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.

Sussex Street

The image above is an extraordinary glimpse into the past of a street which is familiar to so many of us Sydneysiders – Sussex Street. Being one of the major streets in the CBD of Sydney, it is a street which sees hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles every day, yet the vehicles it sees today are vastly different to those clogging the street in the postcard image. In fact, Sussex Street today is indeed a vastly different place to that shown in the busy image above.

Sussex Street is, compared to many others in Sydney, quite small running for just 1.7 kilometres between Hickson Road and Hay Street. Yet its relatively short length is crammed with history, and historic buildings. Sussex Street has long been a centre of activity and business in Sydney, just as it continues to be today. The street runs adjacent to Darling Harbour, and as a result many of the buildings along the street were once, and still are, associated with harbour activities. Hotels, Warehouses, Commercial Stores and even the Hunter River Steamship Navigation Company once lined the street, and today their buildings are often preserved by heritage listings.

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.

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 1

The image above is an evocative image which provides a glimpse into the history of an area of Sydney many are familiar with. Today, Woolloomooloo is well known as a trendy and affluent area of Sydney, which visitors and locals alike enjoy visiting to enjoy a touch of history, an excellent view and a meal. Yet Woolloomooloo was once a very different place, with working wharves, and working class residents.

Originally, Woolloomooloo was a valley which had a creek, known as the Yurong Creek, running through it. To get to Woolloomooloo you had to walk along a track around the rim of the valley, and this track later became Woolloomooloo Road (William Street now). Yet when the creek was in flood, the road was impassable, and besides, it was the haunt of thieves who lay in wait for travellers leaving Sydney. The land was so swampy, and flooded so regularly that early settlers didn’t want to take up grants in the area. It was good land for farming though and in 1793 John Palmer took up a grant, built a house and successfully began to farm the land – even growing tobacco! The name of Palmers home was Woollamoola House, which eventually became the basis for the name of the whole area – Woolloomooloo.

In 1822 Palmer sold his grant to Edward Riley, and by 1826 Governor Darling had decided that the area East of the town, including what was then known as Woolloomooloo Heights, on the high ground above the Woolloomooloo valley, would be a ‘high status area’. He made many land grants, but a condition of these was that residents would have to build grand houses and landscape them according to standards set by Darling. As time went by the high status grants and houses began to spread to the lower, valley areas of Woolloomooloo and the whole area became high status and gentrified. This was not to last though!

Come back next week to find out what happened next in Woolloomooloo!

Shark Island – Part 2

shark-island-sydney-harbour-nsw-paddle-steamers-front

The image above is a wonderful snapshot of day out and about on Sydney Harbour. It shows one of the beautiful harbour islands simply teeming with visitors, perhaps waiting to watch one of the yacht races which were once so popular – perhaps even The Sydney To Hobart Race itself. Yet the island in question, Shark Island, is one which was not always publicly accessible.

In the 19th century, Shark Island was an important link in the colony’s quarantine system, and from 1871, was the quarantine depot for animals arriving from overseas. Yet many local Sydneysiders felt that the beautiful harbour islands, including Shark Island, should be made available as public reserves. The pressure of public opinion was such that in 1900, the NSW Government made Shark Island a public reserve, though it didn’t officially open to the public until 1905. Before being opened officially, the Clark Island Trust, which had been established in 1892 to beautify and create visitor facilities on Clark Island, worked to improve the amenities and beauty of Shark Island. Their intention was to create on Shark Island an Edwardian style English picnic park, and they constructed paths, shelters, seating and gardens. Then, in 1917, The Sydney Harbour Trust took over the management of the island and made more improvements, including the construction of new paths. The Sydney Harbour Trust continued to be responsible for the island until 1975, when Shark Island became part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.

Shark Island – Part 1

shark-island-sydney-harbour-front

The image above, featured on a postcard from the early 20th century, reveals an island situated in Sydney Harbour. Yet this is an island which many locals are likely unaware of – Shark Island. Yet Shark Island, or Boambilly as it was known to the Aboriginal people, has a fascinating history.

Located just at the entrance to Rose Bay, Shark Island is a beautiful island, known for its shady trees and pretty grottoes. Shark Island is not so named because its waters are a haven for sharks. The name is derived from the fact that the island shape, very vaguely, resembles a shark. Yet despite the absence of waters teeming with dangerous sea life, Shark Island was a dangerous place. Throughout the 19th century there were a number of shipwrecks, and many people drowned in the waters off Shark Island. So great was the danger that in 1890 a navigational light was erected on the island. What’s more, in the 1830s, the Island became a temporary quarantine station. Cholera had broken out in Europe, and Shark Island was used to prevent the disease gaining a hold in the colony. Then, in 1871, the Island was again used for Quarantine purposes, this time for animals. Imported cattle and dogs were housed on the island until it was sure that they posed no risk to the animals already living in the Colony. Yet Shark Island was also known for its beauty, and being only a short distance from the shores of Rose Bay, many Sydneysiders wanted to use the island for recreational purposes.

Come back next week to find out about how Shark Island transformed from an animal quarantine station to a popular public reserve.