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 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 2

Woolloomooloo Bay Sydney looking into city Front

The image above provides a very different view of Woolloomooloo, which as we discovered last week, was once (and is again today) an affluent and gentrified area of Sydney. Under Governor Darling, the area had become one where the well to do lived and tended grand houses and gardens, but this wasn’t to last.

Even whilst the more grandiose houses were still being built, lowly workers cottages began to appear on the swampy areas of the Woolloomooloo Valley. By the 1850s, less than 30 years after Governor Darling transformed the area into a fashionable and well to do place, Woolloomooloo was in the throws of more change. The swamp areas had been drained and an increasing number of homes were being built for the growing working class who worked in the various maritime industries along the water front. The grand Woolloomooloo House was demolished and replaced by smaller houses while other grand estate houses were being altered to become boarding houses. Then, in 1866 the wharves were extensively expanded requiring ever more workers in the area. Pubs, brothels and of course ever more dwellings appeared, crowding the once grand Woolloomooloo area. In 1855 the Plunkett Street School was opened to cater for the growing number of working class children in the area.

Then, in 1876, authorities conducted a survey of the worst housing in Sydney. They had not planned to spend much time in Woolloomooloo, and were surprised by what they found – a proliferation of unsanitary and dilapidated houses in the area, inhabited by maritime workers and their families. By the late 1800s, any semblance of gentrification had gone from Woolloomooloo and the reputation of the area was one of squalid housing, rough working class families, and criminals, many of whom were part of the Plunkett Street Push.

The General Post Office

The image above is a wonderful snapshot of a building which, today, is undergoing a controversial chapter. The General Post Office, or GPO, is a well known and important land mark in Sydney, both geographically and historically. Today, it is the subject of controversy with moves to sell the beautiful historic building to the Chinese are disclosed. Yet beyond the current controversy is an amazing history which often Sydneysiders are unaware of.

The first regular postal service in Australia started in 1809 when former convict Isaac Nichols was given the position of postmaster. This was a position which he kept up until his death 10 years later. Nichols lived in George Street and his home was used as the post office throughout his time as postmaster. Then, in 1825 the Legislative Council introduced the Postal Act of 1825, which then regulated the postal service and allowed postmasters to be appointed not just in Sydney but throughout the colony. Three years later a regular postal delivery service began to operate with letters and parcels delivered throughout the colony on horseback.

The introduction of the Postal Act also paved the way for the construction of a General Post Office. By the 1830s, a former police station which stood where the GPO stands today was in use as a post office. Even in the 1830s, it was an important meeting place and important building, so in the late 1840s a new, grand portico was added, complete with Doric Columns. Yet as the population of Sydney and the colony more generally grew, so too did the demand for an improved postal service. By the 1850s and 1860s the old post office was becoming cramped and difficult to function from and staff often complained of overcrowding. Eventually, it was decided that a new post office would be built, on the same site. James Barnet was appointed as the architect for the new building in 1862 and the old post office was demolished a year later. The new GPO, and the one we are familiar with today, was built between 1866 and 1892. The main part of the building was completed in 1889 with the grand clock tower finished two years later.

Pyrmont Bridge

Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney 2 Front

The image above is a stunning view of a well known and important feature of Darling Harbour – Pyrmont Bridge. Yet many people who may cross this bridge on a regular basis have no idea of the extraordinary history of the bridge, or indeed that it is one of the worlds oldest surviving and working swing bridges.

The first Pyrmont Bridge was built in 1857 and made entirely of timber. Just like the current and second bridge, the first bridge had a swing span which allowed ships which would otherwise be to tap to enter Cockle Bay which was then a busy port.

In 1891 a competition was held to decide on a design for a new Pyrmont Swing Bridge, but the winning entry, built entirely of metal, was deemed far too expensive to actually build. Instead, a design by Robert Hickson, the Commissioner and Engineer in Chief of the Department for Public Works was adopted. His design was for a bridge built mainly of timber, but with an iron swing span which was supported by a central pier when opened, and two additional piers when closed. Construction on the bridge began in 1899 and the new bridge, complete with an electrically powered swing span (one of the first in the world) was opened in 1902. The bridge was finally closed to traffic in 1981 and was almost demolished following this closure. Thanks to the intervention of various organisations and the public itself though, the bridge was saved and in 1988 was opened to pedestrian traffic.

Wild Weather And Wrecks – Dunbar Rock

dunbar-rock-south-head-sydney-the-gap-front

This week, with the weather so unpredictable and so many storms about in recent days and weeks, it seemed the ideal time to share this image of Dunbar Rock in South Head. Sydney, and Australia more generally, with its abundance of coastline, also has an abundant and tragic history of shipwreck and loss.

The loss of the Dunbar, which happened off the coast of what is now known as Dunbar Rock at The Gap, remains Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. The Dunbar was, at the time of its launch, the largest timber ship to have been constructed at the Sunderland dockyards, and was constructed as a response to the demand for passage to Australia and the booming gold fields. Yet it was not until 1856 that the ship began to ply the route to Australia, as before then The Dunbar was deployed as a Crimean War troopship.

The wreck of The Dunbar happened within a year of this, occurring on the night of the 20th of August, 1857. The ship, which was on just its second trip to Australia, was approaching the entrance to Port Jackson in the midst of a violent storm. The Dunbar was driven by the storm into the cliffs of South Head, just near Dunbar Rock, and rapidly broke apart. Of 122 passengers and crew aboard, only one survived, Able Seaman James Johnson. The disaster was later blamed on insufficient navigational aids, and in response the Hornby Light at South Head was constructed.

Yet the Hornby Light is not the only reminder of this tragic shipwreck. On Dunbar Rock itself, there is an anchor which is believed to come from the wreck of the Dunbar, and was retrieved in 1910. There is also a rock cut inscription which commemorates the terrible wreck, and which is actually believed to have been first carved by an onlooker watching the tragedy unfolding. This inscription was later recut, probably on an anniversary of the shipwreck.