The image above shows an area which most Sydneysiders are familiar with, yet the building it showcases is one which many may not recognise or indeed have heard of. The building which it became, the Capitol Theatre, may well be more familiar.
The image above, showing York Street in the very early 20th century, is a beautiful glimpse into Sydney’s past. Many Sydney siders will be familiar with York Street as it is one of the major streets in the Sydney CBD, though of course the view is very different today. What many may not know is that York Street is, in many ways, the historic home of circus in Australia!
When the First Fleet arrived in Australia, entertainment was certainly not something they were concerned with and for many years there was little in the way of theatre. In the 1830s regular theatre performances began to take place, but they were held with some difficulty and although there were occasionally circus type acts, they were certainly not the norm. In Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) Radford’s Royal Circus was opened in 1847, but after two years Radford was insolvent. However, two of his equestrians, Golding Ashton and John Jones kept the theatre style alive.
Ashton (whose name you might recognise) worked in Melbourne for a short time, but then he and a small group of equestrians headed for Sydney. John Jones arrived in about 1850, bringing with him Edward La Rosiere, a tightrope walker and they opened to great success at the City Theatre (near the present day State Theatre). Later the same year though, Jones and La Rosiere moved into their own arena, an roofless arena in the yard of John Malcom’s Adelphi Hotel in York Street. The circus was known as the Royal Australian Equestrian Circus and was in many ways the first permanent circus troupe in Australia. Malcolm soon recognised the potential of the circus though and it was renamed Malcoms Royal Australian Circus. The Arena, which was many times altered over the ensuing years, was declared unsafe and demolished in 1882, but by then the circus had arrived and its future in Australia was assured.
The image above is a lively and evocative glimpse into the history of a Sydney reserve which has been a popular recreational reserve for Sydney residents for well over a century, Parsley Bay.
What we now know as Parsley Bay is the traditional lands of the Birrabirragal group but it wasn’t long after European colonisation that the land around Parsley Bay was securely in the hands of European settlers. In 1792 Thomas Laycock, the Deputy Commissioner General, was given a grant of eighty acres of land at the head of Parsley Bay. This is the first known use of the name Parsley Bay. The land passed through several owners and was expanded over the following years before being purchased by the Wentworth family in 1827. Parsley Bay then became just one small part of the Wentworth family’s Vaucluse Estate.
Though the land was in private hands, that did not stop Sydney siders from accessing and using Parsley Bay and even before the area became a public reserve, there is evidence that the area was used by the public for picnics and camping. In 1905 though, William Notting and his Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee lobbied the Government to provide public access to various locations around the harbour waterfront. Parsley Bay was one of these locations and in 1906 was resumed by the Government in order to create a public reserve. It was the first area of land to be secured by the Harbour Foreshore Vigilance Committee and went on to become an ever more popular area for picnicking, camping and making merry.
Recently, there has been lots of news about Freshwater Beach and the important centenary which was celebrated there on January 10th – the centenary of Duke Kahanamoku’s surfing demonstration. Yet there have been few photos which showed the beach at the time, and so The Past Present decided to share one from the collection.
Long before Europeans settled Australia Freshwater Beach was known by Aborigines who no doubt used the freshwater creek which flowed onto the beach, and after which the beach is named. Less than three months after Europeans arrived in Sydney Governor Arthur Phillip led an expedition around Manly and towards Freshwater but he is, perhaps, not the most famous man to grace the shores of the beach. This honour may well go to Duke Kahanamoku who popularized surfing in Australia. Surfing at Freshwater actually dates to before his visit with the Boomerang Camp, which was established at the beach in the early 1900s, being frequented by many locals and visitors who used the beach for Body Surfing. It was the people of this camp who established the Surf Life Saving Club at the beach in 1908 and it was also this camp where Duke Kahanamoku stayed.
‘The Duke’ was a Hawaiian of international renown and he arrived at Freshwater in the Summer of 1915. During his stay at the Boomerang Camp and Freshwater Beach he created a solid surfboard, crafted from local timbers and it was this which he used in his famous exhibition of surfboard riding. He paddled out on the board and returned to the beach standing tall and riding the wave. What’s more, he then selected a local lady from the crowd, Isabel Letham, who rode tandem with him on his board. She was the first Australian to ride on this type of surfboard in the Australian surf, but it was The Duke who popularised the sport.
This week, with Summer Holidays in swing, the Past Present examines the historic Sydney Luna Park, a favourite holiday destination for Sydneysiders and visitors alike for generations. This image is from either the late 1930s or 1940s and you might recognize some of the structures which are still there today!
During the building of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, the site where Luna Park stands today was taken up by large workshops where parts of the bridge were made and assembled. In 1932, with the bridge complete though, the workshops were demolished and in 1935, only three years later, Luna Park opened. The park was based on the successful fun park of the same name opened in 1903 on Coney Island, New York by Herman Phillips, though it was not the only or even the first park to trade on this original ‘Luna Park’. Melbourne’s Luna Park had opened in 1912 and there were Luna Parks in other countries too.
Luna Park Sydney originally traded using rides which had been relocated from Luna Park Glenelg, in Adelaide. Not only did it use rides from another park though, it used the knowledge gained through the previous parks to ensure immediate success. Throughout the 1930s and World War Two Luna Park continued to attract crowds and in the 1950s and 1960s various new rides were installed, many of which had been seen on trips overseas by David Atkins, who operated the park until 1957 and Ted Hopkins who ran the park until 1969. In the early 1970s the group responsible for the park attempted to redevelop the site without success and investment in the infrastructure and rides was very limited. Then, in 1979 disaster struck with a fatal fire on the Ghost Train resulting in the closure of the park. Over the following years the fun park opened and closed sporadically, but in 2004 Luna Park reopened for good, we hope!
This week, with the Summer holidays in Australia well underway, many Australians will be going away, often in search of sun, surf and sand. Although there are many locations along the coast perfect for searching out this iconic part of Australian summers, Newcastle not only has the famous triad, it is actually surrounded by it.
Newcastles city centre is surrounded by no less than 8 beaches, and it is thought that this image shows Newcastle Beach itself. Newcastle, with its abundance of sand and surf also, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a history of beach culture dating back well over a century. Even in the convict era, an historic ocean bath, the Bogey Hole was carved from the rock to allow Commandant Morisset to enjoy the sea. In the 20th century, the famous Newcastle Ocean Baths with their stunning art deco pavilion, were built and records suggest the baths were unofficially used as early as 1912, a whole decade before they were officially opened. Yet many wanted to enjoy the beach itself, and a thriving beach culture grew up around the many spectacular beaches. As the image above shows though, swimming was not the only pastime enjoyed at the beach – many came to see and be seen and long dresses and full suits were a common sight.
Despite the rain, we have had a lot of warm weather recently in Sydney and in the heat Sydneysiders head for the many beaches around the city. Bathing has long been a popular pastime in Sydney and Balmoral, which is pictured in the postcard above, has long been a popular destination for Sydney bathers.
Balmoral in the inner harbour has been part of Sydney’s European history since just a few days after the First Fleet arrived in Sydney, and in 1860 a pleasure ground (Balmoral Gardens) was even constructed in the area, but it was not until 1878 that the beach itself was created as a public reserve. Balmoral, with its surf-less beaches (Edwards and Balmoral Beaches are separated by Rocky Point), rolling sand dunes and natural beauty attracted crowds of Sydney residents for picnics and of course bathing but for many years the beaches were difficult to access limiting the success of the area. In the 1880s and into the 1900s access was by ferry to Mosman Bay and thence by foot but in 1905 daily excursion steamers left from Circular Quay for the Spit, stopping at Balmoral along the way.
It was the passing of daylight bathing legislation in 1903 which really encouraged the popularity of the area though and soon a number of bathing facilities and clubs were being established. In 1899 Balmoral Baths had been constructed and they were leased to Robert Shearer (hence they became known as Shearer’s Baths) and 1914 Balmoral Beach Club was founded by a group of Mosman residents who called themselves the Smugglers. They used two old tram carriages as changing rooms and purchased land for a timber club house. They had grand plans to provide first aid, protection and even purchase a patrol boat, though many of these were never realised and essentially the club was a recreational swimming and social organisation.
To find out more about the history of Balmoral, come back next week.