Dee Why and Curl Curl

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The image above is a beautiful snapshot of places which many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are quite familiar with – Dee Why and Curl Curl. Both of these areas are popular with beachgoers, for their beautiful beaches and well established beach culture. Yet the Dee Why and Curl Curl of today is also vastly different to the places which are captured in the photograph.

Dee Why and Curl Curl are today, mainly residential areas with row upon row of houses, and of course the associated shops and amenities. Yet the photo above shows a Dee Why which was relatively unsettled. In fact, the caption describes settlement in this area of Dee Why and also Curl Curl as ‘sparse’. Settlement began at Dee Why and the surrounding areas early in the 1800s, with William Cossar given the first grant in 1815 (though the grant was not confirmed until 1819). By 1825 though, James Jenkins owned this grant, and, along with his daughter Elizabeth, owned all of the foreshore land all the way from Mona Vale to Dee Why itself. Elizabeth Jenkins was intensely religious, and very impressed by the Salvation Army, and in 1885 she gave them 30 acres of land at the Narrabeen Lagoon. She later gave them more land at Dee Why, and eventually transferred all of her land to the Salvation Army, in return for an annuity. She died in 1900, and after legal battles with her nephew Phillip, the Salvation Army continued to control her land, paying the annuity to Phillip until his death in 1931, after which, the land passed more completely to them.

Even before Phillips death, the Salvation Army decided that it owned far too much land and that the money raised by selling the land could be used for the good of the community. In 1911 the subdivision of Salvation Army lands began, coinciding with subdivisions by other land owners around the same time. It was about this time that the actual town of Dee Why began to develop. In 1911 there had only been five homes or dwellings in Dee Why, but by 1915 this number had grown to 125. However, most of these houses were used as weekenders or holiday homes. It was not until the 1920s that more permanent settlement at Dee Why began, with the establishment of a school, Dee Why Public, in 1922. Then, in 1924 the Spit and Roseville Bridges were opened, making access to Dee Why much easier, and settlement again grew. By 1932, when the photograph above was taken, settlement was slowly growing, but still sparse outside the town centre. Yet over the coming decades, people continued to move into the area and build homes, until the Dee Why we recognise today was established.

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.

Woolloomooloo Part 1

The image above is an evocative image which provides a glimpse into the history of an area of Sydney many are familiar with. Today, Woolloomooloo is well known as a trendy and affluent area of Sydney, which visitors and locals alike enjoy visiting to enjoy a touch of history, an excellent view and a meal. Yet Woolloomooloo was once a very different place, with working wharves, and working class residents.

Originally, Woolloomooloo was a valley which had a creek, known as the Yurong Creek, running through it. To get to Woolloomooloo you had to walk along a track around the rim of the valley, and this track later became Woolloomooloo Road (William Street now). Yet when the creek was in flood, the road was impassable, and besides, it was the haunt of thieves who lay in wait for travellers leaving Sydney. The land was so swampy, and flooded so regularly that early settlers didn’t want to take up grants in the area. It was good land for farming though and in 1793 John Palmer took up a grant, built a house and successfully began to farm the land – even growing tobacco! The name of Palmers home was Woollamoola House, which eventually became the basis for the name of the whole area – Woolloomooloo.

In 1822 Palmer sold his grant to Edward Riley, and by 1826 Governor Darling had decided that the area East of the town, including what was then known as Woolloomooloo Heights, on the high ground above the Woolloomooloo valley, would be a ‘high status area’. He made many land grants, but a condition of these was that residents would have to build grand houses and landscape them according to standards set by Darling. As time went by the high status grants and houses began to spread to the lower, valley areas of Woolloomooloo and the whole area became high status and gentrified. This was not to last though!

Come back next week to find out what happened next in Woolloomooloo!

Bark Selectors Hut

A Selectors Bark Humpy Front.jpg

The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the lives, and the living conditions, of so many Australians in days gone by. The simple bark hut, a humpy as the postcard describes it, may appear rough and uninviting by our modern standards, but for many Australians living in the 1800s, and even into the 1900s, such structures were home.

When we think of old Australian houses, we tend to often think of historic homes which have been preserved for posterity, many of them grand houses or country estates. It is true that even in the earliest years of the colony, some people, like the Governor, lived in prefabricated houses brought from England. Yet for most Australians, home was somewhere much rougher and more simplistic. The early colony was tent settlement and even the first more substantial buildings were often made of wattle and daub. Other early buildings were built of timber, with many of the local trees providing long lasting, good wood which could be used not just for roofing, but for the whole building. Particularly popular was ironbark, which could last for 30 years or more, even when exposed to harsh weather conditions. Local timber continued to be a popular building material right up until the Second World War, with many people continuing to use what was to hand in building their homes.

Even when the colony began to become more prosperous, many continued to build using wattle and daub, timber and bark. Such techniques were popular with squatters, who did not have formal rights to their land, and may be moved on as a result. These techniques were also popular with selectors, who used materials at hand to build a simple home, which they sometimes added to, or abandoned for a more formal structure if they prospered. Often the hut was a single room, which may eventually become a kitchen or living room if the family prospered and the house was extended. This is the type of home pictured in the postcard above.

North Sydney, But Not As We Know It

panorama of the city and harbour of Sydney NSWfrom North Sydney front copy

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.

Middle Harbour Tin Town

Tin Town Middle Harbour Sydney Front copy
The above postcard, from circa 1910, is an evocative glimpse into the life of poorer Sydney residents in the early 20th century. Located on the shores of Middle Harbour, the exact location of this particular camp is something of a mystery, though Mosman Library suggest it is overlooking Quakers Hat Bay near Cremorne.
Tin Towns and Depression settlements like the one pictured in this postcard are most often associated with The Great Depression yet many such camps and settlements predate this era. Some such towns were used by the poor, but others were places which were occupied only on and off, by people such as fishermen. The 1890s Depression perhaps was the beginning for many of these camps, but it was the Great Depression which saw their size and number increase. Many Sydney residents had lost their jobs and without an income to support them and pay rent, homes were soon lost too. Often these people took only what they could carry from their lost lives, and set out for one of the many depression settlements around Sydney. People who had lost their homes and their jobs arrived, chose an empty space and erected a ramshackle hut, using whatever materials they could find – often corrugated iron or tin sheeting. Life in these camps was hard, but often a strong and very supportive community evolved.