Randwick Races

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This week, with so much talk about the upcoming horse racing season, and the many important races which are to take place, it seemed the ideal time to share one of the amazing photos of Randwick Racecourse in the Past Present Collection. The photo above, which was taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936 shows

Today, the Melbourne Cup may be one of the most, if not the most famous race in Australia. Yet the Melbourne Cup is far from the only important race run in Australia, and the racecourse where it is held, Flemington Racecourse, is not the oldest. In fact, in the early years of the colony racing was a very popular pastime and several basic racecourses were established. Yet by the 1830s these oldest of racecourses had stopped operating for a variety of reasons, leaving Hyde Park the main centre of horse racing at the time. It was clear that a dedicated horse racetrack was needed though and in late 1832 a group of gentlemen petitioned Governor Bourke to set aside land near Botany Road. In 1833, after the land had been surveyed and found suitable, the petition was granted and the course, then known as ‘the sandy course’ was soon in operation. Yet by 1838, racing had stopped again.

This could have spelled the end for Randwick Racecourse, but in 1858 racing returned. The Australian Jockey Club, which was established in 1842, wanted a place to establish a permanent racecourse with good facilities and petitioned the Government to grant them the old Sandy Course. The grant was allowed, the facilities and track were improved and the first race, held in May 1860, was attended by a crowd of over 6000 spectators. With the extension of the tram service to the course in 1880 the future of the course was assured. By 1900 the tram was so popular that a dedicated loop station was built simply to service the racecourse, and at its peak the trams carried 117,480 passengers in a single day in 1834!

 

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The Iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

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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.

Oxford Street – Part 1

Oxford Street Sydney Horse and Cart Front

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.

Palm Beach

Palm Beach From Pacific Road NSW Front

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’. 

 

Boating On The GeorgesRiver

Latty's Motor Launch George's River Front

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.

Lion Cubs At Taronga Zoo

Lion Cub Taronga Park Zoo Front

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.

 

Black Swans In The Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens Sydney 7 Front

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.