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.
The image above is a stunning glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s more famous streets – Oxford Street. Today, known for shopping, restaurants and a vibrant culture, Oxford Street has a long history, and one which is far different to the Oxford Street which we know so well today.
Many Sydneysiders and visitors alike are familiar with Oxford Street, yet few realise that the famous roadway is actually probably the oldest highway in Australia! Indeed, Oxford Street was once part of the South Head Road, which connected the settlement of Sydney with the vital signal station at South Head. Indeed, Oxford Street was the main route between the growing settlement of Sydney and the coast.
As such an important roadway, it is perhaps no surprise that by the 1870s Oxford Street was one of the most successful and lucrative commercial areas of Sydney. In fact, by the end of the 1880s, Oxford Street was recognised as one of the most prominent ‘High Streets’ in the settlement.
Come back next week to discover how Oxford Street changed and evolved in the 20th century to become the vibrant hub we see today.
The image above is a stunning, panoramic view of one of Sydney’s most famous and exclusive beaches. Visited by Sydneysiders and visitors alike (and the home of Home and Away, which brings more tourists still) Palm Beach has long been a popular destination for people wanting to enjoy the sand, sun and sea.
Palm Beach, which is today one of the most exclusive and expensive areas in Pittwater, was actually named for the abundance of Cabbage Tree Palms which were once to be found in the area. The traditional and original owners, The Guringai people, used the fronds from this abundant resource to create fishing lines and also to patch leaks which had developed in their boats.
When Europeans colonised Australia, the cabbage tree palms found a new use, being woven into hats to keep the beating sun at bay. In fact, Cabbage Tree Hats are, in many ways, the first distinctly Australian fashion, and the making of the hats is probably Australias first cottage industry. Cabbage Tree Hats developed because the early colonists and convicts had no idea that Australia was going to be so hot, or the sun so fierce. They soon realised that the fibre from the Cabbage Tree Palm could be woven, just as the Guringai people did to make fishing lines. The hats usually had a high domed down and wide brim, perfect for the sunny Australian climate. The Cabbage Tree Hats became such a symbol of the convict era in Australia that gangs of young men were known as Cabbage Tree Mobs, after the hat they wore. Apparently, they enjoyed crushing the hats of men who they thought were ‘full of themselves’.
The image above is a stunning and rare glimpse into the history of the landscape of a popular seaside suburb. Manly, and particularly its famous beaches, has long been a popular destination for Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike. Yet the landscape of Manly today is vastly different to that which we see in this rare early glimpse of Manly from the air.
In 1902 William Gocher, a local journalist, made a famous splash at Manly beach, going swimming in broad daylight. At the time, this was illegal and Gocher was arrested, but soon the laws changed and people began to flock to beaches and beachside suburbs to enjoy the sand, the surf and the sun. Manly was a popular destination as it was close to the city but boasted beaches and of course, it was where that first daylight swim occurred! Soon enough people were coming to Manly for holidays or even just weekend breaks and guest houses proliferated. The postcard above even has a mark on the front noting where the person sending it was staying!
As the postcard above also shows, Manly was a well developed suburb but the buildings were all relatively low. The pine trees which Manly became so famous for tower above many of the buildings, and are very dominant features of the coastline. The first ‘high rise’ building to be constructed in Manly, The Salvation Army’s Peoples Palace, was completed in 1913. Yet it was hardly a skyscraper at just 4 or 5 stories tall! Over the next century, more and more development in Manly occurred, and many of these developments towered towards the sky. Today, skyscrapers and high-rise dominate the landscape in Manly, towering over the famous pine trees, and replacing many of the old buildings which are captured in the postcard above.
The image above is an idyllic view of life in times gone by. Many might assume that, with the bushy surrounds and tranquil outlook, Lilli Pilli is far from city life, yet this photo postcard depicts Lilli Pilli, a small suburb in Sydney, not far from Cronulla.
Lilli Pilli is, even today, only a very small suburb. It is in the Port Hacking estuary, and in the early 1800s was part of the land owned by Thomas Holt, who owned most of the land between Sutherland and Cronulla. The name itself comes from the Lilly Pilly plant, which once grew in abundance in the area, and particularly on Lilly Pilly Point.
Lilly Pilly is today one of the most popular native Australian plants for use in gardens. Yet once, it was an important bush food, used Aboriginal people as a fruit. It was also, according to some sources, pulped and used as a bush medicine for sore ears! Early settlers began to use it for making jams and sauces, before it fell out of favour. Today, the Lilly Pilly fruit (also known as riberries) is a well known bush food, as well as being a popular garden feature.
The image above is an idyllic glimpse of a time gone by, and a place which continues to attract Sydneysiders for a day out and about in our beautiful bushland. Yet today, many of the famous motor launches which once plied the waters are long gone, a memory of another time.
With beautiful scenery and a waterway to navigate, people have made the trip to the Georges River for many years to enjoy a day in the beautiful natural surroundings. In the early 1900s, some enterprising locals began to run motor launches on the River to carry picnickers and day trippers to scenic spots, or simply allow them to enjoy a day on the River in comfort.
Mr J. Latty was one of these men. He lived in Fairfield and in 1907, according to an article in The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (September 11), he had a motor launch built which could comfortably sit 20 picnickers. The launch plied the Georges River and was very popular. The postcard captures the Latty Motor Launch, full of picnickers enjoying a day out.
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.