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.

George Street Sydney

George Street South Sydney Front

The image above showcases an extraordinary view of a street all Sydneysiders know, whether they love it or not. Yet few Sydneysiders realise that this street has such a long and fascinating history. Indeed few would realise that this street is the oldest in Australia!

George Street was the first street to be built by the colonists when they arrived in Sydney Cove. Yet it was not a carefully planned street, or even truly ‘built’. Early in the history of the colony Governor Phillip began to have public buildings built along a fairly level ledge of land to the Western side of the Cove. Soon enough a rough path was being worn along which people travelled between the buildings being constructed and the Cove itself. This is how George Street began its life.

Of course, several of the main streets of Sydney were laid out by the early 1800s. This included George Street itself. By 1803 the military had completed the building of several roads, removing many trees in their way. The stump of one was nine yards around (a little over 8 metres) and took 16 men 6 days to remove. A hole had to be specifically dug in which to roll the stump and it took 90 men to roll it into the hole. This tree was once in the area of George Street.

Wartime Destruction – Villers Bretonneus

villers-bretonneus-somme-ww1-3-front

This week, in recognition of Remembrance Day, instead of focussing on an Australian location, The Past Present is sharing the shocking image above of a place which has played a significant role in Australian history – The Somme. Thousands of Australians fought and died defending French towns, and on the Somme battlefields.

For many, a postcard, something which is usually seen as a tourist souvenir, is not something they expect to see showcasing such shocking imagery. Yet during and after the end of World War One, many postcards were produced depicting shocking scenes of wartime costs. Some showed ruined towns, like the image above, while others depicted punishment of the enemy, like the one below showing German prisoners being marched through the ruins of Villers Brettoneus. These ruins were partially the result of the first tank to tank battle to occur, resulting in massive destruction.

Many wartime postcards, including those featured here, were produced by French publishers, who seemed to see the German policy of destroying any territory they had captured as a gift. Postcard producers and their photographers were not allowed near the active front lines, but after the conflict had moved on, they were left with shocking and highly emotive scenes of destruction. Their images stirred up patriotic sentiment amongst allied soldiers and those left behind on the homefronts alike.

villers-bretonneus-somme-ww1-1-front

Dawes Point – Part 3

Sydney Harbour From Dawes Point 2 Front.jpg

The image above, which reveals a heavily fortified Dawes Point, is a glimpse into the history of an area which all Sydneysiders know, but often overlook when thinking about the history of Sydney. Yet Dawes Point is a place with layers of history, which have built up over the years of Aboriginal and European occupation. Today, we associate Dawes Point simply with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, yet before this time, Dawes Point played a very different role in Sydney’s history.

By 1791, the value of Dawes Point as a strategic and defensive position had been fully recognised. The earlier observatory was demolished, and the area of Dawes Point was taken over by fortifications, barracks, powder magazines and even artillery, with the earliest gun at Dawes Point actually originating on the ship Sirius. In 1801 improvements were made to the fortifications, and in 1819, famous convict architect, Francis Greenway, was tasked with completely redesigning the fortifications. Although the original plans for his fort do not survive, we know from contemporary accounts and archaeological evidence that his fort was built in the castellated Gothic style. At the time, aspects of the new fort were criticised, such as a decorative guardhouse above the fort which people felt was a target, not a defence!

Then, in the 1850s, fears of a Russian attack, associated with Britains involvement in the Crimean war, caused the fort to once again be altered. By 1856, members of the Royal Artillery had been stationed in Sydney, at Dawes Point Battery, and of course new buildings had been constructed to house them. An officers quarters and new barracks buildings were constructed at this time. It was also at this time that new guns were installed. Five cannons were added to the fort, and these can still be seen at Dawes Point today, though most are no longer in their original positions. A lower fort, of which little is known, was also built at this time, and underground powder stores have been discovered during archaeological excavations. It is believed these powder magazines also date to this period. Over the following decades, and up to the time of Federation, Dawes Point continued to play a significant role in military activity, and more buildings were added to fulfil various roles. After Federation, and the creation of the regular Australian Army, military presence at Dawes Point was discontinued, with occupation ending in 1902. Little remains visible of the fortifications, though a sentry box which is today adjacent to the Ives Steps and Wharf would have originally been used to observe the harbour and foreshore.

Dawes Point Part 2

Sydney Dawes Point From Fort Macquarie Front

The image above, which shows Dawes Point in the early years of the 20th century. The image is a glimpse into the past history the area which today, for many Sydneysiders, is firmly associated with the 20th century and The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Yet Dawes Point is one of those extraordinary places in Sydney history which has layered history, dating right back to the earliest years of the colony, and before.

Dawes Point is so named because of its association with Lt William Dawes, who established an observatory on the point. He recorded meteorological observations and was the official time keeper for the colony, as well as observing the nighttime sky. His scientific records are incredibly significant records of early colonial history, and are even important to the international scientific community. Yet Dawes Point did not remain a scientific institution for long.

Dawes Point is able to supply excellent views up and down the harbour, and it wasn’t long before the strategic possibilities of the area were recognised. Even during the years of Dawes Observatory, there was a signal station and powder magazine located on the site. The signal station was built on the site to allow the communication of messages from The Gap at Watsons Bay, to Sydney, and from there up the Parramatta River, to the Governors residence. Even the first proper road was built from Dawes Point to Sydney’s Government House to enable quick communication between the leader of the colony and the signal station. When news came of conflict between England and Spain, the basic defences at Dawes Point were formalised. The observatory buildings, which were made of wood, were demolished in 1791 and permanent fortifications were built on the site to defend the new colony from other European powers. Dawes Point Battery, as it was known had armaments, powder magazines, guardhouses and officers quarters. Even the guns from the ship Sirius were relocated to the point to enable defence of the new colony.

The Dawes Point Battery continued to be an important part of Sydney’s defences over the next years. Come back next week to find out more.

Dawes Point As It Once Was

Sydney harbour From Dawes Point 1 Front

Sydney is an amazing city, with a stunningly beautiful harbour. It also conceals layer upon layer of history, from pre-European colonisation Aboriginal history through to the relatively modern. Sometimes, this history is even disguised, hidden under famous landmarks which dominate our minds, and hide the history of the place before their time. Dawes Point is one such place. This week, we begin the first in a series of posts uncovering these amazing layers of history.

Dawes Point is steeped in history. Today, it is firmly associated with The Sydney Harbour Bridge, whose southern Piers and Abutment Tower can be found on the point. Yet there is a wealth of history which predates the bridge. Before European colonisation, the Aboriginal people of the Eora nation called Dawes Point Tarra and the point itself was part of the land belonging to the Cadigal people. After European colonisation, Dawes Point was first associated with Lt William Dawes who in 1788 established a hut and observatory on the site. He named the point Point Maskelyn, after the Astronomer Royal, but the point soon became more commonly known as Dawes Point.

Yet it was not just Dawes work as a scientist which is significant. Dawes Point, and Dawes himself are associated with one of the earliest recorded cultural exchanges between the British colonists and the Eora people. A young Cameral woman, Patyegarang, had become friends with Dawes and the pair learned to communicate. Dawes recorded many of the Eora words and their English translations in his notebooks. This is one of the first recorded friendly interchanges between the colonists and the traditional owners of the land they had colonised.

Come back next week to discover the next layer of history to be discovered at Dawes Point

The Barracks Behind The Name – Barrack Street

Barrack Street

Sydney siders are fortunate to have many attractive streets lined with beautiful historic buildings, or at least their facades. Yet often, we spare little thought for the history of these roadways themselves. This week, The Past Present is turning its attention to just one of these fascinating streets, Barrack Street.

Barrack Street, which today is lined simply with buildings, once ran along the southern wall of the military barracks built by Governor Macquarie. Originally, the roadway was known simply as Barracks Lane and, when the barracks were still in operation, many would leave the barracks through a gate in the southern wall to use the lane way to reach either George or Clarence Street, which the lane ran between. Yet the barracks, which were in the centre of the growing Sydney town, occupied a large and very valuable plot of land. Government began to consider alternative places for the barracks and in the 1840s, a site was chosen. The site, a sandy spot on South Head Road, is now occupied by Victoria Barracks. Today, Wynyard Park is all that remains of the site once occupied by the Sydney military barracks, other than the name, which acts as a reminder in itself. Ironically though, the name Barrack Street was officially given to the road in 1849, a year after the barracks had actually closed.