Queen Victoria Markets

Queen Victoria Market (QVB) Sydney Front

This week, with Christmas fast approaching and many people visiting various shopping centres and more exclusive stores in search of that perfect gift, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share this amazing image of the Queen Victoria Markets. The Queen Victoria Markets, which are more commonly known as the QVB, are one of Sydney’s more exclusive shopping precincts, and also one of Sydney’s most iconic buildings. Yet this amazing building was almost lost!

Before the QVB which we see today, there was an older produce market on the site, but in the 1890s, Sydney was suffering from an economic depression. Many people were without work, and the Government was looking for a project to employ out of work craftsmen and labourers alike. The elaborate new market design provided the perfect opportunity. With its beautiful stonework, glass roof areas, large copper domes, stunning stained glass windows, ornate wrought iron balustrades, patterned floor tiles and even statues, there was work for huge numbers of people, both skilled and unskilled.

The completed building was not always a shopping precinct though. Over the ensuing decades it saw many different occupants, including commercial stores, but also a library, concert hall and once, it was even used a municipal offices! By the 1950s though, the building was in need of restoration, and the government planned to replace the grand old building with a carpark! In 1982 though, after much public debate and campaigning,  the building was saved with the council agreeing to lease the building for 99 years to Malaysian company, Ipoh Garden Berhad. The company restored the beautiful building and today it is a popular and exclusive shopping centre.

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The Sydney Mint

The Mint Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a building which has long been a vital part of Sydney’s history – The Sydney Mint. In fact, this is one of the few images in the Past Present collection to have hardly changed as the past century has gone by! Yet it is also a building many Sydneysiders know little about.

Although today, the building in the image above is known simply as ‘The Mint’, the building was constructed for a very different reason. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie was appointed, he very quickly realised a new hospital was needed as the original portable canvas building was vastly inadequate for the task. Yet the British Government were staunchly refusing to fund any public building works. Macquarie was determined to have a new hospital built for the colony, and came to an arrangement with Alexander Riley, Garnham Blaxcell and D’Arcy Wentworth. He granted them a three year monopoly on the import of rum, and in exchange they were to build the hospital.

When the hospital was completed in 1816 it was made up of three buildings. What is now The Mint was the southern wing, which housed the two assistant surgeons. The northern wing is now Parliament House while the central wing, which actually housed the patients, has long been demolished. The new hospital was not all that Macquarie had hoped for though. Within just a few years the buildings needed massive repairs, and the entire hospital had become known as the Sidney Slaughter House due to rampant dysentery, poor ventilation and overcrowding.

Despite the problems inherent in the building, its excellent location meant that by the 1820s it was actually in demand for other uses. In 1823 the wing now known as The Mint was transformed into a military hospital and in 1842 it became the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary, which provided help to Sydney’s poor. Then, in 1851, gold was discovered in NSW and massive amounts of raw gold began to circulate, putting the colony’s economy out of the hands of the government. In order to regain control, in 1853the colony was granted permission to create a Sydney branch of The Royal Mint. The southern wing of the hospital was chosen as the site for the new Sydney Mint and opened in 1855, the first overseas branch of the London Royal Mint.

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!

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.