A Very Different Gosford

This week, The Past Present has decided to turn attention north of Sydney, to this stunning postcard image of Gosford, on the Central Coast of NSW. Gosford has long been a popular destination for day trippers and holiday makers from Sydney, yet as this image shows, Gosford was not always the city it is today.

Although today Gosford is the administrative centre of the Central Coast, with a growing city to match, Gosford was not always the coast side metropolis we see today. European colonisation of the Gosford area did not begin until the mid 1820s, because although the area had been explored within years of the colonists arriving, it was too difficult to access. The soils were rich though, and agriculturalists soon began to move into the area. By 1850 there was a cart track between the Hawkesbury River and Brisbane water and by the end of the 19th century the area was abounding in market gardens and orchards, particularly citrus orchards.

Gosford itself was named in 1839 after the 2nd Earl of Gosford, Archibald Acheson in 1885 Gosford was officially declared a town, with the declaration of a municipality following a year later in 1886. Yet it was not until the rail link was completed between Sydney and the area in 1887 that settlement really began to accelerate. Even by the 1920s, Gosford was still simply a small town, though it had already grown a reputation as a popular tourist resort. When the Pacific Highway was opened in 1930, settlement in the area rapidly expanded, slowly but surely creating the Gosford we know today – a thriving coast side city.

 

Wild Weather And Wrecks – Dunbar Rock

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This week, with the weather so unpredictable and so many storms about in recent days and weeks, it seemed the ideal time to share this image of Dunbar Rock in South Head. Sydney, and Australia more generally, with its abundance of coastline, also has an abundant and tragic history of shipwreck and loss.

The loss of the Dunbar, which happened off the coast of what is now known as Dunbar Rock at The Gap, remains Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. The Dunbar was, at the time of its launch, the largest timber ship to have been constructed at the Sunderland dockyards, and was constructed as a response to the demand for passage to Australia and the booming gold fields. Yet it was not until 1856 that the ship began to ply the route to Australia, as before then The Dunbar was deployed as a Crimean War troopship.

The wreck of The Dunbar happened within a year of this, occurring on the night of the 20th of August, 1857. The ship, which was on just its second trip to Australia, was approaching the entrance to Port Jackson in the midst of a violent storm. The Dunbar was driven by the storm into the cliffs of South Head, just near Dunbar Rock, and rapidly broke apart. Of 122 passengers and crew aboard, only one survived, Able Seaman James Johnson. The disaster was later blamed on insufficient navigational aids, and in response the Hornby Light at South Head was constructed.

Yet the Hornby Light is not the only reminder of this tragic shipwreck. On Dunbar Rock itself, there is an anchor which is believed to come from the wreck of the Dunbar, and was retrieved in 1910. There is also a rock cut inscription which commemorates the terrible wreck, and which is actually believed to have been first carved by an onlooker watching the tragedy unfolding. This inscription was later recut, probably on an anniversary of the shipwreck.

Demolished Sydney – The Union Club

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This week, in honour of the upcoming exhibition at the Museum Of Sydney focusing on lost buildings of Sydney, the Past Present is focusing on one such building. The image above shows the beautiful building, The Union Club, which once stood on Bligh Street.

The Union Club, a beautiful Classical Revival style building once stood at number 2 Bligh Street. The site had originally been occupied by the cottage of Robert Campbell, but in 1857, a group of professional men met together at a leased property in Wynyard Square. The men formed the Union Club, whose first president was James Macarthur, the son of the famous John Macarthur. By August, larger premises were desperately needed, as the Union Club had rapidly attracted members. Several sites were looked at, but the decision was made to use the Campbell cottage, which was not as the name implies a cottage at all, but more a mansion! The Union Club leased the ‘cottage’ for 3 years from 1859, and when the lease on the warehouse next to the residence expired in 1863, the lease was changed to include both properties. The Union Club payed £1000 a year for the two leases. Eventually, the Union Club offered £15,000 to purchase the house, but the offer was declined, as it fell far below the market value.

The club officers of the Union Club then made efforts to find a new site which they could use to build their own club building, but all these sites were rejected. Finally, they started up negotiations again to buy the Campbell property, and in July 1873, they purchased the site for £20,000. Over the following decade, many alterations were made to the original Campbell residence, but eventually, the old mansion was demolished and replaced with a purpose built club house. The beautiful new building, designed by William Wardell in the Classical Revival style was built in 1884. It was demolished in 1955, when the Union Club decided to sell the southern part of the property and build a new clubhouse on the remaining land.

Mittagong – The Gateway To The South

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This week, with school holidays upon us, many Sydneysiders are heading away from the hustle and bustle of our beautiful city. Australia has many beautiful towns and villages which become popular holiday destinations as Spring approaches. Some, like those in the Southern Highlands are particularly attractive due to their spectacular spring flower display. Mittagong is just one of these towns.

Mittagong is a town with an intriguing history, dating right back to the early 1800s. The first formal European settlement began in 1821 with a large grant made to William Chalker, but most of the earliest buildings in the area were not residences or even farms. Mittagong was, even from the very beginning, the gateway to the south, with some of the only natural routes over a chain of mountains passing through the area. As a result, it was not long before various inns sprang up in the area to serve travellers who were heading south. The town itself was much slower to develop, only really beginning to form after the coming of the railway to the area in 1867.

Before the coming of the railway, the Mittagong area was more a series of private villages than cohesive settlement, and only one of these villages, New Sheffield, was of any real size. New Sheffield was the village belonging to the Fitzroy Iron Works, the first iron works in Australia, and the workers not just at the iron works itself, but at the mines associated with the works lived in the private village. With the coming of the railway though, more people began to come to the area and in the 1880s the area began to be subdivided. In 1889 the municipality of Mittagong was formally created, and the earlier villages were mainly absorbed into the newly created town.

Shark Island – Part 2

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The image above is a wonderful snapshot of day out and about on Sydney Harbour. It shows one of the beautiful harbour islands simply teeming with visitors, perhaps waiting to watch one of the yacht races which were once so popular – perhaps even The Sydney To Hobart Race itself. Yet the island in question, Shark Island, is one which was not always publicly accessible.

In the 19th century, Shark Island was an important link in the colony’s quarantine system, and from 1871, was the quarantine depot for animals arriving from overseas. Yet many local Sydneysiders felt that the beautiful harbour islands, including Shark Island, should be made available as public reserves. The pressure of public opinion was such that in 1900, the NSW Government made Shark Island a public reserve, though it didn’t officially open to the public until 1905. Before being opened officially, the Clark Island Trust, which had been established in 1892 to beautify and create visitor facilities on Clark Island, worked to improve the amenities and beauty of Shark Island. Their intention was to create on Shark Island an Edwardian style English picnic park, and they constructed paths, shelters, seating and gardens. Then, in 1917, The Sydney Harbour Trust took over the management of the island and made more improvements, including the construction of new paths. The Sydney Harbour Trust continued to be responsible for the island until 1975, when Shark Island became part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.

Shark Island – Part 1

shark-island-sydney-harbour-front

The image above, featured on a postcard from the early 20th century, reveals an island situated in Sydney Harbour. Yet this is an island which many locals are likely unaware of – Shark Island. Yet Shark Island, or Boambilly as it was known to the Aboriginal people, has a fascinating history.

Located just at the entrance to Rose Bay, Shark Island is a beautiful island, known for its shady trees and pretty grottoes. Shark Island is not so named because its waters are a haven for sharks. The name is derived from the fact that the island shape, very vaguely, resembles a shark. Yet despite the absence of waters teeming with dangerous sea life, Shark Island was a dangerous place. Throughout the 19th century there were a number of shipwrecks, and many people drowned in the waters off Shark Island. So great was the danger that in 1890 a navigational light was erected on the island. What’s more, in the 1830s, the Island became a temporary quarantine station. Cholera had broken out in Europe, and Shark Island was used to prevent the disease gaining a hold in the colony. Then, in 1871, the Island was again used for Quarantine purposes, this time for animals. Imported cattle and dogs were housed on the island until it was sure that they posed no risk to the animals already living in the Colony. Yet Shark Island was also known for its beauty, and being only a short distance from the shores of Rose Bay, many Sydneysiders wanted to use the island for recreational purposes.

Come back next week to find out about how Shark Island transformed from an animal quarantine station to a popular public reserve.

Bark Selectors Hut

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The image above is a wonderful glimpse into the lives, and the living conditions, of so many Australians in days gone by. The simple bark hut, a humpy as the postcard describes it, may appear rough and uninviting by our modern standards, but for many Australians living in the 1800s, and even into the 1900s, such structures were home.

When we think of old Australian houses, we tend to often think of historic homes which have been preserved for posterity, many of them grand houses or country estates. It is true that even in the earliest years of the colony, some people, like the Governor, lived in prefabricated houses brought from England. Yet for most Australians, home was somewhere much rougher and more simplistic. The early colony was tent settlement and even the first more substantial buildings were often made of wattle and daub. Other early buildings were built of timber, with many of the local trees providing long lasting, good wood which could be used not just for roofing, but for the whole building. Particularly popular was ironbark, which could last for 30 years or more, even when exposed to harsh weather conditions. Local timber continued to be a popular building material right up until the Second World War, with many people continuing to use what was to hand in building their homes.

Even when the colony began to become more prosperous, many continued to build using wattle and daub, timber and bark. Such techniques were popular with squatters, who did not have formal rights to their land, and may be moved on as a result. These techniques were also popular with selectors, who used materials at hand to build a simple home, which they sometimes added to, or abandoned for a more formal structure if they prospered. Often the hut was a single room, which may eventually become a kitchen or living room if the family prospered and the house was extended. This is the type of home pictured in the postcard above.

Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital

Walker Hospital Parramatta River Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful glimpse into a day out and about on the water. Sydney has many beautiful river and creek systems which feed into the spectacular Sydney Harbour, and these have long been a popular destination for a lazy day out and about, used by residents and visitors alike. Yet this postcard also captures a beautiful 19th century building – The Walker Convalescent Hospital. This building, one which many Sydney residents may not realise exists, has a fascinating history.

The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, which is today known as Rivendell, is a stunning building, surrounded by beautiful grounds, on the banks of the Parramatta River. The story of the hospital begins in 1886 with the death of a well known Sydney philanthropist, Thomas Walker. Walker had left a bequest of 100,000 pounds for the purposes of building a convalescent hospital, and also set aside a portion of his estate at Concord as the hospital site. The executors of Walkers will held a competition in April 1888 to select a design for the convalescent hospital, a competition won by John Kirkpatrick. Yet Kirkpatricks design was criticised as too expensive, and in mid 1889 it was announced that although his design would be built, the architects engaged in the building of the hospital would be another firm, Sulman and Power.

Building of the hospital commenced in 1890 and the hospital opened in late September 1893. It was built in the Queen Anne style, and positively reflected the influences of Florence Nightingale on hospital design and organisation. The final cost of the hospital exceeded the bequest by Thomas Walker by 50,000 pounds, and the extra funds were donated by Walkers daughters Eadith and Joanna, and Eadith’s childhood friend, Anne Sulman. The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital was used for convalescents right up until World War Two, when the military took possession of the building. Patients at the hospital were not charged for their care, with Thomas Walker’s bequest providing for four weeks of care per patient, with the option of a two month stay if needed. After the war, the trustees of the hospital regained control and it continued to act as a convalescent hospital until 1976, when control was given to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Today, the site is known as Rivendell, and acts as a rehabilitation centre and school for adolescents, under the direction of the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Unit.

Dawes Point – Part 4

Dawes Point From McMahons Point Front

Dawes Point From McMahon’s Point

As we have been learning over the past three weeks, Dawes Point is a fascinating place, with layer upon layer of history to be discovered. From the first observatory and a vital contact place for European Colonists and Aboriginal People, to a fortified defence post, Dawes Point has served Sydney in a variety of ways. Yet, perhaps one of it’s most vital roles came in the 20th century.

In 1902, the Dawes Point battery stopped being used as a defensive point. With Federation, there had been the formation of a regular Australian Army, and Dawes Point was no longer seen as necessary to defence. Following this era, the main role played by Dawes Point for the next years was as a landing place for ferry services crossing the harbour. These services date right back to Billy Blue, who began a ferry service in the early 1800s, and even ferried Governor Macquarie across the harbour! By 1900, Dawes Point was the landing place for the Horse Ferry. There were also public baths in the area of Dawes Point, and of course many buildings which were now unoccupied. In 1909 the Water Police moved into the guardhouse, and we also know that, from 1918, the Officers Quarters were used by the Department of Repatriation as a tractor training school for returned soldiers. Other areas were reserved for public use, including a promenade.

By 1925 though, all the buildings were empty and awaiting demolition to make way for a new crossing of the harbour, the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many of the buildings, including Francis Greenways contributions, were demolished and the cannons were removed and placed at Taronga Park Zoo, where they remained until 1945. Other buidlgins, including the Officers Quarters were used as offices and accomodation for the engineers building the bridge, Dorman and Long. In 1925, Dawes Point also became home to one of two u shaped tunnels. These tunnels, one on each side of the harbour, contained massive cables which held back the bridge arches as they were being built. When the bridge was complete, the cables were no longer needed and removed, and the tunnels were filled in. Dawes Point is also the site of the Southern Pylon of the famous bridge, which soars above the heads of those visiting. During construction of the bridge, the area was of course closed to the public, but following the opening of the bridge, the area was opened as a public park, which today remains a popular area, especially for watching the Sydney Harbour fireworks on New Years Eve!

Dawes Point – Part 3

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The image above, which reveals a heavily fortified Dawes Point, is a glimpse into the history of an area which all Sydneysiders know, but often overlook when thinking about the history of Sydney. Yet Dawes Point is a place with layers of history, which have built up over the years of Aboriginal and European occupation. Today, we associate Dawes Point simply with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, yet before this time, Dawes Point played a very different role in Sydney’s history.

By 1791, the value of Dawes Point as a strategic and defensive position had been fully recognised. The earlier observatory was demolished, and the area of Dawes Point was taken over by fortifications, barracks, powder magazines and even artillery, with the earliest gun at Dawes Point actually originating on the ship Sirius. In 1801 improvements were made to the fortifications, and in 1819, famous convict architect, Francis Greenway, was tasked with completely redesigning the fortifications. Although the original plans for his fort do not survive, we know from contemporary accounts and archaeological evidence that his fort was built in the castellated Gothic style. At the time, aspects of the new fort were criticised, such as a decorative guardhouse above the fort which people felt was a target, not a defence!

Then, in the 1850s, fears of a Russian attack, associated with Britains involvement in the Crimean war, caused the fort to once again be altered. By 1856, members of the Royal Artillery had been stationed in Sydney, at Dawes Point Battery, and of course new buildings had been constructed to house them. An officers quarters and new barracks buildings were constructed at this time. It was also at this time that new guns were installed. Five cannons were added to the fort, and these can still be seen at Dawes Point today, though most are no longer in their original positions. A lower fort, of which little is known, was also built at this time, and underground powder stores have been discovered during archaeological excavations. It is believed these powder magazines also date to this period. Over the following decades, and up to the time of Federation, Dawes Point continued to play a significant role in military activity, and more buildings were added to fulfil various roles. After Federation, and the creation of the regular Australian Army, military presence at Dawes Point was discontinued, with occupation ending in 1902. Little remains visible of the fortifications, though a sentry box which is today adjacent to the Ives Steps and Wharf would have originally been used to observe the harbour and foreshore.