This week, the Past Present turns its attention to Martin Place. With plans to redevelop the ‘heart of the city’ featuring on local news programs recently, it appeared the perfect time to more closely investigate past changes to this iconic Sydney location.
The history of Martin place is full of change and redevelopment. In its earliest incarnation, Martin Place was a far cry from the grand pedestrian precinct we recognise today, instead being a narrow lane which connected Moore Street to Pitt Street. Despite plans to open up the Northern Frontage of the newly built GPO, the narrow lane way remained until fire destroyed many of the properties along the lane. Following the fire a widened street was created, called Martin Place after Sir James Martin. The street was still relatively short though, until in 1921 Moore Street was widened and also renamed Martin Place, extending the street quite significantly. Further extensions were made over the following years, and eventually, when these were completed in 1935, Martin Place ran the full length between Castlereagh Street and Macquarie Street.
Martin Place of this era, though a much grander street than the early lane way, was still a long way from being the area we recognise today. At this time, the street was promoted as the financial and insurance centre of the city, and it was full of not only thriving businesses, but also cars, as the image above shows. In fact, the famous Cenotaph, which had been completed in 1927, was almost a median strip, separating the busy traffic which traversed the street. Then, in the late 1960s, proposals to close Martin Place to traffic began to become increasingly popular. The first stage of the new pedestrian plaza was opened in 1971, with the entire plaza completed in 1979.
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 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 is a busy view of Sydney in its maritime heyday, a time when wharves in Sydney Harbour bustled with activity. This particular view, from circa 1910, shows Johnstone’s Bay from Balmain, both areas which were involved in maritime industries.
Today, Johnstone’s Bay is best remembered and indeed identified by the bridge which spans it – the ANZAC Bridge. Yet this was not the first bridge in the area. In 1860 the first pile was driven into the harbour to build the first, wooden bridge, over Johnstone’s Bay. In 1903 it was replaced by the Glebe Island Bridge. These early bridges were built in order to make it possible for the abattoirs which were an unpleasant part of Central Sydney to be moved onto Glebe Island where they were less of a problem. Yet building a bridge over this important waterway was something which could have negatively impacted maritime industry and so both bridges had to incorporate swing spans.
Why were these swing spans so necessary? Johnstone Bay is bracketed between two important historic wharf areas in Sydney, Pyrmont and Balmain and it is no surprise perhaps that the bay itself was also used for shipping. In fact in its more recent history the bay was used as the shipping container terminal! In addition, Johnstone Bay feeds into Rozelle Bay and Blackwattle Bay, both also areas which have historically played important roles in Sydney’s maritime heritage. Even today, boats come and go under the ANZAC Bridge, in part bringing back seafood to feed the seafood trade at the Sydney Fish Markets in Blackwattle Bay.
Little Bourke St. south from Russell (Chinese with cart in fore). Chinese quarter along this street and its inferior quality seen easily
(Description taken from original captioning information)
The Past Present has decided that this week it is time to head further afield and visit one of the other capitals which features in the vast collection of images. This image of Melbourne, taken circa 1936 by an unknown photographer is a beautiful and evocative snapshot of Melbourne’s Little Bourke Street (south) and a few of its residents.
Little Bourke Street is at the heart of Melbournes historic Chinatown district. In the early 1850s Chinese people began arriving in Melbourne seeking fortune on the Victorian goldfields. In 1854 lodging houses for these immigrants began to appear with the first being in Little Bourke Street and Celestial Avenue. The area was cheap, convenient and the immigrants could purchase supplies on their way to the goldfields. Soon enough merchants, stores and even benevolent societies began to appear, all aimed at the new and ever changing community of the emerging Chinatown. Following the gold rush many people in rural areas began to move to the cities and for the Chinese immigrants Little Bourke Street was the ideal location. It served as a focal point for the Chinese in Melbourne with many living in the area, but others simply visiting for meals, to gamble, to smoke opium or for religious ceremonies.
By 1900 Melbournes Chinatown was well established and between the turn of the century and 1920 it grew rapidly. In the 1920s and 1930s though, with restricted immigration and a shift towards establishing businesses outside the central business district, Chinatown began to shrink. In the postwar era new immigrants arrived, but Chinatown continued to diminish until in the 1940s and 1950s people began to suspect it would disappear entirely. In the 1960s, fortunately the area was saved and today Melbournes Chinatown is one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere.
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 Wool Exchange, also known as The Royal Exchange
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, taken from a postcard dated to circa 1910, reveals a Darling Harbour which is very different to the one we are all familiar with today. In our modern Sydney, Darling Harbour is a tourist hub full of restaurants and tourist attractions, but once it was at the heart of the working harbour.
One of Darling Harbours original European names was Cockle Bay, referencing the remains of shellfish which were scattered along the shore, remnants of many feasts held by Aboriginal people in the place they knew as Tumbalong. These middens provided a valuable source of lime for the Europeans and the area soon became the domain of the lime burners who provided the much needed resource for making mortar.
The valuable harbour area was quickly recognised though and by 1815 Australias first steam engine was hard at work and by the 1820s shipyards, wharves, warehouses and factories were being built along the foreshore. In 1826 the name of the area also changed with Governor Darling naming the cove after none other than himself. Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th Darling Harbour saw wool, wheat, coal and timber come and go from its wharves and warehouses. In fact by 1900 shipping was the main focus of the area with a multitude of wharves and warehouses replacing many of the small scale industries and factories. In 1900 the Government resumed Darling Harbour and assumed control of the many wharves but the working harbour continued to thrive with ships coming and going full of goods for import and export. By the end of the Second World War though coastal shipping was declining and Darling Harbour was seeing less trade. In 1984 the industrial history of the harbour concluded, with the area being returned to the people of Sydney and in 1988, just in time for the Bicentennial celebrations the new Darling Harbour was opened to the public.