Luna Park

Luna Park and North Sydney pool Front

The image above is a glimpse into the history of one of Sydney’s beloved icons, Luna Park. Luna Park, from humble beginnings as a workshop site for the construction of pieces of the Harbour Bridge, became one of Sydneys most visited and popular attractions in the 1930s and onwards. How did this transformation occur?

In 1932, with the completion of the Harbour Bridge, the workshops which had been on the site now occupied by Luna Park were demolished and the North Sydney Council opened tenders for a new development of the site. At the same time Herman Phillips, David Atkins and Ted Hopkins were looking for a new location for a theme park. Phillips, Atkins and Hopkins had been the minds behind Luna Park Glenelg, in South Australia, but they had been having a lot of trouble with the council and local residents. The group eventually won the tender for the old workshop site in Sydney, and immediately afterwards, placed Luna Park Glenelg into voluntary liquidation. The rides from Glenelg were dismantled and transported to Sydney, being reassembled at the new Luna Park.

Luna Park Sydney opened in October 1935 and found almost immediate success with Sydneysiders and visitors alike. Each year, during the Winter period, the park was closed to visitors while rides were overhauled and the park was generally ’spruced up’. This gave visitors the feel that things had changed during the yearly three month closure, and kept the park feeling fresh and new. During World War II, and well into the 1960s the success of the park simply continued to grow.

In 1969 though, the lease on the park was sold, and investment in the rides and infrastructure began to wane. In 1979, a fatal fire on the Ghost Train resulted in a temporary closure of the park. In 1982, the park reopened, but for the next several decades, this pattern of changes in management and decreased investment continued. In the 1990s, the Government took control, listing the park on the register of the National Estate, and making changes to ensure the parks continued success. In 2002 the lease was granted to a new company, Luna Park Sydney PTY, LTD, and in 2004 they reopened the park to renewed success, which continues to this day.

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Vaucluse Bay – An Informal Pleasure Resort

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Vaucluse Bay. Section less fully developed than most other bays. Native brush and trees shown. used by some visitors as less formal resort area.

With the holidays drawing to a close, many Sydneysiders look to spend Australia Day and the final weekend of the school holidays closer to home. Sydney has a varied range of beautiful parks and wonderful beaches, many of which have a long history as ‘pleasure resorts’, both formal and informal. The evocative image above, taken by an unknown photographer in circa 1936, shows Vaucluse Bay, a ‘less formal resort area’, according to the photographers description.

According to the description by the unknown photographer, Vaucluse Bay is a ‘section less developed than other bays’, one of the reasons why it apparently became a popular, informal resort for many Sydneysiders. Yet the reason why Vaucluse Bay is so undeveloped in comparison to other bays is in itself a fascinating glimpse into history, for Vaucluse Bay was once part of the grounds of Vaucluse House.

Vaucluse House began life as a more simple stone cottage built in 1805 by an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Henry Browne Hayes. It was he who named the property Vaucluse after a village bear Avignon in Southern France. In 1827 though, the cottage and property were purchased by the famous explorer William Wentworth. Soon, he began the process of improving the property, first building a range of outbuildings, including a rather grand Gothic revival style stable, which still stands today. He also began to extend on the cottage, adding bedrooms, a dining room and drawing room. By the 1830s, he had even completed a boathouse on the bay itself. The Wentworths were also committed to creating beautiful grounds for the increasingly grandiose (though never quite completed) house. Wentworth died in 1872, and was interred in a mausoleum built on the Vaucluse estate.

The house, and Vaucluse Bay itself, continued to be private land until 1911 when extensive public pressure caused the state government to resume over 20 acres of harbour front land. By 1912, the Vaucluse Park Trust was granting public access to the bottom level of the house and in 1915 regular visiting hours were established. Soon, Vaucluse Bay and the grand house it once belonged to were a popular, if relatively undeveloped, tourist resort for Sydneysiders. In 1980 the entire property was acquired by the Historic Houses Trust.

Clifton Gardens

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This week, with the weather rapidly warming up and many Sydneysiders heading for the beach, it seemed the perfect time to share this beautiful image of Clifton Gardens. Today, many Sydneysiders head out of the city in search of the seaside, but once, pleasure resorts such as the one pictured above were all the rage, and much closer to the heart of Sydney than many might expect!

In 1828, the first grant at Chowder Bay was given to Thomas Graham, the assistant to the Government Botanist, Mr Fraser. Graham recognised that the land at Chowder Bay was quite fertile, and soon established a four-acre orchard. By 1832 though, Graham was broke, and the property was sold – 15 acres of it to Captain Edmund Cliffe. Many believe, and it certainly seems reasonable to assume, that Cliffe was the one who called the property Cliffeton, a name which appears to have stuck well beyond his death in 1837. The property continued to be improved upon and altered, but the biggest change came in 1853 when CF Hemmington opened a pleasure ground. Hemmington already operated a pleasure ground called Fairy Bower in Manly, and he named his new pleasure ground at Cliffeton (as it was then known) Fairyland. Being right on the harbour, there was plenty of water access and people could visit by steamer. It wasn’t until the 1870s and the construction of the Clifton Hotel that the area became truly popular though.

The Clifton Hotel was built in 1871 by Duncan Butters and just a year later, Butters was also granted a publicans license making the Clifton Hotel one of the first two licensed hotels in the entirety of Mosman. Unsurprisingly, the establishment of a licensed hotel increased the popularity of the pleasure ground exponentially! Then, in 1879, David Thompson purchased the Clifton Gardens Estate and enlarged the hotel. He also added a wharf and dance hall which further appealed to Sydneysiders visiting the area. In fact, so popular was the music and dancing, and so rowdy did it become, that in 1882 Thompson’s license was amended – he was no longer allowed music and dancing at Clifton Gardens at all! By 1885 he had managed to regain a full license though and reopened the hotel as a massive, 40 room hotel. The dancing pavilion was also upgraded and reopened and was advertised as the largest and best of its kind not just in Sydney, but in the Australian colonies!

Yet swimming was not yet an attraction at Clifton Gardens. Come back next week to find out what happened next!

Merry Christmas From Sydney Zoological Gardens

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This week, with Christmas just around the corner, and Christmas holidays well and truly upon us, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share this beautiful postcard. The postcard, which shows the zoological gardens in Sydney, was published especially for Christmas, and is quite a different scene to those which appeared on many seasonal cards of the time.

The zoo in Sydney, now Taronga Zoo, has long been a popular destination for holiday makers, whether at Christmas or at other times of the year. Yet the zoo as we know it is very different from the zoological gardens in this postcard. In fact, they aren’t even in the same place! The Sydney Zoological Gardens were established in the 1880s after the Sydney City Council granted the new Sydney Zoological Society permission to occupy an area of Moore Park. The area where this first ‘Zoological Gardens’ was established was 7 ½ acres in an area known as Billy Goat Swamp. This is an area which today is part of Sydney Girls High School. As time went by, and under the direction of Charles Moore, the zoological gardens expanded eventually even including an elephant house and bear pit.

By 1910 however the zoo was considered not only too small, but too popular. The site at Moore Park was no longer suitable for such a popular tourist destination and Taronga Park in Mosman was selected as an alternate site for the zoo.

Celebrating 200 Years – Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens – Part 3

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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

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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

Centennial Park And Busby

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As the weather slowly, but surely, begins to turn towards cooler days, many Sydneysiders will be looking to take advantage of the Autumn weather and spend some time outdoors. Many will enjoy a picnic or two in the beautiful parks around Sydney. One of the most famous Sydney parks, and indeed one of the most celebrated is Centennial Park.

Centennial Park, also known today as Centennial Parklands, is one of Sydney’s older parks, and plays an important role in the history of Australia’s first European colony. When the First Fleet arrived in 1788, one of their first priorities was to find fresh water. They used the Tank Stream, but by the 1820s it was polluted and could no longer supply sufficient water for the needs of the colony. Governor Darling appointed John Busby as the Government Mineral Surveyor in 1824, and one of his first job was to locate another source of fresh water. He reported that the area then known as the Lachlan Swamps would be ideal, with their natural aquifers and marshlands to filter water. Busby determined that an underground tunnel or ‘bore’ could be constructed to take the water to the city, for distribution from what is now Hyde Park. Construction of the bore, known as Busby’s Bore, began in 1827 and was completed in 1837. The bore supplied water to Sydney up until 1859, when the swamps became too polluted to use any longer.

Come back next week to find out about how the swamp lands and Busby’s Bore was transformed into one of Sydney’s most famous parklands!