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

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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

mittagong-nsw-looking-west-front

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.