This week, The Past Present is sharing a photo of a place which residents and visitors to Sydney alike are often familiar with – Sydney Airport at Mascot. Yet as this postcard image reveals, this is not Sydney Airport as we know it today!
Sydney Airport is actually very significant, being one of the oldest continually operating airports not just in Australia, but in the world! The first plane to leave the airport at Mascot, piloted by J.J. Hammond, took fight in April 1911 and eight years later, just after the end of World War One, the site was selected by Nigel B. Love as an aircraft manufacturing facility. In 1920 the Mascot Aerodrome was officially named and opened, but soon after that the federal government acquired the site, transforming it into a national airport.
At this early time, the airport was nothing like the large passenger terminal buildings filled with shops, restaurants and amenities which we see today. In fact, it wasn’t until after World War Two that a true passenger terminal building was constructed!
This week, with the holidays underway and many Sydneysiders heading to the country to enjoy the best Spring has to offer, it seemed the perfect time to look at one of the magnificent feats of engineering which are to be found in our many stunning national parks. Burrinjuck Dam, or Barren Jack Weir as it was once known, and as it is described on the postcard above, is just one of these.
Burrinjuck Dam is on the Murrumbidgee River about 60 kilometres from Yass and today is marketed as a popular area for bushwalking, camping and water sports. Yet in 1906, when the construction of the Dam began, the scheme was created for an extremely different audience, and even today, the water is vital for reasons other than tourism. The dam was the first in NSW to be built specifically to provide water for irrigation and provided water to the government sponsored Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme. The scheme allowed the Murrumbidgee Valley to develop as a thriving agricultural centre, producing everything from fruit to rice. At the time when the dam was built, it was the fourth largest dam in the entire world. In 1911 the name Barren Jack, which the dam was originally known as, was changed to Burrinjuck, an Aboriginal word used for the area. Due to interruptions caused to construction by World War 1, the dam was not completed until 1928, but even before completion, there had been two major floods which proved the viability of the scheme.
Today, between Burrinjuck and Blowering Dams (the latter of which is near Tumut), the Murrumbidge is able to provide for the irrigation needs of the Murrumbidgee Valley and the area is responsible for providing NSW with up to 90% of our potatoes, 80% of our carrots, 50% of our rice and 25% of our other fruits and vegetables.
This week, with the holidays rapidly approaching, it seems the perfect time to turn attention to one of the many attractions not far from Sydney. The Scenic Railway is a popular place for tourists to visit, and today is a reasonably comfortable, safe and not particularly terrifying ride. The historic and unique railway has quite a history though, and in its early days, as the postcard above demonstrates, was quite a different ride.
The Scenic Railway may be today a historic ride, but it was a working railway for the mines which were once situated at the bottom of the escarpment. By 1878 the mines, which mined not only coal but also kerosene shale, were in full operation and a system of cable tramways serviced them. The scenic railway we see today was one of these, carrying the mined materials to the summit of the mountain where they were transferred to another railway to be taken further, to local businesses who purchased the coal, and also to markets in Sydney.
Even before Scenic World was created, the railway carried more than just mined materials. Many miners caught a lift up from the mines in one of the coal carts, and later on weary walkers would also make the journey. A 12 seater car was built, named Jessie, and this was used on weekends and public holidays to carry passengers, even while the mines remained in operation.The car only carried 12 people, and rides cost sixpence. During the Second World War, American troops on leave heard of the railway and came to the Blue Mountains to visit and ride the engineering marvel. In fact, it was while Harry Hammon was loading coal for transport to Katoomba that he met up with a group of American soldiers. They had come to see the railway, and were disappointed to discover that it was only run on weekends. When the mine closed, Hammon and his sister Isobel Fahey took over the lease and began to operate the railway as a tourist attraction.