Trams On The Harbour Bridge

The Harbour Bridge Showing Tram Road And Rail Tracks Front
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.

Boating On Burrinjuck Dam

Scene on Barren Jack Weir Front

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.

Belford Knitting Mills And The Textile Industry

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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.

When Central Was New

New Railway Station Sydney NSW From Elizabeth Street (Central) Front

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.

Tin Town

Tin Town Middle Harbour Sydney Front
The above postcard, dating to circa 1910, is a stunning, highly evocative glimpse into the life of poorer Sydney residents in the early 20th century. Located on the shores of Middle Harbour, the exact location of this particular camp is something of a mystery, though Mosman Library suggest it is overlooking Quakers Hat Bay near Cremorne.
Depression settlements and so called ‘Tin Towns’ like the one pictured above are most often associated with The Great Depression. However, such camps and settlements, clearly including the one above, predate the Great Depression by decades. Sometimes the settlements were home to the poor, but often they were places which people came to periodically, and as such they were only actually occupied on and off by people such as fishermen. The beginning of depression settlements and tin towns in Australia was arguably the Depression of the 1890s. However, it was the Great Depression which saw their size and number increase. Many Sydney residents had lost their jobs and without an income to support them and pay rent, homes were soon lost too. Often these people took only what they could carry from their lost lives, and set out for one of the many depression settlements around Sydney. People who had lost their homes and their jobs arrived, chose an empty space and erected a ramshackle hut, using whatever materials they could find – often corrugated iron or tin sheeting. Life in these camps was hard, but often a strong and very supportive community evolved.

Lithgow

Main Street Lithgow Front

The image above, showing the main street of Lithgow, NSW, is a beautiful snapshot which captures the essence of a thriving industrial town. Today, Lithgow is seen by many as a tourist town, and a base from which to explore the Blue Mountains, Central West and Jenolan Caves. Yet once, Lithgow was a thriving industrial centre.

The first European settlers to make the Lithgow area home arrived in 1824, and it was only three years later that the name Lithgow was bestowed on the area, by famous explorer Hamilton Hume. Yet over the next nearly forty years, only another four families made their homes in the Lithgow Valley, as it was relatively isolated. Then, in 1869, the Western Railway Line connected Lithgow to the Sydney township and the area began to thrive.

With the railway providing easy transport not only for people, but for goods, Lithgow began to transform into an industrial settlement. Coal mining was the first industry in the area, followed by iron manufacture in 1875. By 1900, Lithgow produced the first steel to have been entirely manufactured in Australia and a proliferation of other industries soon followed. In the early 1900s Lithgow manufactured everything from bricks to iron to pottery to small arms. In the wake of World War Two, the industries in Lithgow went into decline and in the late 1950s a power generating plant was built at Wallerawang, near Lithgow. Today, Lithgow is mainly seen as an historic tourist town.

Steele Point

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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.

Villers Bretonneux

Villers Bretonneus (Somme) WW1 2 Front

This week, with the Sir John Monash Centre in Villers Bretonneux opening, and ANZAC Day commemorations fast approaching, The Past Present turns its attention to War Postcards. The image above is a shocking and stark snapshot of a battlefield where thousands of Australian soldiers served, and many lost their lives. Today, many might find such a postcard a strange subject, and one which is a little macabre. Yet this postcard, one of a set, is just one example of postcards highlighting the destruction and devastation of war.

During the First World War, postcard publishers created many thousands of different cards reflecting the war. Some of them were humorous, others beautiful and patriotic. Some even had embroidered pockets or pictures, meant for ‘mum’ or ‘ my sweetheart’.

Yet many of them were stark and devastating reminders of the war, showing photographs of battlefields, and even of corpses. These cards, which were sometimes sold in sets, like the postcard of Villers Bretonneux above, highlighted the destruction of war. As the war progressed, they heightened feeling against the then enemy with captions like ‘The work of German “Kultur”’, as in the postcard above. As the war raged on, battlefields and destruction became opportunities for propaganda postcard publishers, and more postcards were created.

The Argyle Cut

Argyle Cut Front

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.

Pony And Donkey Rides at Sydney Beaches

Bondi Beach Kerry Resort PC Front

This week, with Autumn under way, and the end of the hot weather on the horizon, it seemed an ideal time for The Past Present to turn attention to some of our alternative beach culture and it’s history. Australia is known for it’s abundance of beautiful beaches, and the opportunities for swimming and other water based activities they provide. Yet in the past, some of Sydney’s beaches had other attractions.

If you look carefully in this postcard of Bondi Beach, you can make out a horse or donkey walking along the beach. I can find no written record of animal rides being offered at beaches in Sydney – or at least, not this far back in history. Yet I have heard many anecdotal stories, including from my mother, of pony and donkey rides once being offered along the sandy shores of Sydney’s beaches.

Do you remember having a pony or donkey ride on a Sydney beach?