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!

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Macquarie Place Park

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View west along Bridge Street from Loftus showing bit of Macquarie Square from which city grew. Large fig tree at right

The image above captures a part of Sydney which is vital to European history, and to the story of Sydney as a city. It is a beautiful snapshot showing what, to some, is the heart of our stunning harbour city, yet it is also a place which many Sydneysiders and visitors have probably never visited – Macquarie Place Park.

Macquarie Place Park is, as the description of the photo itself suggests, on the corner of Bridge and Loftus Streets in the heart of Sydney. It is named for Macquarie Place, a street which once ran between the Tank Stream Bridge and Kings Wharf, and which is today incorporated into the park itself. The park is a green oasis amongst the bustle of city life, and has always been a rare open space in the busy city, even from the days when the city was just barely beginning.

Macquarie Place Park is a triangular shape, and once it was surrounded by the homes and residences not only of the Governor himself, but the civil officers of the colony (including the Judge Advocate, Chaplain and Surveyor). Other buildings surrounding the open space were store buildings and the homes of the most important merchants in the fledgling colony. In these early years the open space was simply left open by chance – nobody had occupied it, though some parts of the land were leased by Sydney residents and personalities. Yet in 1818 the park was formalised by Governor Macquarie as a public space, with the erection of the famous obelisk which measures distances in the colony. Just a year later a sandstone fountain was built.

The obelisk is just one of many historic structures and statues which remain in the park, though it is no longer the central feature. Once the obelisk was at the centre of the park, but when Circular Quay was built between 1839 and 1847, several streets had to be extended, and this took up areas which had been previously reserved. Today the obelisk stands at the edge of the park.

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.

Spring Street, Sydney

Pitt And Spring Streets Sydney Front

The image above is a beautiful and fascinating glimpse into the history of Sydney. Showing bustling streets full of pedestrians, horses and carts and cars, it also captures a fascinating time in Sydney, when the new automobile, and old fashioned horse power coexisted side by side.

Yet few Sydneysiders are likely to be able to tell you exactly where this intersection, of Pitt and Spring Streets, is. In fact, Spring Street, although still in existence, is just a small laneway today. Yet once, it played a fascinating part in the history of Sydney’s water supply.

When Captain Arthur Phillip (also known as Governor Phillip) arrived in Sydney he selected the site based on what became known as the Tank Stream – Sydney’s vital fresh water source. The Tank Stream was mainly fed from a swamp in the area of todays Huge Park, but there was also a number of springs along the course of the stream. One of the largest of these springs was in the locality of Spring Street.

George Street Sydney

George Street South Sydney Front

The image above showcases an extraordinary view of a street all Sydneysiders know, whether they love it or not. Yet few Sydneysiders realise that this street has such a long and fascinating history. Indeed few would realise that this street is the oldest in Australia!

George Street was the first street to be built by the colonists when they arrived in Sydney Cove. Yet it was not a carefully planned street, or even truly ‘built’. Early in the history of the colony Governor Phillip began to have public buildings built along a fairly level ledge of land to the Western side of the Cove. Soon enough a rough path was being worn along which people travelled between the buildings being constructed and the Cove itself. This is how George Street began its life.

Of course, several of the main streets of Sydney were laid out by the early 1800s. This included George Street itself. By 1803 the military had completed the building of several roads, removing many trees in their way. The stump of one was nine yards around (a little over 8 metres) and took 16 men 6 days to remove. A hole had to be specifically dug in which to roll the stump and it took 90 men to roll it into the hole. This tree was once in the area of George Street.

William Street

william-street-sydney-possibly-cobb-and-co-front

This week, The Past Present turns attention to the major streets in Sydney. We take for granted roads like the major thoroughfare William Street, yet in the early history of Sydney, streets were unpaved, or unevenly paved, dirty places. Others still were private roads which essentially were for use only by residents of their destinations. The image above, showing William Street, is just a glimpse into the history behind some of our grander streets.

William Street is one of Sydney’s major thoroughfares, linking Kings Cross to Hyde Park, where the street becomes Park Street. What’s more it acts as a border between Woolloomooloo and Darlinghurst. The earliest history of William Street dates to the 1820s, when Surveyor General James Meehan made public his grand plan to promote orderly development in the Surry Hills area, along a grid system. His proposed route for what became William Street was in conflict with the route proposed by Surveyor Thomas Mitchell, who proposed a grand thoroughfare which would extend on the existing Park Street. He also proposed that the street should detour through private land to avoid a significant sand hill, but in his absence (while surveying away from Sydney) the landowner, Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay, ordered the street go ahead straight over the sandhill. Mitchell had suggested naming the street after the then king, William, and this part of his plan went ahead without any change.

The first part of William Street was proclaimed in early 1835 and not long after a rush to subdivide the area of Woolloomooloo began. By the 1850s, Woolloomooloo was essentially an expensive suburb, with houses, streets, shops, and even a horse bus running from the city along William Street. From 1879 steam trams began to operate, transforming William Street from an essentially private street to a major thoroughfare. With the coming of the steam trams, more subdivision occurred, but this time the new residents were not the wealthy. Cottages began to be interspersed with the earlier mansions, and by the 1890s, Woolloomooloo was a working class area of Sydney, complete with labourers, seamen, drifters and prostitutes. In 1908 the Royal Commission for the improvement of Sydney was formed, and found William Street to be wholly unsuitable for modern heavily laden vehicles. In 1916, the council resumed nearly 100 properties at the south side of William Street and the street was widened and upgraded between 1916 and 1923. Then, in 1969 the Woolloomooloo Redevelopment Plan was adopted, which again sought to recreate William Street. Most of this work did not go ahead though, due to resident protests.

Douglas Pratt and Duke Street, Sydney

Duke Street

This week, The Past Present is doing something a little different. Normally, the focus of posts is the place depicted in an image, but the image above has another story to reveal. The image, which comes from a postcard, was drawn by Douglas Fieldew Pratt, who was once a famous postcard artist.

Douglas Fieldview Pratt was born in 1900 in Katoomba, the son of the resident minister at the Congregational Church. In fact, he was apparently born in the Manse! As a young man his first job was working as a jackeroo near Singleton, and this is when he developed a love for the Australian landscape. It was this love which was to underpin his later career as an artist. In 1922 he moved to Sydney and became a surveyor, and it was when he was working for the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board in 1925 that his ability as an artist was first recognised. One of his colleagues saw his sketches and suggested he work to develop this wonderful skill. He also sold some paintings that year, and these two events encouraged him to take classes at the Royal Art Society and Sydney Long’s Etching School. Pratt used a variety of mediums in his work, ranging from oil paintings to simple pencil sketches, but it was perhaps his etchings and pencil drawings which became most famous. His first exhibition was in 1928 at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney, but he went on to exhibit Australia wide, and there are representatives of his works in galleries in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

The strangest thing about his work though are his postcards as nobody seems to know the story behind them. It seems that they were produced in the 1930s or 1940s, and there is a series of at least nineteen different images  that I can find. All depict Sydney and all are black and white letterpress prints of detailed sketches. The mystery though is were they commercially available as postcards in the various public shops, or only available as souvenirs at art galleries?