Macquarie Place Park

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View west along Bridge Street from Loftus showing bit of Macquarie Square from which city grew. Large fig tree at right

The image above captures a part of Sydney which is vital to European history, and to the story of Sydney as a city. It is a beautiful snapshot showing what, to some, is the heart of our stunning harbour city, yet it is also a place which many Sydneysiders and visitors have probably never visited – Macquarie Place Park.

Macquarie Place Park is, as the description of the photo itself suggests, on the corner of Bridge and Loftus Streets in the heart of Sydney. It is named for Macquarie Place, a street which once ran between the Tank Stream Bridge and Kings Wharf, and which is today incorporated into the park itself. The park is a green oasis amongst the bustle of city life, and has always been a rare open space in the busy city, even from the days when the city was just barely beginning.

Macquarie Place Park is a triangular shape, and once it was surrounded by the homes and residences not only of the Governor himself, but the civil officers of the colony (including the Judge Advocate, Chaplain and Surveyor). Other buildings surrounding the open space were store buildings and the homes of the most important merchants in the fledgling colony. In these early years the open space was simply left open by chance – nobody had occupied it, though some parts of the land were leased by Sydney residents and personalities. Yet in 1818 the park was formalised by Governor Macquarie as a public space, with the erection of the famous obelisk which measures distances in the colony. Just a year later a sandstone fountain was built.

The obelisk is just one of many historic structures and statues which remain in the park, though it is no longer the central feature. Once the obelisk was at the centre of the park, but when Circular Quay was built between 1839 and 1847, several streets had to be extended, and this took up areas which had been previously reserved. Today the obelisk stands at the edge of the park.

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Shark Island – Part 2

shark-island-sydney-harbour-nsw-paddle-steamers-front

The image above is a wonderful snapshot of day out and about on Sydney Harbour. It shows one of the beautiful harbour islands simply teeming with visitors, perhaps waiting to watch one of the yacht races which were once so popular – perhaps even The Sydney To Hobart Race itself. Yet the island in question, Shark Island, is one which was not always publicly accessible.

In the 19th century, Shark Island was an important link in the colony’s quarantine system, and from 1871, was the quarantine depot for animals arriving from overseas. Yet many local Sydneysiders felt that the beautiful harbour islands, including Shark Island, should be made available as public reserves. The pressure of public opinion was such that in 1900, the NSW Government made Shark Island a public reserve, though it didn’t officially open to the public until 1905. Before being opened officially, the Clark Island Trust, which had been established in 1892 to beautify and create visitor facilities on Clark Island, worked to improve the amenities and beauty of Shark Island. Their intention was to create on Shark Island an Edwardian style English picnic park, and they constructed paths, shelters, seating and gardens. Then, in 1917, The Sydney Harbour Trust took over the management of the island and made more improvements, including the construction of new paths. The Sydney Harbour Trust continued to be responsible for the island until 1975, when Shark Island became part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.

Dawes Point – Part 4

Dawes Point From McMahons Point Front

Dawes Point From McMahon’s Point

As we have been learning over the past three weeks, Dawes Point is a fascinating place, with layer upon layer of history to be discovered. From the first observatory and a vital contact place for European Colonists and Aboriginal People, to a fortified defence post, Dawes Point has served Sydney in a variety of ways. Yet, perhaps one of it’s most vital roles came in the 20th century.

In 1902, the Dawes Point battery stopped being used as a defensive point. With Federation, there had been the formation of a regular Australian Army, and Dawes Point was no longer seen as necessary to defence. Following this era, the main role played by Dawes Point for the next years was as a landing place for ferry services crossing the harbour. These services date right back to Billy Blue, who began a ferry service in the early 1800s, and even ferried Governor Macquarie across the harbour! By 1900, Dawes Point was the landing place for the Horse Ferry. There were also public baths in the area of Dawes Point, and of course many buildings which were now unoccupied. In 1909 the Water Police moved into the guardhouse, and we also know that, from 1918, the Officers Quarters were used by the Department of Repatriation as a tractor training school for returned soldiers. Other areas were reserved for public use, including a promenade.

By 1925 though, all the buildings were empty and awaiting demolition to make way for a new crossing of the harbour, the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many of the buildings, including Francis Greenways contributions, were demolished and the cannons were removed and placed at Taronga Park Zoo, where they remained until 1945. Other buidlgins, including the Officers Quarters were used as offices and accomodation for the engineers building the bridge, Dorman and Long. In 1925, Dawes Point also became home to one of two u shaped tunnels. These tunnels, one on each side of the harbour, contained massive cables which held back the bridge arches as they were being built. When the bridge was complete, the cables were no longer needed and removed, and the tunnels were filled in. Dawes Point is also the site of the Southern Pylon of the famous bridge, which soars above the heads of those visiting. During construction of the bridge, the area was of course closed to the public, but following the opening of the bridge, the area was opened as a public park, which today remains a popular area, especially for watching the Sydney Harbour fireworks on New Years Eve!

Celebrating 200 Years – Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens – Part 3

Botanical Gardens Sydney 5 Front

Over the last two weeks, The Past Present has been focussing on the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, one of Sydney’s best known and most iconic green spaces. As we have discovered, the gardens are 200 years old this year, making them one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in the Southern Hemisphere – older even than the famous Kew Gardens in England. During this time many people have been associated with the gardens, but one of the most well known was Charles Moore. 

Charles Moore was born in Scotland in 1820  and grew up to become a very promising botanist. In the mid 1840s the Sydney Botanic Gardens was in need of a new director and his excellent reputation led to two of Moore’s professors, Lindley and Henslow, recommending him as the new director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Sadly, there was some confusion and two men were appointed to the post, Charles Moore and John Bidwell. Bidwell stepped aside and in 1848 Moore arrived in Sydney and took up his posting. On arrival, Moore found a botanic garden which was badly neglected. He soon set about restoring the gardens, creating a combined scientific institution and recreational reserve – just as the Botanic Gardens continue to be today. 

During his tenure, Moore improved and expanded on the gardens and their function. He became an avid collector of plants and seeds, corresponding with other collectors and also mounting his own expeditions, including one in1850 to the New Hebrides, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia. He established new facilities and gardens including a medicinal plant garden, a herbarium, a library and a lecture room where he lectured until 1882. In addition to his career at the Botanic Gardens, Moore served as commissioner for the Paris, Philadelphia and Melbourne Exhibitions, was a member of the Hyde Park Improvement Committee, a trustee of various parks around Sydney, and was even one of the founding trustees of the Royal National Park. He was also instrumental in planning Centennial Park in 1887 and provided the landscaping for the famous Garden Palace which hosted the Sydney International Exhibition. In 1896 Moore was succeeded as director of the Botanic Gardens by J. H. Maiden who was himself a great admirer of Moore. Moore died soon after.

Celebrating 200 Years – Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens – Part 2

Botanical Gardens Sydney 3 Front

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens are an iconic green space, a place to relax and retreat from busy city life. This week, The Past Present is again celebrating the history of this beautiful Sydney space, examining the story of the gardens after their accepted Foundation Date of June 13, 1816.

Having been formally established as a parkland, the area were in need of men who could shape and design the gardens themselves. The earliest botanist associated with the gardens was Allan Cunningham who arrived in the colony in 1816, just as the roads of the gardens were completed. He was soon after appointed the ‘Kings Botanist’. Yet it was Charles Fraser, who was formally appointed to the role of Government Colonial Botanist and superintendent of the Botanic Gardens in 1821, who had the most influence. His work on the gardens began in 1817, and by 1820 had established a what was officially described as a ‘botanic garden’ separate from the Governors Kitchen Garden.

The fledgling gardens were, in these early times, very much the domain of the Governor and the ‘respectable classes’. In fact, there were originally punishments in place for those deemed unsuitable who entered the area! It was not until September of 1831 that the Domain area was opened to the general public, though much of the gardens themselves were still reserved for the upper echelons of Sydney society. In December, Fraser died at just 43 years of age. For the next almost two decades many different men acted as superintendent for the gardens, though they usually served for relatively short periods. Some of these men resigned their posts, but several also died while in office. Then, in 1848 Charles Moore, one of the men most famously associated with the gardens, took over the position.

Come back next week to find out about the next era in the Botanic Gardens history

Celebrating 200 Years – Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens – Part 1

Botanical Gardens Sydney 2 Front

This week, with the Royal Botanic Gardens celebrating their bicentenary over the recent June long weekend, it seemed the perfect time to share an image of the iconic Sydney green space. Over the course of its history, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney have been a popular subject for artists ranging from colonial watercolorists to postcard makers. The image above, which shows the Botanic Gardens in circa 1907, is from a postcard and is just one of the many postcards in the collection which showcase our beautiful Botanic Gardens.

Before European colonists arrived in Australia, the area which includes what is now known as the Royal Botanic Gardens was known as Woccanmagully, and used as an initiation ground by the Cadigal people. When Europeans arrived though, a small farm growing much needed grain for the new colony was established on the site. By 1802, the old Government House (which is now the site of the Museum of Sydney) had a fine garden, which would have included land around what is now the Botanic Garden. Records show the garden contained a mix of exotic and native plants, just as the Botanic Garden does today!

In 1807 Governor Bligh attempted to reclaim the Demesne (or Domain), but it was Governor Macquarie who actually succeeded in doing this in 1810, building walls around the area and removing the remaining buildings. Bligh had also begun to build roads in the Domain area, but these were finished between 1813 and 1816 by Governor Macquarie, and today one of these loops, completed in 1816, is known as Mrs Macquaries Road. Macquarie was informed that the road was complete on June 13, 1816, and this is traditionally seen as the foundation day for our beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens. At 200 years old, they are one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in the Southern Hemisphere, and in fact are older than the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, which opened to the public over 20 years later, in 1841.

Come back next week to find out more about the creation of the Royal Botanic Gardens, one of Sydney’s best beloved green spaces.

Centennial Park Part 2

Centennial Park Colour Front

The image above is another stunning view over one of Sydney’s most iconic and well loved parks – Centennial Park. Today, and indeed in the image above, the park is today a beautiful public space, but as we learned last week, this was not always the case. In fact, Centennial Park grew out of swamp land.

By 1859, the Lachlan Swamps, which had served as Sydney’s main water supply, were increasingly polluted and in 1874, after a series of floods, the pollution worsened. Yet there was another role on the horizon for the swamp lands. In the 1870s many members of the public began to lobby councils in Woollahra and Paddington to allow the Lachlan Swamps Water Reserve to be used as a public space – a park. Governor Carrington, who wished to establish a large park suited to riding and recreation recognised the potential of the enormous site and in 1887 the Centennial Celebrations Act created Centennial Park and Queens Park. The original designs for the park had allocated the highest ground in the park area for a memorial (or even house, as then Premier, Sir Henry Parkes dreamed) commemorating European colonisation. These plans, of course, did not come to fruition.

The park was carefully designed though, with much of the design work attributed to Frederick Augustus Franklin, who was an English civil engineer. The construction of the park was overseen by Charles Moore, who was then director of the Royal Botanical Gardens (Sydney) and James Jones, who was then the head gardener at the Botanic Gardens. 50,000 pounds was put aside by Parliament towards construction of the park, with its grand drives, processional entry with ornamental gates, lakes, cascades, fountains, grassy areas and dams. Yet construction was not easy. There were disagreements as to whether the wild vegetation should be preserved (with Moore preferring large, grassy expanses), floods, droughts, damage from stock and vandalism and problems with the natural sandy soils. Despite these many hindrances, the land was cleared and carefully sculpted, and the Old Grand Drive (now known as Federation Way) was constructed in 1887, with the public soon making enthusiastic use of the new public space. Centennial Park was officially opened on January 26, 1888, just a year after construction began, and well before the entire park was complete.