Surf Bathing At Ocean Beach, Manly

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This week, with the weather heating up and many Sydneysiders beginning to get into the Summertime beach culture, it seemed the perfect time to share this image of ‘surf bathing, Coogee’. Today, we are often used to seeing beaches full of people, often clad in reasonably skimpy swimmers, enjoying their modern take on ‘surf bathing’. Yet as this postcard shows, although surf bathing has a long history in Australia, it has changed a lot over the years – especially the clothing choices!

Although we don’t often use the term surf bathing today, swimming at the beach (or in the surf, hence the name) was, and continues to be, an extremely popular pastime for Sydneysiders, and Australians more generally. Since the earliest days of European colonisation, and doubtless before, the sea has been a popular way to cool down on a hot Australian summers day. Yet until 1902, you certainly would not have seen a scene like the one above. For many years, bathing in public during daylight hours was illegal, but in 1902, Mr William Gocher broke the law. In September, at Manly, he swam during daylight hours, breaking the Australian law against swimming during ‘prohibited hours’ (which was essentially any daylight hours. Soon others were following his example and also challenging the law. They forced the issue of daylight swimming, and before too long, the law was changed, allowing daylight bathing to occur without risk of penalty or prosecution.

Of course, the next problem arose around what was proper dress for surf bathers. As the image above shows – it was vastly different to what we consider appropriate today! Come back next week to find out more.

Bondi Beach

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Australia has a long and proud history of swimming and beach culture. Indeed, for most overseas visitors a visit to an Australian beach is a nonnegotiable feature of an Australian holiday. Many of these visitors will be making tracks for the beach pictured above, itself one of Australias most iconic beaches – Bondi.
For many Sydneysiders, Bondi Beach may be overcrowded and over rated, yet historically, it is one of Australias more important seaside resorts. The first formal settlement in the era after European colonization came in 1809, when a road builder, William Roberts, was granted land at what is now Bondi. This grant, which comprised 81 hectares, was given in recognition of O’briens work laying out what we now call Old South Head Road. In 1851 Edward Smith Hall and Francis O’brien increased the area of the grant to 200 acres of land, which included the entirety of what is now Bondi Beach. Their estate was named The Bondi Estate. Between 1855 and 1877 O’brien purchased Halls portion of the grant, renaming the estate The O’brien Estate and allowing public use of the beach and surrounding area.
Soon though, the beach was becoming very popular, with flocks of tourists visiting. O’brien threatened to block access to the area, which at the time, was his land. The newly formed council wanted the beach to remain public, and asked the government of NSW to make it so.  In 1882 Bondi Beach became a public beach and two years later, in 1884, tram services began to run to the beach.

Demolished Sydney – The Union Club

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This week, in honour of the upcoming exhibition at the Museum Of Sydney focusing on lost buildings of Sydney, the Past Present is focusing on one such building. The image above shows the beautiful building, The Union Club, which once stood on Bligh Street.

The Union Club, a beautiful Classical Revival style building once stood at number 2 Bligh Street. The site had originally been occupied by the cottage of Robert Campbell, but in 1857, a group of professional men met together at a leased property in Wynyard Square. The men formed the Union Club, whose first president was James Macarthur, the son of the famous John Macarthur. By August, larger premises were desperately needed, as the Union Club had rapidly attracted members. Several sites were looked at, but the decision was made to use the Campbell cottage, which was not as the name implies a cottage at all, but more a mansion! The Union Club leased the ‘cottage’ for 3 years from 1859, and when the lease on the warehouse next to the residence expired in 1863, the lease was changed to include both properties. The Union Club payed £1000 a year for the two leases. Eventually, the Union Club offered £15,000 to purchase the house, but the offer was declined, as it fell far below the market value.

The club officers of the Union Club then made efforts to find a new site which they could use to build their own club building, but all these sites were rejected. Finally, they started up negotiations again to buy the Campbell property, and in July 1873, they purchased the site for £20,000. Over the following decade, many alterations were made to the original Campbell residence, but eventually, the old mansion was demolished and replaced with a purpose built club house. The beautiful new building, designed by William Wardell in the Classical Revival style was built in 1884. It was demolished in 1955, when the Union Club decided to sell the southern part of the property and build a new clubhouse on the remaining land.

Shark Island – Part 2

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The image above is a wonderful snapshot of day out and about on Sydney Harbour. It shows one of the beautiful harbour islands simply teeming with visitors, perhaps waiting to watch one of the yacht races which were once so popular – perhaps even The Sydney To Hobart Race itself. Yet the island in question, Shark Island, is one which was not always publicly accessible.

In the 19th century, Shark Island was an important link in the colony’s quarantine system, and from 1871, was the quarantine depot for animals arriving from overseas. Yet many local Sydneysiders felt that the beautiful harbour islands, including Shark Island, should be made available as public reserves. The pressure of public opinion was such that in 1900, the NSW Government made Shark Island a public reserve, though it didn’t officially open to the public until 1905. Before being opened officially, the Clark Island Trust, which had been established in 1892 to beautify and create visitor facilities on Clark Island, worked to improve the amenities and beauty of Shark Island. Their intention was to create on Shark Island an Edwardian style English picnic park, and they constructed paths, shelters, seating and gardens. Then, in 1917, The Sydney Harbour Trust took over the management of the island and made more improvements, including the construction of new paths. The Sydney Harbour Trust continued to be responsible for the island until 1975, when Shark Island became part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.

Celebrating 200 Years – Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens – Part 1

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This week, with the Royal Botanic Gardens celebrating their bicentenary over the recent June long weekend, it seemed the perfect time to share an image of the iconic Sydney green space. Over the course of its history, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney have been a popular subject for artists ranging from colonial watercolorists to postcard makers. The image above, which shows the Botanic Gardens in circa 1907, is from a postcard and is just one of the many postcards in the collection which showcase our beautiful Botanic Gardens.

Before European colonists arrived in Australia, the area which includes what is now known as the Royal Botanic Gardens was known as Woccanmagully, and used as an initiation ground by the Cadigal people. When Europeans arrived though, a small farm growing much needed grain for the new colony was established on the site. By 1802, the old Government House (which is now the site of the Museum of Sydney) had a fine garden, which would have included land around what is now the Botanic Garden. Records show the garden contained a mix of exotic and native plants, just as the Botanic Garden does today!

In 1807 Governor Bligh attempted to reclaim the Demesne (or Domain), but it was Governor Macquarie who actually succeeded in doing this in 1810, building walls around the area and removing the remaining buildings. Bligh had also begun to build roads in the Domain area, but these were finished between 1813 and 1816 by Governor Macquarie, and today one of these loops, completed in 1816, is known as Mrs Macquaries Road. Macquarie was informed that the road was complete on June 13, 1816, and this is traditionally seen as the foundation day for our beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens. At 200 years old, they are one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in the Southern Hemisphere, and in fact are older than the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, which opened to the public over 20 years later, in 1841.

Come back next week to find out more about the creation of the Royal Botanic Gardens, one of Sydney’s best beloved green spaces.

Sydney Panorama

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This week, The Past Present is doing something just a little bit different. Usually, the focus is on a specific place, but the series of postcards above (six in total), show not one place, but many. This is a series of panoramic postcards, which fit together to create a complete and uninterrupted panoramic view of Sydney. Such panoramic photos, whether sold as a series of cards, or as a single, intact panorama, have a fascinating history.

Today, panoramic photographs are quick and easy to produce. Cameras and various devices with cameras featured in them are able to take a panoramic photo with the simple click of a button. In the past though, panoramic photographs were extremely difficult to take. They involved several unique photographs being taken, and then ‘stitched’ together to create a single, seamless view. The earliest photographic panorama of an Australian scene is believed to date from 1854 and is an eight panel view of Melbourne taken by Walter Woodbury. Sydney photographers were not far behind though and the first panorama of Sydney was taken just four years later by the Freeman Brothers.

The most famous of the Sydney panoramas were taken by Bernard Otto Holtermann and his assistant Charles Bayliss (Bayliss being the photographer, and Holtermann providing funding and photographic assistance). The famous Holtermann Panorama as it is known was taken in 1875 and made up of 23 discrete photographs, taken from the top of a specially built tower. This tower, which became known as the Holtermann tower, was part of Holtermanns home in Lavender Bay, and was used for many years as a photographic tower. Some even suggest it continued to be used after Holtermann’s death. The panorama above was taken not from Holtermann’s tower but from Miller’s Point and dates from the early 1900s.

Cronulla

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This week, as Autumn gets underway, many Sydneysiders will be looking to enjoy the last weeks of warm, beach-going weather. Sydney is blessed with an abundance of beautiful beaches, some of which are even internationally famous. The image above shows one which although perhaps not quite as famous as beaches like Bondi and Manly, is extremely popular with Sydneysiders – Cronulla.

The word Cronulla is believed to come from an Aboriginal word Kurranulla, which means place of pink seashells, and the beach has long been an attraction to the area. In 1827/1828, Surveyor Robert Dixon visited the area and named several of the beaches, though the main beach was called by the Aboriginal name Kurranulla. When the Illawarra Railway Line to Sutherland was built in 1885, this allowed people to easily access the area and Cronulla became popular for picnicking, fishing and swimming. Many visitors even rented beach houses for school holidays, and The Oriental Hotel was built in 1888 by Captain Spingall to cater for the abundant visitors.

In 1907 the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club was established, making it one of the first in the entirety of Australia. Today, we see the club operating from a beautiful art deco building which was built in 1940, but the club originally made its home in an old tram carriage! The club continues to be a strong force today, with 1200 members of the club, including over 600 nippers. In fact, Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club has actually won three World Championships, and is consistently placed in the top 10 Australian clubs, and has been for the past 20 years

Audley in The Royal National Park

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This week, the weather has been quite lovely, with the days warm but not as hot as they have been. Should the weekend continue the trend, many people will be looking to spend some time in one of our wonderful National Parks, perhaps by or even on the water. Our National Parks have long been popular destinations for holidaying, or just for spending a day amongst Australia’s beautiful bush. Audley, in the Royal National Park, has long been one such tourist destination.

The Royal National Park, established in 1879, is Australia’s oldest National Park, and is in fact very nearly the oldest National Park worldwide. Only Yellowstone in the US is older! One of the most popular destinations within the park is Audley, with its weir and boatsheds. Originally, when the National Park was established, it was managed by the National Park Trust, who were given the powers to develop the park for the people of the colony. They set about building roads, and buildings, establishing gardens with exotic trees and even introducing animals!

Most of the attention was focussed on the Audley area, where a small village of sorts was established in the style of a pleasure garden. A causeway was built to provide navigable water for boats, and a fresh water habitat for introduced fish. The area was landscaped with extensive lawns and paths, and a train line between Loftus and Audley was even installed to allow visitors to more easily access the area. By 1940, Audley was so popular that a proper dancehall was built! Today the Audley area continues to be popular with visitors, and you can still hire boats and enjoy the lawn areas of this historic spot.

Bents Basin

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This week, with the weather having been a little cooler, it seemed the perfect time for the Past Present to turn attention to a popular picnic spot in the Sydney area. Bents Basin, which is a State Conservation Area near Penrith has a long history of being a popular destination for Sydney siders looking for beautiful scenery, peace, quiet, bushwalking and even swimming.
Bents Basin is what is known as a ‘scour pool’ – a geological formation created over a long period of time by repeated, fast flowing floodwaters which rush out of the gorge. The basin, which resembles a small lake, is up to 22metres deep and has long been popular for fishing, swimming and boating. The Aboriginal people of the Gundungurra, Dharawal and Durug people are the traditional owners of the area, and they know the basin as Gulger (which means spinning or whirlpool). According to local stories the basin is home to a terrible water creature called Gurungadge or Gurungaty, but none the less, it was also an important area for trading between the Aboriginal peoples.
The first European to sight Bents Basin was Botanist and Explorer George Caley. He visited the area in 1802, and later returned to collect plant specimens. Later still, early travellers used the basin area as a stop over on their trips east, and in the 1860s an inn was established. As time continued on, the area became popular as a picnic area and centre of leisure for many living in the Sydney Basin area.

Luna Park And Its Famous Face

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This week, with Valentines Day approaching, it seemed to be an ideal time to turn the attention of readers of The Past Present to a popular destination for young couples out on the town. Luna Park in Sydney has long been a popular place with couples and families alike, and also has a fascinating history.
Of course, one of the most iconic parts of Luna Park is the face, but the face we see today is not the face which once would have looked down on visitors. The face was inspired by and based on the smiling faces which welcome visitors to Luna Park Melbourne and to Steeplechase Park in the United States, but it has been replaced eight times, each time with a slightly new look. However, there has been a face of one form or another looking over visitors in Sydney for nearly the entirety of its history. The first face was installed in 1935, the same year the park opened to visitors. It was replaced in 1938, then just another year later, in 1939. Then, in 1946, 1950 and 1973 the face again had something of a ‘facelift’.
After the Ghost Train fire of 1979, Luna Park closed down, and in 1980, the future looked grim. A march was organised that year to see the site saved, and one of the results of this march was that the face itself was heritage listed. Luna Park opened to the public once again in 1982 as Harbourside Amusement Park, and the same year another new face was installed. The park closed again in 1988, and in 1994 the face was once again removed in preparation for the newest, and final face in the history of the park. The face that was removed was donated to the Powerhouse Museum, and is now part of their collection. The new face was installed in 1994, and although the park itself underwent quite a rocky period between then and the final reopening in 2004, the final face remains, smiling down on visitors to this day.