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

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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.

Getting Around Tariffs In Snails Bay

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Freighter unloading Canadian logs and lumber in Snails Bay. log raft and tug at left of freighter. Get around tariff against lumber

This week, there have been a number of news reports around possible changes to trade agreements between various countries. With so much interest in trade, it seemed the ideal time to share this fascinating glimpse into the history of trade in Sydney, and in Australia more generally.

The image above, showing Snails Bay in Birchgrove, provides an amazing glimpse into the history of Australian tariff policy. The image, which shows a freighter unloading Canadian lumber offshore in order to avoid the tariff on Canadian lumber,  particularly highlights the lengths that some importers were willing to go to in order to avoid paying the import tariffs on various products, in this case, Canadian wood.

In the 1930s tariffs on goods imported to Australia were substantially increased in order to protect Australian industry and employment. This was the time of the Great Depression, and the tariffs were an attempt to not only protect Australian industries and workers, but also to deal with various problems associated with international payments. Many of these tariffs remained unchanged until the 1970s, and the tariffs on imported wood still appear to be debated today.

The Lithgow Iron Works

iron-works-lithgow-front

The image above is a stunning view over what was once one of Australias most important industrial sites. Producing iron and steel for the Australian market, and using local ore and coal, the iron works were a major part of Australian industry. What’s more, the iron works was one of the first iron working sites in Australia, making it a significant pioneer of the industry.

Today, the Lithgow Iron Works are in ruins, but once, they were a thriving industrial centre, and an important employer. They were even the site where Australia’s first steel was produced!  Although the image shows the 20th century iron works, the history of iron working in Lithgow dates back to 1875. Iron ore had been discovered in Lithgow, on land belonging to Enoch Hughes. Soon, a small iron works was established to extract the metal and by 1880 the Lithgow iron works was producing enough pig iron to create four miles of rails for the railway each week.

In 1901, the son of William Sandford, who was the primary owner and manager of the iron works and Eskbank Colliery, successfully produced a viable amount of steel. Tapping steel was a major success as iron and steel was basic necessities for many other Australian industries and Sandford believed the quantities made needed to be increased. In 1901 he bribed parliamentarians to win a tender to supply iron and steel. Part of the deal made at this time was the construction of a new blast furnace – the furnace in the image above. The new blast furnace was ‘blown in’ in 1907, but by this time Sandford was financially and mentally stressed. In December of 1907 the bank foreclosed on the iron works, and the Hoskins brothers soon took over the company. They extended the government contract to produce iron and steel to the end of 1916 and soon the site was so successful that 80 coke ovens and a second blast furnace were added. Yet the blast furnace and iron works at Lithgow were not to be long lived. By the mid 1920s it had been decided to move the iron working operations to Port Kembla, as the access to transport and natural resources was better. The blast furnace site in Lithgow closed in 1928, just 21 years after it had been blown in.

Mittagong – The Gateway To The South

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This week, with school holidays upon us, many Sydneysiders are heading away from the hustle and bustle of our beautiful city. Australia has many beautiful towns and villages which become popular holiday destinations as Spring approaches. Some, like those in the Southern Highlands are particularly attractive due to their spectacular spring flower display. Mittagong is just one of these towns.

Mittagong is a town with an intriguing history, dating right back to the early 1800s. The first formal European settlement began in 1821 with a large grant made to William Chalker, but most of the earliest buildings in the area were not residences or even farms. Mittagong was, even from the very beginning, the gateway to the south, with some of the only natural routes over a chain of mountains passing through the area. As a result, it was not long before various inns sprang up in the area to serve travellers who were heading south. The town itself was much slower to develop, only really beginning to form after the coming of the railway to the area in 1867.

Before the coming of the railway, the Mittagong area was more a series of private villages than cohesive settlement, and only one of these villages, New Sheffield, was of any real size. New Sheffield was the village belonging to the Fitzroy Iron Works, the first iron works in Australia, and the workers not just at the iron works itself, but at the mines associated with the works lived in the private village. With the coming of the railway though, more people began to come to the area and in the 1880s the area began to be subdivided. In 1889 the municipality of Mittagong was formally created, and the earlier villages were mainly absorbed into the newly created town.

Mullet Creek Railway

Mullet Creek Hawkesbury Front

This week, The Past Present turns its attention to one of the important areas in Sydney’s transport history. Many Sydneysiders head north during their holidays, or even just for a day out and about. On reaching the Hawkesbury River, they cross the bridge, either by car or by train, little thinking of how different this trip must have been before the bridges were built! The photo above shows Mullet Creek, and important are in the train journey, both before and after the Railway Bridge over the Hawkesbury River was installed.

The Hawkesbury River is a beautiful waterway which today is a popular place for people to visit and even holiday. Yet once, this beautiful waterway was also a major barrier to travel. It was also a lucrative opportunity for George Peat, who in 1840 established Peats Ferry, a service which allowed people to cross the river by boat, between Kangaroo Point and Mooney Mooney Point. Peat even built a hotel at Peats Bight to allow people to break their trip!

Then, in 1887, a single line railway track was opened between Hornsby and the Hawkesbury River at Brooklyn. People could now travel and move goods by rail, but still, the river was a barrier. Passengers and goods who were travelling north had to be unloaded at the River Wharf Platform at the eastern end of Long Island. From there, they would board the double decker paddle steamer, The General Gordon. At first, they would then have a three hour trip, as the steamer transferred the passengers and goods along the waterways, out to Broken Bay, up the Brisbane Water and to Gosford, where everybody could reboard the train. Then, Woy Woy Tunnel was opened in early 1888, and the journey by steamer shortened – travellers just had to cross the river and travel the lower branches of Mullet Creek, until they reached Mullet Creek Station (about 400 metres from todays Wondabyne Railway Station). The image above shows a section of the railway along Mullet Creek, a section of the journey which even today is viewed as particularly beautiful!

The Rise, Fall And Rising Again Of Balmain

Balmain Sydney 1 Front

This week, The Past Present is sharing a postcard image of a place in Sydney which has undergone vast changes over the history of European colonisation – Balmain. The area is one which many Sydneysiders would be familiar with, yet the postcard view above is remarkably different to the Balmain we see today.

Grants in the Balmain area began quite quickly after European colonisation, with the first being given in 1800 to the colonial surgeon, William Balmain, after whom the area is still named today. Yet true settlement of the area was much slower, as Balmain was difficult to access, with no transport to the area. When ferry services began to the area (with Henry Perdriau establishing a steam ferry service in 1842), it became much easier to access the area, and the suburb really began to thrive. At this time, people were reliant on ferries, steamers and other ships for travel, and a thriving community of ship builders soon moved into the area too, bringing not only work, but workers who wished to live near the shipyards. With new families moving to the area, services were needed to support the growing community, and soon enough shops, churches, schools, police services, and even a hospital were established. In 1860, Balmain Council was even opened.

By the 1880s many claimed that Balmain was the leading social suburb in Sydney, complete with clubs such as those catering for rowers and cricketers, and institutes such as the Balmain School Of Arts. Yet it was also this same suburb that was, in the 1880s, increasingly overcrowded and poorly organised. Soon enough the suburb went into decline, businesses and industries closed down and people moved out, being replaced by younger, poorer families. By 1933 nearly 40 percent of workers living in Balmain were actually out of work. It would not be until the 1970s that the gentrification of Balmain began to occur, leading to the affluent and popular foreshore suburb we see today.