The image above is a stunning and beautiful view of place which few Sydneysiders know of. Although more famous for its role in Australian tennis history, White City in Rushcutters Bay actually began life as an amusement park, not dissimilar to the now iconic Luna Park at Milsons Point.
Originally, the area where White City was to be built was occupied by market gardens and supplied produce to the Sydney market. Yet in 1913 Cosen Spenser established White City. Cosen Spenser was a well known film entrepreneur, and White City was based on many parks which had been built overseas and which he was familiar with. The main inspiration was the famous White City amusement park in London, but the name also reflected the shining white buildings which Spensers park was dominated by. The buildings, which looked grand and expensive were actually timber which was then covered in a layer of chicken wire and plaster, creating the iconic white look. They were designed and built by T.H Eslick, who was also the man behind the design and construction of Luna Park in Melbourne.
White City amusement park boasted many attractions, including a fun fair, music hall, ballroom and fairground, as well as what was termed ‘seasonal entertainment’. Among the many attractions there were a Japanese Village, giant carousel, fun factory and scenic railway. The roller coaster at White City was even more historic, being the first roller coaster in Australia! Of course, the amusement park drew huge crowds and was extremely popular. Yet in 1917, a lightning strike hit the park and started a fire which destroyed the popular attraction. The following year White City Limited went into liquidation and all the remaining assets were sold.
This week, with so much talk about the upcoming horse racing season, and the many important races which are to take place, it seemed the ideal time to share one of the amazing photos of Randwick Racecourse in the Past Present Collection. The photo above, which was taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936 shows
Today, the Melbourne Cup may be one of the most, if not the most famous race in Australia. Yet the Melbourne Cup is far from the only important race run in Australia, and the racecourse where it is held, Flemington Racecourse, is not the oldest. In fact, in the early years of the colony racing was a very popular pastime and several basic racecourses were established. Yet by the 1830s these oldest of racecourses had stopped operating for a variety of reasons, leaving Hyde Park the main centre of horse racing at the time. It was clear that a dedicated horse racetrack was needed though and in late 1832 a group of gentlemen petitioned Governor Bourke to set aside land near Botany Road. In 1833, after the land had been surveyed and found suitable, the petition was granted and the course, then known as ‘the sandy course’ was soon in operation. Yet by 1838, racing had stopped again.
This could have spelled the end for Randwick Racecourse, but in 1858 racing returned. The Australian Jockey Club, which was established in 1842, wanted a place to establish a permanent racecourse with good facilities and petitioned the Government to grant them the old Sandy Course. The grant was allowed, the facilities and track were improved and the first race, held in May 1860, was attended by a crowd of over 6000 spectators. With the extension of the tram service to the course in 1880 the future of the course was assured. By 1900 the tram was so popular that a dedicated loop station was built simply to service the racecourse, and at its peak the trams carried 117,480 passengers in a single day in 1834!
This week, with the July School Holidays drawing to a close, it is the perfect time to turn attention to one of Sydney’s favourite tourist destinations. For locals and visitors alike, Taronga Zoo has long been a popular place to visit for the day and view the amazing animals looked after by the zoo.
The Taronga Zoo which we see today builds on over a century of history, yet the zoo we now know is a far cry from the zoo of yesteryear. Taronga Zoo was established on its current premises in 1916, following the move of the original Zoological Gardens from Moore Park. Many of the animals, including elephants, were transported from the old Moore Park site by barge, travelling by water across the Harbour to their new home. They were settled into the new, larger premises, where the Elephant Temple, seal ponds and monkey pit were already constructed.
Yet these enclosures, many of which are maintained today as a memory of the zoo’s history, were a far cry from what we recognise today. As the postcard above shows, the old exhibits were small and could be quite spartan compared to what we now know. The focus of the zoo was on entertainment and fun, whereas today the zoo focuses on scientific research, conservation and education. This new focus for the zoo dates back to 1967, when a critical review of the zoo was undertaken. New exhibits were built and the focus of the zoo shifted to scientific research, conservation and education. Soon the famous elephant rides and monkey zoo were replaced with more educational activities, like the seal show.
With the July school holidays just around the corner, and many families looking to take advantage of the beautiful winter weather, The Past Present is turning its attention to what was once one of Sydneys most popular pleasure grounds – Fairyland. Today, Fairylane is little more than an area of bush in Lane Cove National Park. It is hidden away from the main drag and little visited. Yet once, it was one of the most popular places for Sydneysiders, particularly those on the North Shore, to spend a day.
Fairyland was built on the foreshores of the Lane Cove River, in an area which once belonged to the Swan Family. The Swan’s purchased the land in the early 20th century and quickly established a market garden. They grew many crops, but one of the most popular was strawberries, which day-trippers out and about on the river would purchase. Soon enough, the Swan family realised that they could offer more complete afternoon teas to these day-trippers, and their land became a popular stop for people boating on the river.
By 1920 the Swan’s had seen the potential to transform their land into a popular and lucrative pleasure ground. They set about transforming their gardens and crops into what was to become Fairyland. The pleasure grounds were indeed immensely popular with people boating on the river, and it wasn’t long before the Swan family were expanding again. They installed rides, including a ‘razzle dazzle’, and built a wharf, dance hall, kiosk and playground. They used fairytale characters throughout the pleasure grounds, painting them on buildings, and even making painted, wooden figures which were to be found in the trees – hence the name fairyland. Today, very little of Fairyland remains, other than the site and some interpretative signage, but many remember happy outings to this once popular pleasure ground.
The image above, from a postcard dated to circa 1910, is a beautiful and charming snapshot of a family day out and about in the beautiful Sydney Botanic Gardens. Today, on family days such as this, we often think of feeding ducks (though many councils request people do not do so), but in the image above the bird being fed by the children is the magnificent Native Black Swan.
The black swan is a majestic and interesting bird. Most famously it is the emblem associated with Western Australia, but the Black Swan is actually native to many areas of Australia. As such a large and beautiful bird, they also have a long history of being found in zoo’s and bird collections, and for many years they were also a popular part of public parks and gardens – like the Sydney Botanic Gardens.
Yet what is perhaps of most interest is what the phrase ‘black swan’ has come to mean. A black swan is a metaphor for an event or discovery which is unprecedented, unexpected and surprising but which in hindsight, really isn’t such a surprise after all. The phrase actually comes from the Latin and the oldest known use of the metaphor came almost a thousand years ago, in Juvenal’s line “rara avis in terries nigroque simillima cygno” which translates to “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”. At the time, and for centuries after, the only swans known were white swans, so it was assumed that the black swan did not exist. Then, in 1697, Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, discovered black swans in Australia, proving they did exist after all. This came as a great surprise, but in hindsight many acknowledged that it really shouldn’t have been such a shock – just as other animals came in other colours, not all swans were white. Today, Black Swan Theory, as introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007 is well known, but it all traces back to these majestic if unexpected birds which are such a feature of the Australian landscape.
This week, with Autumn under way, and the end of the hot weather on the horizon, it seemed an ideal time for The Past Present to turn attention to some of our alternative beach culture and it’s history. Australia is known for it’s abundance of beautiful beaches, and the opportunities for swimming and other water based activities they provide. Yet in the past, some of Sydney’s beaches had other attractions.
If you look carefully in this postcard of Bondi Beach, you can make out a horse or donkey walking along the beach. I can find no written record of animal rides being offered at beaches in Sydney – or at least, not this far back in history. Yet I have heard many anecdotal stories, including from my mother, of pony and donkey rides once being offered along the sandy shores of Sydney’s beaches.
Do you remember having a pony or donkey ride on a Sydney beach?
With the Easter long weekend rapidly approaching, and many people planning to brave the weather to enjoy the great outdoors, it seemed the ideal time to share the image above. The postcard image, dating from the early 20th century is an evocative snapshot not only of the Hawkesbury area of NSW, but of camping in Australia and how it has changed.
Camping has an incredibly long history in Australia. Aboriginal people lived in temporary dwellings, moving around the country from one place to another, while early European colonists often lived in tents of necessity. In fact the first fleet brought with it more than 600 tents! In the 1820s, people who visited Australia actually saw camping as the real Australian experience or the ‘Australian way’. History in Australia, and indeed the history of Australian development, is intricately linked to camping.
By the 1860s though, camping was beginning to take on a new dimension, people were choosing to set up temporary camps for recreation and holiday camping was born. Water, whether a coastal beach or quiet river meander was often a real feature of holiday camping, and even today many campers head to campgrounds on the coast or situated next to a picturesque river scene.