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?

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Camping On The Hawkesbury

camping-on-hawkesbury-river-front.jpg

With the Easter long weekend rapidly approaching, and many people planning to brave the weather to enjoy the great outdoors, it seemed the ideal time to share the image above. The postcard image, dating from the early 20th century is an evocative snapshot not only of the Hawkesbury area of NSW, but of camping in Australia and how it has changed.

Camping has an incredibly long history in Australia. Aboriginal people lived in temporary dwellings, moving around the country from one place to another, while early European colonists often lived in tents of necessity. In fact the first fleet brought with it more than 600 tents! In the 1820s, people who visited Australia actually saw camping as the real Australian experience or the ‘Australian way’. History in Australia, and indeed the history of Australian development, is intricately linked to camping.

By the 1860s though, camping was beginning to take on a new dimension, people were choosing to set up temporary camps for recreation and holiday camping was born. Water, whether a coastal beach or quiet river meander was often a real feature of holiday camping, and even today many campers head to campgrounds on the coast or situated next to a picturesque river scene.

Narrabeen Bridge

Narrabeen NSW Bridge front

The image above beautifully captures the history of a place which many Sydneysiders are familiar with, visiting for its excellent beaches and surfing. In fact, so famous are the beaches that Narrabeen is even mentioned in the Beach Boy’s song Surfin’ USA.

Narrabeen has long been a popular destination for Sydneysiders wishing to visit the seaside, or to go boating on the beautifully still waters of the Narrabeen Lagoon. In fact, the area was widely promoted as an excellent destination for people wishing to improve their health, being far enough from the city to be advertised as ‘country’. Yet early visitors to the area had no choice but to ford the Narrabeen Lake, as although there were basic roads in the area, there was no bridge over the lagoon.

Then, in in the early 1880s, a timber bridge was constructed across the lagoon. As the image above shows, the first Pittwater Road Bridge was quite narrow, and although it was suitable at the time it was built, by the 1920s was too narrow for the increasing traffic and sometimes created a bottleneck, of the kinds we are all too familiar with today. It wasn’t just that the bridge was narrow though, often anglers used the bridge to fish from, and both sides of the roadway could be lined with hopeful fishermen. An iron barrier was installed in the 1940s to protect the fishermen on the eastern side of the bridge, and fishing was banned entirely in 1945. Of course, many locals simply ignored the ban! Finally, plans to build a new, more substantial concrete bridge were made and in 1954 the concrete bridge which we see today was constructed.

Pittwater and Palm Beach

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Cottage along Palm Beach Road, midway between Newport and Palm Beach. Inside waterway (Pittwater)

The image above, taken from the Past Present’s amazing collection of photographic negatives, is a stunning glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s more exclusive areas. Today much of the Pittwater area is an area of luxurious homes, fashionable beaches and trendy cafes. Yet once, as the image above shows, the area was much quieter.

Palm Beach itself, which is one of the most exclusive areas of Pittwater today, was named after the many Cabbage Tree Palms which were to be found in the area. The original owners, the Guringai people used the cabbage tree fronds to construct fishing lines and patch leaks in their boats.

The first European to be granted land in the area was James Napper, who in 1816 was granted a huge area of 400 acres, including Palm Beach, Barrenjoey and most of Whale Beach. Other early European use of the land was made by fishermen, who caught and dried fish, and by smugglers, who recognised that the area was an ideal place for illicit trade. In order to discourage smuggling, in 1843 the government acquired land at the base of the headland on the Western Pittwater shore, and built a customs house. In 1881 the acquired further land on the Northern most point of the headland, and built the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, which still stands today.

It wasn’t until the 1900s that residential development truly began to occur. In 1900, 18 large blocks advertised as good grazing land were offered for sale, but none sold. Then, in 1912, the land was again advertised for sale, but this time the blocks were much smaller and there were many more of them. They were advertised as offering fishing, sailing, golf and rowing, and all of the blocks sold. Yet the area was isolated and had poor transport options, so development remained slow, with many blocks remaining empty, and used simply for camping and picnicking. In the wake of World War Two, development sped up, and the area known as Palm Beach began to transform into the exclusive suburb we see today.

Sydney Ferries

Sydney Ferries Limited Athol Gardens Front

The image above provides not just one, but several fascinating glimpses into the history of an area of Sydney which was long known to locals and visitors alike as a pleasure ground. Today, Athol Bay continues to be a popular place for picnicking, walking and even getting married, but once there was far more to the area.

European use of the area now known as Athol Bay began in 1831 when Robert Mllard and Richard Linley were given permission to use four acres of waterfront land as a shipyard. Although they were officially issued a deed to the land eight years later, they actually never built any boats! In 1837 though, the Ferrier family were also given a grant in the area, and it is this family and their home which gave the area its name. The family soon built a stone house, which they named Athol, as well as constructing a wharf and establishing an orchard and gardens. The Ferrier family owned the area until 1904, but after 1853, they let it out to various tenants.

During this time, the area around Athol Bay became a popular pleasure garden, with Athol Gardens Hotel being built by 1863. The hotel, and later dance hall, provided amenities and entertainment for the many picnickers who visited the area. Sydney Ferries purchased the popular Athol Gardens in 1906, and two years later a new dance hall was opened. Then, in 1912, an area on Athol Bay was dedicated for use as Zoological Gardens, and in 1916, Taronga Zoo opened. Soon after, Sydney Ferries opened a new wharf at Athol Bay, for use by visitors to the Zoo and Athol Gardens alike. By the mid 1900s, the popularity of pleasure grounds was waning, and fewer people were visiting the Athol Gardens themselves. However, even today, the area remains a popular place for picnicking, walking and taking in the spectacular harbour views.

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Lady Macquarie's Chair Front

This week, with New Year just around the corner, it seemed the perfect time to share this image taken in the vicinity of a prime location for watching fire works. Yet although Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is well known as a tourist destination, many people little spare a thought for the history of this iconic location.

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, which is also sometimes known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, is the site of one of the best vantage points of the harbour. In fact, it is renowned as one of the best views in Sydney. The extraordinary view down the harbour is indeed the reason behind the historic background to the area. In 1810, convict labour was used to carve a solid rock outcrop into a chair for, as the name suggests, Lady Elizabeth Macquarie.

Elizabeth Macquarie was the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the governor of the colony between 1810 and 1821. According to local folklore Lady Macquarie enjoyed watching the busy harbour and the ships coming and going. Reputably, her favourite vantage site was what became known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, and the chair itself was carved to provide her a more comfortable place to watch the goings on of the busy harbour.

Picnic Grounds on the Parramatta River

Picnic Grounds Paramatta River Front

With the weather heating up and the holidays almost upon us, it is the perfect season for a waterfront picnic with family and friends, and indeed over the coming weeks many such picnics will be planned. The image above, from a postcard dated about 1910, is an idyllic if a little mysterious view of what was clearly once a popular picnic venue on the Parramatta River. With its muted colouring, and blue water and sandy beach, it seems the perfect venue for a family picnic, yet the exact location of the photo is unknown.

Picnicking has long been a popular way to while away a few hours, enjoying beautiful scenery and a tasty al fresco meal. In fact, the first known picnic’s took place all the way back in the Medieval times! Yet early picnics were vastly different to the picnics many of us enjoy today. Many early picnics were an evolution of elaborate and remarkably formal outdoor feasts and celebrations, and they were closely associated with hunting gatherings. Far from spreading a rug on the ground and enjoying a simple meal, they often took place at formally set tables and included sumptuous foods, many of which were served hot!

Then, in the 17th and 18th century the picnic began to evolve. Instead of being a formal meal, they began to be something a little like the American idea of a ‘pot luck’, with all of the participants bringing a dish to share. In fact, that was what the word picnic actually meant! By the 1860s though the meaning had changed again, with the word picnic meaning to eat outdoors. It was this late 19th century era when picnics also began to become popular, not just for wealthy people, but for all classes. Even the seminal cookbook, Mrs Beeton’s, provided ideas on how to host a picnic, and what sorts of food would be needed.

Of course, if picnicking was becoming a popular pastime, places to enjoy such picnics were also becoming necessary. Although many Australian’s were happy to enjoy an informal picnic at the beach or in the bush, others preferred established picnic grounds, like the one pictured above. These picnic areas often included other basic amenities, like toilets, tables and running water, which made them popular destinations.

The question is – where is the picnic ground featured in the postcard above actually located, and does it still exist?