these camps, but it was the Great Depression which saw their size and number increase. Many Sydney residents had lost their jobs and without an income to support them and pay rent, homes were soon lost too. Often these people took only what they could carry from their lost lives, and set out for one of the many depression settlements around Sydney. People who had lost their homes and their jobs arrived, chose an empty space and erected a ramshackle hut, using whatever materials they could find – often corrugated iron or tin sheeting. Life in these camps was hard, but often a strong and very supportive community evolved.