Captain Cook Memorial Hyde Park

Captain Cooks Memorial Hyde Park Front

With Australia Day upon us, and many people either celebrating or commiserating the colonisation of Australia by Europeans, it seemed the ideal time to share the image above. Captain Cook, who is commemorated by the statue shown above, was one of those responsible for the British claiming Australia and for the eventual colonisation. Yet he was far from the first to discover Australia, as the statue claims.

In 1770, Captain James Cook, accompanied by his crew and Dr Solander and Joseph Banks, sailed into Botany Bay on board his ship, The Endeavour. For many years, this visit was lauded as the ‘discovery of Australia’, and indeed the statue in the image above does just this, and has recently become somewhat controversial as a result. Yet, although Captain Cooks visit was the first step towards European colonisation, he did not discover Australia.

The discovery of Australia is actually a long and somewhat convoluted story. Of course, the Aboriginal People of Australia should be credited with the discovery, as they inhabited this land long before any subsequent discoveries took place. Yet Captain Cook was not even the first European to discover Australia! There are some who suggest that as early as the 1500s, the Portuguese had sighted, and perhaps even set foot on Australian soil. They point to early maps which hint at Australia as evidence. Whether this is true or not, by the early 1600s the Dutch had certainly located Australia.

The Dutch East India Company was formed in 1602 and was soon doing extensive trade with islands which are now part of Indonesia. In 1606, William Janszoon, on board his ship the Duyfken, made charts of the western coast of Australia, and also made landfall and interacted with Aboriginal people. The same year, a Spanish expedition led by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros explored the area and his deputy Luis Vaez de Torres traversed the Torres Strait and sighted the northern part of Australia. Many more sightings of Australia, and particularly the western coast, were made in the 1600s and into the 1700s. In 1642, Abel Tasman sighted what he named Van Diemens Land, but which we know as Tasmania. In 1644 he returned and charted much of the northern coast of Australia, naming the area New Holland. Then, in 1688, William Dampier, who was searching for the Tryall, a ship which had been wrecked nearly 70 years earlier, became the first Englishman to set foot on the continent of Australia. He careened his ship in the area of King Sound on the west coast.

In the 1700s, more voyages still were made to Australia, and more of the map of the Great Southern Land was filled in. Indeed, by the time Captain Cook arrived in 1770, much of Australia had been charted, and featured on maps! Captain Cook did not discover the Great Southern Land, but did find an area heretofore unexplored and unknown. However, Captain Cook should be remembered for his efforts, for although the claims that he discovered Australia may be false, his voyages (there were more than one) to the Pacific were very significant. He was the first to chart the coastline of Eastern Australia, and did indeed ‘discover’ New South Wales, enabling future European colonisation. He also charted the Great Barrier Reef, ‘discovered’ New Zealand and made more accurate charts of the Pacific than any who had come before him.

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Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Lady Macquarie's Chair Front

This week, with New Year just around the corner, it seemed the perfect time to share this image taken in the vicinity of a prime location for watching fire works. Yet although Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is well known as a tourist destination, many people little spare a thought for the history of this iconic location.

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, which is also sometimes known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, is the site of one of the best vantage points of the harbour. In fact, it is renowned as one of the best views in Sydney. The extraordinary view down the harbour is indeed the reason behind the historic background to the area. In 1810, convict labour was used to carve a solid rock outcrop into a chair for, as the name suggests, Lady Elizabeth Macquarie.

Elizabeth Macquarie was the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the governor of the colony between 1810 and 1821. According to local folklore Lady Macquarie enjoyed watching the busy harbour and the ships coming and going. Reputably, her favourite vantage site was what became known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, and the chair itself was carved to provide her a more comfortable place to watch the goings on of the busy harbour.

Zeynards Midget Circus

Zeynards Marvellous Midget Circus Tiny Town The Big Show Front

The image above is a stunning glimpse into a history of Australian show business. Although today circus troops are limited in number in Australia, once, the circus was not only common, but one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Many worked to bring together a unique troop of performers in order to attract audiences. One such group was, it appears, Zeynards Midget Circus.

The Zeynards Midget Circus and Tiny Town were clearly popular and well known attraction in Australia in the early 1900s, yet there is scant information about the group today. Mr Zeynard, who from another postcard I have discovered appears to have not been a ‘midget’ himself, headed the group which was, at least at the time the photograph above was taken, made up of five women and six men.

Among the performers was Hayati Hassid who was actually marketed as ‘Tom Thumb’ and stood at just 30 inches tall. Hassid was from Turkey originally, spoke eight languages and had travelled extensively, reputedly across four continents. Among the individual acts there was a strong man, contortionist, pony bareback acts, juggling, singing, dancing and more. Many comments however centred on the presentation of the group, who were it seems well dressed, and quite attractive, which was apparently a surprise to many of their audience.

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.