Burn Statue in The Domain

Burns Statue

This week, with Tartan Day being just around the corner (July 1), it seemed like the perfect time to examine the Burns Statue in the Domain. This statue is just one of the many statues which are to be found in and around Sydney’s beautiful Botanic Gardens and Domain.

So why, and how exactly one might wonder, did Sydney come to have such a grand statue of a Scottish poet? Sydney has, since colonisation began, had a strong community of Scottish people, and in the late 1800s a group of these Scots came together to raise funds for a statue of the iconic poet, Robert Burns. They pledged to eat Haggis each year on January 25, and collect funds for the rest of the year to make the statue a reality. In 1898 though, the group decided they needed to enlist the Highland Society of New South Wales. They handed the accepted funds (over 55 pounds) to the society, and the society took up the cause. So loved was Robert Burns by the Scottish Australians that a Mr Muir even published a brochure called “An Australian Appreciation Of Robert Burns” to further support the cause. Finally, after years of effort and fundraising, in 1905 the statue was completed, and unveiled to a crowd of thousands in late January.

The statue itself was the work of London sculptor F. W. Pomeroy, who masterfully created the statue which shows Burns leaning on a plough and wearing clothing which is much the same as that seen in portraits of the poet. The poet is holding a pencil and note pad, posed to compose a new work and over his shoulder falls a length of Scottish plaid. The plaid cascades down the poets back, across the plough and partially hides a Scottish thistle, the symbol of Scotland, and an aspect of the statue many are likely to miss.

Black Swans In The Botanic Gardens


Botanic Gardens Black SwansThe image above is a charming glimpse into a family day out and about in Sydney’s beautiful Botanic Gardens. Where we might think of feeding ducks today, the water fowl which the children in this image are feeding are Australia’s native Black Swan.

The black swan is an intriguing bird, native to many parts of Australia and an emblem associated with Western Australia. These large, majestic birds have long been popular in zoo’s and bird collections, and were also popular features of public parks like the Botanic Garden. Yet what is perhaps of most interest is what the phrase ‘black swan’ has come to mean.

A black swan is a metaphor for an event or discovery which is unprecedented, unexpected and surprising but which in hindsight, really isn’t such a surprise after all. The phrase actually comes from the Latin and the oldest known use of the metaphor came almost a thousand years ago, in Juvenal’s line “rara avis in terries nigroque simillima cygno” which translates to “a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan”. At the time, and for centuries after, the only swans known were white swans, so it was assumed that the black swan did not exist. Then, in 1697, Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, discovered black swans in Australia, proving they did exist after all. This came as a great surprise, but in hindsight many acknowledged that it really shouldn’t have been such a shock – just as other animals came in other colours, not all swans were white. Today, Black Swan Theory, as introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007 is well known, but it all traces back to these majestic if unexpected birds which are such a feature of the Australian landscape.

A Wonderland In Sydney – Tamarama Wonderland City

Tamarama Bay Wonderland City Front

The image above showcases an amusement park in Sydney which, whilst long gone, exerted a great influence over the future of Sydney’s outdoor amusement parks. The park in question was Wonderland City at Tamarama.

Before Wonderland City, there was another pleasure ground at Tamarama – The Royal Aquarium and Pleasure Grounds. Opening in 1887 the Royal Aquarium (also known as the Bondi Aquarium, despite it not being at Bondi) was an open air amusement park with not only an aquarium but also amusements such as merry-go-rounds, a shooting gallery and roller-coaster. There was also a large dance hall which hosted acts from the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney, among others. The Aquarium and dance hall burned down in 1891 but soon ‘rose from the ashes’, continuing to service the people of Sydney.

In 1906, after several changes of ownership, the Royal Aquarium and Pleasure Grounds was sold to a well known theatre man, William Anderson and was transformed into Wonderland City. He leased not only the original land occupied by the Aquarium (minus the beach area), but also land in Tamarama Gully – his amusement park was to occupy 20 acres! At first, the amusement park was a great success, employing 160 people, hosting famous acts from Anderson’s national touring circuit and attracting 2000 people each weekend in summer. There were rides, an artificial lake, Japanese tearoom, Alpine Slide, music hall style theatre, and the first open air ice skating rink in Australia. One of the major attractions was the Airem Scarem which was an airship suspended between the cliffs which carried visitors between the cliffs, and at high tide, out over the water.

Wonderland City was the precursor to Luna Park and set the standard for amusement parks and outdoor entertainment in Sydney, yet it was short lived, closing in 1911, less than 10 years after it opened. Come back next week to find out more.

What’s In A Name – Cremore Point and the Mysterious Hungary Bay

Hungary Bay From Cremorne, Sydney NSW  Front copy

The image depicted above is a beautiful glimpse into the history of Sydney Harbour and Cremorne more specifically, but it is also something of a mystery. Cremorne is a well known locality in Sydney, yet the name Hungary Bay is far more mysterious, having almost disappeared from history leaving behind just a selection of postcards.

Place names are remarkably changeable, and Cremorne too has more than just one lurking in its history. Before European settlement Cremorne was known by Aboriginal names, variously recorded as  Wulworra-Jeung and Goram-Bulla-Gong. After European settlement of course a new name was applied, but it wasn’t Cremorne. The First Fleet named the area now known as Cremorne Point Careening Point, due to the fact that the Sirius was careened in a nearby cove. Later the point became known as Robertson’s Point, so named because the land was granted to a James Robertson, a Scottish watchmaker who was appointed curator of Government clocks and astronomical instruments.

Robertson sold his land to James Milson in 1853 who soon leased 22 acres to Jacob Clark and Charles Woolcott who planned to establish a pleasure garden. The gardens, named Cremorne Gardens after a similar garden in London, were duly opened and featured all sorts of amusements, including a carousel and rifle shooting gallery as well as walks and gardens. The gardens were not wildly successful and closed after only six years but the name ‘Cremorne’ stuck.

So what of Hungary Bay itself? There is little to hint at the existence of this bay apart from a range of postcards, but if the spelling is altered just a little it is revealed that Shell Cove just around from Cremorne Point itself was known as Hungry Point. It was an area where oyster shells were burned for lime, but with so many oysters available no doubt the bay was also used to satiate the hunger of many an early settler! Was this the mysterious Hungary Bay?

Place Of Folly? Folly Point

Folly Point North Sydney Front

The image above is a glimpse into the history of an area of North Sydney which today looks very different. Folly Point and Cammeray more generally were once an area given to dairy farming and quarrying, but today Cammeray is a built up area full of homes, manicured gardens and handsome tree lined streets. 

Cammeray is named after the Cammeraygal, the Aboriginal group who lived in the area. Though this name has a clear derivation, the name Folly Point is a little more mysterious. Such an evocative title – but what was the folly to which the name refers? Sadly nobody truly knows how the name came to be. There are two main theories though. Some suggest the area is named after Captain Charles McKinnon who was the commander of explosives hulks moored in the Seaforth area. The folly itself in this theory remains something of a mystery. The second theory suggests that a landowner in the area, by the name of Levy is responsible for the name. Apparently he built his house on Folly Point, but he mixed his mortar with the salty sea water and the house collapsed. The name folly refers to the fact that he then did the same thing again, with the same results.

However the area came to be named, it is an area which has played an important role in Sydneys Depression era history, not just in the Great Depression but also the previous 1890s Depression. During the earlier period of depression a shanty settlement grew up in the bushland at Folly Point. It was known as Tin Town and became home to many out of work Sydneysiders. It was also during this period that talented Australian poet Barcroft Boake tragically committed suicide at Folly Point, hanging himself with his stockwhip. Tin Town persisted after the depression ended and when depression again hit in the 1930s it was still a working settlement. Again, the unemployed moved into the rough tents and shacks.

What’s In A Name – Parsley Bay

Parsley Bay Sydney 2 Front

This week The Past Present is focussing on another of Sydney Harbours beautiful inlets and bays. Sydney Harbour is a spectacular waterway with various hidden gems along its shores. Many of these have a long history and one such area is Parsley Bay.

Parsley Bay is a narrow inlet of Sydney Harbour, located in the suburb of Vaucluse. The Birrabirragal group of Aborigines once called the area, which is rich in rock overhands and caves, home but with the arrival of Europeans Vaucluse and the Parsley Bay area was quickly settled. The first land grant, to a Mr Thomas Laycock, occurred in 1792 and this Grant is also the first reference to the name Parsley Bay. Nobody is entirely certain where the name ‘Parsley Bay’ originated from, though there are two popular theories. The first suggests that the name refers to a hermit named Parsley who once lived in one of the local caves, while the other theory suggests the name is reference to an edible plant which once grew wild around the area. It is even thought this plant may have been used by the first settlers to treat scurvy.

Parsley Bay has a remarkably rich history, far more than is elucidated here and will doubtless by the subject of future posts. It stayed in private ownership for many years, belonging to the Wentworth family of Vaucluse Estate, but there is evidence that despite this it was a popular place for picnics and outings. Parsley Bay officially became a public recreation reserve in 1907.

ANZAC Memorial, Hyde Park

hyde park 1 watermarked

This week, with ANZAC Day falling today, it is a time to reflect on the sacrifices of Australians who enlisted. It is also, as I am sure you are all aware, the Centenary of the start of the First World War. At such a time of reflection and remembrance it was only fitting that The Past Present focus on the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park.

The ANZAC Memorial is a memorial to all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War One but more specifically it commemorates the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp who landed at Gallipoli on April 25th, 1915. These brave soldiers were the ones who birthed the ANZAC Legend. A year after the landing, a service was held in Sydney in commemoration and this led to the establishment of a fund for a memorial to those who sacrificed all for the cause. By 1918 more than £60,000 had been raised.

At the conclusion of the war it was decided that the grand memorial should commemorate all ANZACs who served during the war. In 1923 the Institute of Architects suggested the memorial be erected in Hyde Park, but instead a Cenotaph was created at Martin Place. In 1929 though a competition to design the grand Hyde Park Memorial was held and 117 entries were received. The winning entry was that of Bruce Dellit, one of the leading Art Deco designers in Australia and included sculptures by George Rayner Hoff. Construction on the memorial began in 1932 and the building was officially opened by the Duke of Gloucester on November 24, 1934.

Clifton Gardens Baths

Baths at Clifton Gardens Front

This week, with Autumn underway and the swimming season slowly coming to an end in Australia, it seemed like the perfect time to examine one of Sydney’s popular swimming spots and pleasure grounds, Clifton Gardens. The postcard above shows Clifton Garden Baths, a popular swimming spot not only today but in years gone by.

The swimming enclosure pictured in this postcard was very different to the one which remains at Clifton Gardens today. Although both were ‘ocean baths’ which permitted safe swimming in the harbour (though the shark proof net is apparently not particularly shark proof today), the original was unique in its design. Sometimes referred to as the ‘amphitheatre bath’, the huge circular swimming enclosure could apparently accommodate up to 3000 spectators on the decks! The enclosure was circular, surrounded by a two storey walkway which connected at either end with the dressing sheds (also apparently two storey). The baths were used for mixed bathing, both during the day and at night.

To find out more about Clifton Gardens, visit last weeks post.

Clifton Gardens

Fairground rides in photo

This week, the Past Present wanted to investigate one of Sydney’s famous pleasure grounds. Sydney has a variety of beautiful beaches, lovely parks and even a few fun parks, but once these attractions were combined in places like Clifton Gardens. The postcard above shows Clifton Gardens in circa 1910, including one of the old fashioned rides which were enjoyed by visitors.

The history of Clifton Gardens as a place to holiday begins in 1871 when a hotel called the Clifton Arms was built by D. Butters. In 1879 this hotel was leased by David Thompson who purchased the hotel a year later in 1880 and later built the Marine Hotel which operated until the 1960s. It was in 1906 though that Clifton Gardens really became a tourist hub when Sydney Ferries Ltd purchased the Thompson estate, including a skating rink, wharf, dance pavilion, and the three story hotel. They soon added to these attractions, building a grand circular swimming enclosure, a boatshed and even a tramway from the wharf to the hotel. Clifton Gardens as it was then known was a perfect place for not only family and private tourists and visitors, but also for union and company picnics and was frequented by the employees of various butchers, banks and even The Water Board.

Come back next week to find out more about the history of Clifton Gardens famous Baths.

A Family Outing To Fairyland

Postcard of 'The Rest, Fairyland'

Postcard of ‘The Rest, Fairyland’

Holidays are the perfect time for families to spend a few days enjoying time together. This week, The Past Present decided to take a step back in time, to visit a place where families might have spent their day out in days gone by, Fairyland at Lane Cove.

The area where Fairyland was built, on the Lane Cove River, belonged to the Swan family who purchased the land early in the 20th century and had soon established a market garden on the site. One of their popular crops was strawberries, which were purchased by people boating on the river and eventually, the Swan family began to offer afternoon teas to these passers by. By 1920, the family had recognised the potential for their land to become a popular, lucrative pleasure ground and set about transforming their market garden into what became known as Fairyland.

The pleasure grounds were immensely popular with day trippers and it wasn’t long before rides (including the wonderfully named ‘razzle dazzle’), a wharf, dance hall, kiosk and playground had been built. The Swan family used fairytale characters throughout the area, painting them on buildings, and even making painted, wooden figures which were to be found in the trees – hence the name fairyland. Today the bush has mostly reclaimed the old pleasure grounds, but many remember happy outings on the banks of the Lane Cove River.