The Sydney Mint

The Mint Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful snapshot of a building which has long been a vital part of Sydney’s history – The Sydney Mint. In fact, this is one of the few images in the Past Present collection to have hardly changed as the past century has gone by! Yet it is also a building many Sydneysiders know little about.

Although today, the building in the image above is known simply as ‘The Mint’, the building was constructed for a very different reason. In 1810, when Governor Macquarie was appointed, he very quickly realised a new hospital was needed as the original portable canvas building was vastly inadequate for the task. Yet the British Government were staunchly refusing to fund any public building works. Macquarie was determined to have a new hospital built for the colony, and came to an arrangement with Alexander Riley, Garnham Blaxcell and D’Arcy Wentworth. He granted them a three year monopoly on the import of rum, and in exchange they were to build the hospital.

When the hospital was completed in 1816 it was made up of three buildings. What is now The Mint was the southern wing, which housed the two assistant surgeons. The northern wing is now Parliament House while the central wing, which actually housed the patients, has long been demolished. The new hospital was not all that Macquarie had hoped for though. Within just a few years the buildings needed massive repairs, and the entire hospital had become known as the Sidney Slaughter House due to rampant dysentery, poor ventilation and overcrowding.

Despite the problems inherent in the building, its excellent location meant that by the 1820s it was actually in demand for other uses. In 1823 the wing now known as The Mint was transformed into a military hospital and in 1842 it became the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary, which provided help to Sydney’s poor. Then, in 1851, gold was discovered in NSW and massive amounts of raw gold began to circulate, putting the colony’s economy out of the hands of the government. In order to regain control, in 1853the colony was granted permission to create a Sydney branch of The Royal Mint. The southern wing of the hospital was chosen as the site for the new Sydney Mint and opened in 1855, the first overseas branch of the London Royal Mint.

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Luna Park Workshops For The Harbour Bridge

Milsons Point possibly showing Luna Park site front

The image above is a stunning and vastly different view of an area of Sydney residents and visitors alike know well. Luna Park is a popular and iconic part of Sydney’s foreshore, yet as this image shows, it was not always so.

In the 1920s, when the Harbour Bridge was under construction, the site now occupied by Luna Park was a very different place. The construction of the enormous and extraordinary bridge required not only a huge amount of man power, but also workshops and railway sidings. The steel required to build the arch and approach spans was mainly imported from England, with just over 20% being imported from Newcastle. The steel was then fabricated into the steel girders and other required parts for the bridge in two workshops. These workshops were located on the site of Luna Park, and can be seen in the image above.

In 1932 when the Harbour Bridge was completed, North Sydney Council invited people to submit tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time, the personalities behind Luna Park at Glenelg in South Australia were looking for a new site for Luna Park to be relocated to.

Come back next week to discover how Luna Park developed.

Neutral Bay

Neutral Bay Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a rather idyllic view of a beautiful suburb of Sydney. Today Neutral Bay is a popular north shore suburb, especially for those who want the best of city life, without being in the city itself. Yet the history of the area reveals a fascinating past which many, even residents of the area, may not know.

Neutral Bay has long played a role in the protection of Sydney, and Australia more generally. Yet unlike other areas of Australian coastline involved in defence, there are no fortifications to be found. Neutral Bay was a very special place, a place which, as the name suggests, acted as a ‘neutral harbour’.

Just a year after European colonisation of Australia, in 1789, Governor Phillip decreed that the deep water bay would be the place of anchor for all non-British, ‘neutral’ ships visiting Sydney. The idea of Neutral Bay was to allow ships, particularly those of British allies, to visit Sydney, and more importantly, replenish their stores of fresh water from a nearby creek (paying, of course, for the privilege). Yet the location for the neutral harbour was very carefully selected – too far from the colony for convicts to easily ‘jump ship’ or for unknown enemies to gain a strong foothold in the colony’s heart.

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.

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.