This week, with the July School Holidays drawing to a close, it is the perfect time to turn attention to one of Sydney’s favourite tourist destinations. For locals and visitors alike, Taronga Zoo has long been a popular place to visit for the day and view the amazing animals looked after by the zoo.
The Taronga Zoo which we see today builds on over a century of history, yet the zoo we now know is a far cry from the zoo of yesteryear. Taronga Zoo was established on its current premises in 1916, following the move of the original Zoological Gardens from Moore Park. Many of the animals, including elephants, were transported from the old Moore Park site by barge, travelling by water across the Harbour to their new home. They were settled into the new, larger premises, where the Elephant Temple, seal ponds and monkey pit were already constructed.
Yet these enclosures, many of which are maintained today as a memory of the zoo’s history, were a far cry from what we recognise today. As the postcard above shows, the old exhibits were small and could be quite spartan compared to what we now know. The focus of the zoo was on entertainment and fun, whereas today the zoo focuses on scientific research, conservation and education. This new focus for the zoo dates back to 1967, when a critical review of the zoo was undertaken. New exhibits were built and the focus of the zoo shifted to scientific research, conservation and education. Soon the famous elephant rides and monkey zoo were replaced with more educational activities, like the seal show.
With the July school holidays just around the corner, and many families looking to take advantage of the beautiful winter weather, The Past Present is turning its attention to what was once one of Sydneys most popular pleasure grounds – Fairyland. Today, Fairylane is little more than an area of bush in Lane Cove National Park. It is hidden away from the main drag and little visited. Yet once, it was one of the most popular places for Sydneysiders, particularly those on the North Shore, to spend a day.
Fairyland was built on the foreshores of the Lane Cove River, in an area which once belonged to the Swan Family. The Swan’s purchased the land in the early 20th century and quickly established a market garden. They grew many crops, but one of the most popular was strawberries, which day-trippers out and about on the river would purchase. Soon enough, the Swan family realised that they could offer more complete afternoon teas to these day-trippers, and their land became a popular stop for people boating on the river.
By 1920 the Swan’s had seen the potential to transform their land into a popular and lucrative pleasure ground. They set about transforming their gardens and crops into what was to become Fairyland. The pleasure grounds were indeed immensely popular with people boating on the river, and it wasn’t long before the Swan family were expanding again. They installed rides, including a ‘razzle dazzle’, and built a wharf, dance hall, kiosk and playground. They used fairytale characters throughout the pleasure grounds, painting them on buildings, and even making painted, wooden figures which were to be found in the trees – hence the name fairyland. Today, very little of Fairyland remains, other than the site and some interpretative signage, but many remember happy outings to this once popular pleasure ground.
The image above, from a postcard dated to circa 1910, is a beautiful and charming snapshot of a family day out and about in the beautiful Sydney Botanic Gardens. Today, on family days such as this, we often think of feeding ducks (though many councils request people do not do so), but in the image above the bird being fed by the children is the magnificent Native Black Swan.
The black swan is a majestic and interesting bird. Most famously it is the emblem associated with Western Australia, but the Black Swan is actually native to many areas of Australia. As such a large and beautiful bird, they also have a long history of being found in zoo’s and bird collections, and for many years they were also a popular part of public parks and gardens – like the Sydney Botanic Gardens.
Yet what is perhaps of most interest is what the phrase ‘black swan’ has come to mean. A black swan is a metaphor for an event or discovery which is unprecedented, unexpected and surprising but which in hindsight, really isn’t such a surprise after all. The phrase actually comes from the Latin and the oldest known use of the metaphor came almost a thousand years ago, in Juvenal’s line “rara avis in terries nigroque simillima cygno” which translates to “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”. At the time, and for centuries after, the only swans known were white swans, so it was assumed that the black swan did not exist. Then, in 1697, Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, discovered black swans in Australia, proving they did exist after all. This came as a great surprise, but in hindsight many acknowledged that it really shouldn’t have been such a shock – just as other animals came in other colours, not all swans were white. Today, Black Swan Theory, as introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007 is well known, but it all traces back to these majestic if unexpected birds which are such a feature of the Australian landscape.
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.