What’s In A Name – Parsley Bay

Parsley Bay Sydney 2 Front

This week The Past Present is focussing on another of Sydney Harbours beautiful inlets and bays. Sydney Harbour is a spectacular waterway with various hidden gems along its shores. Many of these have a long history and one such area is Parsley Bay.

Parsley Bay is a narrow inlet of Sydney Harbour, located in the suburb of Vaucluse. The Birrabirragal group of Aborigines once called the area, which is rich in rock overhands and caves, home but with the arrival of Europeans Vaucluse and the Parsley Bay area was quickly settled. The first land grant, to a Mr Thomas Laycock, occurred in 1792 and this Grant is also the first reference to the name Parsley Bay. Nobody is entirely certain where the name ‘Parsley Bay’ originated from, though there are two popular theories. The first suggests that the name refers to a hermit named Parsley who once lived in one of the local caves, while the other theory suggests the name is reference to an edible plant which once grew wild around the area. It is even thought this plant may have been used by the first settlers to treat scurvy.

Parsley Bay has a remarkably rich history, far more than is elucidated here and will doubtless by the subject of future posts. It stayed in private ownership for many years, belonging to the Wentworth family of Vaucluse Estate, but there is evidence that despite this it was a popular place for picnics and outings. Parsley Bay officially became a public recreation reserve in 1907.

The Shoe Shine Boys of Park Street

Park Street Sydney Shoe Shines  Front copy

This week, the Past Present is focussing on a form of employment – a service industry in fact – which was once common in Sydney, but which has all but died out. Once shoe shiners were a common sight in Sydney, as shown in the postcard above of Park Street. The postcard is dated to circa 1915 and shows a row of shoe shiners ready for custom. The area of Park Street shown is uncertain, but is probably in the vicinity of Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Building.

Shoe shining has a surprising history, with shoe polish not really available as a purchasable product until after 1906. Before this, shoe polish was often homemade, using tallow, lanolin or beeswax as a base, and often adding lampblack to provide a colour to the shine. People very rarely shone their own shoes though and gradually a business arose around providing a service to people who wanted a high sheen to their shoes. By the mid 19th century shoe shine boys (not always children, but often adult men) were operating in city streets, particularly around areas of high pedestrian movement (such as stations and public buildings). Using a basic form of shoe polish, a brush and polishing cloth, these boys would set up on the street and provide a shine to the shoes of those passing by, in return for a small fee. In the postcard you can also see many of the shoe shine boxes which were favoured by shoe shiners as they provided the customer a place to rest his foot while the shine was taking place, but also provided storage for the polish and other products needed to produce it.

Millers Point

View south from High St. steps along Hickson Road at Union Co. #5 dock showing restriction of wharf frontage by high cliffs paralleling Darling Harbor. Warehouses Etc. on upland.

View south from High St. steps along Hickson Road at Union Co. #5 dock showing restriction of wharf frontage by high cliffs paralleling Darling Harbor. Warehouses Etc. on upland.

Sometimes photos of an area show a glimpse into a past long gone, and the photo above, taken by an unknown photographer, circa 1936, is one such image. Although it is a view which remains remarkably similar today, Walsh Bay and Millers Point is a very different place now to the working maritime area which is glimpsed through this image.

Before the 1830s, Millers Point was isolated and reasonably deserted, with few people settling in the area. Three windmills, operated by John Leighton (known as Jack The Miller, which inspired the name of the area itself) and a military hospital were built in the area, but only six or so houses were to be found in Millers Point in the 1820s. However, by the 1820s Sydney Cove itself was becoming crowded and Dawes Point was already being adapted to the maritime industry. The deep waters of Millers Point, adjacent to Dawes Point, became the focus of a thriving, if malodorous, whaling and sealing industry and by the 1840s workers cottages and even the occasional fine house belonging to wharf owners were beginning to appear.

It was in the 1850s that Millers Point became a hub for maritime activity. Almost all workers in the area during this time were connected with the wharves or the local infrastructure which supported them (including hotels, boarding houses and pubs). By 1861 there were even six large warehouses built on the waterfront.

The Millers Point of this era though would have looked very different even to that pictured in the photo above. Come back next week when the Past Present will share another beautiful photograph of the area, and the story of how and why the area underwent such dramatic changes.

Newcastle Depression Camp

Group of transient shacks on vacant land between abbatoirs and River in Waratah. (Man being barbered in open)

Group of transient shacks on vacant land between abbatoirs and River in Waratah. (Man being barbered in open)

The extraordinary photo above, dating from circa 1936, is one of many in the Past Present collection focussing on Newcastle in NSW. It provides a glimpse not only into the history of Newcastle, but the history of Australia during the Great Depression, showing one of the depression settlements which sprung up not only in Newcastle, but in other cities, including Sydney.

During the Great Depression, many Australians lost their only sources of income and were forced from their homes. Many took to the road looking for work, while others moved into camps like the one pictured. Whole families took up residence in these camps, often arriving only with the possessions they could carry, and starting from scratch. They would choose an empty area and erect a rough shack, using whatever materials they could access, including wood, corrugated iron and even hessian sacks.

In Newcastle, many sought jobs at the various factories, but work was hard to come by. Unemployment in Newcastle was high, estimated at 30% of the working population, and many moved into the shanty towns which sprung up at Nobby’s Beach, Stockton, Carrington, Adamstown, Lambton, Waratah and Hexham. Life in the camps was hard, but there is evidence in this photo which also shows the normality of life – a man is being shaved and children play between the shacks.

Chinese Produce Seller

R. W. Moody tanners, curriers and welting manufacturings on Cranbrook Street showing close contact between residences and wool industries in Botany. Vegetable peddlers and cart typical of Sydney and suburbs

R. W. Moody tanners, curriers and welting manufacturings on Cranbrook Street showing close contact between residences and wool industries in Botany.
Vegetable peddlers and cart typical of Sydney and suburbs

This week, in honour of Chinese New Year, The Past Present is focussing on this beautiful photo from an unknown photographer, taken in 1936. Although the focus of the photographers interest was the tannery belonging to R. W. Moody, today The Past Present is focussing on the Chinese vegetable peddler in the foreground.  Once, up to a third of the Chinese community in Sydney was occupied in growing fruit and vegetables, while others provided accomodation and services to these market gardeners.

The first known Chinese settler in Sydney was Mak Sai Ying who arrived in 1818 and settled in Parramatta, eventually opening a public house called the Golden Lion. Following the end to convict transportation people were brought from China to work as indentured labourers for rural estates and by 1852 over 1500 Chinese had arrived. Of course, then came the gold rush and Chinese people arrived in large numbers to try their luck, though many returned to China later. As mining became less profitable for the Chinese many who remained in Australia turned their attention to the growing and selling of fruit and vegetables. Market gardening became a common occupation for the Chinese, especially as many of the Chinese in Australia had rural backgrounds.

There were more people involved in the market garden trade than just the growers though. The market gardens supported a whole variety of industries, from the gardeners who worked the fields to the people who owned the hostels where gardeners would stay when they brought their produce to the city. Although market gardeners and fruit and vegetable sellers are now seen as almost synonymous, market gardening was extremely labour intensive and although the growers may transport their produce to the sellers, they rarely sold it themselves. Often the fruit and vegetables were either sold by associated hawkers who travelled from house to house, or by green grocers and even large city markets, including Sydney’s Belmore Markets.

Cattle Grazing At Folly Point

Small dairy near Folly Point on west side of Willoughby Bay in North Sydney showing vacant character and steep slopes leading to bay and homes on top surface

Small dairy near Folly Point on west side of Willoughby Bay in North Sydney showing vacant character and steep slopes leading to bay and homes on top surface

The image above, from the collection of an unknown photographer, and dating to circa 1936, is a fascinating view on a much more rural Sydney than we are familiar with today. This photo shows Folly Point in Cammeray, but as you can see, the area was once agricultural.

According to the description accompanying the photo, this image shows a small dairy at Folly Point. Not far from North Sydney, which was well established as a town and commercial centre by the 1880s, Folly Point and Cammeray were slower to develop due to the steep topography and distance to easy transport. In fact, Folly Point remained a rural, agricultural area, in the heart of the growing city. It was an area of vegetable farms and particularly of dairies, with dairy cattle reported grazing in the area as late as the 1950s! Today it is one of Sydney’s more exclusive residential suburbs.

Over The Fence – Glebe

Rows of chimneys etc in Glebe

Rows of chimneys etc in Glebe

This image, one of many documenting Sydney in 1936 which were taken by an unknown photographer, is an extraordinary piece of photographic work. The image is dominated by the repetitive houses, chimneys and backyards, each almost identical to the one before. In the alley behind a couple of dogs can be seen, while a woman is captured chatting with her neighbour, who is almost hidden from view, other than her arm and part of her dress. It is a scene which would have been repeated throughout Sydney, and in other built up areas of Australia.

The photo also captures a piece of Australian heritage which is fast disappearing. The image, showing the rear of terrace houses in Glebe, captures not only the row of chimneys which the photographer notes, but also the row of outhouses, or as Australians tend to refer to them, dunnys.

A dunny is an outdoor toilet, situated at the rear of the property. In the 19th and well into the 20th century Australian toilets were situated outside, away from the house. They were often a can or pit, and were probably very smelly, which may account for their relative distance from the house! The lane behind the houses, where the women are talking, would have been a ‘dunny lane’, built to allow the nightsoil collecter or dunnyman to collect the used can, remove and replace it. As the 20th century progressed and indoor plumbing became the norm, many of these old outhouses were demolished. In fact, so many have disappeared that those that remain have sometimes had heritage orders imposed to prevent these important parts of our architectural and cultural heritage disappearing entirely.