The image above is a stunning glimpse into the history of a place which, for many Sydneysiders and visitors alike, is very familiar – Millers Point. Yet the image above is stunningly different to the Millers Point we are familiar with today. Today, Millers Point is an historic area of Sydney with many cultural attractions and cafes, yet once it was at the heart of Sydney’s working harbour, bustling with a different type of activity entirely.
Until the 1830s, Millers Point was a reasonably deserted part of the new colony, with very few people settling in the area, despite it being close to the centre of the settlement. In the 1820s there was a military hospital and three windmills in the area (hence Millers point – named after Jack the Miller) but only half a dozen houses in the entire area. By the 1830s though, the deep water of Millers Point and its close situation to Dawes Point, were attracting more people to the area. Soon, a thriving if smelly industry focussing on whaling and sealing began to be established. By the 1840s, there were more workers cottages scattered through Millers Point and even the occasional wharf owners grand home was built.
It was in the 1850s that the maritime trade in the area really began to take off though, and by the 1860s there were even several large warehouses built on the waterfront. Yet the wharves were crowded and unsanitary, especially after the depression of the 1890s, and they made a perfect home for rats. In 1900 the bubonic plague came to Millers Point and in the wake of the disease, the area was resumed by the government and a major redevelopment began. The first, and most important part of the redevelopment was the building of new wharves and the associated docks and warehouses which were associated with a thriving maritime industry.
Sydney Harbour Bridge from Farm Cove – Botanic Gardens (Photographer Unknown)
The image above is an iconic view of Sydney, familiar not just to Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney, but worldwide. Indeed, The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an icon of Sydney, representing the harbour city around the world and showcasing the beautiful harbour to millions of people. Yet the bridge is not just a stunning structure, it has an amazing history.
Although today many think of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as simply an icon of Sydney, at the time that the bridge opened in 1932 it was icon of a whole different sort – an engineering marvel in itself. Yet the history of the bridge dates back well over a century before and the original bridge envisaged was a very different structure. In the early days of the colony, the famous convict architect Francis Greenway spoke with Governor Macquarie, suggesting a bridge be built in roughly the same place where the Sydney Harbour Bridge stands today. Of course, Greenways lofty dream didn’t come to pass, but by 1901, when Federation of the Australian States and Territories occurred, the need for a bridge across the harbour was well recognised. The year before, in 1900, the government called for people to submit designs for just such a bridge but all the designs were unsatisfactory, so the plans were again put aside.
In the wake of World War One though a real quest for a bridge spanning the harbour began. In 1923 Dr J.J.C Bradfield oversaw tenders for either an arch or cantilever bridge. Eventually, Bradfield would go on to oversee the entire design and building process of the now iconic bridge. The tender itself was won by a company from England, Dorman Long and Co. Ltd. They submitted a design by Sir Ralph Freeman for an arch bridge, and construction on the bridge began in 1924. Hundreds of families were displaced during the construction as entire streets of homes and businesses were resumed and demolished, without compensation, to make way for the now iconic bridge.
The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the history of a street which so many of us, Sydneysiders and visitors alike, are familiar with – Oxford Street. Today known as a cultural hub and for its restaurants and shopping, Oxford Street has a fascinating history. As we discovered last week, it was in fact Australia’s oldest highway!
As so often happens, as time wore on, and more people began to move about Sydney, Oxford Street became too narrow to service the traffic which used it. In 1907, the first stage of widening the important roadway was completed. This first stage was aimed at improving the intersection of Bourke, Flinders and Oxford Streets, and resulted in the creation of Taylor Square, so named in 1908. Between 1910 and 1914 Oxford Streets northern end, between Liverpool and Bourke Streets, was also widened.
In the 1920s, Oxford Street was again a prosperous and well patronised high street. Then, the Great Depression Hit and the once famous and prosperous street began its slide into disrepute. People no longer wanted to live in terraced houses, and so the character of the street changed as the affluent population moved into the suburbs where they were able to do so, and poorer people moved into the old houses. In the 1950s, the street became a haven for migrants and in the 1960s more professionals began to move back into the area.
It was also in the 1960s that a gay presence truly began to emerge in the area, and Oxford Streets culture began to change. In 1978 the first Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade was held, and although it was followed by confrontations with police, cemented Oxford Streets central role in Sydney Gay and Lesbian Culture.
Looking south at Manly toward Cabbage Tree Bay from main business Street. Norfolk Island Pines
The image above is an stunning view of one of Sydney’s most iconic beaches – Manly. Manly has long been a popular destination, not just in summer, when the cool water invites swimmers, but in other seasons, when the stunning scenery comes to the fore. The image above, which was taken in circa 1936 by an unknown photographer, particularly highlights a feature of Manly which has become almost iconic – the Norfolk Island Pines.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Manly emerged as one of Australia’s most popular seaside destinations, and became an iconic seaside resort in itself. Little wonder then that attention quickly turned to beautifying the foreshore. The first efforts towards beautifying Manly’s foreshore came in 1877, when a committee was established to oversee the process. This committee was made up of some of the local Aldermen, and also the then Mayor, showing how important they felt the process was to be. The committee even sought advice from the Sydney Botanic Gardens and their director Mr Moore. Moore suggested the committee plant trees in the area, particularly suggesting Norfolk Island Pines, Moreton Bay Figs and Monteray Pines. One might assume that the trees on the foreshore were planted at this time, but these first trees were actually mainly confined to The Corso, with just two Norfolk Island Pines planted on the foreshore itself.
Over the coming years, many more trees were planted in Manly, particularly the Norfolk Island Pines which became so strongly associated with the area. According to local legend Henry Gilbert Smith was mainly responsible for planting the trees, but others suggest it was Mr R. M. Pitt and Mr Charles Hayes who were mainly responsible. Whatever the case, hundreds of trees flourished in Manly right up until the 1960s, when nearly half of the trees were damaged or killed completely by pollution. The dead pines were removed, with a crowd gathering to watch the process and the trunks were even cut into pieces to give to the onlookers. Soon enough, new pines were planted to replace those which were lost and today the trees stand as an iconic part of Manly’s beautiful foreshore and history.
The image above is a stunning glimpse of the history of one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Today, the harbour bridge bustles with cars, trains, pedestrians and bikes, yet once, trams were a vital part of the thrum of activity. In fact trams were once at the heart of Sydney’s transport! With construction underway on new tram tracks in Sydney, and now Parramatta, it seemed the perfect time to explore the history of trams in Sydney.
Sydney once had an enormous network of trams, which we now hear more often described as ‘light rail’. In fact, the Sydney tram system was, at its height, the largest network of trams in Australia and one of the biggest in the whole world! Sydneys first trams were horse drawn, being a vital transport link between Sydney Railway station and Circular Quay. Yet this first track closed after a public campaign in 1866, because the track itself stood above the road and caused accidents.
By 1879 though, trams were back and seemingly here to stay. A steam tram system was growing up in Sydney and it rapidly expanded, covering first much of the city and then extending to closer suburbs around Sydney. Electrification of the lines began in 1898 and most lines were fully electric by 1910. At their height, the tram lines travelled to places as varied as Watsons Bay, Manly, Balmoral, Chatswood, The Spit and, as the postcard shows, across the Harbour Bridge.
The system began a gradual decline in the 1930s and the last of the original Sydney tram services ceased in 1961, with the last route to close being that to La Perouse.
The image above is a beautiful scene which at first glimpse simply captures a pleasant day out and about on the water, yet the setting for this relaxing day is one of the many magnificent feats of engineering which are to be found in our stunning national parks. Burrinjuck Dam, or Barren Jack Weir as it was once known, and as it is described on the postcard above, is just one of these.
Burrinjuck Dam is a dam on the Murrumbidgee River, and is about 60 kilometres from Yass. Today, the dam is marketed as a popular area for bushwalking, camping and water sports, a tourist attraction in itself, yet in 1906, when construction of the Dam began, the scheme was created for an extremely different audience. The dam was the first in NSW to be built specifically to provide water for irrigation of farms, and provided water to the government sponsored Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme. The scheme allowed the Murrumbidgee Valley to develop as a thriving agricultural centre, producing everything from fruit to rice. At the time when the dam was built, it was the fourth largest dam in the world. In 1911 the name Barren Jack, which the dam was originally known as, was changed to Burrinjuck, an Aboriginal word used for the area. Due to interruptions caused to construction by World War 1, the dam was not completed until 1928, but even before completion, there had been two major floods which proved the viability of the scheme.
Today, between Burrinjuck and Blowering Dams (the latter of which is near Tumut), the Murrumbidge is able to provide for the irrigation needs of the Murrumbidgee Valley and the area is responsible for providing NSW with a huge proportion of our fruit, vegetables and rice.
Liverpool St. looking east from Riley St showing old English apartment units and small businesses. Belford knitting mills half way up slope.
The image above, showing Liverpool Street in Sydney, and highlighting the Belford knitting mills, s a stunning glimpse into the history of industrial Sydney. Today, Sydney is a very different city to what it once was, with almost all signs of industry having disappeared. Yet once, Sydney was a thriving industrial city, complete with wool and knitting mills – an industry which many may more readily associate with England in the Industrial Revolution.
For many decades, Australia had been seen as the country which rode on the sheeps back, yet almost all of our wool was sent overseas unprocessed for spinning and to be made into textiles. Although there were some very small woollen mills, even dating to as early as 1801 when female convicts at Parramatta jail began to make woollen blankets, bulk of Australian wool was bound for overseas mills, and then cloth had to be imported into the colony. In fact in 1904 only four percent of Australian wool was processed in Australia.
In the early 1900s though there was a growing interest in Australia processing a greater proportion of our own wool. By 1909, nine percent of Australian wool was being processed in Australia in a growing number of woollen mills, spinning mills and knitting mills. Over the coming years, as the mills proliferated, the amount of wool being locally processed grew, and the first world war, with its requirements for Australian soldiers uniforms was a further boost to the industry. By 1920 there were over 1000 textile related mills in NSW, contributing to all of the different phases of processing wool, and later, cotton. Belford Mills, in the image above, is just one of these mills.
The image above, of the ‘New Railway Station’ is an amazing snapshot into the very beginnings of a station which so many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are familiar with – Central Station. Today, Central Station is such a vital link in the Sydney train system that we little think of how it began, or what came before.
Central Station is today the busiest station in NSW and the major terminus station for many services. Yet the foundation stone for the station was not laid until 1902, and the station itself did not open until 1906. Before this, there was another terminus station, in an entirely different place – Redfern. The Redfern Station, known as Sydney Station, opened in 1855 as what could best be described as a tin shed. In 1874 a new, more permanent station built of brick and stone was opened, on the same site. As Sydney grew though, a bigger station was needed to service the growing train network.
The plans for the new station, on the north side of Devonshire Street, were approved by Parliament in December 1900, but construction could not begin until the area was resumed. This included moving the remains and headstones from the Devonshire Street Cemetery, which cost over £27,000. Construction on the station itself began in 1902, with the foundation stone for the iconic Clock Tower being laid a year later. In 1906 a gold key was turned in the booking office by Premier Carruthers, and this officially opened the station, with the first train service, the Western Mail train, running through the station at 5:50am. In 1914 platforms 16 to 19 were added, and construction continued throughout the First World War. In 1921 the Clocktower began operation at 10:22am on March 3rd, and the two additional floors of offices were opened.
The image above is an idyllic view to serenade the end of the warm weather. If you look closely, you can just make out a group of figures, exploring the rocky foreshore. Yet, although Neilson Park remains popular with Sydneysiders and visitors alike, Steele Point itself is today much less well known.
Steele Point is today a seemingly little known area of Neilson Park, yet it has an important and fascinating history. Neilson Park was previously part of the Wentworth Estate, known as the Vaucluse Estate. Neilson Park officially became a public park in 1910 when the NSW State Government took over more than 20 acres of the Vaucluse Estate. Yet Steele Point itself was taken over by the Government much earlier.
In the early 1870s a costal fortification was constructed at Steele Point, the Steele Point Battery. It was built of sandstone and was at least half below the ground, with the material excavated in digging the rooms, tunnels and gun pits then mounded up around the emplacements to hide them from the view of those on the harbour itself. The Steele Point Battery was an important link in the chain of coastal fortifications built in the 19th century around Sydney Harbour to protect the settlement from seaborne attack.
Today, as so many of us move around the city, following overpasses, and taking tunnels, we little think about the hardships of times gone by, not just for those traversing the city, but for those building some of our iconic roads. The Argyle Cut is the major road link connecting Darling Harbour and Sydney Cove. Today, many of us pass through this amazing, short tunnel, but few of us spare a thought to the great amount of time, expense and risk which went into building it.
Argyle Street has, in some form, existed for more than two centuries. The road was officially built in 1810, leading from George Street towards Millers Point, but it came to an abrupt halt at a sheer rock face. A set of stairs was carved into the rock face at this point, which people could use to reach Cumberland Street and from there reach Millers Point and Darling Harbour, but they had to do it on foot. As a result it was impossible to move carts, vehicles and cargo directly between Sydney Cove and Darling Harbour.
Yet both Darling Harbour (then Darling Island) and Sydney Cove were major hubs of activity, and a more efficient way of moving between the two soon became a priority. A plan for the Argyle Cut was drawn up by Edward Hallen in 1832 and work began in 1843. The initial work was completed by convicts in chain gangs, under overseer Tim Lane, who was renowned for his cruelty and love of flogging. Yet transportation of Convicts to NSW had officially ceased in 1840, and residents were unhappy with seeing convicts working in full chains, no matter how important the work they were completing. Work on the Argyle Cut was eventually abandoned by the government, only to be recommenced with paid labour and gunpowder by the Sydney Municipal Council. Work on the Argyle Cut was completed in 1859.