Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Lady Macquarie's Chair Front

This week, with New Year just around the corner, it seemed the perfect time to share this image taken in the vicinity of a prime location for watching fire works. Yet although Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is well known as a tourist destination, many people little spare a thought for the history of this iconic location.

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, which is also sometimes known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, is the site of one of the best vantage points of the harbour. In fact, it is renowned as one of the best views in Sydney. The extraordinary view down the harbour is indeed the reason behind the historic background to the area. In 1810, convict labour was used to carve a solid rock outcrop into a chair for, as the name suggests, Lady Elizabeth Macquarie.

Elizabeth Macquarie was the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the governor of the colony between 1810 and 1821. According to local folklore Lady Macquarie enjoyed watching the busy harbour and the ships coming and going. Reputably, her favourite vantage site was what became known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair, and the chair itself was carved to provide her a more comfortable place to watch the goings on of the busy harbour.


Christmas Hold To The Light Postcards

This week, with Christmas just around the corner, it seemed the perfect time to share these two amazing Christmas postcards. Throughout the year, The Past Present has showcased a wide range of postcard images, all of which have been pictorial cards showcasing iconic Australian places and scenes, often of Sydney and surrounds. Yet postcards come in wide range of themes, and they were produced with an amazing range of different techniques.

The postcards above and below are known as ‘hold to the light’ cards. When held flat on the table, they show a day time scene, but when held up to the light, the scene magically changes to show illuminated windows and a frosty nighttime scene. First appearing in approximately 1898 in Berlin, hold to the light postcards seem to have been produced first by the Wolf Hagelberg company. In fact, sometimes they are even known as Hagelberg Design Cards.

The Hagelberg cards were mainly produced using a die cut technique, which is what the cards above use to create the amazing effect. The basic design would be printed using chromolitho or collotype processes, just like everyday postcards which we all know so well. Then, a specially created forme, which had the areas which needed to be die cut marked on it, would be laid over the card and the areas which were to be illuminated would be punched out using the forme as a template.  Another, address side, would be printed separately and between the two pieces another sheet of paper would be placed. Often this sheet was yellow. When the three layers were glued together, the card was complete, and could be held to the light to create the amazing Day to Night effect.

Merry Christmas from The Past Present!



Approach To Mudgee From The North Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse of the history of one of NSW most historic small towns, and one which is a popular destination for Sydneysiders looking for a weekend escape. Yet today, the attraction of Mudgee today – wine, food and beautiful scenery – is far different to those which once brought thousands of people to the beautiful area.

The first European to visit the Mudgee area, and indeed the forst to cross the Cudgegong River, was James Blackman, who came to The area in 1821. It is known that some time before 1837, he had built a slab building on the site which became the Mudgee township. The town itself was declared in 1838, after other colonists had moved into the area. Indeed, almost as soon as Blackman had found a passable route, others followed, with William Lawson and the Cox family quickly establishing their own properties in the area. Before this, the traditional owners or the land were the Wiradjuri People, but after the European colonists arrived, they were systematically removed from their lands or killed.

Yet in these early days of European settlement in the Mudgee area, Mudgee remained a small settlement. That soon changed though, when an enormous gold nugget was discovered in nearby Hargraves in 1851. Soon, Mudgee had become the epicentre of the many local gold fields, with enormous through traffic to Gulgong, Hill End and other gold fields. Within just 10 years the population had swelled from just 200 in 1851 to over 1500 in 1861. In 1860, Mudgee was declared as a municipality, which makes it the second oldest towm west of the Blue Mountains.

Luckily for Mudgee, and unlike other gold field towns, Mudgee had never been dependent purely on gold the area around Mudgee was noted for excellent wool production, agriculture and even for its wine making (the first vineyards were established in 1858 by Adam Roth). When the gold fields began to be abandoned, it was these industries which kept Mudgee alive and sustained the thriving town.

Pyrmont Bridge

Pyrmont Bridge Open Sydney Front

The image above is a stunning view of an famous part of Sydney’s history. Pyrmont Bridge is well known to Sydneysiders and visitors alike, being at the heart of Darling Harbour and its famous tourist district. Yet the view above is also a view which many will never have seen – the amazing bridge open, and viewed from the water.

Pyrmont Bridge is an amazing structure, and today has the honour of being one of the worlds oldest electrically operated swing bridges, having been built in 1902. Yet the bridge we see today is not the original bridge at all. Pyrmont Bridge has, since the mid 1800s, provided a vital transport link between the city itself and the growing western suburbs. Yet the bridge spanned Darling Harbour, which was then an important working harbour, with many wharves and warehouses. Tall ships needed to be able to enter the harbour and so the bridge needed to be designed in such a way that it opened to allow these ships to access the wharves. A wooden swing bridge was the answer and the first Pyrmont Bridge opened in 1857.

Then, in the late 1800s, it was decided a new bridge was needed. In 1891 a competition was held to design the new bridge, but the winning entry would never be built. It was a design for a bridge built entirely of metal and deemed to be far to expensive to actually construct. Instead, the design by Robert Hickson, the Commissioner and Engineer in Chief of the Department for Public Works, was chosen. His bridge was built mainly of timber, with just a the central swing span being metal. Construction on the new bridge began in 1899 and the beautiful swing bridge we see today was opened in 1902.

As the 1900s wore on, the type of ship bringing goods and visitors to Sydney changed, and the larger container ships no longer used the Cockle Bay end of Darling Harbour. By 1981 the Pyrmont Bridge was no longer in use, falling into disrepair and in danger of being demolished. Thanks to a public campaign though, the bridge was saved and restored as part of the redevelopment of Darling Harbour. The bridge, and Darling Harbour itself were reopened in 1988.

South Head And The Hornby Lighthouse

South Head Sydney with lighthouse front

The image above is a stunning glimpse across the water and towards South Head and its cheerfully painted lighthouse, a place which holds an important place in the history of Sydney, and the colony of NSW. Yet for many Sydneysiders, the lighthouse is simply a picturesque attraction.

The Hornby Lighthouse at South Head was constructed in 1858, but the story of the lighthouse itself begins a year earlier. In 1857, two ship wrecks caused a tragic loss of life for people travelling to Sydney Harbour. The first wreck, that of the Dunbar, occurred in August just off South Head and resulted in the loss of over 100 lives. Then, just two months later, the Catherine Adamson was lost, this time off North Head, resulting in the loss of twenty one lives. The public recognised that the entrance to Sydney Harbour, although seemingly a good, broad entrance, was a dangerous one. Ships could easily miss it, or mistake other rock formations as the entrance, resulting in terrible loss of life. Thus the public quickly began to agitate for a lighthouse which would denote the actual entrance to the harbour, eliminating a great deal of the danger involved in sailing to Sydney.

The Hornby Lighthouse is quite a small lighthouse, built on the extreme point of Inner South Head. It was constructed in 1858 and opened by Sir William Denison, the then Governor of NSW and named after the family of his wife, the Hornby Family. The light was usually known by the alternative name though, the Lower Light, which was used to distinguish it from the Macquarie Lighthouse, which was not far away along South Head Road. The Hornby lighthouse, which has long been recognised by its cheerful red and white painted exterior was designed by the Colonel architect, Alexander Dawson, and is actually built of beautifully dressed, curved sandstone blocks. The light itself stands 9 metres above the ground level.

George Street Ghost Signs

George Street South End Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse of the past of George Street, a snapshot of what the street once looked like. It is also an image which captures a George Street which is today long gone. George Street in Sydney is a place all visitors and Sydneysiders alike will be familiar with, being one of the major streets of the famous harbourside city.

George Street is at the heart of Sydney, having been the first street to be constructed in the fledgling city when the Colonists arrived. Ever since, George Street has been a hub of activity. Of course, being such an important centre of business and activity in Sydney, it was also once a hive of sign writers. Signs were once hand painted on, or even built into buildings as a way of advertising products or shops. They aimed to be eye catching, so often they were brightly coloured and extremely large, often covering the majority of the visible section of a side wall. Several such signs are visible in the postcard above.

Yet these signs, which once were so common, are today increasingly rare. Many buildings, and their signs, have been demolished, and in other cases the signs have been hidden as new buildings have been constructed next to, and covering, the side walls which once were the canvas of sign writers.  Today, when a building is demolished and an old sign is temporarily revealed in all its glory, we give the sign the name ‘ghost sign’ – here today and covered once again in short order. Yet ironically, the covering of these signs by modern buildings often preserves the sign, protecting it from weathering, the sun and pollution. Whether any of the signs in the postcard above still exist is questionable, but next time you see a building demolished alongside a heritage building, take a closer look to see if a ghost sign has been revealed!

McMahon’s Point

The image above is a beautiful snapshot, capturing a moment in time at one of Sydney’s historic suburbs. McMahon’s Point is today a popular harbour side suburb, it’s streets lined with the exclusive, luxurious and expensive homes of the well to do.

This was no always the case though. Once, McMahon’s Point was, like so many suburbs of Sydney, home to the working classes, who lived and worked in the harbour side suburb. In the early 1800s, the area which would become known as McMahon’s Point was home to boatbuilding yards, ferry wharves and of course the many workers cottages of those who kept this industrial suburb buzzing with activity.

It was not until the later 1800s that the suburb became known as McMahon’s Point, named in honour of Michael McMahon. McMahon moved into the area in the 1860s, and building not only a family home, but a successful business. He was a brush and comb maker, and his work was so outstanding that he was granted a government contract and even won a bronze medal at the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1867 in Victoria. Yet McMahon was not just important as a businessman. He was also a politician, who proclaimed the rights of those living on the northern shore of the harbour to fresh water, and reliable transport. He was a fierce defender of the rights of his constituents, and served not just as Mayor but also an Alderman of the incorporated Borough of Victoria, of which McMahon’s Point was part.