South Head And The Hornby Lighthouse

South Head Sydney with lighthouse front

The image above is a stunning glimpse across the water and towards South Head and its cheerfully painted lighthouse, a place which holds an important place in the history of Sydney, and the colony of NSW. Yet for many Sydneysiders, the lighthouse is simply a picturesque attraction.

The Hornby Lighthouse at South Head was constructed in 1858, but the story of the lighthouse itself begins a year earlier. In 1857, two ship wrecks caused a tragic loss of life for people travelling to Sydney Harbour. The first wreck, that of the Dunbar, occurred in August just off South Head and resulted in the loss of over 100 lives. Then, just two months later, the Catherine Adamson was lost, this time off North Head, resulting in the loss of twenty one lives. The public recognised that the entrance to Sydney Harbour, although seemingly a good, broad entrance, was a dangerous one. Ships could easily miss it, or mistake other rock formations as the entrance, resulting in terrible loss of life. Thus the public quickly began to agitate for a lighthouse which would denote the actual entrance to the harbour, eliminating a great deal of the danger involved in sailing to Sydney.

The Hornby Lighthouse is quite a small lighthouse, built on the extreme point of Inner South Head. It was constructed in 1858 and opened by Sir William Denison, the then Governor of NSW and named after the family of his wife, the Hornby Family. The light was usually known by the alternative name though, the Lower Light, which was used to distinguish it from the Macquarie Lighthouse, which was not far away along South Head Road. The Hornby lighthouse, which has long been recognised by its cheerful red and white painted exterior was designed by the Colonel architect, Alexander Dawson, and is actually built of beautifully dressed, curved sandstone blocks. The light itself stands 9 metres above the ground level.

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Macquarie Place Park

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View west along Bridge Street from Loftus showing bit of Macquarie Square from which city grew. Large fig tree at right

The image above captures a part of Sydney which is vital to European history, and to the story of Sydney as a city. It is a beautiful snapshot showing what, to some, is the heart of our stunning harbour city, yet it is also a place which many Sydneysiders and visitors have probably never visited – Macquarie Place Park.

Macquarie Place Park is, as the description of the photo itself suggests, on the corner of Bridge and Loftus Streets in the heart of Sydney. It is named for Macquarie Place, a street which once ran between the Tank Stream Bridge and Kings Wharf, and which is today incorporated into the park itself. The park is a green oasis amongst the bustle of city life, and has always been a rare open space in the busy city, even from the days when the city was just barely beginning.

Macquarie Place Park is a triangular shape, and once it was surrounded by the homes and residences not only of the Governor himself, but the civil officers of the colony (including the Judge Advocate, Chaplain and Surveyor). Other buildings surrounding the open space were store buildings and the homes of the most important merchants in the fledgling colony. In these early years the open space was simply left open by chance – nobody had occupied it, though some parts of the land were leased by Sydney residents and personalities. Yet in 1818 the park was formalised by Governor Macquarie as a public space, with the erection of the famous obelisk which measures distances in the colony. Just a year later a sandstone fountain was built.

The obelisk is just one of many historic structures and statues which remain in the park, though it is no longer the central feature. Once the obelisk was at the centre of the park, but when Circular Quay was built between 1839 and 1847, several streets had to be extended, and this took up areas which had been previously reserved. Today the obelisk stands at the edge of the park.

Sirius Cove – Part 1

The image above is a beautiful, peaceful glimpse into the history of one of Australia’s significant cultural sites. Sirius Cove, and the nearby Little Sirius Cove, are significant areas to Sydney’s history, and the greater history of Australia in general. Yet so many who visit the area have no idea of the extent of history contained in these beautiful foreshore areas.

Before European colonisation of Australia, the protected and beautiful foreshore areas of Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove were the traditional lands of the Borogegal People. The most famous of these Borogegal People was Bungaree, who grew up in the traditional lands of his people and would have been very familiar with Sirius Cove.

Yet it wasn’t long after European colonisation that European history began to be linked to the beautiful Sirius Cove. In fact, the name of the cove itself reflects its first role in European history. In 1789, just a year after European colonisation, HMS Sirius was careened at Sirius Cove. Sirius Cove was perfect for careening (or learning away barnacles etc from the ships hull) as it was a convenient cove, and relatively sheltered. The ship, which was the flagship of the First Fleet, was wrecked less than six months later.

Of course, the most famous episode in the history of Sirius Cove is the artists camp which was established in 1890 at Little Sirius Cove. Come back next week to find out about the history of Curlew Camp.

Woolloomooloo Part 3

Woolloomooloo Bay Sydney 2 Front

The image above shows a glimpse of a Woolloomooloo which is today long gone. The once working wharves are now trendy housing, shops and restaurants, and the plethora of pubs, brothels and squalid homes have disappeared. Once again, Woolloomooloo has transformed into a rather gentrified and popular area for Sydney’s well to do, just as it began life. Yet this very nearly wasn’t the case.

By the mid 20th century, Woolloomooloo’s reputation had been seemingly irrevocably damaged. There was not enough work, houses were overcrowded with a combination of large families and boarders who helped family finances. Homes were badly in need of repair, but most landlords did nothing. Sly grog, drug dealers and criminal gangs were common. It was assumed, by all but those who lived there, that eventually Woolloomooloo would be nothing more than an extension of the commercial heart of the city. Planners and developers had long had plans for the area, and in 1955 the first battle arrived. A car business which owned the old Colonial building, St Kilda, which stood on Cathedral Street, applied to demolish it. There were numerous court battles, and some very shady activities to make St Kilda, which had been transformed into flats, unlivable. Eventually though, St Kilda was demolished to make way for a car park.

In 1967, more major plans were afoot as the State Planning Authority revealed plans to replace Woolloomooloo with high rise buildings. It was assumed by many, even people who were vocal defendants of other areas of the city, like Ruth Park, that Woolloomooloo was too far gone to save. Yet they were wrong. By 1971, Sidney Londish had bought up huge areas of Woolloomooloo and proposed a new development of city tower blocks – none of them residential. The public fiercely protested the plan, but in 1973 council approval was given. Yet it was this proposed development which helped to galvanise the public against the redevelopment of Woolloomooloo. In 1972 the Woolloomooloo Resident Action Group was formed and turned random anger into organised resistance to new development. Then, by the end of 1972 the Whitlam Government, with its election promise to save Woolloomooloo, came to power. The state government was reluctant, but a combination of Green Bans, public opposition and pressure from the Whitlam Government was taking its toll.

In June 1975 an agreement was made at all levels of Government to keep land for public housing and traditional homes for the families who worked in the inner city. Old homes were restored and new homes, which replaced those which were too far gone to save, were built in sympathetic styles. Streets were closed, landscaping and new ammenities were added, transforming Woolloomooloo from a squalid residential area into something which was once again much more gentrified. By the 1980s the finger wharf was in disrepair, and completely unused and although there were again plans for demolition, public sentiment won and eventually the wharves became an expensive residential redevelopment. Today, the juxtaposition of expensive apartment homes and public housing is still common in Woolloomooloo.

Woolloomooloo Part 2

Woolloomooloo Bay Sydney looking into city Front

The image above provides a very different view of Woolloomooloo, which as we discovered last week, was once (and is again today) an affluent and gentrified area of Sydney. Under Governor Darling, the area had become one where the well to do lived and tended grand houses and gardens, but this wasn’t to last.

Even whilst the more grandiose houses were still being built, lowly workers cottages began to appear on the swampy areas of the Woolloomooloo Valley. By the 1850s, less than 30 years after Governor Darling transformed the area into a fashionable and well to do place, Woolloomooloo was in the throws of more change. The swamp areas had been drained and an increasing number of homes were being built for the growing working class who worked in the various maritime industries along the water front. The grand Woolloomooloo House was demolished and replaced by smaller houses while other grand estate houses were being altered to become boarding houses. Then, in 1866 the wharves were extensively expanded requiring ever more workers in the area. Pubs, brothels and of course ever more dwellings appeared, crowding the once grand Woolloomooloo area. In 1855 the Plunkett Street School was opened to cater for the growing number of working class children in the area.

Then, in 1876, authorities conducted a survey of the worst housing in Sydney. They had not planned to spend much time in Woolloomooloo, and were surprised by what they found – a proliferation of unsanitary and dilapidated houses in the area, inhabited by maritime workers and their families. By the late 1800s, any semblance of gentrification had gone from Woolloomooloo and the reputation of the area was one of squalid housing, rough working class families, and criminals, many of whom were part of the Plunkett Street Push.

The General Post Office

The image above is a wonderful snapshot of a building which, today, is undergoing a controversial chapter. The General Post Office, or GPO, is a well known and important land mark in Sydney, both geographically and historically. Today, it is the subject of controversy with moves to sell the beautiful historic building to the Chinese are disclosed. Yet beyond the current controversy is an amazing history which often Sydneysiders are unaware of.

The first regular postal service in Australia started in 1809 when former convict Isaac Nichols was given the position of postmaster. This was a position which he kept up until his death 10 years later. Nichols lived in George Street and his home was used as the post office throughout his time as postmaster. Then, in 1825 the Legislative Council introduced the Postal Act of 1825, which then regulated the postal service and allowed postmasters to be appointed not just in Sydney but throughout the colony. Three years later a regular postal delivery service began to operate with letters and parcels delivered throughout the colony on horseback.

The introduction of the Postal Act also paved the way for the construction of a General Post Office. By the 1830s, a former police station which stood where the GPO stands today was in use as a post office. Even in the 1830s, it was an important meeting place and important building, so in the late 1840s a new, grand portico was added, complete with Doric Columns. Yet as the population of Sydney and the colony more generally grew, so too did the demand for an improved postal service. By the 1850s and 1860s the old post office was becoming cramped and difficult to function from and staff often complained of overcrowding. Eventually, it was decided that a new post office would be built, on the same site. James Barnet was appointed as the architect for the new building in 1862 and the old post office was demolished a year later. The new GPO, and the one we are familiar with today, was built between 1866 and 1892. The main part of the building was completed in 1889 with the grand clock tower finished two years later.

The Spit Middle Harbour

The Spit Middle Harbour Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse into the history of place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike will be familiar with – The Spit in Middle Harbour. Today, The Spit is often associated with traffic jams and frustration, yet the crossing over Middle Harbour may once have been slower still, when ferries plied the route, instead of a bridge.

The area around The Spit, which was itself originally known as the Sand-Spit, was first settled in 1846, when John Burton purchased 30 acres at Seaforth. Peter Ellery soon followed when in 1849 he began to farm land also in the Seaforth area, opposite The Spit itself. He formally purchased the land in 1855. Often people would request Ellery to take them across Middle Harbour and so in the early 1850s, he began a ferry service, using a row boat. In 1862 though, a road to The Spit was built, and more passengers for his ferry began to arrive. Soon he changed to using a hand operated punt.

In 1871 though, the government of the day took over the ferry service, introducing a steam punt which was operated and manned by Public Works Department employees. These employees were vital to the crossing of the harbour, and to ensure that they were close by, stone cottages were constructed on the Mosman side of the Spit (the direction from which the postcard above is looking) and given to the employees and their families. It appears that you can see two of these cottages in the left foreground of the postcard. The ferry service continued to be the only crossing of Middle Harbour until the first Spit Bridge was opened in 1824.