George Street Ghost Signs

George Street South End Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse of the past of George Street, a snapshot of what the street once looked like. It is also an image which captures a George Street which is today long gone. George Street in Sydney is a place all visitors and Sydneysiders alike will be familiar with, being one of the major streets of the famous harbourside city.

George Street is at the heart of Sydney, having been the first street to be constructed in the fledgling city when the Colonists arrived. Ever since, George Street has been a hub of activity. Of course, being such an important centre of business and activity in Sydney, it was also once a hive of sign writers. Signs were once hand painted on, or even built into buildings as a way of advertising products or shops. They aimed to be eye catching, so often they were brightly coloured and extremely large, often covering the majority of the visible section of a side wall. Several such signs are visible in the postcard above.

Yet these signs, which once were so common, are today increasingly rare. Many buildings, and their signs, have been demolished, and in other cases the signs have been hidden as new buildings have been constructed next to, and covering, the side walls which once were the canvas of sign writers.  Today, when a building is demolished and an old sign is temporarily revealed in all its glory, we give the sign the name ‘ghost sign’ – here today and covered once again in short order. Yet ironically, the covering of these signs by modern buildings often preserves the sign, protecting it from weathering, the sun and pollution. Whether any of the signs in the postcard above still exist is questionable, but next time you see a building demolished alongside a heritage building, take a closer look to see if a ghost sign has been revealed!

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Sussex Street

The image above is an extraordinary glimpse into the past of a street which is familiar to so many of us Sydneysiders – Sussex Street. Being one of the major streets in the CBD of Sydney, it is a street which sees hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles every day, yet the vehicles it sees today are vastly different to those clogging the street in the postcard image. In fact, Sussex Street today is indeed a vastly different place to that shown in the busy image above.

Sussex Street is, compared to many others in Sydney, quite small running for just 1.7 kilometres between Hickson Road and Hay Street. Yet its relatively short length is crammed with history, and historic buildings. Sussex Street has long been a centre of activity and business in Sydney, just as it continues to be today. The street runs adjacent to Darling Harbour, and as a result many of the buildings along the street were once, and still are, associated with harbour activities. Hotels, Warehouses, Commercial Stores and even the Hunter River Steamship Navigation Company once lined the street, and today their buildings are often preserved by heritage listings.

Woolloomooloo Part 3

Woolloomooloo Bay Sydney 2 Front

The image above shows a glimpse of a Woolloomooloo which is today long gone. The once working wharves are now trendy housing, shops and restaurants, and the plethora of pubs, brothels and squalid homes have disappeared. Once again, Woolloomooloo has transformed into a rather gentrified and popular area for Sydney’s well to do, just as it began life. Yet this very nearly wasn’t the case.

By the mid 20th century, Woolloomooloo’s reputation had been seemingly irrevocably damaged. There was not enough work, houses were overcrowded with a combination of large families and boarders who helped family finances. Homes were badly in need of repair, but most landlords did nothing. Sly grog, drug dealers and criminal gangs were common. It was assumed, by all but those who lived there, that eventually Woolloomooloo would be nothing more than an extension of the commercial heart of the city. Planners and developers had long had plans for the area, and in 1955 the first battle arrived. A car business which owned the old Colonial building, St Kilda, which stood on Cathedral Street, applied to demolish it. There were numerous court battles, and some very shady activities to make St Kilda, which had been transformed into flats, unlivable. Eventually though, St Kilda was demolished to make way for a car park.

In 1967, more major plans were afoot as the State Planning Authority revealed plans to replace Woolloomooloo with high rise buildings. It was assumed by many, even people who were vocal defendants of other areas of the city, like Ruth Park, that Woolloomooloo was too far gone to save. Yet they were wrong. By 1971, Sidney Londish had bought up huge areas of Woolloomooloo and proposed a new development of city tower blocks – none of them residential. The public fiercely protested the plan, but in 1973 council approval was given. Yet it was this proposed development which helped to galvanise the public against the redevelopment of Woolloomooloo. In 1972 the Woolloomooloo Resident Action Group was formed and turned random anger into organised resistance to new development. Then, by the end of 1972 the Whitlam Government, with its election promise to save Woolloomooloo, came to power. The state government was reluctant, but a combination of Green Bans, public opposition and pressure from the Whitlam Government was taking its toll.

In June 1975 an agreement was made at all levels of Government to keep land for public housing and traditional homes for the families who worked in the inner city. Old homes were restored and new homes, which replaced those which were too far gone to save, were built in sympathetic styles. Streets were closed, landscaping and new ammenities were added, transforming Woolloomooloo from a squalid residential area into something which was once again much more gentrified. By the 1980s the finger wharf was in disrepair, and completely unused and although there were again plans for demolition, public sentiment won and eventually the wharves became an expensive residential redevelopment. Today, the juxtaposition of expensive apartment homes and public housing is still common in Woolloomooloo.

Woolloomooloo Part 2

Woolloomooloo Bay Sydney looking into city Front

The image above provides a very different view of Woolloomooloo, which as we discovered last week, was once (and is again today) an affluent and gentrified area of Sydney. Under Governor Darling, the area had become one where the well to do lived and tended grand houses and gardens, but this wasn’t to last.

Even whilst the more grandiose houses were still being built, lowly workers cottages began to appear on the swampy areas of the Woolloomooloo Valley. By the 1850s, less than 30 years after Governor Darling transformed the area into a fashionable and well to do place, Woolloomooloo was in the throws of more change. The swamp areas had been drained and an increasing number of homes were being built for the growing working class who worked in the various maritime industries along the water front. The grand Woolloomooloo House was demolished and replaced by smaller houses while other grand estate houses were being altered to become boarding houses. Then, in 1866 the wharves were extensively expanded requiring ever more workers in the area. Pubs, brothels and of course ever more dwellings appeared, crowding the once grand Woolloomooloo area. In 1855 the Plunkett Street School was opened to cater for the growing number of working class children in the area.

Then, in 1876, authorities conducted a survey of the worst housing in Sydney. They had not planned to spend much time in Woolloomooloo, and were surprised by what they found – a proliferation of unsanitary and dilapidated houses in the area, inhabited by maritime workers and their families. By the late 1800s, any semblance of gentrification had gone from Woolloomooloo and the reputation of the area was one of squalid housing, rough working class families, and criminals, many of whom were part of the Plunkett Street Push.

Getting Around Tariffs In Snails Bay

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Freighter unloading Canadian logs and lumber in Snails Bay. log raft and tug at left of freighter. Get around tariff against lumber

This week, there have been a number of news reports around possible changes to trade agreements between various countries. With so much interest in trade, it seemed the ideal time to share this fascinating glimpse into the history of trade in Sydney, and in Australia more generally.

The image above, showing Snails Bay in Birchgrove, provides an amazing glimpse into the history of Australian tariff policy. The image, which shows a freighter unloading Canadian lumber offshore in order to avoid the tariff on Canadian lumber,  particularly highlights the lengths that some importers were willing to go to in order to avoid paying the import tariffs on various products, in this case, Canadian wood.

In the 1930s tariffs on goods imported to Australia were substantially increased in order to protect Australian industry and employment. This was the time of the Great Depression, and the tariffs were an attempt to not only protect Australian industries and workers, but also to deal with various problems associated with international payments. Many of these tariffs remained unchanged until the 1970s, and the tariffs on imported wood still appear to be debated today.

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort And Morts Statue

Sydney is home to many beautifully crafted and highly significant statues, which many Sydneysiders walk past on a regular basis. Most spare little thought for these works of historic art, but many of these statues have a fascinating story to tell. The statue commemorating Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, which is pictured on the postcard above, is one of these.

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort was a very important Australian. He was born in 1816 in Lancashire, England and grew up in Manchester. In the late 1830s, Thomas was acting as a clerk when he was offered a position in Sydney. He saw this as an excellent opportunity to improve the family fortune, arriving in Sydney in 1838 and taking up a position as a clerk in Aspinall, Browne & Co. In 1843, he struck out alone, setting up as an auctioneer and becoming a pioneer of Australian trade. Although Mort was not the first to sell Australian wool by auction, he innovated a new system of regular, specialised wool auctions which brought together wool sellers and buyers in a much more ordered manner. The auctions were highly successful, and by the late 1840s he was also auctioning livestock and property in similarly specialised auctions. In the 1850s he was providing facilities for growers of sheep to consign their wool, through him, for sale in London, completing the fulling integrated system which would go on to underpin wool sales.

Mort wasn’t just a pioneer of wool sales though. By the 1850s he was the most popular auctioneer in Sydney, and had amassed a huge fortune which continued to grow. He was involved in forming the Australian Mutual Provident Society, was instrumental in promoting sugar growing at Morton Bay, and became a director of the Sydney Railway Co, amongst other things. He opened dry docks and wharves to enable shipping of Australian products to London and supported Sydney business in a range of ways. He even built a tin smelting works at Balmain! In the mid 1960s, he turned his attention to refrigeration, financing the experiments of E. D. Nicolle who was looking to design and produce machinery which could be used in ships, on trains and in cold storage depots. In 1875 he established the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice company, which later became Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Sadly, Mort never saw frozen meat shipped from Australia – the first consignments were made in 1879, a year after his death. The Mort Statue was erected after a meeting of working men was held on May 14, 1874, just 5 days after his death. The statue, sculpted by Pierce Connolly, today stands in Macquarie Place.

Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm

Barracluff's Ostrich Farm
Over time, Sydney and the surrounding areas have been host to a range of businesses, from the large industrial to the smaller and perhaps quirkier. In fact, once Sydney even had it’s own ostrich farm!
Joseph Barracluff was born in Lincolnshire and in 1884 he and his wife Jane immigrated to Australia. He soon established a business selling feathers in Elizabeth Street, opposite the Devonshire Street Cemetery (now Central Station). In 1889 the Barracluff’s purchased a property in South Head in order to start producing their own feathers for hats, boas, fans and other ladies fashion. Feathers were not their only product though. Ostrich eggs were also highly prized and many were finely carved and mounted in silver to be used as beautiful home ornaments.
Barracluff’s Ostrich Farm was one of the earliest feather producing businesses in Australia, and was Australia’s ‘show ostrich farm’ for many years. In fact, so high profile was the business that in 1901 the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and Work (who became King George V and Queen Mary) visited during their royal tour of Australia. The duchess was presented with a grand ostrich feather fan with a gold base and enormous ostrich feathers (up to 68 centimetres long it is reported) and after the visit the farm was even allowed to use the words ‘Under Royal Patronage’ to describe the business. They also advertised their feathers as ‘By Special Appointment To His Excellency The Governor General and His Excellency The Governor Of New South Wales’.
Joseph Barracluff died in 1918, and following his death the business slowly declined. The land where the ostrich farm once thrived was subdivided and sold in 1925.