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!

The General Post Office

The image above is a wonderful snapshot of a building which, today, is undergoing a controversial chapter. The General Post Office, or GPO, is a well known and important land mark in Sydney, both geographically and historically. Today, it is the subject of controversy with moves to sell the beautiful historic building to the Chinese are disclosed. Yet beyond the current controversy is an amazing history which often Sydneysiders are unaware of.

The first regular postal service in Australia started in 1809 when former convict Isaac Nichols was given the position of postmaster. This was a position which he kept up until his death 10 years later. Nichols lived in George Street and his home was used as the post office throughout his time as postmaster. Then, in 1825 the Legislative Council introduced the Postal Act of 1825, which then regulated the postal service and allowed postmasters to be appointed not just in Sydney but throughout the colony. Three years later a regular postal delivery service began to operate with letters and parcels delivered throughout the colony on horseback.

The introduction of the Postal Act also paved the way for the construction of a General Post Office. By the 1830s, a former police station which stood where the GPO stands today was in use as a post office. Even in the 1830s, it was an important meeting place and important building, so in the late 1840s a new, grand portico was added, complete with Doric Columns. Yet as the population of Sydney and the colony more generally grew, so too did the demand for an improved postal service. By the 1850s and 1860s the old post office was becoming cramped and difficult to function from and staff often complained of overcrowding. Eventually, it was decided that a new post office would be built, on the same site. James Barnet was appointed as the architect for the new building in 1862 and the old post office was demolished a year later. The new GPO, and the one we are familiar with today, was built between 1866 and 1892. The main part of the building was completed in 1889 with the grand clock tower finished two years later.

The Spit Middle Harbour

The Spit Middle Harbour Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse into the history of place which many Sydneysiders and visitors to Sydney alike will be familiar with – The Spit in Middle Harbour. Today, The Spit is often associated with traffic jams and frustration, yet the crossing over Middle Harbour may once have been slower still, when ferries plied the route, instead of a bridge.

The area around The Spit, which was itself originally known as the Sand-Spit, was first settled in 1846, when John Burton purchased 30 acres at Seaforth. Peter Ellery soon followed when in 1849 he began to farm land also in the Seaforth area, opposite The Spit itself. He formally purchased the land in 1855. Often people would request Ellery to take them across Middle Harbour and so in the early 1850s, he began a ferry service, using a row boat. In 1862 though, a road to The Spit was built, and more passengers for his ferry began to arrive. Soon he changed to using a hand operated punt.

In 1871 though, the government of the day took over the ferry service, introducing a steam punt which was operated and manned by Public Works Department employees. These employees were vital to the crossing of the harbour, and to ensure that they were close by, stone cottages were constructed on the Mosman side of the Spit (the direction from which the postcard above is looking) and given to the employees and their families. It appears that you can see two of these cottages in the left foreground of the postcard. The ferry service continued to be the only crossing of Middle Harbour until the first Spit Bridge was opened in 1824.

St James Church

Queens Statue And St James Church Sydney NSW Front

The image above is a beautiful postcard image dating to the early 20h century. Yet the scene portrayed is one whose history dates back far further, with the stunning Church featured actually being the oldest surviving Church building in Sydney!

St James Church is a beautiful, convict built building, which is today the oldest remaining Church in Sydney. Yet is is significant for far more than simply its age. In 1819 the convict architect Francis Greenway was asked by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to design a courthouse. Macquarie, at this time, had grand plans for the area around George and King Streets, planning to build a beautiful cathedral on George Street, and a courthouse and a school on King Street. However, these plans were going to undergo significant changes. Macquarie was, by this time, known for his grand architectural ideas, and Commissioner Bigge, who had been sent from London, recommended significant changes to the planned George and King Street precinct.

The cathedral plans were put on hold (and the cathedral wasn’t completed until nearly 50 years later, in 1868). The plans for the courthouse and school also underwent significant alterations. Both were already under construction, but the school became a courthouse, while the planned courthouse became a Church. It was this courthouse which became St James Church, the Church pictured above. It was consecrated in 1824 and in 1836 it was was the church where Bishop Broughton, the first Bishop of Australia, was installed and regularly officiated. Classes for the first theological college of Australia were held at St James and the first ordinations of Australian Anglican clergy were also held at the Church. It was even the location of the first attempt to teach kindergarten in NSW!

Pyrmont Bridge

Pyrmont Bridge, Sydney 2 Front

The image above is a stunning view of a well known and important feature of Darling Harbour – Pyrmont Bridge. Yet many people who may cross this bridge on a regular basis have no idea of the extraordinary history of the bridge, or indeed that it is one of the worlds oldest surviving and working swing bridges.

The first Pyrmont Bridge was built in 1857 and made entirely of timber. Just like the current and second bridge, the first bridge had a swing span which allowed ships which would otherwise be to tap to enter Cockle Bay which was then a busy port.

In 1891 a competition was held to decide on a design for a new Pyrmont Swing Bridge, but the winning entry, built entirely of metal, was deemed far too expensive to actually build. Instead, a design by Robert Hickson, the Commissioner and Engineer in Chief of the Department for Public Works was adopted. His design was for a bridge built mainly of timber, but with an iron swing span which was supported by a central pier when opened, and two additional piers when closed. Construction on the bridge began in 1899 and the new bridge, complete with an electrically powered swing span (one of the first in the world) was opened in 1902. The bridge was finally closed to traffic in 1981 and was almost demolished following this closure. Thanks to the intervention of various organisations and the public itself though, the bridge was saved and in 1988 was opened to pedestrian traffic.