Spring Street, Sydney

Pitt And Spring Streets Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful and fascinating glimpse into the history of Sydney. Showing bustling streets full of pedestrians, horses and carts and cars, it also captures a fascinating time in Sydney, when the new automobile, and old fashioned horse power coexisted side by side.

Yet few Sydneysiders are likely to be able to tell you exactly where this intersection, of Pitt and Spring Streets, is. In fact, Spring Street, although still in existence, is just a small laneway today. Yet once, it played a fascinating part in the history of Sydney’s water supply.

When Captain Arthur Phillip (also known as Governor Phillip) arrived in Sydney he selected the site based on what became known as the Tank Stream – Sydney’s vital fresh water source. The Tank Stream was mainly fed from a swamp in the area of todays Huge Park, but there was also a number of springs along the course of the stream. One of the largest of these springs was in the locality of Spring Street.

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On Your Bike To BHP

BHP Steelworks Newcastle

BHP Steelworks Newcastle

This week, with many people gearing up for the Easter break and possibly finishing up work for a day or two, The Past Present is sharing the beautiful image above, from the collection of an unknown photographer and taken in 1936. The photo is a rarity in the collection, a work without a negative or description, but it is such an evocative glimpse into the past.

The photo is believed to show BHP Steelworks in Newcastle (a location which features heavily in the collection), but the aspect of the photo which I find most intriguing is the number of bicycles being ridden away from the factory. It appears to be the end of the day and the workers have mounted up and are heading home on their two wheeled transport. Several sources I have been able to find suggest that bicycles were a popular mode of transport for workers at the steelworks with hundreds of bicycles making the journey on a daily basis. There is a certain relaxed, country air to the scene for such a busy steelworks!

Newcastle Depression Camp

Group of transient shacks on vacant land between abbatoirs and River in Waratah. (Man being barbered in open)

Group of transient shacks on vacant land between abbatoirs and River in Waratah. (Man being barbered in open)

The extraordinary photo above, dating from circa 1936, is one of many in the Past Present collection focussing on Newcastle in NSW. It provides a glimpse not only into the history of Newcastle, but the history of Australia during the Great Depression, showing one of the depression settlements which sprung up not only in Newcastle, but in other cities, including Sydney.

During the Great Depression, many Australians lost their only sources of income and were forced from their homes. Many took to the road looking for work, while others moved into camps like the one pictured. Whole families took up residence in these camps, often arriving only with the possessions they could carry, and starting from scratch. They would choose an empty area and erect a rough shack, using whatever materials they could access, including wood, corrugated iron and even hessian sacks.

In Newcastle, many sought jobs at the various factories, but work was hard to come by. Unemployment in Newcastle was high, estimated at 30% of the working population, and many moved into the shanty towns which sprung up at Nobby’s Beach, Stockton, Carrington, Adamstown, Lambton, Waratah and Hexham. Life in the camps was hard, but there is evidence in this photo which also shows the normality of life – a man is being shaved and children play between the shacks.