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.
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.
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.