The image today, showing Newtown Bridge, is an evocative and beautiful glimpse into the history of one of Sydneys popular suburbs. Once dominated by large country estates, Newtown today is one of Sydney’s more trendy localities.
Newton was proclaimed a municipality in December 1862, but it is likely that the name ‘Newtown’ was used long before this, as far back as the 1830s. The main street of the town, King Street, although officially named in 1877 was also probably in use much earlier. In fact King Street actually follows a rough bullock track which in turn was probably dictated by an earlier, pre-European Aboriginal route. A toll was put into place on King Street at the corner connecting with Forbes Street and the money raised by this was ostensibly used in road improvement. Of course, Sydneysiders soon found an alternative, toll free, route and it is said this is the reason for the name Liberty Street.
Long before the town was officially named a municipality, Newtown was an important centre. The first railway line in Sydney, built in 1855, terminated at Newtown, at first stopping at a flour mill on Station Street but moving in 1892 to the location it remains in today. Trams ran to the various suburbs in south west Sydney and in time Newtown Bridge (so called for a creek which once provided drinking water to settlers) became a transport hub. Soon after the area also became the civic and cultural centre of the suburb.
The image above is a striking view over Sydney from the Hotel Australia, once one of Sydney’s most exclusive and finest hotels. The view is stunning, highlighting the landscape of Sydney as it was, a very different view to Sydney today where skyscrapers dominate the skyline.
The view from the Hotel Australia was not the only grand aspect of this exclusive venue. Arguably, the Hotel Australia was the finest and most elegant hotel ever built in Sydney. Opened in 1891 the hotel was extended in 1920, becoming a stunning example of Art Deco design. The entrance foyer was resplendent with black Carrara marble, silver etched black glass and mirrors. There were also several bars, the Bevery dining room which provided a more intimate dining experience and a grand banqueting room.
The Hotel Australia and the extraordinary view are not the only interesting aspects of this postcard though. This postcard actually preceded a pig carcass, sent by train to the processor. We assume the sender wished for the pig be returned more along the lines of ham and bacon than as a dead pig! The sender also requests that the receiver acknowledges receipt of said dead pig.
The image above shows a grand building which once was at the heart of Sydney’s business activities. The postcard describes the building as the Wool Exchange, but in actual fact its proper name is The Royal Exchange. However, the building was the site of wool auctions in Sydney and in time became the worlds greatest centre of wool sales.
Although the Royal Exchange can trace its history back to the 1820s, it was not until 1851 that the Royal Exchange Company was formally created. The aim of the company was to create a place where the business community of Sydney could meet and conduct business. Land was granted to the company in Gresham Street and by 1857 the building was complete. Many leading citizens of Sydney’s business world soon became members of the exchange including John Fairfax, T S Mort, Robert Tooth and W C Wentworth.
The building itself may have a fascinating history, but what went on inside the walls is truly remarkable. The first telegraph message sent in NSW was sent from the exchange on the day that it opened and within a week a telegraph line was installed linking the exchange directly with the signal station at South Head. Many prominent associations of the time were formed within the walls of the exchange including the Royal Humane Society of NSW and even early attempts to form the Chamber of Commerce were undertaken here! NSW first telephone system was installed in the exchange in 1880, connecting the exchange with the Darling Harbour Woolsheds. Just weeks later numerous wharves had been connected and by 1882 there were 300 subscribers to the system. Even the first public demonstration of electric lighting in the colony took place here, being held in the dining room on the 6th of December 1882.
Although The Royal Exchange itself still exists today, in the same location, the beautiful building which was once such a prominent landmark and bore witness to so many historic events is now long gone, replaced by a modern Royal Exchange.
The image above is a glimpse into the history of an area of North Sydney which today looks very different. Folly Point and Cammeray more generally were once an area given to dairy farming and quarrying, but today Cammeray is a built up area full of homes, manicured gardens and handsome tree lined streets.
Cammeray is named after the Cammeraygal, the Aboriginal group who lived in the area. Though this name has a clear derivation, the name Folly Point is a little more mysterious. Such an evocative title – but what was the folly to which the name refers? Sadly nobody truly knows how the name came to be. There are two main theories though. Some suggest the area is named after Captain Charles McKinnon who was the commander of explosives hulks moored in the Seaforth area. The folly itself in this theory remains something of a mystery. The second theory suggests that a landowner in the area, by the name of Levy is responsible for the name. Apparently he built his house on Folly Point, but he mixed his mortar with the salty sea water and the house collapsed. The name folly refers to the fact that he then did the same thing again, with the same results.
However the area came to be named, it is an area which has played an important role in Sydneys Depression era history, not just in the Great Depression but also the previous 1890s Depression. During the earlier period of depression a shanty settlement grew up in the bushland at Folly Point. It was known as Tin Town and became home to many out of work Sydneysiders. It was also during this period that talented Australian poet Barcroft Boake tragically committed suicide at Folly Point, hanging himself with his stockwhip. Tin Town persisted after the depression ended and when depression again hit in the 1930s it was still a working settlement. Again, the unemployed moved into the rough tents and shacks.
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.
The postcard above is a beautiful snapshot, showing Sydneys grand Central Station, the station which was built to replace the dingy and congested Redfern Terminus. The postcard probably dates to very soon after the new railway station first opened in 1906 as the grand tower is not yet built and of course, the postcard lauds the ‘New Railway Station’.
By 1900 Redfern Terminus was disliked by passengers and crew alike, sparking increasing agitation for a new and improved station, closer to the city itself. Yet as far back as 1888 there had been interest in moving the station to a more central location. This is when Railway Commissioner Eddy made inquiries about moving the terminus, resulting in a Royal Commission. In 1891 the Commission recommended two new stations, one at the Benevolent Asylum site and one in Hyde Park, but the depression of the 1890s meant that no action was taken. Another request to move the station was made in 1896, and another Royal Commission was launched, recommending that a single larger station be built in Hyde Park, facing St James Road. The public, though wanting a more convenient station, objected strenuously to the loss of public parkland, and the scheme was abandoned in 1899. It was clear though that a new station was needed and in 1900 State Parliament agreed to the plan of E. W. O’Sullivan (the Minister for Public Works) to build the new station north of Devonshire Street, close to the existing terminus. The public would have its new station, but not their City railway extension.
Plans for the new station were signed off on November 2, 1901, but construction would not be able to commence until the existing buildings and even a cemetery had been removed. The original depot of the steam tramway, a convent, police barracks and the Benevolent Asylum were all demolished while the graves in the Devonshire Street Cemetery were relocated. On April 30, 1902 Minister O’Sullivan laid the foundation stone and construction commenced. The station opened on Saturday, August 4, 1906.
When we think of the centre of train based transport in Sydney, most of us today immediately think of Central Station. Yet once, before Central Station even existed, another station was at the heart of Sydney transport. This station, originally known as Cleveland Sydney Station is better known as Redfern.
Redfern Station has its origins in 1855 when a simple station with a single wooden platform and corrugated iron shed was built. This simple and rather humble station was the first terminal station in Sydney. In 1856 the station was slightly upgraded with an engine shed, carriage shed and goods shed built at the site, and as time marched on the station continued to be expanded in order to deal with an ever expanding railway network.
By 1874, a grander and more appropriate building and station had been built to accommodate the important Sydney Terminal Station. The station was designed by the famous NSW Government Railways Chief Engineer, John Whitton and construction of the grand new building began in 1871. The new station was built using both brick and stone and was considered, at the time, one of the most beautiful public buildings in Sydney. Unfortunately, the beautiful building could not hope to cope with the ever expanding railway network and its patrons. The increasing length of trains reduced the effectiveness of the platforms, the site was congested, and the station was unable to truly cope with the 25 million passengers who passed through it in 1899 alone! In addition, passengers who were traveling to the city itself had to disembark from the train and transfer to trams or horse and carriage and then travel through the busy streets around the station and on to the city. Of course, this led to the area around the station itself becoming increasingly congested and unpleasant. By 1900, passengers and crew both heartily disliked the station. Today, the beautiful and historic station continues to operate, and indeed is the closest station to Sydney University. It now offers a much more pleasant experience!
Come back next week to find out about Central Station – the station which replaced the despised Redfern Terminus.