The image above is a rather idyllic view of a beautiful suburb of Sydney. Today Neutral Bay is a popular north shore suburb, especially for those who want the best of city life, without being in the city itself. Yet the history of the area reveals a fascinating past which many, even residents of the area, may not know.
Neutral Bay has long played a role in the protection of Sydney, and Australia more generally. Yet unlike other areas of Australian coastline involved in defence, there are no fortifications to be found. Neutral Bay was a very special place, a place which, as the name suggests, acted as a ‘neutral harbour’.
Just a year after European colonisation of Australia, in 1789, Governor Phillip decreed that the deep water bay would be the place of anchor for all non-British, ‘neutral’ ships visiting Sydney. The idea of Neutral Bay was to allow ships, particularly those of British allies, to visit Sydney, and more importantly, replenish their stores of fresh water from a nearby creek (paying, of course, for the privilege). Yet the location for the neutral harbour was very carefully selected – too far from the colony for convicts to easily ‘jump ship’ or for unknown enemies to gain a strong foothold in the colony’s heart.
The image above, which shows Dawes Point in the early years of the 20th century. The image is a glimpse into the past history the area which today, for many Sydneysiders, is firmly associated with the 20th century and The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Yet Dawes Point is one of those extraordinary places in Sydney history which has layered history, dating right back to the earliest years of the colony, and before.
Dawes Point is so named because of its association with Lt William Dawes, who established an observatory on the point. He recorded meteorological observations and was the official time keeper for the colony, as well as observing the nighttime sky. His scientific records are incredibly significant records of early colonial history, and are even important to the international scientific community. Yet Dawes Point did not remain a scientific institution for long.
Dawes Point is able to supply excellent views up and down the harbour, and it wasn’t long before the strategic possibilities of the area were recognised. Even during the years of Dawes Observatory, there was a signal station and powder magazine located on the site. The signal station was built on the site to allow the communication of messages from The Gap at Watsons Bay, to Sydney, and from there up the Parramatta River, to the Governors residence. Even the first proper road was built from Dawes Point to Sydney’s Government House to enable quick communication between the leader of the colony and the signal station. When news came of conflict between England and Spain, the basic defences at Dawes Point were formalised. The observatory buildings, which were made of wood, were demolished in 1791 and permanent fortifications were built on the site to defend the new colony from other European powers. Dawes Point Battery, as it was known had armaments, powder magazines, guardhouses and officers quarters. Even the guns from the ship Sirius were relocated to the point to enable defence of the new colony.
The Dawes Point Battery continued to be an important part of Sydney’s defences over the next years. Come back next week to find out more.