Sydney Ferries

Sydney Ferries Limited Athol Gardens Front

The image above provides not just one, but several fascinating glimpses into the history of an area of Sydney which was long known to locals and visitors alike as a pleasure ground. Today, Athol Bay continues to be a popular place for picnicking, walking and even getting married, but once there was far more to the area.

European use of the area now known as Athol Bay began in 1831 when Robert Mllard and Richard Linley were given permission to use four acres of waterfront land as a shipyard. Although they were officially issued a deed to the land eight years later, they actually never built any boats! In 1837 though, the Ferrier family were also given a grant in the area, and it is this family and their home which gave the area its name. The family soon built a stone house, which they named Athol, as well as constructing a wharf and establishing an orchard and gardens. The Ferrier family owned the area until 1904, but after 1853, they let it out to various tenants.

During this time, the area around Athol Bay became a popular pleasure garden, with Athol Gardens Hotel being built by 1863. The hotel, and later dance hall, provided amenities and entertainment for the many picnickers who visited the area. Sydney Ferries purchased the popular Athol Gardens in 1906, and two years later a new dance hall was opened. Then, in 1912, an area on Athol Bay was dedicated for use as Zoological Gardens, and in 1916, Taronga Zoo opened. Soon after, Sydney Ferries opened a new wharf at Athol Bay, for use by visitors to the Zoo and Athol Gardens alike. By the mid 1900s, the popularity of pleasure grounds was waning, and fewer people were visiting the Athol Gardens themselves. However, even today, the area remains a popular place for picnicking, walking and taking in the spectacular harbour views.

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Queen Victoria Markets

Queen Victoria Market (QVB) Sydney Front

This week, with Christmas fast approaching and many people visiting various shopping centres and more exclusive stores in search of that perfect gift, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share this amazing image of the Queen Victoria Markets. The Queen Victoria Markets, which are more commonly known as the QVB, are one of Sydney’s more exclusive shopping precincts, and also one of Sydney’s most iconic buildings. Yet this amazing building was almost lost!

Before the QVB which we see today, there was an older produce market on the site, but in the 1890s, Sydney was suffering from an economic depression. Many people were without work, and the Government was looking for a project to employ out of work craftsmen and labourers alike. The elaborate new market design provided the perfect opportunity. With its beautiful stonework, glass roof areas, large copper domes, stunning stained glass windows, ornate wrought iron balustrades, patterned floor tiles and even statues, there was work for huge numbers of people, both skilled and unskilled.

The completed building was not always a shopping precinct though. Over the ensuing decades it saw many different occupants, including commercial stores, but also a library, concert hall and once, it was even used a municipal offices! By the 1950s though, the building was in need of restoration, and the government planned to replace the grand old building with a carpark! In 1982 though, after much public debate and campaigning,  the building was saved with the council agreeing to lease the building for 99 years to Malaysian company, Ipoh Garden Berhad. The company restored the beautiful building and today it is a popular and exclusive shopping centre.

Picnic Grounds on the Parramatta River

Picnic Grounds Paramatta River Front

With the weather heating up and the holidays almost upon us, it is the perfect season for a waterfront picnic with family and friends, and indeed over the coming weeks many such picnics will be planned. The image above, from a postcard dated about 1910, is an idyllic if a little mysterious view of what was clearly once a popular picnic venue on the Parramatta River. With its muted colouring, and blue water and sandy beach, it seems the perfect venue for a family picnic, yet the exact location of the photo is unknown.

Picnicking has long been a popular way to while away a few hours, enjoying beautiful scenery and a tasty al fresco meal. In fact, the first known picnic’s took place all the way back in the Medieval times! Yet early picnics were vastly different to the picnics many of us enjoy today. Many early picnics were an evolution of elaborate and remarkably formal outdoor feasts and celebrations, and they were closely associated with hunting gatherings. Far from spreading a rug on the ground and enjoying a simple meal, they often took place at formally set tables and included sumptuous foods, many of which were served hot!

Then, in the 17th and 18th century the picnic began to evolve. Instead of being a formal meal, they began to be something a little like the American idea of a ‘pot luck’, with all of the participants bringing a dish to share. In fact, that was what the word picnic actually meant! By the 1860s though the meaning had changed again, with the word picnic meaning to eat outdoors. It was this late 19th century era when picnics also began to become popular, not just for wealthy people, but for all classes. Even the seminal cookbook, Mrs Beeton’s, provided ideas on how to host a picnic, and what sorts of food would be needed.

Of course, if picnicking was becoming a popular pastime, places to enjoy such picnics were also becoming necessary. Although many Australian’s were happy to enjoy an informal picnic at the beach or in the bush, others preferred established picnic grounds, like the one pictured above. These picnic areas often included other basic amenities, like toilets, tables and running water, which made them popular destinations.

The question is – where is the picnic ground featured in the postcard above actually located, and does it still exist?

Glades Bay

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The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a time and place, and indeed way of life unfamiliar to many Sydneysiders. Gladesville, famous for the Gladesville Bridge, is a place which many locals will know well, yet the nearby Glades Bay, featured in the image above, is far less familiar.

Glades Bay, like Gladesville, is named after John Glade, an ex-convict and early land owner in the area. Yet it is the culture of swimming in the area which plays the most important role in our history. As early as the 1850s, school boys and men alike used the Parramatta River for swimming. Women however found it much more difficult to swim in the fresh, salty water as they were only permitted to swim in enclosures and bathing sheds where they were far removed from the prying eyes of men.

As early as 1877 Ryde Council began to discuss the idea of building public swimming baths, and in 1887 the necessity for an enclosed swimming area was highlighted when a man was killed by a shark near Ryde Wharf. Yet building public baths was expensive and it wasn’t until the early 1900s that swimming baths began to be built. Yet once the construction of baths began, more were quickly constructed along the Parramatta River. The Glades Bay Baths were constructed in 1909.

Zeynards Midget Circus

Zeynards Marvellous Midget Circus Tiny Town The Big Show Front

The image above is a stunning glimpse into a history of Australian show business. Although today circus troops are limited in number in Australia, once, the circus was not only common, but one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Many worked to bring together a unique troop of performers in order to attract audiences. One such group was, it appears, Zeynards Midget Circus.

The Zeynards Midget Circus and Tiny Town were clearly popular and well known attraction in Australia in the early 1900s, yet there is scant information about the group today. Mr Zeynard, who from another postcard I have discovered appears to have not been a ‘midget’ himself, headed the group which was, at least at the time the photograph above was taken, made up of five women and six men.

Among the performers was Hayati Hassid who was actually marketed as ‘Tom Thumb’ and stood at just 30 inches tall. Hassid was from Turkey originally, spoke eight languages and had travelled extensively, reputedly across four continents. Among the individual acts there was a strong man, contortionist, pony bareback acts, juggling, singing, dancing and more. Many comments however centred on the presentation of the group, who were it seems well dressed, and quite attractive, which was apparently a surprise to many of their audience.

Luna Park

Luna Park and North Sydney pool Front

The image above is a glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s beloved icons, Luna Park. Luna Park, from humble beginnings as a workshop site for the construction of pieces of the Harbour Bridge, became one of Sydneys most visited and popular attractions in the 1930s and onwards. How did this transformation occur?

In 1932, with the completion of the Harbour Bridge, the workshops which had been on the site now occupied by Luna Park were demolished and the North Sydney Council opened tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time Herman Phillips, David Atkins and Ted Hopkins were looking for a new location for a theme park. Phillips, Atkins and Hopkins had been the minds behind Luna Park Glenelg, in South Australia, but they had been having a lot of trouble with the council and local residents. The group eventually won the tender for the old workshop site in Sydney, and immediately afterwards, placed Luna Park Glenelg into voluntary liquidation. The rides from Glenelg were dismantled and transported to Sydney, being reassembled at the new Luna Park.

Luna Park Sydney opened in October 1935 and found almost immediate success with Sydneysiders and visitors alike. Each year, during the Winter period, the park was closed to visitors while rides were overhauled and the park was generally ’spruced up’. This gave visitors the feel that things had changed during the yearly three month closure, and kept the park feeling fresh and new. During World War II, and well into the 1960s the success of the park simply continued to grow.

In 1969 though, the lease on the park was sold, and investment in the rides and infrastructure began to wane. In 1979, a fatal fire on the Ghost Train resulted in a temporary closure of the park. In 1982, the park reopened, but for the next several decades, this pattern of changes in management and decreased investment continued. In the 1990s, the Government took control, listing the park on the register of the National Estate, and making changes to ensure the parks continued success. In 2002 the lease was granted to a new company, Luna Park Sydney PTY, LTD, and in 2004 they reopened the park to renewed success, which continues to this day.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of one of Sydney’s most famous international tourist destinations – Bondi Beach. Bondi has long been a destinational place for people to visit, Sydneysiders and tourists alike, but many who visit the iconic beach little realise the amazing history encapsulated in the area.

Bondi was once known as the Bondi Estate, and belonged to Francis O’Brien. The entire area, including the beach, was part of this estate but in 1855 O’Brien decided to open up the beach and surrounding area to the public. He opened the area as a picnic ground and pleasure resort, but many times threatened to stop access to the beach itself. Part of his reasoning, and indeed the public view at the time, was that swimming at Bondi was dangerous because of the threat of sharks and stingrays. Then, in 1882, the government itself took over the beach area, and official declared Bondi Beach a public beach.

Bondi quickly became one of the most popular stretches of beach in Sydney, with people flocking to enjoy the pristine water and white sand. Bus services were run to Bondi Junction by private operators and in 1906 the first electric tram service began to take beach goers directly to Bondi. By 1929 it is believed that 60,000 people were visiting Bondi Beach on an average summer weekend! Even in the early 1920s, when cars were not as common as they are today, upwards of 1000 cars could be found parked near the beach on a fine summer day. Today, thousands continue to flock to the beach and parking remains a significant problem.