McMahon’s Point


The image above is a beautiful snapshot, capturing a moment in time at one of Sydney’s historic suburbs. McMahon’s Point is today a popular harbour side suburb, it’s streets lined with the exclusive, luxurious and expensive homes of the well to do.

This was no always the case though. Once, McMahon’s Point was, like so many suburbs of Sydney, home to the working classes, who lived and worked in the harbour side suburb. In the early 1800s, the area which would become known as McMahon’s Point was home to boatbuilding yards, ferry wharves and of course the many workers cottages of those who kept this industrial suburb buzzing with activity.

It was not until the later 1800s that the suburb became known as McMahon’s Point, named in honour of Michael McMahon. McMahon moved into the area in the 1860s, and building not only a family home, but a successful business. He was a brush and comb maker, and his work was so outstanding that he was granted a government contract and even won a bronze medal at the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1867 in Victoria. Yet McMahon was not just important as a businessman. He was also a politician, who proclaimed the rights of those living on the northern shore of the harbour to fresh water, and reliable transport. He was a fierce defender of the rights of his constituents, and served not just as Mayor but also an Alderman of the incorporated Borough of Victoria, of which McMahon’s Point was part.

Sirius Cove Part 2 – Curlew Artists Camp

The image above is a stunning snapshot of a beautiful bushland area in Sydney. Sirius Cove, and Little Sirius Cove which is pictured above, remain beautiful waterfront locations in Sydney, though perhaps a little less undisturbed and forested than they once were. Yet even more fascinating than their beautiful character is the history which pervades Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove.

One of the most famous episodes in the history of Sirius Cove was the artists camp established on the shores of the harbour in 1890. The camp, which was actually located in Little Sirius Cove (pictured above) was established by Reuben Brasch, who was a wealthy Sydney identity. He manufactured clothes and also owned a department store in Sydney, but on weekends he and his brothers used the camp which he had established as a peaceful getaway.

Soon enough though the camp and its beautiful surrounds also began to attract the creme de la creme of the Australian art scene. In 1891 Arthur Streeton moved into the camp, having moved to Sydney from Melbourne. It was not long after this that Tom Roberts joined him at the camp. The pair offered art classes in a Sydney studio as a way to supplement their income and pay their way, but as plein air painters, camp life was ideally suited to them. The rent for staying in the camp was low, but the camp was well organised and comfortable, with a dining tent, dance floor and even a piano. Other artists also visited the camp for varying lengths of time, including Julian Ashton and Henry Fullwood and for a time the camp was a popular place for musicians too. Then, after 1900 most of the artists moved on and the camp became popular with those interested in outdoor life and water sports. In 1912 the camp closed for good, with Taronga Park Zoo soon after moving to the ridge above the site.

Musgrave Street Wharf

Musgrave Street Wharf Mosmans Bay Front

Sydney Harbour is, as many say, the jewel of Sydney. It is a beautiful harbour, which today is easily crossed and navigated, but this was not always the case. Before the Harbour Bridge, and indeed before any bridge at all, ferries were needed to cross the beautiful expanse of water. Today, ferries continue to ply the harbour, with many ferry wharves having a surprisingly long history. Musgrave Street Wharf is just one of these.

Musgrave Street Wharf has a surprising history, which many may not expect. Today, the wharf serves South Mosman, but over time, some extremely important and famous Australians have used this seemingly typical wharf. In the late 19th century, an artists camp was established on the eastern short of Little Sirius Cove in Mosman. The camp, known as Curlew Camp, was used by several extremely important Australian artists, including Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts. Julian Ashton also occasionally visited, though he was not a permanent resident. Not only were the artists associated with the camp famous, some of their most famous paintings were painted while they were resident at the camp. After the artists had moved on, the camp continued to be popular, though now more with those interested in sailing and sport. During this time, another famous Australian, Frederick Lane who was a gold medal winning Olympic swimmer, became proprietor of the camp. The question is, how did those using the camp access the city, where several of the residents worked or sold their works. This is where Musgrave Street Wharf comes in – the camp was but a short walk from the ferry wharf, and this is how the residents came and went.

Burn Statue in The Domain

Burns Statue

This week, with Tartan Day being just around the corner (July 1), it seemed like the perfect time to examine the Burns Statue in the Domain. This statue is just one of the many statues which are to be found in and around Sydney’s beautiful Botanic Gardens and Domain.

So why, and how exactly one might wonder, did Sydney come to have such a grand statue of a Scottish poet? Sydney has, since colonisation began, had a strong community of Scottish people, and in the late 1800s a group of these Scots came together to raise funds for a statue of the iconic poet, Robert Burns. They pledged to eat Haggis each year on January 25, and collect funds for the rest of the year to make the statue a reality. In 1898 though, the group decided they needed to enlist the Highland Society of New South Wales. They handed the accepted funds (over 55 pounds) to the society, and the society took up the cause. So loved was Robert Burns by the Scottish Australians that a Mr Muir even published a brochure called “An Australian Appreciation Of Robert Burns” to further support the cause. Finally, after years of effort and fundraising, in 1905 the statue was completed, and unveiled to a crowd of thousands in late January.

The statue itself was the work of London sculptor F. W. Pomeroy, who masterfully created the statue which shows Burns leaning on a plough and wearing clothing which is much the same as that seen in portraits of the poet. The poet is holding a pencil and note pad, posed to compose a new work and over his shoulder falls a length of Scottish plaid. The plaid cascades down the poets back, across the plough and partially hides a Scottish thistle, the symbol of Scotland, and an aspect of the statue many are likely to miss.

Captain Cooks Landing Place Obelisk

Landing Place Captain Cook Kurnell Botany BayNear Sydney Front

With Australia Day very nearly upon us, this image of Captain Cooks Landing Place, from a postcard dated to 1906, seems an appropriate choice. Many Sydney residents and visitors are familiar with the monument, and most know of the event it commemorates, but the history of the actual monument, and others at the site is much less well known.

Captain Cook arrived in Botany Bay in 1770, and his visit was the very start of the process which led to European settlement in Australia. Although we now know he was not the first European to sight our shores, his visit is an important moment in the history of Australia and has, as a result, been commemorated on the shores of Botany Bay where the landing occurred. The grand sandstone obelisk which features in this postcard was completed in 1870, the centenary year of Captain Cooks actual visit and commemorates that important event. Another plaque was affixed to the obelisk in 1970, and this was done in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, who was visiting Australia at the time. This plaque commemorates the passing of 200 years since Captain Cook and his crew visited the area. This monument has become an important part of our history, and many visit it to remember the ‘discovery’ which led to European settlement.

Captain Cook did not, of course, make the journey to the Great Southern Land alone (or even on purpose, though that is another story!) and there are several other monuments scattered around the area where the landing occurred. Other monuments celebrate Dr Solander, Joseph Banks and Forby Sutherland (the latter being the first British subject to die in Australia).

Surfing In Australia – Freshwater Beach

Freshwater Beach Near Manly Front copy

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.

 

 

Not Quite So Wonderful – Wonderland City Tamarama

Tamarama Beach (Wonderland City) Front
Tamarama Beach, which is beautifully captured in the image above, is a picturesque Sydney beach. Although only small, it has plenty of sand for picnicking, but it is also one of Sydney’s most dangerous patrolled beaches.
Despite the dangers of the beach, swimming has long been a popular pastime at Tamarama. In fact, beach access, or the lack thereof, is one of the reasons why Wonderland City, the famous amusement park which once stood in the area is long gone. When William Anderson leased the land where Wonderland City was to be built, the beach was not included. According to his lease, a 12 foot public access path to the beach was excluded from his land yet that did not stop him building an 8 foot fence across the access. He claimed people were evading paying the entry fee to Wonderland City by entering from the beach, but blocking this access was an unpopular move. Some swimmers who wished to use the beach were well known local businessmen of the time and they were incensed at having their beach fenced. A battle soon ensued between Anderson and the swimmers. They would cut the wire of his fence, Anderson would repair it and call the police and the police would issue the swimmers a warning. The next weekend this would all happen again.
Eventually the swimmers took a deputation to NSW Parliament and in March 1907 an order was issued to resume the 12 foot strip of land, providing free access to the beach. The conflict may have been over, but the bad publicity which it had provided was extremely damaging for the amusement park. Combined with concerns over safety standards and the treatment of Anderson’s animals, the public view of Wonderland City began to sour and visitor numbers dropped. Anderson attempted to bring back the visitors with increasingly famous acts and public exhibitions, but when the amusement park closed in 1910 it was said that he had lost up to 15000 pounds.