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.

Sussex Street

The image above is an extraordinary glimpse into the past of a street which is familiar to so many of us Sydneysiders – Sussex Street. Being one of the major streets in the CBD of Sydney, it is a street which sees hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles every day, yet the vehicles it sees today are vastly different to those clogging the street in the postcard image. In fact, Sussex Street today is indeed a vastly different place to that shown in the busy image above.

Sussex Street is, compared to many others in Sydney, quite small running for just 1.7 kilometres between Hickson Road and Hay Street. Yet its relatively short length is crammed with history, and historic buildings. Sussex Street has long been a centre of activity and business in Sydney, just as it continues to be today. The street runs adjacent to Darling Harbour, and as a result many of the buildings along the street were once, and still are, associated with harbour activities. Hotels, Warehouses, Commercial Stores and even the Hunter River Steamship Navigation Company once lined the street, and today their buildings are often preserved by heritage listings.

Sirius Cove Part 2 – Curlew Artists Camp

The image above is a stunning snapshot of a beautiful bushland area in Sydney. Sirius Cove, and Little Sirius Cove which is pictured above, remain beautiful waterfront locations in Sydney, though perhaps a little less undisturbed and forested than they once were. Yet even more fascinating than their beautiful character is the history which pervades Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove.

One of the most famous episodes in the history of Sirius Cove was the artists camp established on the shores of the harbour in 1890. The camp, which was actually located in Little Sirius Cove (pictured above) was established by Reuben Brasch, who was a wealthy Sydney identity. He manufactured clothes and also owned a department store in Sydney, but on weekends he and his brothers used the camp which he had established as a peaceful getaway.

Soon enough though the camp and its beautiful surrounds also began to attract the creme de la creme of the Australian art scene. In 1891 Arthur Streeton moved into the camp, having moved to Sydney from Melbourne. It was not long after this that Tom Roberts joined him at the camp. The pair offered art classes in a Sydney studio as a way to supplement their income and pay their way, but as plein air painters, camp life was ideally suited to them. The rent for staying in the camp was low, but the camp was well organised and comfortable, with a dining tent, dance floor and even a piano. Other artists also visited the camp for varying lengths of time, including Julian Ashton and Henry Fullwood and for a time the camp was a popular place for musicians too. Then, after 1900 most of the artists moved on and the camp became popular with those interested in outdoor life and water sports. In 1912 the camp closed for good, with Taronga Park Zoo soon after moving to the ridge above the site.

Sirius Cove – Part 1

The image above is a beautiful, peaceful glimpse into the history of one of Australia’s significant cultural sites. Sirius Cove, and the nearby Little Sirius Cove, are significant areas to Sydney’s history, and the greater history of Australia in general. Yet so many who visit the area have no idea of the extent of history contained in these beautiful foreshore areas.

Before European colonisation of Australia, the protected and beautiful foreshore areas of Sirius Cove and Little Sirius Cove were the traditional lands of the Borogegal People. The most famous of these Borogegal People was Bungaree, who grew up in the traditional lands of his people and would have been very familiar with Sirius Cove.

Yet it wasn’t long after European colonisation that European history began to be linked to the beautiful Sirius Cove. In fact, the name of the cove itself reflects its first role in European history. In 1789, just a year after European colonisation, HMS Sirius was careened at Sirius Cove. Sirius Cove was perfect for careening (or learning away barnacles etc from the ships hull) as it was a convenient cove, and relatively sheltered. The ship, which was the flagship of the First Fleet, was wrecked less than six months later.

Of course, the most famous episode in the history of Sirius Cove is the artists camp which was established in 1890 at Little Sirius Cove. Come back next week to find out about the history of Curlew Camp.

Ettalong Beach

This week, with holidays well underway, it seemed the perfect opportunity to share the image above, Ettalong Beach. The image above provides a snapshot on the history of a holiday destination which has long been popular with Australians looking for a little sun. Even in the colder winter weather, many will still head to beach resorts, like Ettalong, these July school holidays.

Ettalong Beach has been known for almost as long as European colonists have been in Australia with Governor Phillip visiting the Central Coast and stopping at Ettalong Beach in 1788 and again in 1789. At the time of this first visit, it was noted that there were a large number of Aboriginal people on the beach and in the surrounding area, but this population was quickly decimated by European diseases, particularly smallpox.

The first European to permanently settle in the area was James Webb, who took up a formal grant of land in 1824, a grant which eventually grew to include most of the Woy Woy area. Other early Europeans in the area were men who collected and burned the huge number of shells to be found in the Ettalong and Woy Woy areas. These burned shells provided the lime necessary to build the colony. Still other settlers were boat builders, who used the Brisbane Water area to build and launch hundreds of boat between 1829 and the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the area in the 1950s.

Then, in the 1880s, the railway was extended to the Central Coast. By 1888 Woy Woy had its own railway station and by the 1890s, the Central Coast was something of a tourist wonderland. Woy Woy and the nearby Ettalong Beach became known for fishing, oysters, boating, picnicking and bathing, and people came from far and wide to enjoy the seaside resorts. Boarding houses, hotels and pubs began to spring up, and even seaside theatres were built at Ettalong, Woy Woy and Avoca. The main attraction though was, of course, the beach itself and Ettalong in particular was known for its beautiful beach.

Woolloomooloo Part 3

Woolloomooloo Bay Sydney 2 Front

The image above shows a glimpse of a Woolloomooloo which is today long gone. The once working wharves are now trendy housing, shops and restaurants, and the plethora of pubs, brothels and squalid homes have disappeared. Once again, Woolloomooloo has transformed into a rather gentrified and popular area for Sydney’s well to do, just as it began life. Yet this very nearly wasn’t the case.

By the mid 20th century, Woolloomooloo’s reputation had been seemingly irrevocably damaged. There was not enough work, houses were overcrowded with a combination of large families and boarders who helped family finances. Homes were badly in need of repair, but most landlords did nothing. Sly grog, drug dealers and criminal gangs were common. It was assumed, by all but those who lived there, that eventually Woolloomooloo would be nothing more than an extension of the commercial heart of the city. Planners and developers had long had plans for the area, and in 1955 the first battle arrived. A car business which owned the old Colonial building, St Kilda, which stood on Cathedral Street, applied to demolish it. There were numerous court battles, and some very shady activities to make St Kilda, which had been transformed into flats, unlivable. Eventually though, St Kilda was demolished to make way for a car park.

In 1967, more major plans were afoot as the State Planning Authority revealed plans to replace Woolloomooloo with high rise buildings. It was assumed by many, even people who were vocal defendants of other areas of the city, like Ruth Park, that Woolloomooloo was too far gone to save. Yet they were wrong. By 1971, Sidney Londish had bought up huge areas of Woolloomooloo and proposed a new development of city tower blocks – none of them residential. The public fiercely protested the plan, but in 1973 council approval was given. Yet it was this proposed development which helped to galvanise the public against the redevelopment of Woolloomooloo. In 1972 the Woolloomooloo Resident Action Group was formed and turned random anger into organised resistance to new development. Then, by the end of 1972 the Whitlam Government, with its election promise to save Woolloomooloo, came to power. The state government was reluctant, but a combination of Green Bans, public opposition and pressure from the Whitlam Government was taking its toll.

In June 1975 an agreement was made at all levels of Government to keep land for public housing and traditional homes for the families who worked in the inner city. Old homes were restored and new homes, which replaced those which were too far gone to save, were built in sympathetic styles. Streets were closed, landscaping and new ammenities were added, transforming Woolloomooloo from a squalid residential area into something which was once again much more gentrified. By the 1980s the finger wharf was in disrepair, and completely unused and although there were again plans for demolition, public sentiment won and eventually the wharves became an expensive residential redevelopment. Today, the juxtaposition of expensive apartment homes and public housing is still common in Woolloomooloo.

Woolloomooloo Part 1

The image above is an evocative image which provides a glimpse into the history of an area of Sydney many are familiar with. Today, Woolloomooloo is well known as a trendy and affluent area of Sydney, which visitors and locals alike enjoy visiting to enjoy a touch of history, an excellent view and a meal. Yet Woolloomooloo was once a very different place, with working wharves, and working class residents.

Originally, Woolloomooloo was a valley which had a creek, known as the Yurong Creek, running through it. To get to Woolloomooloo you had to walk along a track around the rim of the valley, and this track later became Woolloomooloo Road (William Street now). Yet when the creek was in flood, the road was impassable, and besides, it was the haunt of thieves who lay in wait for travellers leaving Sydney. The land was so swampy, and flooded so regularly that early settlers didn’t want to take up grants in the area. It was good land for farming though and in 1793 John Palmer took up a grant, built a house and successfully began to farm the land – even growing tobacco! The name of Palmers home was Woollamoola House, which eventually became the basis for the name of the whole area – Woolloomooloo.

In 1822 Palmer sold his grant to Edward Riley, and by 1826 Governor Darling had decided that the area East of the town, including what was then known as Woolloomooloo Heights, on the high ground above the Woolloomooloo valley, would be a ‘high status area’. He made many land grants, but a condition of these was that residents would have to build grand houses and landscape them according to standards set by Darling. As time went by the high status grants and houses began to spread to the lower, valley areas of Woolloomooloo and the whole area became high status and gentrified. This was not to last though!

Come back next week to find out what happened next in Woolloomooloo!